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Evolution of Ethics

Evolution and Ethics

When I hear of people who reject religion and theism, but have strong convictions as to the appropriateness of ethics and ethical behaviour, I generally want to ask them where they think that their moral experience comes from.

One thing we know for certain about the possibility of human life emerging from the undirected processes described in the theory of evolution, is that those processes cannot by any means have accounted for the rise of ethical and moral instincts.

The pressure towards a race’s survival, as in natural selection, must above all require that individuals be only ever motivated by (what moralists would call) self-interest. Any kind of ethical or moral code is of necessity ultimately based on altruism, and one way of ensuring that an individual or species loses the race for survival, is for it to consider the position of others rather than itself.

Murder, theft and even rape are the only choices to make for one who is determined to flourish, rather than perish. Now there are many non-theists, who hold to the evolutionist model of origins, who are very concerned to develop and exercise ethical codes; the world is full of morally-good atheists.

But they should be reminded that a theist, unlike themselves, possesses beliefs from which ethical systems flow logically – few religions do not have a moral imperative as an essential part of its belief system. The non-theist, by contrast, accepts and values ethical systems in spite of, not because of, the logic of his position, a feature which is an essential part of the curious fact-value split that occurs within the thinking of many people, as described by such as Nancy Pearcey (Total Truth, 2004).

Of course, theistic evolutionists might argue that, as life has taken its present form by evolutionary processes directed by God, then he could, at the end of the process – when humanity had “advanced”- have given its product (humankind) other urges which led on to a new kind of creature, possessing a new, altruistic, concern.

The problem with this thinking is that the consciousness of a moral imperative (an automatic reaction towards thinking some things right, others wrong) seems to have existed as long as there have been people we have records of, people who, before the codification of moral laws, lived in very dangerous times when self-interest, not selflessness, would have been useful for survival.

There was plenty of murder and theft going on – but the idea that these were nonetheless “wrong” has somehow always been there, in the human mind, and human ideas concerning the basic rights and wrongs have never varied nor developed (as required by the “evolution of ethics” paradigm).

thics and morals point clearly to the fact that we were designed essentially different from animals, and not simply as the result of a process. My cat betrays no moral reflection on his action of dismembering cute baby birds, nor will cats ever; monkeys are much the same.