Evolution is amoral. If nature is all there is, then there is really no such things as good or evil. One man killing another is really no different than a lion hunting a zebra or an apple falling from a tree. They are all just descriptions of things that happen without an interest if they're right or wrong. Of course, we recoil at comparing murder to an apple falling from a tree. We know, almost instinctively, that murder is “wrong.”
It's this built-in sense of knowing some things are always wrong which suggests that maybe nature really isn't all there is. Maybe there's an absolute standard of what is right – a transcendent truth that trumps any individual's opinion. Where might this universal standard be? Some might suggest that our sense of morality comes from community. It's a collective agreement on what works best for society as a whole. Everyone is better off if people don't kill, steal, and cheat.
When we start looking to societal norms as “right,” we still cannot find solid grounds to identify any particular behavior as wrong. Most people consider slavery to be wrong. However, slavery was allowed in the US for 400 years – from the time of the early settlers to the time it was a flourishing, world power. How can we objectively say that we're right now and they were wrong then? When the Nazis were being tried after WWII, most of them claimed that their war “crimes” were legal in their society. Again, who are we to say that another people in another place are wrong and we're right? The bottom line is that if there is no immutable law that transcends human opinion, then might makes right. There are no, inalienable, God-given rights. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are only privileges the state lets us have.
I was on YouTube the other day and I was watching a debate between an evolutionist (David Silverman) and a creationist (John Rankin). Most debates of this kind focus on the evidence for or against the respective theories. However, this particular debate discussed the question, “Can Darwinian evolution produce a healthy society?” As usual, Silverman, the evolutionist argued that our moral values are basically evolved instincts to do what is best for the community. Blah, blah, blah. I've blogged about these types of comments before.
To his credit, though, Silverman was a little more candid about the idea that there is no ultimate right or wrong according to evolution. His opinion was basically, “whatever works is right.” But the most intriguing thing he said was that it is the very idea of “absolute truth” that is harmful to society! According to him, it's the religious zealots, the ones who think they know God's truth, who will strap bombs to themselves or fly planes into buildings. His is a clever tactic. Well, maybe not clever but certainly novel. He says on one hand that whatever provides the most benefit to the most people is “good” but believing there is a such thing as objective good is “bad.” Incredible!
I see a couple of flaws in his approach. Obviously, it contradicts itself. After all, how can he seriously say in one breath that there is ultimately no objective right or wrong, then in the next breath say that believing in an objective moral standard is “wrong”?
But the thing that really struck me is a point that seems to have completely escaped Silverman. His claim is that our sense of morality is an evolved trait that instinctively drives us to act in a way that's best for society overall. He further claims that religious dogmatism works against the best interest of society. What Silverman completely overlooks is that, if evolution were true, then our seeming irresistible urge to believe in a divine being is also an evolved trait. The overwhelming majority of people in the world today – indeed, the majority of people who have ever lived – all believe in some deity. So then, if evolution is true, there must be some sort of survival benefit to believing in God (or at least a god or gods)!
Once again we see the case of a flawed world view unable to measure up to its own standards. If our sense of right and wrong is an evolved trait, then our belief in God, another evolved trait, is instinctively right. Since the majority of people believe, then belief seems to be the preferred trait. Therefore, unbelief – aka, atheism – is morally “wrong.”
What we have is a paradox; if Silverman is right, then he's wrong.