The Argument of Morality Pt. 2 Are Moral Truths an Illusion of DNA?

In part one of our series on the argument of morality, we established the grounds for the argument in that transcendent, objective moral truths do indeed exist. The question to answer now is, how do we account for them? We’ll look at one answer today.

One answer to the argument is brought forth by nihilists. The answer is that morality is simply an evolutionary illusion. Evolutionary ethicist and atheist philosopher of science, Michael Ruse, and his colleague, Edward Wilson, put it this way:

“Morality, or more strictly our belief in morality, is merely an adaptation put in place to further our reproductive ends. Hence, the basis of ethics does not lie in God’s will—or in the metaphorical roots of evolution or any other part of the framework of the Universe. In an important sense, ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate. It is without external grounding. Ethics is produced by evolution but is not justified by it because, like Macbeth’s dagger, it serves a powerful purpose without existing in substance.…Unlike Macbeth’s dagger, ethics is a shared illusion of the human race.16″

Atheists such as Michael and Edward pose the answer that our morality is grounded in our genetic evolution and DNA. So morality is not something that exists in reality, rather it’s an illusion “fobbed off” on us via evolution so we don’t kill each other off. On the surface, it seems reasonable, but if we look deeper, there are some unfavourable consequences this needs to answer for.

This Theroy Extols A Darwinian View of Morality.

This theory, if taken to its conclusion, holds to a Darwinian view of morality. A “survival of the fittest” moral base that has disastrous ramifications. Our very existence is derived from naturalistic laws of evolution that kills off the weak and favors the strong. This answer is one the acclaimed atheist Richard Dawkins is unapologetically against:

I don’t care what’s against the evolution principle. I’m all for going against the evolution principle. What we need is a truly anti-Darwinian society. Anti-Darwinian in the sense that we don’t wish to live in a society where the weakest go to the wall, where the strongest suppress the weak, and even kill the weak.”

As much as I applaud Dawkin’s words, the problem is, why should I feel obligated to go against the evolutionary principle? Why do I feel obligated to help the weak when it’s my own survival that my genetic nature declares as most important? It’s this evolutionary principle that spurned on the likes of Hitler, Zedong, Stalin, Lenin, and Pol Pot, who killed millions of people, more so than any religious war had ever done. While it can be argued it wasn’t because of their atheism that they killed so many, like some religious wars were, their actions were certainly consistent with the views they held. But not all people grew up to be like Hitler or Stalin. That is where this theory’s biggest problem lies.

We all have different genetic pathways, different DNA, it’s what makes us who we are as individuals. I had no choice in my eye color, my hair and skin color, and if this theory is true, I also had no choice in my moral code as well. If our morality is based on our individual genetic pathways, how can I judge another who holds a different genetic pathway? How could I judge Hitler’s genetic code if he had no choice in the matter? How can I say my genetic code is superior to Stalin’s? If my morality is based on my DNA, and if we all have different individual codes, morality becomes subjective and based solely on the individual subject. What happens then? We are denied of all moral responsibility.

In the end, if this theory is true, we are nothing more than the chemicals we’re made up of. There is no value or dignity accredited as we have no choice to our morality. Two cosmologists made one of the most terrifying statements in all history:

Quite ultimately, it is not human beings that are important, it’s DNA.

Is this antitheism’s message to all? That we are of no worth as individuals? That we are nothing more than material matter? I can’t emphasize the depravity enough. But on the other hand, if objective morals truths exist in a transcendent moral law giver, and if we’re made in this being’s image (Genesis 1:27), then we are worth something. We do have a choice and can be held responsible for wrong actions. Right and wrong do exist as objective principles based on the standard of this being’s character. We do hold dignity when we do what is right. We become more than mere DNA and material matter, we become valued individuals, endlessly loved by our creator. Does this mean theism is the only answer to the origin of objective moral truths? Naturalism has a few more of its own answers up its sleeve, so we’ll hold that back until dive down further in pt.3


5 thoughts on “The Argument of Morality Pt. 2 Are Moral Truths an Illusion of DNA?

  1. Excellent article: why should I feel obligated to go against the evolutionary principle?
    The fact is many do feel this in their inner consciences let me put another unanswerable question.
    Why shouldn’t you feel that way?

    1. Thank you, Kap 🙂 On your question there, I would say there is no compelling reason to feel obligated. Today, we help the weak without expecting a reward in return because we view each other as valuable, but in a naturalistic worldview, I’m going to go with what is more beneficial to me first to aid my own well-being, and I’ll do anything to get that. In a naturalistic worldview, humanity is seen as no different than, say, a cow on the side of the road. It wouldn’t be beneficial for me help a cow I drive by, in fact, it’d be a sacrifice of time and effort unless it ended with me eating it. Why would man be any different?

      1. At some very distant time in the past we slowly but surely distanced ourselves from the animal kingdom and became self- aware or metaconsious. Dont ask me how or why, but it happened and we became self – judging. This was the origin of conscience and religion. It was what Freud called the inner battlegound and he attemped to analyse it.
        The natural world carried on as it has always done amorally.
        How is it that the same chemicals and molecular dances can in our case produce a conscience? I don’t know but nothing surprizes me.
        So we know the compelling reason just as well as we know two hydrogen and one oxygen combine to give water.
        Julian Jaynes believed we were bicameral until about three thousand years ago and as such did not have metaconsciousness.
        I notice you speak of well-being a suggestion of Sam Harris as a moral yardstick. I read his book ‘The Moral Landscape’ written to give an atheistic view of morals.
        Richard Dawkins hated a world governed by survival of the fittest it went against his sensative conscience.

      2. That can be a legitimate reason, but I do find it strange how you said you can’t tell me how or why this came to be. I’ll offer some reasons for this.

        Firstly, it assumes consciousness is a physical property. The mind is the same as the brain. This position is called scientific naturalism or strict naturalism. It holds the position that everything that exists is physical and can be measured or demonstrated. If naturalism is true, all of reality can be accounted for by physics, cosmology, and the processes of evolution, which is where I guess this theory arose. But consciousness isn’t a physical trait. It’s immaterial. For any mental state, there is a physical event (what is going on in the brain) and a mental event (what that feels like for us). Physicalism cannot fully explain the living world.

        To give a clear explanation, in 1974 Thomas Nagel wrote a piece called, “What’s it like to be a bat?” He said this,

        “…bat sonar, though clearly a form of perception, is not similar in its operation to any sense that we possess, and there is no reason to suppose that it is subjectively like anything we can experience or imagine. This appears to create difficulties for the notion of what it is like to be a bat.”

        The one question physicalism and naturalism cannot answer is, “What is it like to be a bat?” or, “What is it like to be *insert organism of your choice.” There are non-physical as well as physical facts that we need to know to truly comprehend an organism. It’s the non-physical properties naturalism cannot account for, and that is consciousness and thought. And so this theory needs to account for how the non-physical came from the physical. If we never had a conscious when we were first evolving, how did the non-physical evolve from the physical? It’s impossible.

        That is why I believe you cannot tell me how it came into existence. Now to address why you can’t tell me.

        The process of natural selection chooses organisms for survival based solely on their behaviour. Any organism that behaves as we behave, but which does not have the apparent mental states that we have, will have just as much survival value as we do. Consciousness is simply not necessary for behavior, and nothing more than behavior is needed. How did this behavior evolve if it weren’t for consciousness? If we’re to take the evolutionary principle, we would have learned these behaviours over time based on how they affected our survival. Mentality doesn’t play a part in the matter as it doesn’t play a part in increasing our survival. If anything, the reality of emotional pain will only worsen the chance of survival, so we’d be more likely to survive without it.

        That is why you cannot tell me why consciousness came into being. If this theory were true, it’d be a miracle far more demanding than the presences of an already conscious being making us in His image from day one. I’m not sure if I’m ready to take that big of a leap. But because we are made in His image, we feel compelled to help those weaker as we have inherited His character.

        Blessings to you, Kap!

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