Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Evolution and Morality

Discover magazine recently interviewed Marc Hauser, an evolutionary biologist and cognitive neuroscientist from Harvard, about his recent book Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, in the May, 2007 issue. Hauser contends that millions of years of evolution have hardwired our brains for morality.

In response to an interview question about infants already having a moral code within them when they are born, Hauser says:

"Studies have shown that infants as young as 15 months are sensitive to the
beliefs of others--true versus false beliefs. That's crucial to the moral
domain" (page 64)

His explanation for the this innate moral code is that it is a stabilizer of social groups that allows the individual to develop in a more fit, genetic way, advancing the evolution of the species. In explanation of the importance of the group he says:

"So if I live in a world of defectors, I have no chance, whereas if I can find the cooperators [others who abide by the moral code] and cooperate with them, my own individual fitness will be enhanced." (page 64)

The article goes on to explore Hauser's theories through several comparative examples about moral behavior and its subjectivity. Here is where the folly of this line of thinking quickly falls apart. The examples given are extremely arbitrary and poorly thought out. It only took me about five minutes to tease out the subtle differences between them, and I didn't need to spend years at Harvard to do it.

Religious beliefs, according to Hauser, do not have any impact on the moral decision making processes of people. From his standpoint, there is the evolutionary code and religious belief is simply the stories we make up to flesh out those innate codes.

What is interesting about his thought process is that it really leads to the core of evolutionary thought versus faith. It is a classic chicken and egg story. Are we moral because we were designed to be that way, or because as evolution transpired, it was a natural development?

If one believes that there is no God and evolution is a chaotic process with no driving factor, why should there be any morals?

The motto of evolution is "survival of the fittest." But, if one takes evolution at its face value, from whence comes consciousness and the desire to "survive"? In order to get somewhere you have to know where you are going and how to get there. There has to be a drive outside of oneself. In order to evolve into more complicated beings, living things would have to be able to predict the effect of increased competition from other forms of life, understand the necessity for biological innovation, and possess the physical stamina to outlast other life forms. Evolutionists make no claim that evolution is a conscious process--that somehow birds actually purpose to produce more prominent feather displays or produce more varied calls. It is simply a biological process that takes place at a genetic level with no thought or guidance.

I find it telling that the discovery that all humans have an innate, moral compass within them does not lead Hauser and others to question themselves more about the implications of such an idea. It seems as if it is easier for them to mold that discovery into their already determined view of the universe, rather than take it as a sign that there is more to life and being human than evolution can explain.

I have a lot more to say about this and want to examine the examples that were provided in the article, but I am out of time right now.

I will post more about this later today or tomorrow.

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