THIS is another in a series of posts that began with Debating Creationists: The Big Lie. That dealt with some general myths about the theory of evolution, and it was followed with some essays dealing with specific myths, including: Hitler and Darwin, and Marx, Stalin, and Darwin, and Atheism, Science, and Darwin.
We’ve dealt with the topic of morality and Darwin in bits and pieces in several other posts, including: But They’ll Behave Like Monkeys! Now, however, we’ll try to tie some of it together into one convenient essay. But be warned, this is a large topic, so there are limits on what we can do here.
First, why do the creationists focus so much moral outrage on Darwin and his theory of evolution? Why not Isaac Newton and his laws of motion? Why not chemistry? Biology is no more anti-religion than any other science. By that we mean that none of them is anti-religion. They’re all concerned with observing and explaining the observable world in natural, comprehensible, verifiable ways. No science deals with supernatural affairs; those are the subject of theology. So why is biology — and evolution especially — the subject of so much moral outrage?
We think it’s because Genesis — if read literally — provides an alternative to evolution. But the bible, which creationists claim is God’s full and complete science text, is silent about physics and chemistry, so creationists ignore them. The bible mentions the planets only once (2 Kings 23:5 — criticizing false religions that are concerned with them), so astronomy isn’t a problem for scriptural literalists — well, except for that pesky solar system thing that got Galileo into trouble; but they’ve gotten over that. Oh, there’s the matter of the age of the universe, which creationists don’t like at all. There’s also geology, which reveals an ancient earth, and geography, which teaches that the earth isn’t flat. We expect that creationists will be targeting several sciences after they outlaw evolution. Chemistry seems reasonably safe, however, as does physics.
But the question remains: If the theory of evolution indicates that the creation account in Genesis can’t be read literally, only metaphorically, why is this such a problem for creationists? They’ve managed to accept the solar system by ignoring or re-interpreting the scriptural passages that caused such problems for Galileo. Two of those were:
The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.
Somehow, because the Genesis account of creation is so “clear,” the creationists insist upon its literal veracity, without which they fear they’ll have no moral compass. We can see this in an earlier post: Creationism and Morality, in which we criticized a very primitive claim that “only creationists have a rational, logical, and consistent reason for morality.” And another claim that “God as the Creator has the right to define absolute standards of behavior.”
We pointed out Socrates’ Euthyphro dilemma — “Is what is moral commanded by the gods because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by the gods?”
We also asked how divinely defined standards of good and evil could explain:
… Abraham’s behavior when God announced His intention to exterminate the populations of Sodom and Gomorrah? Abraham objected and told God that it would be unjust to kill the good along with the rest. And what of Moses’ reaction when God announced His intention to exterminate the Hebrews because of the golden calf incident? Moses argued God out of doing it.
Having demonstrated, at least to our satisfaction, how even scripture teaches that man’s morality is independent of deities, we said:
Claims to the effect that “Without Genesis there is no morality” come up frequently, and it’s always surprising, because basic morality is such a simple thing. Suppose you evolved from some primordial blob without any divine action at all. Okay, you’re on your own, with no bible, just your intelligence to guide you. You’re looking for a place to settle down with your family and your flocks. Assume that the cities you might move to have signs outside their gates, telling you the rules. One says: “Murder is okay with us!” Another says: “Welcome, and we’ll rape your women!” Yet another says: “No private property here. We’ll take all your stuff!” Do you need to consult Genesis before you to decide to avoid those places?
But there’s much more to be said on the topic. Let’s start at the beginning — What is the source of morality? Illustrious philosophers have offered their opinions on this over the centuries. We’re being outrageously presumptuous to attempt even as little as we do here, but this is our humble view:
Regardless of whether we were specially created or evolved, and regardless of any supposed instructions from or even the existence of gods, every sane adult you ask will tell you that: (1) he doesn’t want to be murdered, enslaved, raped, or otherwise assaulted; (2) he doesn’t want his property stolen; (3) he doesn’t want to be told lies or be cheated; (4) he doesn’t want his private behavior or his honest and voluntary dealings with others to be restricted; and (5) he doesn’t want his thoughts regulated. Given mankind’s unanimity on the foregoing, would it not be reasonable to conclude that the desire to be free from those conditions is an objectively verifiable attribute of all humans, and therefore any system of morality should be based thereon?
What we’re trying to say is this — The more we know about ourselves — and everything else, the better able we are to devise a proper moral code. We’re not saying that science is morality; but science gives us knowledge, and knowledge is essential to morality.
Consider a trivial example of an improper morality — A self-proclaimed moralist asserts that we must never eat meat. He’s demanding that we deny something which is fundamental to our nature. Or maybe he claims that gravity is an evil illusion that can be overcome by prayer. Now he’s demanding that we deny something which is fundamental to the nature of the world. Reality denial can never be the foundation of morality.
Which brings us to Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution. We won’t waste time here arguing the scientific validity of the theory. All the available evidence supports it, and none contradicts it. It explains what we are and where we came from. Denying it is absurd, and attempting to build a moral system on such denial is preposterous.
Note that we’re not claiming to build a moral system on the theory of evolution. That’s not what one does with scientific theories. But we are saying that evolution is real, and a genuine moral system can’t contradict reality. If someone’s proffered system does deny reality, it can’t be moral.
We leave you with this thought — If Abraham could tell God that His intended obliteration of Sodom and Gomorrah was unjust, we can certainly tell a creationist that his moralistic claims are worthless
Update: See A Secular Source of Morality.
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