WE are forever being told by creationists that without their input we “Darwinists” are mere animals, blundering around in a random world with no way of knowing right from wrong. Their spiritual insight, they say, is vital for distinguishing good from evil. But is this true? We’ve discussed the issue before, for example: Creationism and Morality, where we said:
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? You’ll choose a city with a sign saying “No murder, rape, or theft,” as will most people. Those are the successful societies.
And in Morality, Evolution, and Darwin we said:
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?
That’s where we left it. We didn’t attempt to construct a moral code based on the nature of man. Indeed, we said that’s not the purpose of science — and we still think that. All we said was that a moral code should be consistent with man’s nature. Specifically: “We’re not saying that science is morality; but science gives us knowledge, and knowledge is essential to morality.” But now we think it’s possible to carry things a bit further.
We know the traditional objection to what we’re attempting: No matter how much we learn, that only tells us what is, and you can’t go from an “is” to an “ought.” It’s the is-ought problem in philosophy, described by David Hume. As Wikipedia puts it:
Hume calls for caution against such inferences in the absence of any explanation of how the ought-statements follow from the is-statements. But how exactly can an “ought” be derived from an “is”? In other words, given knowledge of the way the world is, how can one know the way the world ought to be?
Let the philosophers disagree, but we don’t think it’s so terribly difficult. We suggest that there is a very simple, very direct way to construct a fine moral code based on the nature of human beings. Many will disagree, but that’s okay. Here we go:
Starting where we left off in our earlier post, we’ve taken our global survey and we know what people want — they want to be free from the abuses described above. That’s inherent in being human — it’s what is. Fine, but now what? How do we go from there to the way we ought to behave?
Well, suppose it’s a long time ago and you’re a peculiar kind of real estate developer — you’re starting up your own city-state. You need settlers, good ones, those who will generate a prosperous society. You’ve done your market research and you know how people are. In particular, you know what people don’t want (they don’t want to be killed, robbed, enslaved, etc.).
So you write a moral code for your city, outlawing all the things you know aren’t wanted. You don’t tell people what they should do — that’s left up to them. You only tell them what they should not do. And you set up a police force and a court system to deal with lawbreakers. Yes, and for contract disputes and a few other details we needn’t discuss here Then you put the word out about what you’ve got to offer, and you sit back to wait for settlers. If you build it, they will come.
The concept is simple. No recourse to Genesis is required. No belief in — or even knowledge of — Noah’s Ark is necessary. And most definitely, creationism plays no part in any of this. Your city-state will thrive quite well without any of that.
So there you have it — a perfectly functional moral code based on what is. It ought to result in something like a libertarian Athens — but without slavery, and where Socrates wouldn’t be executed for impiety.
Was a society like that ever possible? We don’t know; it’s never been attempted. America came close, but in some respects it seems to have gone awry. Nevertheless, the idea is sound — or so it seems to us.
From what is to the way we ought to behave. That wasn’t so difficult, was it?
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