atheism, creationists, ethics, evolution, evolutionary ethics, faith, God, morality, religion
I ran into an article the other day, that seemed to support my contention that morality is independent of faith in God. As you might expect, I was rather impressed with the logic expressed by the writer on the subject.
I have long been told by, especially conservative religious types, that religion, specifically Christianity, is responsible for moral behavior in humanity. In this, I have always contended that they are quite wrong. I have long concluded, through both reading and study, and personal observation, that morality is part of the human condition, and is subject to evolution like many other things.
Frans de Waal is of the same opinion, and shows how animals can be shown to exhibit traits that are akin to real caring and empathy for others, and moreover, they can make choices to indicate their preference for cooperation and sharing rather than ego driven personal selfishness.
He claims that certain people who are creationists object to evolution for this very reason. They cannot accept, and believe somehow that religion will fail, if morality is not tied to God. Their conclusion is that man cannot evolve morality, but it is a precept that goes hand and hand with God.
I think that thinking rather shallow, and certainly not in accordance with the evidence. I refer of course to the growing fields of evolutionary brain study, and ethics. Taking, as countless other scientific disciplines now do, the evolutionary model as their start, those who study the brain and human ethical systems, are more and more convinced that morality is a natural outgrowth of man’s evolving life.
Yesterday’s liturgy consisted of readings in Job and in Mark. They both raise interesting possibilities. The issue in Job is whether humans will worship a God only if there is a reward or if Job will continue to follow Yahweh even when he is visited by unimaginably wretched calamities. Does Job change his tune when his life devolves from happy and fulfilled to miserable and seeming abandonment?
Similarly, in Mark, Jesus tells the young wealthy man to go and sell everything and give to the poor and follow him. In return he will gain everything in life and eternal life in death. Pretty neat rewards wouldn’t you say?
Evolutionary ethicists and others are rather concerned about a reward/punishment system that is the basis for being “good.” And well they should be. I suspect there are few people indeed who would claim that fear of God’s retribution is the only reason for their “moral” behavior.
There is every good reason to conclude that morality is independent of God belief. Certainly humans were well along in cooperating and helping each other, sacrificing purely personal motives for the sake of the group, well before anyone suggested a “being” might be in control of the universe.
I’ve discussed the issue of evolution and the dilemma of the creationist with a lot of people, and from many different angles. Some scientists simply won’t engage, finding the discussion wasteful. The creationist has everything at stake in being right, and thus cannot engage logically with the issue. I too subscribe to this conclusion, but sadly continue to find myself drawn into argument. The argument always ends the same however, since the average creationist would rather listen to a self-styled “expert” (read no credentials), rather than one who is actually trained in the area–namely evolutionary biology.
I had, honestly, never seen the issue of morality as being tied to this issue. But de Waal certainly makes a good case. However, there are those who, at this point in time at least, still place little credibility on the entire field of evolutionary ethics or brain development.
For me, I am suspicious of any religious conclusion that starts from the proposition that we are coerced into behaving well. I find nothing free in being presented with two alternatives, one good, the other bad. That’s not choice, that’s simply following the logic of doing the least harm to self.
And moreover, as most of us know, realizing that morality is a natural development in evolutionary growth, has nothing to do with reducing God to some smaller sphere of influence. God is still God and has always been God. Releasing ourselves from outdated and I would argue harmful conclusions about God are both mature and useful in the journey to discover who God really is.
Let me say that I think that the correct reading of the Mark story I mentioned above, is not that Jesus promised reward for following him. In fact, desiring the reward would be counterproductive in the end. One must, to do it right, be selfless in our service to others. And I think the Christian theology is quite clear on this point. But what is clear theologically, is not always how it comes across to Joe Coffee at the plant. It comes across as coercive and thus not free.
The non-believer is right to sit back with arms crossed and demand explanation. Our complicated philosophical ruminations don’t ring true in Average America. It seems to me that it is better to acknowledge the truth:
We are moral because we have evolved to that, to whatever degree that we can claim it today. We share that with the higher forms at least of the animal kingdom. Religion serves as a mighty re-enforcement and that is a good thing. But our non-believing brethren deserve more than our claim that only in faith can we be moral actors in the world.
Joseph Darnell said:
I hope you understand this is a “can of worms” topic you’ve touched on. Authentic Christians and evolutionists alike would not agree with your position.
Christianity is not in any part dictated by the will/mind of mankind. The authority of the Bible is the only apologetic defense for any part or the whole of the Christian worldview. If a Christian disagrees with a part of the Bible, he has no Biblical authority to back him. See AmericanVision.org for more on this.
The exact opposite is the authority of evolution. Evolutionists rely solely on human theories. There is little that supports authentic evolution as true science. See Creation.com for more insight in this issue.
Please tell me not what you believe to be true without telling me by what authority claims these ideas to be true. Your opinions are interesting in that they convey where it is you are in your spiritual walk through life — but where is your objectivity? The subjective is never authoritative for any position we can hold to.
Thank you for letting me respond. I hope you don’t take me to be rude. I assure you I don’t mean to be.
I’m afraid I disagree. Plenty of authentic evolutionists would agree, in fact there is any entire field that does nothing but investigate man’s growth in this manner.
I’m not sure what “authentic Christians” are, except those people you conceive of who agree with your worldview. I disagree that Christianity is not dictated by the mind of man. It is almost all dictated by it. We decide what everything regarding God and Jesus mean or don’t mean. And we revise that opinion quite often based on newer and better evidence.
I have no clue where you come by the idea that “authentic evolution” whatever you conceive of that to mean, has little support as true science. It has massive support worldwide and has increasingly grown over the years, entering into more and more disciplines as their model for research.
As to my beliefs, last time I checked, this was my blog, and it is the place where my opinions matter. I’m not required to satisfy your pedogogical requirements, since I think we may assume that yours are fairly limited to a specific small group of fellow travelers.
You are most welcome to come here and argue any time. We appreciate discussion.
And remember one thing. Biblical authority is always in the eye of the beholder. Your interpretation and those of fellow creationists are assuredly not the norm anywhere, they are unique to the very real psychological requirements of the holders.
Anthony Kalnoky said:
Joseph, hate to tell you Reality: Evolution is 100% Proven, By Science and Everything. Science in the 1970’s Proved genetically (Universal DNA testing of women, every part of the world) that All us humans resulted from ONE Woman/one couple (Like the Bible says). And all from Africa, migrating all over the world.
Are you saying that God Later created the White strain, the Asian strain etc individually?
There are Massive amount of fossils that show the evolution of species. There are rather few Unknowns.
Where do you think Dinosaur bones came from?
Creation AS IS is indeed a figment of man’s ideas, Contrary to all Evidence, Science, and comon sense.
God did Indeed Create Everything, with the famed “Big Bang” discivered by a Catholic Scientist/Priest (Belgian Dr/Fr Georges Lemaitre) in the 1920’s. It has been proven 100%!. God Created Evolution, The Laws of Mathematics, the “Laws of Nature”.
Nothing is permanent. Life is born, changes in life, dies.
God’s awesome Creation of everything is the Strongest Proof of God. Former Atheist Scientists are changing to Creator Deists.
“Evolutionists” are unqualified for anything but their opinions. Scientific Authority lies in Those trained specialist: Scientists. It is Their discovered carefully, studied Evidence that proves Evolution. Not “Evolutionists”.
Am Verified “Authentic Christian”, of The Church Christ Began 2000 Years ago: Catholic (70% of all Christians. The Catholic Church Began science in the western world 600 years ago, to discover What God Created. Most major eary Name scientists were in fact Catholic Clergy. Dr/Fr LeMaitre (Who Albert Einstein thought highest of) is typical Major discoverer.
Bible Only doesn’t work, Joseph. Earliest Christians/Deciples Wrote the New Testament. We Know the Culture, the Languages of the time. The Bible was not written in English a few years ago.
I asked a Catholic Priest Professor at a Vatican Seminary a few years ago about the “God Killed everyone in a village, killed all children”. He explained that is NOT LITERAL. Is the Way things were Said. Culture of the time.
And Joseph, There is the Best Authority in the world on the Bible meanings. Not new ideas of the reader, but Catholic Biblical Experts, who No-Spin the meanings. As “Killing all Children”. New ideas about Biblical Meanings are Men’s ideas, contrary to the Iriginal Written Word.
But Joseph, Bible Only, Bible authority is Nowhere in the Bible, or Christian History, or Common Sense!
1 Timothy 3:15 clearly states the Truth about Faith is in the Apostles, The Church. Not someones new ideas.
Same about Authority. Christ placed it in the Apostles, not congragations or new ideas.
I learned Evolution, And Best total Education, at Catholic Jesuit Spring Hill College, Mobile Ala. Jesuit since 1830. No Spins. Zero spins.
Comparative Religion impressed me greatly: Fair, Unbiased presentations on all Major Religions. Compliments to some.
But Only the Catholic Church Lives, Teaches Everything Christ Taught, As he taught. The Mass, the Real Presence Eucharist are excatly the Last Supper/Consecration that Christ began at the Last Supper. That is what Christ told the Apostles Only to do In His Remembrance. Only Apostles chosen by Christ could celebrate the “Last Supper Feast” in early years!. “Presbyters” (Assistants) were taight, Anointed by Laying on of Hands By the Apostles, when the Church grew too rapidly fr the 12 Apostles.
Thanks for your respectful Post, Joseph. I, and the Catholic Church Are living Objectivity. We were taught No-Spin, No Bias in Catholi Grade School.
And at an RCIA Instruction for those learning to be Catholic, like 1800 years ago in the Catacombs, I heard the Deacon say “It CAN be a Sin, to Look down on Any other Faith, or person”! (AMEN) Looking down is Bias, Prode, Disrespec! Amen.
Thanks again for your respectful thoughts, Joseph!
Sherry, as I alluded on FB, your take closely mirrors Paul’s in Romans 2.12-15. He’s in high style here–working in compound-complex sentences that would make you or I tremble with admiration. He’s talking about judgment and says, the outcomes of our behavior will be judged according to what we know (“apart from the law; under the law”) He then says, “It’s not those who hear the law who are righteous, but those who obey.” And then he says Gentiles (pagans) “do by nature”–by nature (wish I knew how it italicize that)–“things required by the law, for they are a law for themselves.” Paul asserts that every human has an innate moral conscience, regardless of his/her religious training.
Naturally, Paul doesn’t attach the development of morality to evolution, writing as he is before Darwin’s theory. Yet, his teaching here would appear to reconcile Creationists to the notion of inherent morality–with or without the Darwinist angle, which is your basic point here.
If we set aside the “how long did it take” issue for a moment and look at this purely from a theological framework, the premise that humanity is naturally endowed with an a-religious, arbitrary moral sense makes total sense. And, our primary reason for believing this ironically springs from the Creation narrative. God breathes into man and he becomes a “living being,” we’re told. Thus, it would seem backward to conceive God’s living presence inside each of us does not bring moral imperatives with It. To deny that is to deny the nature of God.
The sacrosanct nature of our beings, the kingdom of God within us, as Jesus called it, must be impervious to the human will that overrides its moral sense. Jesus and the Apostles couldn’t have been more clear about this, consistently dividing “spirit” from “flesh.” Paul’s treatise on “the two Adams” (Romans 5) carefully lays out the difference. Our moral deficits are borne in our flesh, which follows what Paul often call “the law of death,” while our redemption is actually reconciliation to God under “the law of grace”–a state of moral integrity and innocence.
Therefore, we have Scriptural foundation for believing a moral sense pre-exists in us and can guide us, with or without active belief in God. However, because the conflict between our flesh and our spirits is constant and intense, faith becomes essential to maintaining optimal moral consistency.
Faith of any kind, Christianity included (and particularly, given its teachings) cannot instill morals. There’s no need; morals are present from birth. What it can do is strengthen our resolve to honor our moral instincts by heightening our awareness of what God breathed into us.
This is tough stuff, Sherry, and it takes someone who, like you, is seasoned, secure, and objective to wrestle with it–i.e., someone a good ways down the road in his/her faith.
Tim, some very heavy duty theological thinking there my friend. I see your point, and as usual, get rather sidetracked by my obvious impatience with the creationist crowd, missing that you are indeed right. To be created by God, as I certainly agree we are in a greater sense, means necessarily or at least obviously that we begin with some sort of moral compass, Cain notwithstanding. And even there, Cain seemed to have an immediate understanding that he had done something wrong.
I agree that religion can and often does strengthen our resolve, hopefully not for the reward, but rather because we wish to be obedient to our God.
Thanks for the analysis of Romans, a thoroughly difficult text to be sure.
Joseph Darnell said:
Sherry, thanks for your reply. I try to limit how much I write in one comment, so my thoughts are not as clear as I would like at times.
At the heart of what I’m noting above, I’m saying the Bible makes one case and scientific studies (by mostly non-believers) make another.
Evolution as it’s known today has many factions. Traditional evolution is what I mean by “authentic” because it seems to be the most consistent with evolutionary ideas as a whole. It’s also called Darwinian evolution. In any case, the study of evolution is always in some state of flux — so is Christianity.
I’m trying to differentiate between religion and the Word of God. I’m not big on traditional values by any group of people. The Bible advocates that it is true and ideals other than those in Scripture are false. There are unlimited interpretations, but only one can be the rightful meaning/message from God delivered to man.
So, religion and the specifics of evolutionary theory aside, what do you believe is the authority in life? If the Bible is wrong, how do you know that what you choose to believe out of it is not wrong? How do you know that an ancient text compiled by many authors over thousands of years is wrong on scientific matters and the study of a few thousand men in the last 200 years is right?
Joseph, I appreciate that you are trying to be succinct.
I take issue that most scientists are non-believers. There is no necessary correlation between one’s beliefs regarding God and one’s desire and dedication to doing science by the normal standards.
You draw evolutionary distinctions that the scientific community does not make. There is no such thing as Darwinian evolution except in the minds of the extreme right. There is likewise no such thing as Newtonians or Einsteinians. Such terms are your creation to artificially divide the discipline.
As for evolutionary issues being in flux, welcome to science. All issues are in flux in case you were unaware. No field claims success or finality. There is no ultimate proof that ends all debate and question. Science is like that, never claiming any definitive end. Evolutionary ideas are debated within the community according to standard rules of experimentation and verification. Publication in appropriate journals and review by one’s peers are the norm as in other scientific endeavors.
I disagree that there is only one truth enunciated in the bible. There are myriads and that is why the text remains so valuable as years go by. It can still speak to us in vastly different circumstances, and sometimes it simple admits that it has never confronted our issues of today. There is no one interepretation that is sacrosanct whatever it’s proponent might desire. If we all agreed on interpretation, there would not be nearly 40,000 Christian sects to choose from.
The bible is not wrong. It is simply limited to what it is. No one expects ancient people to understand the finer points of astronomy. Ancients believed the world was flat, their description in the first Genesis story, reflects this archaic view of the world. The order of creation is out of keeping with what we understand today.
The concepts you describe as science were not worked out over thousands of years. The J creation story was an oral story that had been around for a long time. It was not updated nor changed, but inserted by the P redactor to show certain theological points, not explain either astronomy or geology.
To limit the last 200 years to a few thousand men is simply erroneous. That would be millions of men and women in multiple disciplines such as astronomy, astrophysics, physics, paleontology, archaeology, anthropology, zoology, evolutionary biology, biology, medicine, geology, and the list is longer still no doubt. All these people over nearly 200 years have used this model to success in their fields.
What creationists don’t answer is that they simply pick and choose science. If it helps you and doesn’t conflict with your personal religious worldview, then it’s good science, if it conflicts, it’s bad science. So you drive cars, use microwaves, watch HD tv, and so forth with abandon, as products of “good” science, and then arbrarily vilify science when it impinges in its conclusions with doctrines you are dependent upon for your psychic well being. That’s not their fault, but yours.
Anthony Kalnoky said:
Joseph, Thanks again for your search. we all Are. I am home 100% PLUS in the ideal, idealistic Catholic Church!
MAJOR POINT: Science and Religion COMPLIMENT and ComplEment each other. They do Not Conflict. Albert Einstein says one can not understand Either fully without knowing the other.
There was a Definiktive Newsweek Feature article on Science/Religion some years ago. It Named the Autrhor who invented the “Conflict” between Religion and Science a couple centuries ago. It was a Key aricle, Naming Names, Reality that each generally Complements the other!.
We believe the Authoity in Life is as Chist said: in the Apostles, now Magesterium (Council of All Bishops). No basic teaching has changed in 2000 years. (And one has to have a Doctorate to be a Catholic Bishop).
There are always different opinions, Joseph. We each like our Own ideas best 🙂 I study all ideas, and found the Best, Including Morality, which is basic to getting along. Helping Others is Good; Helping oneself os considered immoral, if taking advantage of another.
I jump in here at my own peril, Sherry. But Joseph’s last question startled me. Matters of science rely on empirical evidence for proof, or compile empirical evidence to advance a logical theory. Merely by current technological capabilities and human knowledge amassed since ancient times, one should have no issue with the superiority and improved accuracy of current thinking.
For starters, Biblical writers believed the earth was flat and the center of the universe. We know differently now. Are we supposed to ignore what we’ve learned to regress to what they imagined? How can we even entertain accepting their “science” in exchange for what we know now?
Then there’s the issue of measuring time. Particularly in Genesis, the time ascribed to events and lives is remarkably elastic. This by no means alters the theological truth in these passages–and isn’t that the Bible’s purpose, anyway?–but it compromises the data significantly.
Must we actually believe Methuselah lived 900 years? Must a “day” mean 24 hours? Does it matter? Not really. Why? Because God’s time isn’t man’s time. Was it not Peter–the rock of faith Christ built His Church on–who said, “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day?”
And if we have it from the Bible itself that our concept of time is limited, and therefore unreliable in scriptural science, must we not also concede the tools and knowledge available to the writers then–as well as those we have now–were/are also limited? Although we know and understand much more than the writers did then–and we must admit this–we still don’t know enough.
Which raises further speculation about those who insist Biblical science must be accepted as empirical truth, when scientific advances clearly highlight its sole purpose as spiritual truth. Even Paul, most assuredly the most learned scholar to grace Scripture’s pages, had no problem conceding his lack of comprehension: “Know I know in part, then I will know fully.”
All this prattle over Creationism vs. Evolution is folly–a vain pursuit based on human attempts to understand what’s beyond our means. There are many more urgent matters leaping out of Scripture at us–true moral issues that need to be addressed. Fighting over Genesis and Darwin is entertaining and fascinating for us, but I’m sure it bores God silly–and exasperates Him as He looks at all He needs us to do to love and care for one another, and all we’re not doing by squabbling over stuff we’ll can’t fully understand.
Finally, we must follow Jesus’s lead. He displayed no hesitation in refuting outmoded doctrines and beliefs, going so far as to tell the Pharisees, “You study the Scripture, for in them you think you find the truth,” when in fact, Truth in its Fullness stood right before their eyes.
What God has revealed to us about His universe since the penning of Scripture must not be discarded to hang on to older revelations tailored for understanding at the time. Much of what Biblical writers didn’t know now stands before our eyes. God has allowed us to know more than ever, though far from all. To reject His gift of knowledge is, to my thinking, rank ingratitude and self-imposed ignorance. Preferring to find truth in Old Testament shadows when enlightened truth has been provided makes no sense.
Tim I fully agree. God must be frustrated at how we can digress from the truly important work of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, and caring for the sick.
There is so much in Jesus’ teaching that pulls us away from such pursuits to the real issues of life, yet we continue in our Pharisidic ways.
If we are indeed made in God’s image, than surely it means in it’s most clear manifestion, our minds, and the way we think. Our minds must be in sync with God to contemplate him at all. It is an outrage to suggest that he deliberately created a world that would appear to our senses (that which serves us so well in every respect) to be one thing when in fact is it s something antithical to our senses. Such a test is beneath any God I could worship.
Anthony Kalnoky said:
Tim, Flst earth was not Science. It was Popular Opinion. It’s been said that in Columbuses Time, Most knew the Earth was not flat. Ships sailing iver the horizon Returned. The Egyptian leading minds Figured the Circumference of the Earth roughly, 3000 years ago!
Popular Opinion differs from Best Minds/Scientists/Specialists.
And a lot of uthors have hyped our minds with phony ideas, Like Science and Religion Conflict, are Enemies.
morality… is the great achilles’ heals of religion. (its perceived – exclusivity – on morality feels hypocritical)
religion can only impose and dictate.. . what is good. what is bad.. and only within the confine of “authorised” beliefs… within very specific groups. so what is considered as good for one religious group can be seen as bad within another group. and vice versa.
moralitsts are xenophobes.
nature is the author of our building blocks. nature constructs us with an inherent sense of what is good and of what is bad. that sense exists in all life forms. from humans, to crows, to blades of grass.
what is good is what keeps us alive.
what is bad is what causes us to die.
from this we develop antennas to get more of what is good and constructive (to us)…. and avoid like h1n1 what is bad and destructive. the rest is decorum. additions. and justifications.
moralists simply takes nature’s formula and claim it to have descended upon them from this or that god. – (it is not even a question of evolution). we are all simply born with this fundamental code in our genes.
I tend to believe that morality is genetic and that the whys and wherefores of morality are developed in a religious context. Religion serves a serious purpose, but it is not the agent of morality. Cain knew that killing Abel was wrong, and that was before God ever spoke about murder. Thanks for your comment.
Anthony Kalnoky said:
False!. Religion teaches Respect, helping others, not oneself. It teaches Altruism. The Catholic Church also values Education of Each, not spun.
Few know this, but there are more Laws locally about everything. A sheriff’s Deputy told me Spitting on the Sidewalk is technically Arrestable, as is cursing in Public. Why all the Laws, Rules? To keep us out of trouble We, nor Anyone, would want.
The Church teaches by Reasoning what’s best, Ideal for Us, not it. It helps us be Idealistic, as It Is.
Aren’t oo many of our antennas out searching what’s Best for Me? That attitude can be troublesome. Chickens come home to Roost.
I’ve always thought that if there is a God, then He invented evolution, and our innate morality is a result of His invention. It can all work together. I personally don’t know if I believe in God, but if He exists I don’t see any problem believing in both Him and evolution. It could all be part of His plan. Ditto morality, it could be part of evolution. If there IS a God, the it is all one thing.
Thanks Maui. There seems no good reason why God would create an earth with rules that appear to be one thing and are actually another. That doesn’t seem like the kind of God represented in the Christian world, nor frankly in other faith traditions that I am aware of.
There is nothing incompatible about evolution and God, as you rightly point out. God’s universal laws simply lend themselves to this, as we see throughout the universe.
And you are right to remind us, that in the end, we do but conjecture. Faith is faith, not proof. Thanks maui.
if god created human genes…. and morality is genetic… then “evil” is of god’s creation?
Anthony Kalnoky said:
God didn’t create Evil. Evil is the Lack of Good. Blindness is the lack of Vision. Earth is not paradise! Earth, we aere not perfect.
Learned that on Catholic TV (EWTN)
Randal Graves said:
We created evil.
The International Conspiracy of Godless Heathens
rofl…you are too dang funny Randal
Personally, I believe that we have no moral basis in any deity other than what our own interpreted reflection on that deity would demand (and which would subsequently frame our social structures).
I was initially prompted to comment on the first post above (by Joseph); I think you handled the inaccuracies nicely, though, so I won’t jump on it, too.
I would concur. Religion and belief in God are merely means of strengthening or I suppose even weakening those moral precepts we have already come to in our human living.