This will be the first in a two post series devoted to a conversation between myself and a friend, Kirk who espouses a more traditional creationist view of human morality and origins. I have copied both his queries and comments and my replies verbatim from the original. Please excuse the substantial typos…this was originally not meant for a wider audience and I was working quickly. The second half will come tomorrow. The post to which Kirk refers in the opening lines is from two days ago. Enjoy!
K.S. An interesting post, it makes me think of a passage I recently read from one of C.S Lewis's works. You are arguing that people of faith (I can only assume you throw together any faith) may believe what they wish, but your complaint is when they try to pass legislation based on their sense of morality, which you seem to find objectionable based on your own sense of morality. But if, not believing in God yourself (what most people of faith would point to as their moral compass) what is it you argue makes your sense of morality truer to the overall sense, than that of someone else?A great metaphor has been used likening this situation to that of a piano. To you, you may say, this key sounds right to me, and someone else might say that another key sounds better to them. But it is really the sheet music (ie. God to most ppl of faith) being played that dictates what note is truest. If you are not judging on some greater level of morality that supercedes the thoughts of men (who often make excuses for themselves when they wish to circumnavigate that law) then how can you claim that your sense of morality is any better than someone else's?
P.A. Well Kirk...thats an interesting idea. I suppose, in short, the reason that my morality supercedes the others is that it is personal. I guess to some degree I believe in the idea of an absolute morality that is essentially guided by "the golden rule." Being that I don't believe in god, but i do believe in the general decency of human beings...i think that morality stems from the individual without need for a supreme being to justify its existence. I think you would agree that the vast majority of moral codes decreed by religion are incorrect in some degree. You would probably agree that the subjugation of women in the middle east is against your moral fiber and they would of course argue the opposite. If we are to take the bible as the source of morality then surely we will need to ignore portions of it for the sake of common decency. Leviticus alone is filled with some pretty horendous moral teachings by our modern standards. If this is the case where we can pick and choose. It must also be some form of innate morality that allows for that decision to be made. Clearly these cannot come from the bible because to do so would be to admit self inconcsistency which I doubt you are willing to do. Thus, we have again morality derived from man and not from god which dictates what is right and wrong.
K.S. Morality derived from man which goes hand in hand with believing in the common decency of man can be a dangerous thing. No child left to their own devices needs to be shown how to steal a cookie, but does need to be shown the things of decency such as respect for one another. If you argue your morality is personal, to the extent of being based on your own views and not something higher, then you can claim it is moral to put yourself before other ppl at all times, when we know that isn't the case. Though I do agree that there are things with other cultures past and present that I disagree with, such as the treatment of women, I think there is a separation of morality and culture. Issues of morality hold realtively consistent across cultures. I think you would be hard pressed to find a culture that promotes screwing over someone that hasn't wronged you, stealing from the innocent for personal gain, or consistently putting your needs before someone elses. If morality itself is from some innate source, where does it come from? What biological or chemical interaction that takes place in all of us allows us to discern between things that are right and wrong, that we can all agree upon on a basic level, regardless of age, religion, class, or creed?
P.A. Let me put it to you this way...what if tomorrow it was determined beyond a shadow of a doubt that no god existed. Would you imagine that all of a sudden people would become murders, rape would become common place, theft would be the norm, or any other manner of immoral behavior? Do you believe that you would do such things...i doubt that you would. Furthermore, the idea of an innate morality is certainly within the realm of possibility. We see kinship in members of the animal kingdom that certainly have no notion of god to keep them in line. It is a definite survival advantage to have what we would consider moral behavior. lIn reality all morality is to some degree putting yourself above others...you tell people not to steal so that they will steal from you, you tell people not to kill so that you yourself will not be killed. I will agree that instances of true altruism are hard to find in nature but I would also argue that instances of altruism are impossible to find in religion.
K.S. It is an impossible thing for you to ask such a question if I say to you that all of our own innate senses of right and wrong come from God. If I did not believe in right or wrong, would it be a hard thing to steal something so I didn't have to pay for it or something along those lines? Probably not, as it is human nature to be self preserving, therefore looking after our own interests before others. I disagree with you as to your case of animals in nature. We do see in many species a pack mentality which humans exhibit as well, but in sustaining a group, we can sustain ourselves...so in a way it can be selfish in itself. However, how often do we see much of the animail kingdom exhibiting the self preservation behavior I already spoke of. To an extent I can agree that we might teach lessons so as to benefit from them ourselves, but how does that answer to issues of morality in every case? I would argue there are plenty of cases we help others when there is no clear "payoff".
P.A. I'm saying that while you might argue that our innate sense of right and wrong comes from god that in fact it comes from our genes and from an evolutionary pressure to have such a thing. This is why even in the absence of god, people would not be reduced to immorallity just as you would not be reduced to immorality. In regards to human nature...you are correct it is in our nature to be self-preserving but on a genetic level. I'm going to paraphrase from Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" here. We seek to maintain individuals and people who are close to us genetically because there is a high chance that their genetic make-up will be similar to ours and the basic unit of evolution is in fact the gene and not the individual. This is why seemingly altruistic behavior is in fact not and can be explained through evolution. I think that we do see self-preservation in animals to the same extent that we see it in humans but when it happens to a person we call it by a different name. In regards to helping others without payoff...i challenge you to provide such an example in which no benefit was gained...either personally or genetically.
K.S. I would argue that when faced with the same moral dilemna, people following a true morality from God, not interrupted with their own selfishness, would do the same thing regardless of the individual being helped. It is hard to argue it's based on someone's similar genetic makeup that I would help them, regardless of whether they are black or white, American or Asian, man or woman, young or old, Christian or Atheist. And as for helping others without payoff, I once offered to help a man I saw struggling with getting something in the back of his truck. This man, who was older and of an ethnic race completely not related to mine, was someone I would more than likely never see again in my life. The deed was not done in hopes someone would offer me the same because I am unfortunately very stubborn in nature. Additionally, I was not doing it for show as there was no one else around. Before I sound like I am blowing my own horn, I know that this kind of thing goes on around the world. Based on this, tell me what was my gain?
P.A. OK...two things, I'm afraid i don't understand your first sentence/point. In regards to your second...I commend you for your act of selflessness. While I'm not a believer, do you not believe that god saw you do that...might it be a personal motivation, irregardless of your innate morality. Keep in mind, this is not an argument for the existence of god but rather an argument for your belief in the existence of god. Regardless of that, lets say there was a gene that conferred a behavior that was beneficial to the community by allowing the individual posessing that behavior to display some form of "altruism" to the other members of the group (could have evolved in a small village but the gene is maintained because there is no pressure to not have it or it serves some other purpose simultaneously). Surely a group with that gene would flourish due to the cooperative efforts of its constituents and a group without would suffer. Thus we have an evolutionary perspective on the phenomenon of altruism in the absence of genetic linkage between individuals. All that matters is that a community is beneficial to the surivival of its parts and so genes fostering community will be more apt to survive and multiply in future generations. We see this is the great apes, elephants, dolphins, etc.
K.S. How does this explain altruistic behavior toward groups outside of one's own? Hence my first point that you said you didn't understand. If you argue that the altruistic behavior is due to a gene promoting the survival of one's own "village" or close relatives genetically speaking, then how does this account for people willing to help anyone and everyone in need? Additionally, am I then free to claim that someone being more self promoting than another individual is then "genetically inferior" versus simply selfish? History has certainly taught us the dangers of judging a group to be genetically inferior to another.
P.A. kind of a low blow with that last part there kirk. I will forgive it for now. Here is the difference, genes evolve in small populations and then spread to larger populations. For instance, the gene for light skin color evolved in the people that moved out of Africa or the middle east to Europe. Now when those people move back to Africa or to some other place...they retain the characteristic of their ancestors. Thus, a gene for altruism could have evolved in a time when everyone in close proximity to you would have been genetically similar. A gene can not know what the genetic make-up of the guy you met on the street is but a gene can say just help people you meet in general and in a small population that would likely be people who are similar to you. We retain the small village genetic make-up and those same instinctive behaviors as a result but we now apply them to a global village. Furthermore, someone being more self-promoting is not necessarilly genetically inferior. From a gene-centered view of evolution we need to look not at fitness but on probability of passing on genes...thus all genes evolve independantly to aid in the ability of their human carrier to pass them on. Some evovle to help us see better and evade predators and others evolve to aid us in forming communities which also help the surivival of the human carrier. This is beneficial to the genes because when they first evovled the communities would likely have similar make-ups but they could never and will never be able to differentiation on a molecular level the people we meet day to day now. The selective pressure is less but the genes remain active.