Evolution does not infer amorality

Christian evangelists Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron have challenged two atheists to a debate over the existence of God that will air live at ABC’s website on May 5. What caught my eye in the article that introduced me to the debate was this quote by Cameron:

Atheism has become very popular in universities – where it’s taught that we evolved from animals and that there are no moral absolutes. So we shouldn’t be surprised when there are school shootings.

Teaching evolution is responsible for school violence? Perhaps if no one had ever committed a wrong in the name of religion there might be some inkling of reason to consider his proposition (which also presumes that evolution and religion are mutually exclusive). But people commit crimes regardless of spiritual belief. And when religion is involved, the criminal always points to dogma, not it’s absence, as justification for his acts. No one has ever hurt another human being out of atheist fanaticism.

The Bible is not the only source of morality. And I’m grateful for that. If we all lived by it’s exact words we’d be stoning our children, keeping slaves, and offering our underage daughters to house guests for non-consensual copulation. Where might an atheist, then, get his or her moral sense? I agree with Albert Sweigart:

[…] I don’t think we have a moral mandate because God said so. I think we have a moral mandate because our actions, nevertheless what we think, make a difference. We affect the people around us in material and emotional terms, and our actions set an example for others to follow.

We have a moral mandate to take responsibility because we are in the rare position among life forms on earth to think, reflect, and take consideration of consequence. I think to fail to excogitate on our actions with our unique mental capabilities is tragic. And we see the problems that arise out of this failure, both in problems of hurt emotions and damaged relationships, and in problems of brutal violence and conflict.

Our ancestry from millions of years ago doesn’t limit our intellectual capability to find solutions to these problems today. It doesn’t impede our moral imperative to heal ourselves.

From what I can tell, most atheists take the ethical position of humanism. While humanism may not contain moral absolutes, it certainly objects to murder and other forms or cruelty and injustice. If there’s anything immoral suggested by Kirk Cameron’s statement, it’s that blaming science courses for deadly violence without sound reason is intellectually, socially, and ethically irresponsible.

There is no connection whatsoever between the teaching of evolution and school shootings. There does however seem to be a link between the promotion of creationism and a delusional cognizance of one of the greatest achievements of science.


13 thoughts on “Evolution does not infer amorality

  1. Kirk Cameron is quite the theologian and social critic, isn’t he? Have you seen the silly “Atheists Nightmare” schtick he and Comfort do? Seems like a banana is all you need to prove the existence of God! I hope they use it during their debate.

  2. I think Sweigart is correct when he says “I think we have a moral mandate because our actions, nevertheless what we think, make a difference. We affect the people around us in material and emotional terms, and our actions set an example for others to follow”

    Leading by example seems to have been eclipsed by leading by the media!

  3. Yes, I’ve seen the banana argument. I think that’s one of the primary reasons I felt comfortable using the word “delusional” in my description of their rationale. Ray Comfort neglects to mention that the bananas we eat are domesticated, which is another way of saying genetically modified by humans, for humans. That might be an important detail to include while explaining the “design” of bananas.

  4. I agree with most of what you say, jason. It goes without saying (I think) that the fundamentalist’s assertion that only they are moral is really a sign of their narrow outlook on life. Sod ’em.

    On evolution..er..as one of the “delusional” I guess I better keep a low profile :)



  5. I meant that one must have a delusional understanding of evolution to think teaching it causes amorality and violence. It’s equally delusional to think bananas prove the existence of God.

  6. you know, Jason, my first instincts are to agree with you on this (as in much else); I mean, faced with the backwardness of the moralizers, fundamentalists, maulvis and ned flander of the world it is obvious that to posit such a causality is reprehensible.

    But I think there is a philosophical discussion here that is important. With your indulgence, here is an excerpt from Hans Jonas’ Phenomenon of Life:

    ’19th century evolutionism is an ..apocryphal ancestor of existentialism . The latter’s encounter with “nothingness” springs from the denial of “essence” which blocked the recourse to an ideal “nature” of man, once offered in his classical definition by reason (homo animale rationale), or in the Biblical one by the creation in the image of God. The “image,” in the absence of creation, had vanished with the original; and reason had been reduced to a means among means, to be judged by the efficiency of its instrumental role in the survival issue…it does not set but serve aims. if there is a “life of reason” for man (as distinct from the mere use of reason), it can be chosen only nonrationally, as all ends must be chosen nonrationally ..But use of reason as a means is compatible with any ends, no matter how irrational. This is the nihilistic implication in man’s losing a “being” transcending the flux of becoming. Nietzsche’s nihilism and his attempts to overcome it are demonstrably connected with the impact of Darwinism.’

    Now, I’m not saying one has to agree with that but it does, to my mind at least, suggest that the matter is more complex than one might initially conclude.

    To put it simply, three things undermined western man’s confidence in reason at the beginning of the last century: the trenches, Freud, and Darwinism. Instead of the latter leading to a spiritually enlightened view of our kinship with nature it has, I think, led to the view that we are ‘merely’ animals or beasts, with our instincts only barely made tolerable by the thin veneer of civilisation.

  7. Khalid,

    The main point I wanted to make was that teaching evolution does not cause atheism, and that atheism does not cause nihilism or amorality. The way Cameron put it, he made it sound as if violence was a self-evident outcome of teaching evolution. That’s beyond absurd. It’s sick. And, by the way, I still haven’t had the chance to watch the debate. My computer is refusing to play video streams. I’m having hardware issues, so I think it’s time to buy a new machine.

    You seem to be referring to the philosophical implications of science, particularly those generated by evolution, and how they might undermine the sense of meaning and connectedness provided by spirituality. There are a number of points I can make on this matter. For one, to think humans are “merely” animals is first an insult to animals, and second it is ignorant of the vast differences between humanity and the remainder of living beings. Only humans have culture. We are the most social and diverse species. And we are the most intelligent (at least by our own standards) with cognitive, symbolic, and technological capacities far more sophisticated than all other known lifeforms. To say that’s not enough, that we also need a special divine status, appears quite unnecessary and vain.

    I don’t think science-based outlooks necessarily lessen the importance or meaning of life. Rather, I think spirit-based outlooks often have a flavor of narcissism that props believers up by shoving nonbelievers and nonhuman animals down an imaginary ladder of holiness. Darwinism indeed has the power to enlighten us to our kinship with each other and with all of life. But a widespread rejection of evolution has divided people, fueling conflict and slowing the maturation of a Darwinian worldview. With Kirk Cameron in mind, I’d call these challenges to the expansion of Darwinism “growing pains.” I have no doubt that evolution will emerge victorious in the end as a robust explanation of life’s collective unity and variety.

    As for “all ends must be chosen nonrationally,” I see no evidence for that statement. And who’s to decide what is ultimately rational?

  8. AND…it seems to me that the folks most likely to reject Darwinism when it comes to individual species are the ones who whole-heartedly accept it when it comes to economics. I mean, isn’t the winner-take-all attitude of unbridled capitalism (which Tom DeLay would swear on a stack of Bibles to defend) nothing but an extreme form of Social Darwinism? Dan Quayle actually equated the “best people” in American society with those who made the most money. Ugh.

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