Can Morality Be Based in Our “Selfish” Evolutionary Past?
By Henry W. Middleton
Christians argue that the existence of universal and objective morality is evidence for the existence of God. C. S. Lewis provides a classic example of this argument in Mere Christianity. In The God Delusion, however, Richard Dawkins of Oxford University claims that morality is grounded in evolution and that a person can be moral without God or religion.
Dawkins acknowledges that on the surface Darwinism seems to be inadequate to explain goodness and morality. After all, what is the survival value of such sentiments? He nonetheless attempts to explain morality through his “selfish gene” theory by which genes ensure their own survival by encouraging altruistic behavior, such as through reciprocal altruism or aiding one’s genetic kin.
Dawkins also argues that if our morality is grounded in our “Darwinian past” then we can expect to find universal morals that transcend cultural and religious boundaries. He cites studies that allegedly demonstrate that religious people do not differ from atheists in their morals. He concludes that “we do not need God in order to be good—or evil.”
Considering his atheistic assumptions, it makes sense that Dawkins would attempt to base morality on evolution. However, his argument does not do justice to the true nature of morality: (1) he does not adequately explain how natural selection can produce moral obligation; (2) he confuses the relationship between morality and either God or religion; and (3) he does not adequately explain why being moral is important.
PROBLEM ONE: BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN WHAT IS AND WHAT SHOULD BE
Dawkins’s theory addresses whether actions either promote or hinder the survival of genes. This is merely a pragmatic criterion, but morality deals with concepts of right and wrong, not useful and not useful. No one consistently lives as if morals are merely based on survival value. People do regard some actions as genuinely right or wrong. Dawkins does not explain how the survival value of an action translates into the moral status of that action…
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