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Thank Evolution for Morality

I have discussed the origin of morality several times in the past on this blog but I want to revisit the issue because of a podcast I just listened to. It was from the excellent series called Point of Inquiry which is produced by the Center for Inquiry. The guest was John W. Loftus who wrote a book called “Why I Became an Atheist”. He was a preacher and Christian apologist who suddenly realised that his whole belief system was based on total nonsense.

But worse than that, he also realised that Christianity doesn’t have higher morality than any other belief system (or lack of belief). In fact, there is a good argument that the opposite is true. Naturally this appealed to me because it fits in with what I have been saying for many years now.

So let’s look at the morality issue. If a Christian claims that to be moral you must have a belief in God and follow his laws we could ask: what would you do if you suddenly realised your beliefs were untrue? Very few people would suddenly go on a rampage of death and destruction. So they would behave morally even if they didn’t believe in God, in which case how does belief in God make you more moral?

This idea is supported by the fact that the level of immoral behaviour amongst Christians is about the same as it is amongst non-Christians. So being a Christian has no significant effect on how moral you are which seems to indicate that Christianity has nothing to do with morality. I would admit that a lot of the teaching in the New Testament is quite moral, but there is also a lot of immoral material there and there is a similar amount or more moral teaching in other sources.

So it seems that no matter how you look at it you don’t need religion to be moral. There is possibly a tiny fraction of believers who are held back from immoral activity because of their fear of the wrath of God but there is also a small fraction who carry out immoral activities because of their belief. So it seems to me that the net effect is close to zero.

A question believers will often ask at this point is: where does morality come from then, if its not from a higher power? I would say that morality comes from a set of behaviours which almost all humans have and are a result of evolution. We have evolved in small groups where we have had to act according to certain rules to get along with our fellow members of the group. Not killing, stealing, lying, etc are all behaviours which enhance the smooth running of a social group so they are the natural result of being a social species.

Recent research shows other social species such as chimpanzees, bonobos, elephants and dolphins also have some moral behaviour which is remarkably similar to our own. Species which live outside of social groups don’t generally share these attributes.

So the inescapable conclusion, and one which I’m sure most Christians really do not want to hear, is that morality comes from evolution! Totally contrary to what they claim evolution is not an immoral force entirely guided by survival of the fittest, it is a complex process which can produce both individualistic behaviour (which many people would see as immoral) to the most remarkable cooperative social acts (which seem to be moral).

So next time you see an example of self-sacrificing, thoughtful, altruistic behaviour don’t thank god, thank evolution instead!

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