Herein, we continue, from part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, considering a discussion between Gary Gutting (professor of phi
Herein, we continue, from part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, considering a discussion between Gary Gutting (professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame) and Michael Ruse (philosopher of science who specializes in the philosophy of biology of Florida State University) that was published as “Does Evolution Explain Religious Beliefs?,” New York Times, July 8, 2014 AD
GARY GUTTING: Is one of religion’s merits that it provides a foundation (intellectual and practical) for morality through the idea of God as divine lawgiver?
MICHAEL RUSE: I am on record as an “evolutionary skeptic.” I don’t deny substantive morality — you ought to return your library books on time — but I do deny objective foundations. I think morality is a collective illusion, genetic in origin, that makes us good cooperators. And I would add that being good cooperators makes each one of us individually better off in the struggle for existence.
If we are nice to other people, they are much more likely to be nice to us in return. However, as the philosopher J.L. Mackie used to argue, I think we “objectify” substantive ethics — we think it objectively the case that we ought return library books on time. But we do this (or rather our genes make us do this) because if we didn’t we would all start to cheat and substantive ethics would collapse to the ground.
So I don’t buy the moral argument for the existence of God. I think you can have all of the morality you need without God. I am a follower of Hume brought up to date by Darwin. Morality is purely emotions, although emotions of a special kind with an important adaptive function. I don’t, however, think that here I am necessarily denying the existence of God.
Were I a Christian, I would be somewhat of a natural law theorist, thinking that morality is what is natural. Caring about small children is natural and good; killing small children for laughs is unnatural and bad. If you want to say that God created the world and what is good therefore is what fits with the way God designed it, I am O.K. with this. In fact, I think you should say it to avoid the problem (raised in Plato’s “Euthyphro”) of simply making the good a function of God’s arbitrary will.
The reason that one of religion’s merits is that it provides a foundation for morality is that as per Atheistic evolution; morality is a Darwinian survival mechanism. This means that if it is advantageous to love one’s neighbor then that is moral but if it is advantageous to eat one’s neighbor then that is moral.
Morality is, on this view, what morality does and the zeitgeist is ever shifting into a poltergeist. What was moral yesteryear could be immoral today and visa versa. Therefore, Atheistic evolution discredits moral condemnation as one cannot condemn yesterday’s actions based on today’s morals. In fact, can we even be justified in condemning today’s actions based on today’s morality? After all, for all we know, even at this very moment morality is shifting.
In the previous segment, Ruse was quoted to the effect that he is “an ardent Darwinian evolutionist” but he is also an “evolutionary skeptic”—go figure. Well, I am an ardent Darwinian evolution skeptic.
Note that on Ruse’s view genes are omnipotent as they “make us” do things. The technical fact is that while within our common parlance the terms are used interchangeably: there is a difference between morals and ethics.
Morality refers to the mores which are mere descriptions of that which people do; whatever it is that they are doing. Thus, morals are relative, subjective, intrinsic and tentative.
Ethics refers to the ethos which are prescriptions of that which people should or ought to do;. Thus, ethics are objective, extrinsic and absolute (some refer to this concept as absolute morals or universal morals—see attached video for details and examples of this).
The result of Michael Ruse’s claim is that morality is, ultimately, selfishness. Our genes make us moral because “being good cooperators makes each one of us individually better off.” For a related issue, see Karma and pop-occulture.
Now, if morality is merely a Darwinian survival mechanism, of course, “you can have all of the morality you need without God” since, in that case, morality is as noted above.
As for “morality is what is natural” just what is natural? Cooperation with one’s own kind or species (whatever that is) or family or tribe or clan or city or state or country or continent but brutally murdering outsiders for food and other resources?
Why is it “killing small children for laughs” something that is “unnatural and bad”? If resources are low and population high then, why not? In fact, within first would countries (and others) murdering small children, babies in the womb, for convenience is viewed as perfectly moral. And what is someone (or, an entire culture) murders small children for laughs? What of it? Unless a stronger culture punishes the “guilty” then they have their laugh and simply get away with it.
As for Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma, see the attached video Morality: splitting the horns of the Euthyphro dilemma.
The next section will consider morality as a Darwinian survival mechanism.