Culture & Ethics Icon Culture & Ethics
Faith & Science Icon Faith & Science

Darwinian Morality: How the Truth Refreshes

Assurances that we have nothing to fear from Darwinism are a familiar species of evolutionary apologetics. We’re told that Darwinian thinking doesn’t threaten morality, religion, or belief in life’s having an ultimate meaning. On the contrary, it enhances all things good and fair. Karl Giberson’s recent column in the Huffington Post, “How Darwin Sustains My Baptist Search for Truth,” deserves to be pinned under glass and put up on a wall as a near-perfect specimen of the genre.
Anyone who’s honest with himself knows this is all propaganda and wishful thinking, but it refreshes us nevertheless to hear Darwinists themselves confess — even trumpet — the truth.
Darwinian scholars and journalists have been writing with what must seem, to their brethren, an alarming frankness. One occasion for the flurry of articles is the recent sensational book Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, who present the picture of our evolutionary human ancestors as enjoying polyamory as their standard reproductive practice. Group sex was the rule for them, so there’s no reason to expect marital fidelity from us, their heirs.
On the Scientific American website, psychologist Jesse Bering throws out the whole structure of sexual right and wrong with one blog post:

There are of course many important caveats, but the basic logic is that, because human beings are not naturally monogamous but rather have been explicitly designed by natural selection to seek out “extra-pair copulatory partners” — having sex with someone other than your partner or spouse for the replicating sake of one’s mindless genes — then suppressing these deep mammalian instincts is futile and, worse, is an inevitable death knell for an otherwise honest and healthy relationship.

Dr. Bering concedes with some feeling that in evolutionary psychological terms, empathy for the jilted sexual partner also plays a role. But in general:

Right is irrelevant. There is only what works and what doesn’t work, within context, in biologically adaptive terms.

In the current issue of Philosophy Now, Joel Marks declares himself a born-again amoralist. He used to be a moral atheist, but now, having divested himself of earlier illusions, he chirpily goes for what he calls “hard atheism” and, “In fact, I have given up morality altogether!” On the science backing up his position, he comments:

Note the analogy to Darwinism. It used to be a standard argument for God’s existence that the obvious and abundant design of the universe, as manifested particularly in the elegant fit of organisms to their environments, indicated the existence of a divine designer. Now we know that biological evolution can account for this fit perfectly without recourse to God. Hence, no Designer, no Design; there is only the appearance of design in nature (excepting such artifacts as beaver dams, bird nests, and architects’ blueprints). Just so, there are no moral commands but only the appearance of them, which can be explained by selection (by the natural environment, culture, family, etc.) of behavior and motives (“moral intuitions” or “conscience”) that best promote survival of the organism. There need be no recourse to Morality any more than to God to account for these phenomena.

The article, titled “An Amoral Manifesto (Part I),” leaves us in suspense about what Dr. Marks will do with his newly embraced liberty. He’s currently a retired Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of New Haven, but even such a person can get into serious mischief. Somewhat disturbingly, he writes in his conclusion about how “Even though words like ‘sinful’ and ‘evil’ come naturally to the tongue as a description of, say, child-molesting, they do not describe any actual properties of anything.”
In the London Independent, Helen Croydon celebrates the “pop-anthropology craze” sparked by Sex at Dawn and commends the supreme court of British Columbia for reconsidering the illegality of polygamous relationships. The court “has called on the research of sociologists and evolutionists in an attempt to rule whether the monogamous family unit really is the route to Utopia.” Ms. Croydon chides human beings for being prideful:

We Homo sapiens believe we are further along the evolutionary scale than we really are. We have not evolved with the same level of romantic Zen as swans. They really are happy to pluck each other forever more without having a quack at a tempting young chick.

Uncharacteristically, British Columbia is right in the thick of the Zeitgeist. Of late, celebrities like Cameron Diaz and French first lady Carla Bruni have poo-pooed lifelong fidelity. Reviewing Sex at Dawn in Newsweek, Kate Dailey seems relieved to discover, regarding monogamy, that “It’s just not natural. Whew!”
What can one say? I told you so? These writers are only recognizing candidly the moral meaning of a scientific idea that, if true, consigns traditions of self-restraint, loyalty, the very basis of family life, to the shredder. Given the Darwinian premise, we are left with only three real options. Self-deception a la Giberson, admitting the truth — which is a horrible one — or lying about it for the sake of scoring propaganda points. Some choice. Men and women, especially men, have a hard enough time being good, don’t you think?

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.