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Does evolution conflict with religion and morality?

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Introduction

It is often alleged that evolution conflicts with important metaphysical views, such as religious claims ("God exists") and/or morality. This is probably the single biggest motivation behind the intelligent design and creationism movements, as evidenced, for example, by the Wedge document. Much of the public appeal (such as it is) of antievolutionism comes from the perception that evolution threatens belief in God/morality/Bible/Christianity/Islam/etc., when in fact all the science of evolution really challenges is a historically recent and quite peculiar literalist interpretation of the Bible that only began to become popular after Seventh-Day Adventists began promoting it in the early 20th century (see the book The Creationists, by science historian Ronald Numbers, for detailed documentation of this).

Therefore, it is useful to document just how diverse the metaphysical perspectives are of those who are well-acquainted with evolutionary theory and consider it well-supported science (undoubtedly there are a large number of people who rarely think about evolution at all, but they probably will not be involved in the creation/evolution controversy anyhow). As it is difficult for one person to survey, compile, and write up the diverse views of many people, EvoWiki provides an opportunity for people to contribute their own views.

Guidelines: Contributors should:

  1. Briefly describe their metaphysical worldview (i.e., religious views, if any; skeptics are welcome to contribute as well, since many seem to be concerned about their moral views)
  2. Describe how evolution relates to their worldview, if it plays a significant role at all (e.g., some Christians take the view that, as a religious question, it doesn't matter if God created via instantaneous creation or gradual evolution).
  3. Describe how evolution relates to their moral philosophy, although again it may be that it plays no significant role.
  4. Sign their name, pseudonym, or "anonymous" as desired. If you are logged in you can simply use three tildes (~~~) to sign, or four to sign and datestamp your contribution.

This page is meant to sample the diversity of views, so if a view similar to yours has already been expressed, adding your view may be redundant.

Viewpoints

Weak agnostic, moral realist

I currently consider myself a weak agnostic: that is, I personally don't know if God exists. I also don't know whether or not it is possible to know whether or not God exists -- a strong agnostic would allege that such knowledge is impossible. In other words, I take the agnostic view defined in the Talk.Origins Jargon file: "Agnostic (n) 1. Someone who defers belief or non-belief in a god until the evidence is in. Usually accompanied by the assertion that the evidence is not in."

I suppose that, for me, evolution contributes to this agnosticism, in that we hypothetically could be living in a world where there really was lots of evidence for Noah's Flood, or miraculous creation, or something similar that would make the answer to the God question totally obvious. But, many Christians make the point that God can be viewed as continually creating and sustaining the Universe, and after all, no one knows what happened before the Planck time during the Big Bang. I think that this view is at least as likely as the atheist view that the Universe just is, and the Big Bang was just another natural process. But I see no way to empirically resolve the question either way...thus we return to agnosticism.

I don't see evolution conflicting with Christianity at all, on any reasonable interpretation of Genesis, which after all probably began as a story told around the campfire by neolithic herders. Some would argue that the non-centrality of humans in the cosmos, a fact revealed by modern science, contradicts the Biblical viewpoint and makes the idea of God intervening in the affairs of an utterly insignificant little species unlikely. However, humans are tiny and cosmically insignificant whether or not they were produced by evolution, I don't see that evolution makes things any "worse". See the book of Job for some Biblical comments on human insignificance. And anyhow, why would cosmic insignificance matter a whit to the Christian God? It seems more likely that He would take an extra interest in the weak and insignificant. The notion promulgated by some Christians, that humans are extra-special, is, I think, a human conceit rather than a view recommended by true Christianity.

My primary reasons for skepticism of Christianity are basically (1) the diversity of human religious views, (2) the second/third/fourth-hand nature of stories told in the New Testament, which seem more likely to be legend than history, and (3) the problem of evil. Problems #1 and #2 would remain utterly unchanged even if evolution were overthrown tomorrow. The problem of evil, on the other hand, actually seems much easier to solve if God created the world by evolution -- many Christians do not seem to realize this, but it is apparent to non-Christians like Michael Ruse (see his Can a Darwinian be a Christian? and other recent books, for instance). So, for me, Christianity might seem less likely if special creation rather than evolution were true.

Regarding moral philosophy, I think that our internal moral sense is part of human nature just like having arms and legs or learning language is part of human nature -- it is hardwired into all members of the human species, with only pathological exceptions. This is pretty much Darwin's view, and I think that his discussion of the evolution of morality, described in chapter 4 of the Descent of Man, is a fairly decent account if updated by recent thinkers such as Mary Midgley. Therefore, just like our physical senses give us humans a common standard by which to objectively determine the truth about external reality (in advanced form, this becomes modern science), our common moral sense gives humans an objective standard by which to determine the correct rules to govern human interactions (in advanced form, this becomes the modern political and legal system). Just like our physical senses, our moral sense is not an infallible guide, but in both physical and moral matters extended reflection, discussion, and testing eventually leads to consensus -- science led to Newton's and Darwin's theories, and moral thinking led to democratic principles and systems.

Thus, for me, morality is as objective as anything, even though it is not necessarily "handed down" by an external authority such as God. Thus in my little metaphysical world, God is not required to undergird morality. However, God could still be responsible for morality if he created human nature through evolution, so my moral philosophy does not conflict with the God hypothesis either. Which gets us back to agnosticism...

--Oplopanax 04:02, 14 Sep 2003 (BST)

Atheist, non-moral realist

It follows from the idea that humans evolved from other life forms, in common with all other life forms, that humans can in no sense be any different from any other life form in any respect related to this fact, therefore it is absolutely impossible for humans to be in any sense not evolved biologically. Ideas expressed by people like Richard Dawkins asserting that people are unique in that "We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators" The Selfish Gene, (see endnotes to the 1989 edition), sound like something lifted straight from a creationist�s guide to life.

Therefore you are either a scientist-atheist or a theist, there is no in-between. Richard Dawkins is, albeit no doubt unwittingly, clearly a theist. The question remaining is obviously one of figuring out how humans came to be as they are purely at the hands of biological evolution, and the answer is very easy to see; once you have seen it!

Humans are a mammalian form of superorganism, as ants and termites are insect forms of superorganism. The crucial point about a superorganism is that individuals are reduced to cells within the true organism that takes shape at the level of society. This is a perfectly obvious idea and while I have never come across any advocates of this idea who take the matter as far as I do there are a few people who have presented arguments going in this direction. Gustave Le Bon described people as cells in an organism in The Psychology of Peoples (1894) and Leslie A. White spoke of culture making people, as opposed to people making culture (1949). White�s thinking, taken to its logical conclusion, means that all human products, of any kind, are simply exoskeleton.

It follows from this argument that each cell (individual) must be impressed with a common identity. From this we can see why race evolved, to define the superorganism. Race functioned as long as groups were small, and will of operated in prehuman hominids, which is evidently why humans are naked, but will of been superseded as the prime mediator of identity when a new form of hominid evolved that was able to use language as a means of imprinting an identity. Thus race evolved into language to give rise to humans as arms evolved into wings to give rise to birds.

Cultural identity evolved linguistic information routines, cultural-genes, to produce ever more powerful organisms able to sustain complex racial amalgamations. Modern religion is the supreme expression of this process giving rise to a globalising organism evolved to extend its grow across the entire surface of the globe. It follows from this reasoning that we have proven that God does not exist because obviously the God whose character is encoded into the cultural identity of this global organism is really the superorganism itself, hence we prove God does not exist by reducing the religious term �God� to the scientific term �superorganism�, and therefore by showing what God is we prove God does not exist.

This description of the biological function of religion indicates that the organism has a triadic structure in which the Jewish identity is the primary core organ, the brain, the Christian identity constitutes the secondary body, and the Islamic identity is the main body of the organism. There is no question that the theory of evolution, properly presented, would kill religion, in all its known forms, stone dead. It is no surprise that it was misdirected in the standard manner in which knowledge is controlled by the theocracy, by creating a duality which splits the nature away from the form and then only accounts for the form in an open manner.

It is interesting to note that if Darwin had taken evolution to its logical conclusion then religion would of been revealed for what it is and the perversions of his theory associated with Hitler�s master race mythology, mimicking Zionist ideology, could not of arisen for Judaism would of been decoded by Darwin. Humans in a civilised world take on the character of a domesticated species and become dependant upon the master identity so when the authority of that identity is undermined an atavistic resurrection of ancestral characteristic which acted as the former master identity occurs. Thus when Darwin�s ideas led Nietzsche to declare God dead it is not surprising that racism resurfaced as the focus of identity, and, following the inevitable unrest arising from this, as odd as it seems, Judaism has predictably settled back into an even more secure place as the master identity despite the extraordinary rise in scientific knowledge that can easily account for all these social events.

A comment is requested on morality. To be brief, the only thing to say is that all things are functional from a scientific perspective and morality, and therefore necessarily immorality, can be no exception. The language we speak that uses words like morality is theistic in its nature, a scientific equivalent would describe moral actions as mechanistic information routines evolved to direct actions toward outcomes favourable to the superorganism. Apply this to any moral you can think of and I am sure you will have no difficulty in accommodating the moral, or immoral act, in a positive functional way. In other words there is no such thing as morality, just as there is no such thing as God. We should note from this that our identities are programmed into us when we learn to speak and the cultural identity we are programmed with is a linguistic body of information, which is emitted by the caste body continually in the form of words such as �God�, �morality�, �law�, �crime�, �good�, �evil�, and so on. Priests, lawyers, politicians, teachers and so on constitute the special cells performing this role but we must all play our part by being receptive for the organism to sustain its identity in accordance with the master mythology.

Howard Hill

Agnostic

The only reliable truths in this universe are the laws of nature that govern matter and energy, and these laws cannot be used to substantiate any universal human values. Instead, ideas about right and wrong develop through the conscious struggle for power. Historically, those in command of the greatest physical force have often had the power to decree right and wrong, and those who disagreed were silenced. Now under democracy, we each have a small share of political power, and our collective opinion now decides right and wrong.

At a more metaphysical level, if the universe was formed by some random and purposeless process, then we would have no cosmic justification for personal self-sacrifice other than the possibility of some mutual benefit. But if the universe was brought into existence by some kind of purposeful process then we would have a justifiable motivation to sacrifice our selfish desires and unite our efforts to carry out our perceived common cosmic purpose. Because this possibility cannot be disproven, religious propaganda will always have a powerful influence over the political power struggle.

Rob

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