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Evolution is the foundation of an immoral worldview

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This is an unfinished rewrite of the page / start of an FAQ article. Red comments are ideas for what can be added, more are welcome. The old page may still be a useful resource and is located at /old.

Contents

Introduction

Creationists often claim that Evolution is the foundation of an immoral world view, or that evolution removes the foundation of a moral world view. This is a claim fundamental to the creationism issue, because creationism is far more an issue of politics, philosophy and above all morality and ethics than it is an issue of science.

The evidence cited for this claim is often that eugenics was based on evolution, that Darwin was racist, and that the Nazi holocaust was the result of evolutionary thinking. However, some more bizarre claims include the US Republican politician Tom Delay's claims that the Columbine school shootings in 1999 were caused by "evolutionization".<ref>DeLay, Tom, 1999, U.S. Republican politician blames the Columbine shootings on "evolutionization" [1]</ref>

The difference between evolution and social Darwinism

Is evolution, or "Darwinism", really at the core of eugenics or Nazism? The belief that evolution influenced Hitler or that it is central to eugenics stems from a confusion of Darwinism with Social Darwinism.

The central part of Eugenics was the belief that human intelligent design should supplant natural selection in biological systems. The basic belief of proponents of Eugenics was that natural selection does not work any longer for mankind and had to be replaced by engineering and selection based on man-made theories and values. Contrary to the non-teleological Darwinism it was a completely teleological approach. The central part of Darwinism, natural selection, was replaced by intelligent design.

Since such theories are always based on intelligent design beliefs instead of natural selection, the name Social Darwinism is a misnomer.

Furthermore, there is no reason to assume that natural selection always operates competitively. Some of the most successful evolutionary strategies are cooperative or symbiotic.

The views of the Nazis were highly religiously based, and furthermore they disregarded the facts of evolution. Throughout his work Charles Darwin showed that there were no significant distinctions between "races", and Darwin stated that sympathy and cooperation should be extended to people of all race and all nations, the very oppostion of Nazi philosophy. (Darwin had been brought up amongst relatives who opposed racial prejudice; his grandfather Erasmus famously opposed the slave trade in many of his works.)

Compare the writings of Hitler and the Nazis to those of Charles Darwin:

"Although the existing races of man differ in many respects, as in colour, hair, shape of skull, proportions of the body, &c., yet if their whole structure be taken into consideration they are found to resemble each other closely in a multitude of points. Many of these are of so unimportant or of so singular a nature, that it is extremely improbable that they should have been independently acquired by aboriginally distinct species or races. The same remark holds good with equal or greater force with respect to the numerous points of mental similarity between the most distinct races of man. The American aborigines, Negroes and Europeans are as different from each other in mind as any three races that can be named; yet I was incessantly struck, whilst living with the Fuegians on board the "Beagle," with the many little traits of character, shewing how similar their minds were to ours; and so it was with a full-blooded negro with whom I happened once to be intimate.
He who will read Mr. Tylor's and Sir J. Lubbock's interesting works can hardly fail to be deeply impressed with the close similarity between the men of all races in tastes, dispositions and habits. This is shown by the pleasure which they all take in dancing, rude music, acting, painting, tattoing, and otherwise decorating themselves; in their mutual comprehension of gesture-language, by the same expression in their features, and by the same inarticulate cries, when excited by the same emotions. This similarity, or rather identity, is striking, when contrasted with the different expressions and cries made by distinct species of monkeys. There is good evidence that the art of shooting with bows and arrows has not been handed down from any common progenitor of mankind, yet as Westropp and Nilsson have remarked, the stone arrow-heads, brought from the most distant parts of the world, and manufactured at the most remote periods, are almost identical; and this fact can only be accounted for by the various races having similar inventive or mental powers. The same observation has been made by archæologists with respect to certain widely-prevalent ornaments, such as zig-zags, &c.; and with respect to various simple beliefs and customs, such as the burying of the dead under megalithic structures. I remember observing in South America, that there, as in so many other parts of the world, men have generally chosen the summits of lofty hills, to throw up piles of stones, either as a record of some remarkable event, or for burying their dead.
Now when naturalists observe a close agreement in numerous small details of habits, tastes, and dispositions between two or more domestic races, or between nearly-allied natural forms, they use this fact as an argument that they are descended from a common progenitor who was thus endowed; and consequently that all should be classed under the same species. The same argument may be applied with much force to the races of man.
As it is improbable that the numerous and unimportant points of resemblance between the several races of man in bodily structure and mental faculties (I do not here refer to similar customs) should all have been independently acquired, they must have been inherited from progenitors who had these same characters."
- The Descent of Man; Charles Darwin; 1871
"As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races. If, indeed, such men are separated from him by great differences in appearance or habits, experience unfortunately shews us how long it is, before we look at them as our fellow-creatures. Sympathy beyond the confines of man, that is, humanity to the lower animals, seems to be one of the latest moral acquisitions. It is apparently unfelt by savages, except towards their pets. How little the old Romans knew of it is shewn by their abhorrent gladiatorial exhibitions. The very idea of humanity, as far as I could observe, was new to most of the Gauchos of the Pampas. This virtue, one of the noblest with which man is endowed, seems to arise incidentally from our sympathies becoming more tender and more widely diffused, until they are extended to all sentient beings. As soon as this virtue is honoured and practised by some few men, it spreads through instruction and example to the young, and eventually becomes incorporated in public opinion.
The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognise that we ought to control our thoughts, and "not even in inmost thought to think again the sins that made the past so pleasant to us." Whatever makes any bad action familiar to the mind, renders its performance by so much the easier. As Marcus Aurelius long ago said, "Such as are thy habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of thy mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts.""
- Charles Darwin; The Descent of Man, 1871
"Our naturalist would likewise be much disturbed as soon as he perceived that the distinctive characters of all the races were highly variable. This fact strikes every one on first beholding the negro slaves in Brazil, who have been imported from all parts of Africa. The same remark holds good with the Polynesians, and with many other races. It may be doubted whether any character can be named which is distinctive of a race and is constant. Savages, even within the limits of the same tribe, are not nearly so uniform in character, as has been often asserted. Hottentot women offer certain peculiarities, more strongly marked than those occurring in any other race, but these are known not to be of constant occurrence. In the several American tribes, colour and hairiness differ considerably; as does colour to a certain degree, and the shape of the features greatly, in the Negroes of Africa. The shape of the skull varies much in some races; and so it is with every other character. Now all naturalists have learnt by dearly bought experience, how rash it is to attempt to define species by the aid of inconstant characters.
But the most weighty of all the arguments against treating the races of man as distinct species, is that they graduate into each other, independently in many cases, as far as we can judge, of their having inter-crossed. Man has been studied more carefully than any other animal, and yet there is the greatest possible diversity amongst capable judges whether he should be classed as a single species or race, or as two (Virey), as three (Jacquinot), as four (Kant), five (Blumenbach), six (Buffon), seven (Hunter), eight (Agassiz), eleven (Pickering), fifteen (Bory St. Vincent), sixteen (Desmoulins), twenty-two (Morton), sixty (Crawfurd), or as sixty-three, according to Burke. This diversity of judgment does not prove that the races ought not to be ranked as species, but it shews that they graduate into each other, and that it is hardly possible to discover clear distinctive characters between them."
- Charles Darwin; The Descent of Man, 1871
"My wife has just finished reading aloud your 'Life with a Black Regiment,' and you must allow me to thank you heartily for the very great pleasure which it has in many ways given us. I always thought well of the negroes, from the little which I have seen of them; and I have been delighted to have my vague impressions confirmed, and their character and mental powers so ably discussed."
- Letter from Darwin to Thomas Higginson, February 27, 1873

From the Nazis:

"Everybody who has the right kind of feeling for his country is solemnly bound, each within his own denomination, to see to it that he is not constantly talking about the Will of God merely from the lips but that in actual fact he fulfils the Will of God and does not allow God's handiwork to be debased. For it was by the Will of God that men were made of a certain bodily shape, were given their natures and their faculties. Whoever destroys His work wages war against God's Creation and God's Will.
...
The consequence of this racial purity, universally valid in Nature, is not only the sharp outward delimitation of the various races, but their uniform character in themselves. The fox is always a fox, the goose a goose, the tiger a tiger, etc., and the difference can lie at most in the varying measure of force, strength, intelligence, dexterity, endurance, etc., of the individual specimens.
...
The result of all racial crossing is therefore in brief always the following:
> Lowering of the level of the higher race;
> Physical and intellectual regression and hence the beginning of a slowly but surely progressing sickness.
To bring about such a development is, then, nothing else but to sin against the will of the eternal creator.
...
With satanic joy in his face, the black-haired Jewish youth lurks in wait for the unsuspecting girl whom he defiles with his blood, thus stealing her from her people. With every means he tries to destroy the racial foundations of the people he has set out to subjugate. Just as he himself systematically ruins women and girls, he does not shrink back from pulling down the blood barriers for others, even on a large scale. It was and it is Jews who bring the Negroes into the Rhineland, always with the same secret thought and clear aim of ruining the hated white race by the necessarily resulting bastardization, throwing it down from its cultural and political height, and himself rising to be its master.
For a racially pure people which is conscious of its blood can never be enslaved by the Jew. In this world he will forever be master over bastards and bastards alone."
- Mein Kampf; Adolf Hitler, 1925
"Life comes from God and returns to God. All life and all races follow God's ordinances. No people and no race can ignore them. We want the German youth to again recognize the religious nature of life. They must realize that God wants the individual as well as the whole people, and that they lose contact with life when they lose contact with God! God and nation are the two foundations of the life of the individual and the community. We want no shallow and superficial piety, but rather a deep faith that God guides the world, that he controls it, and a consciousness of the relationship between God and each individual, and between God and the live of the people and the fatherland."
- Educational Principles of the New Germany; 1937


Social Darwinism as a Naturalistic Fallacy

Social Darwinism says, in short:

Natural selection kills off the weak. Therefore we should not help the weak in order to help natural selection do its work.

By the same reasoning, one could say:

Gravitation pulls objects down. Therefore we should not pick up things and should ourselves lie around on the ground all day, in order to help gravitation do its work.

Or, to get closer in morals to the original:

All people will die. So we should kill them.

This is the Naturalistic Fallacy - to interpret a fact as a job for you to do. That way of thinking is not part of evolutionary science, nor supported by it - it is a corruption. Evolution, like all of science, is in fact amoral, giving us no commands as to what we should do. Science, however, can lead to technologies that require moral debate, or may give us knowledge that can inform our moral debates.

To do:

  • Discuss quote-mines of Darwin's "racism", and how Darwin is not the sole authority on evolutionary biology

Microevolution and Macroevolution

Eugenics was a programme of "microevolution". Eugenics was supposed to select for beneficial hereditary traits, and sterilise carriers of harmful hereditary traits. Few, if any creationists deny that microevolution occurs in nature, they only deny that evolution is the source of biodiversity (that is, they deny "macroevolution" and common descent). Eugenics was not in any way based on macroevolution, except in the sense that humans are animals therefore natural selection occurs to humans as well as animals. That humans are animals, however, was deduced from other fields of biology long before Darwin's theory of Evolution.

Therefore the claim that Eugenics stems from the theory of evolution, even if true, would not damn non-creationists any more than creationists, as all accept the occurance of microevolution.

Eugenics and Selective Breeding

Humans have engaged in selective breeding of their plants, their animals and themselves since earliest recorded history. Royalty can only breed with royalty, aristocracy with aristocracy, commoners with commoners - it didn't take Darwin's idea to encourage this behavior that had existed long before Darwin. Breeding within class structures is a form of eugenics. Hereditary control of institutions or wealth is a mild form of eugenics (think of survival of upper classes due to adequate food and medical care versus lower classes allowed to die). The whole concept of a "good marriage" pre-dated Darwin and exists to this day, not solely as a mechanism for uniting powerful families but also nominally to produce "superior" children. So even the most radical form of eugenics is a simple extension of existing human ideas about selective breeding and classism. In fact it was largely movement away from traditional privilege by birth toward selection by merit (real or imagined) rather than surname that formed the basis of much of 20th century eugenics.

Darwin discussed eugenic concepts in his 1871 work, The Descent of Man, but in this work he concluded that the most that could be done as a society would be to encourage those people who cannot afford to raise children to refrain from having them until they are financially able. In fact, Darwin argued against many eugenic ideas that had been put forward by others. Darwin specifially noted that poverty was caused more by state policy and position of birth than by biology.

"The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden him self whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely that the weaker and inferior members of society do not marry so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage, though this is more to be hoped for than expected." - The Descent of Man; Charles Darwin, 1871
"Important as the struggle for existence has been and even still is, yet as far as the highest part of man's nature is concerned there are other agencies more important. For the moral qualities are advanced, either directly or indirectly, much more through the effects of habit, the reasoning powers, instruction, religion, &c., than through natural selection; " - The Descent of Man; Charles Darwin, 1871

Biblical morals?

The idea that Evolution is the foundation of an immoral worldview stems mainly from the perception that understanding of evolution leads to atheism. Many traditionalist, evangelical or fundamentalist relgious believers live in a moral framework laid down by God, and the idea of secular rational ethics is foreign to them. However, most of the academic and philosophical study of ethics is based on reasoning rather than religious law. As Thomas Henry Huxley wrote in 1894: "The ideal of the ethical man is to limit his freedom of action to a sphere in which he does not interfere with the freedom of others."<ref>Huxley, T.H., 1894. Evolution and Ethics. London: Richard Clay & Sons. eBook</ref>

To secular humanists and even liberal Christians the model of ethics based solely on the Bible seems alarming. In the television documentary The Root of All Evil? (2006) Richard Dawkins interviews a fundamentalist school teacher:

Hawkes: "I suppose the flip-side of that is that if there's no God or law-giver, why does it matter what I do? Why is rape wrong? Why is paedophilia wrong? Why are any of these things wrong if there's no law-giver?"
Dawkins: "You've just said a very revealing thing. Are you telling me that the only reason you don’t steal and rape and murder is that you’re frightened of God?"
Hawkes: "I think that all people, if they think they can get away with something, and if there's no consequences, we actually tend to do it. I think that it is the reality – look at the world in which we live, that is the reality." (Emphasis in spoken sentence.)

It is worrying that people like Hawkes feel that one should do good to avoid hell rather than because of compassion for fellow humans. One who applies reason to their ethical stance could argue that a book that proscribes the death penalty for adultery, sassing one's parents, or eating shellfish and pork, or which encourages murder of abortion doctors and oppression of women and homosexuals while glorifying genocide is the foundation of an immoral worldview. "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." (Voltaire).

The Naturalistic Fallacy

See also: Naturalistic Fallacy

The argument that evolution leads to social darwinism or immorality is an example of the naturalistic fallacy, where what is natural is said to be acceptable or even good. Something being natural does not imply that it is good or acceptable, unless nature is completely and totally considered good and acceptable.

Examples of the absurdity of the naturalistic fallacy are easy to find or invent. The classic invented absurdity is:

Gravity pulls things down. Therefore, down is natural. Airplanes are violations of nature and must be eliminated. Standing upright is immoral and counter gravity. Pushing people off cliffs is good!

Obviously, the existence of gravity has no moral component. That gravity pulls things down does not obligate us to go down, be down, or arrange for things to fall. Of course, science can inform our moral decisions. By understanding gravity, one can know that, say, pushing someone off a cliff will result in their death. One can then make a moral decision by understanding the consequences of potential action. But gravity itself is not moral or immoral.

The argument for eugenics is parallel to the argument for "moral gravity" above:

Natural selection kills the less fit. Therefore, killing the less fit is natural. Medical treatments for genetic conditions are violations of nature and must be eliminated. Helping the handicapped is immoral and counter natural selection.

Counter to the simplistic argument above, the science of evolution can better inform our moral judgments regarding eugenics. For instance, the history of the (4.5 billion year old) world has shown us that species with high genetic diversity do better during an environmental crisis than species with a less diverse genetic heritage. Far from advocating a master race, evolution tells us that diversity is the key to survival.

Note that it is just as much an example of the naturalistic fallacy to say "Evolution says diversity is good". Rather, we say that diversity will lead to a better chance of survival for our species. It is our own moral judgment that leads us to then accept that diversity is good, since we believe the survival of our species is good. Evolution, like any other science, remains neutral. It describes consequences of events. If we establish one human master race, we will have less diversity and be more likely to go extinct in the next crisis. If we maintain high levels of diversity, we will be more likely to survive in the long term. Evolution doesn't "care" which we choose, and it isn't any more natural for us to survive than to go extinct.

The naturalistic fallacy, however, is rampant in advertising and strongly effective on the psyche of people not trained to be skeptical. Products are constantly sold as "all natural" or "as nature intended". These statements are, effectively, meaningless. Consider:

Clearly, "natural" is no prescription for goodness and "unnatural" doesn't remotely mean bad, despite this being how they are taken by the general public.

An interesting side effect of the degree to which the public accepts the idea of "natural = good" is the number of urban legends explaining natural bad things as unnatural. AIDS, Ebola, and even love bugs are all, in popular folklore, the result of government experiments, unnatural modifications of harmless natural things. Earthquakes and volcanoes result from a supposed weakening of the Earth's crust due to acid rain. New Age gurus will tell you that aging are caused by "unnatural" man-made chemicals in the environment. People blame autism on vaccines, cancer on fluoridated water, etc. That these things are simply aspects of nature is an affront to the widespread belief that nature is, by definition, good. This is, however, simplistic wishful thinking, ungrounded in the cold reality that nature doesn't care about us, or anything else, at all.

The Reverse-Naturalistic Fallacy

See Also: Wishful Thinking and Appeal to Consequences

The argument that if evolution leads to immorality it is untrue or unlikely to be true is an example of the Reverse-Naturalistic Fallacy, where something that leads to bad results is considered untrue.

This is clearly not logical, as the existence of 'white lies' demonstrates that the truth can sometimes lead to bad consequences. Consequences have no bearing on the truth of something, and provide no reason to declare something wrong. Atomic theory is not declared wrong because it can lead to atomic weaponry and germ theory is not proved wrong because it could lead to biological warfare. To bring up the consequences of believing evolution to be true is a red herring, as it is entirely irrelevant and merely serves to change the subject from the truth of evolution to the consequences of believing it.

Resources

These will need reordering in the final edition, I'm just putting them here to aid in writing the article for now.

External links

Further reading

References

<references/>

See also

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