Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Moral Compass

The New York Times has an article today highlighting an interesting perspective on the origins of morality that is worth a read. A psychologist from the University of Virginia believes that our moral compass can be explained through evolution. The article notes, "At first glance, natural selection and the survival of the fittest may seem to reward only the most selfish values. But for animals that live in groups, selfishness must be strictly curbed or there will be no advantage to social living. Could the behaviors evolved by social animals to make societies work be the foundation from which human morality evolved?"

Can we explain our morality from a strictly biological perspective? Dr. Francis Collins -- a theistic evolutionist -- dismisses the argument that humans obtained their moral reasoning from the evolutionary process. For one, evolution does not explain why humans commit acts of kindness unknown to anyone. Secondly, why do we risk our safety to help people outside of our group (as did Mother Teresa and Oskar Schindler)? The apparent existence of right and wrong, he believes, is a persuasive argument for the existence of a god. Many others who wrote before Collins (including C.S Lewis) also hold such beliefs.

All of this begs a bigger question: If there is not a god, can there be such a thing as an objective right and wrong? Morality presupposes right and wrong -- but whose definition are we using? If we are using a human definition, then right and wrong is subjective and anything goes, as long as most people feel it is okay. In essence, morality changes with the times. An objective morality given from god does not change.

I do not want to completely dismiss the idea that morality may have some biological roots. But a strict biological explanation takes us down a slippery slope of moral relativity where we cannot truly say something is wrong or evil. Evil has reared its head in this world (sometimes in the name of religion, sometimes not), but we need to be able to call heinous acts what they are -- wrong.

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