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Beyond Hitler/Darwin: Evolutionary Moral Anarchism

We constantly get chastised by Darwin apologists for pointing to the inspiration that Nazi ideology manifestly drew from Darwinian theory and writings. The lineage is beyond doubt. Yet there's a far greater though related truth. For Hitler is long dead and so, basically, is Nazi-style fascism. What remains very much in play is the evolutionary moral anarchism that denies the objective reality of moral strictures, attributing their development simply to evolutionary processes.

Offering a terrific illustration, a fellow writing in the Huffington Post the other day said just that about marriage: an evolving institution, in his view, with no permanent features at all and hence no authority to set moral bounds. He missed the point, of course: for all that certain marital conventions and expectations have of course changed over time, one big thing hasn't changed at all, remaining a constant across millennia and cultures around the world. Guess what that is?

Anyway, at the website Credo, our colleague Richard Weikart is writing a clear-eyed series of articles about what happens to ethics when it's subjected to evolutionary thinking. First installment: "How Evolution Challenges Christian Ethics." I would only quibble with the title: there's nothing specific to Christian ethics that makes it more or less vulnerable than Jewish or any other traditional moral system. Excerpt:

The notion that evolution undermines any objective morality is widespread in academic circles. Darwin taught this in The Descent of Man, and many contemporary evolutionists agree. Last summer I attended a conference on "The Evolution of Morality and the Morality of Evolution" at Oxford University. One of the keynote speakers at the conference was Michael Ruse, one of the most prominent philosophers of science today. He famously wrote in a 1985 article co-authored with E. O. Wilson, the founder of sociobiology: "Ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to co-operate." Ruse has reaffirmed this position many times since then.

At that Oxford conference I presented a paper about the history of evolutionary ethics, showing that many evolutionists from Darwin to the present have rejected objective morality in favor of evolutionary ethics. Indeed I became interested in studying the history of evolutionary ethics when I was working on my dissertation in the early 1990s on the reception of Darwinism by German socialists. While researching this theme, I noticed that many Darwinists, both scientists and other scholars, wanted to replace Christian ethics with some kind of evolutionary ethics. Some hoped to construct a whole system of morality on evolutionary theory. Others dismissed this as misguided. However, most -- including Darwin himself -- tried to explain the origins of morality through evolutionary processes.

Also, while I was a graduate student at the University of Iowa in the early 1990s, two prominent Christian intellectuals came to the university and gave talks about apologetics. They both argued that objective morality exists and provides strong evidence for the existence of God. During the question and answer session after their presentations, secularists in the audience challenged their claim that objective morality exists. The primary argument of the secularists was that morality had evolved through natural selection, so it did not have a theistic origin.

The claim that ethics has arisen through evolutionary processes is one of the most common arguments used by secularists today to reject objective morality of any kind, including Christian morality. Even postmodernist philosophers, such as Richard Rorty, who reject any objective truth whatsoever, ironically have admitted that they rest their case for the rejection of objective morality on evolutionary theory. Apparently, in the postmodernist view evolution is a fact, even though nothing else merits that designation (especially Christianity and Christian morality).