Posts Tagged ‘Apologetics’

Last time (Part 1 & Part 2), Beckwith & Koukl demonstrated how the evolutionary approach to explaining morality actually denies it. Now, for an even bigger problem…

Why Should I?

This third observation uncovers the third and most serious objection to the idea that evolution is adequate to explain morality. One question can never be answered by any evolutionary assessment of ethics: Why ought I be moral tomorrow?

One of the distinctives of morality is its ‘oughtness,’ its moral incumbency. Assessments of mere behavior, however, are descriptive only. Since morality is essentially prescriptive — telling what should be the case as opposed to what is the case — and since all evolutionary assessments of moral behavior are descriptive, then evolution cannot account for the most important thing that needs to be explained: morality’s ‘oughtness’.

Chimpanzee in deep thought

Chimpanzee in deep thought

One question really needs to be answered: Why shouldn’t the chimp (or a human, for that matter) be selfish? The evolutionary answer might be that when we’re selfish, we hurt the group. That answer, however, presumes another moral value, that we ought to be concerned about the welfare of the group. But why should that concern us? They would say ‘because if the group doesn’t survive, then the species doesn’t survive.’ But why should we care about the survival of the species?

Here’s the problem. The responses intended to explain morality ultimately depend on some prior moral notion to hold them together. Based on an evolutionary view, it is difficult to explain why we should not be selfish, or steal, or rape, or even kill tomorrow without smuggling morality into the answer.

The evolutionary explanation disembowels morality, reducing it to mere descriptions of conduct. The best the Darwinist explanation can do — if it succeeds at all — is explain past behavior. It cannot inform future actions. But prescription, not description, is the essence of morality. As we have seen, evolution may be one explanation for the existence of conduct we choose to call moral, but it gives no reason why we should obey any moral rules in the future. If one countered that we have a moral obligation to evolve, then I’ve won my point. If we have moral obligations prior to evolution, then evolution itself can’t be their source.”

Hah! I love it.

Earlier in the chapter, the authors point out:

Evolutionists may be right when they say that we’re not compelled to adopt the morality of evolution. The danger of social Darwinism, however, is not that society must adopt the law of the jungle but rather that it is allowed to. The exploitation of the weak by the strong is morally benign according to Wright’s evolutionary view of morality.

What Darwinists cannot do is give us a reason why we ought not simply copy nature and destroy those who are weak, unpleasant, costly, or just plain boring. If all moral options are legitimate, then it’s acceptable for the strong to rule the weak. No moral restraints would protect the feeble, because moral restraints simply wouldn’t exist….

Bongo is not a bad chimp; he’s just a chimp. No moral rules apply to him. Eat the banana, Bongo.”

Chimp sitting and eating

Bongo the Chimp finishes his banana

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In my last post (Part 1), Koukl & Beckwith explained why morality entails more than mere conduct; motive and intent are also parts of the equation.

Denial by Neo-Darwin

This leads us to the second problem, which runs much deeper than the first. When morality is reduced to patterns of behavior chosen by natural selection for the survival value, then morality is not explained; it’s denied. Wright admits as much. [This is a reference to Robert Wright, journalist and author of The Moral Animal — Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology.] Regarding the conscience he says: ‘The conscience doesn’t make us feel bad the way hunger feels bad, or good the way sex feels good. It makes us feel as if we have done something that’s wrong or something that’s right. Guilty or not guilty. It is amazing that a process as amoral and crassly pragmatic as natural selection could design a mental organ that makes us feel as if we’re in touch with higher truth. Truly a shameless ploy’.

Evolutionists like Wright are ultimately forced to admit that what we think is a ‘higher truth’ or morality turns out to be a ‘shameless ploy’ of nature, a description of animal behavior conditioned by the environment for survival. We’ve given that conduct a label, they argue: morality. But they say there is no real right and wrong.

Comtemplative chimp

Contemplative chimp

Does Bongo, the chimp, actually exhibit genuine moral behavior? Does he understand the difference between right and wrong? Does he make principled choices to do what’s right? Is he worthy of blame and punishment for doing wrong? Of course not, Wright says. Bongo merely does in a primitive way what humans do in a more sophisticated manner. We respond according to our genetic conditioning, a program ‘designed’ by millions of years of evolution.

Philosopher Michael Ruse admits that evolution and objective morality are at odds: ‘Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring above and beyond themselves…. Never the less… such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction… and any deeper meaning is illusory.’

The evolutionary approach does not explain morality: it denies it. Instead, it explains why we think moral truths exist when, in fact, they don’t.”

Go here for Part 3.

Every once in awhile, you hear someone trying to describe how evolution/Darwinism — really, the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis — explains “morality”. Often the explanations involve recent observations of “morals” (or the rudiments thereof) among one or another type of animal — elephants, whales, birds, cats, dogs, apes, etc. But, IMHO, there is always something missing. The naturalistic philosophers and scientists never really explain the concept of the transcendant, objective morality. At best, all they can do is suggest why certain individuals or communities — human or perhaps not — may adopt a certain code or guidelines to live by. Why is that?

Rather than try to piece something together myself, I’d like to address this issue, at least in part, by quoting from a couple philosophers. (Don’t worry; they are quite readable for us layfolk.) The next three posts will constitute a passage — roughly 3 pages’ worth — from Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (1998), by Francis C. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl. Hope you enjoy it!

More Than What You Do

Recent studies have attempted to show that animals exhibit rudimentary moral behavior. In one case, a group of chimpanzees ‘punished’ Bongo, a ‘selfish’ member of their band, by withholding food from him. Apparently the moral rule was this: Chimps shouldn’t be selfish.

Chimp eathing a banana

Chimp eathing a banana (ooh-ooh! yum!)

This assessment has serious problems. First, drawing conclusions about animal morality simply from behavior reduces morality to conduct. But true morality also entails nonbehavioral elements, too, like intent and motive.

We can’t infer actual moral obligations from the mere fact of a chimp’s conduct. We can observe that chimps in community share food and that when they do they survive better. But we can’t conclude from this that Bongo ought to share his bananas or else he’ll be immoral because he hasn’t contriguted to the survival of his community.

Further, in fixing blame we distinguish between an act done by accident and the same act committed on purpose. The behavior is the same, but the intent is different. We don’t usually blame people for accidents: If the boy didn’t intend to trip the old lady, we don’t fault him.

We also give attention to the issue of motive. We withhold blame even if the youngster tripped the elderly woman on purpose if the motive is acceptable: He tripped her to keep her from running in front of a train….

Motive and intent cannot be determined simply by looking at behavior. In fact, some good behavior might turn out to be tainted, depending on the motive and intent: giving to the poor when one wants to be well thought of, instead of having a genuine concern for the recipients. Indeed, it seems one can be immoral without any behavior at all, such as plotting an evil deed that one is never able to carry out.

Morality informs behavior, judging it either good or bad; it’s not identical to behavior. Rather it is something deeper than habitual patterns of physical interaction. Therefore we can’t draw conclusions about animal morality simply based on what we observe in their conduct.”

Go here for Part 2 and Part 3.

You may have heard or read something a few days ago about some coins being dug up in Egypt that had the name & portrait of Joseph (the Old Testament one, grandson of Abraham), as well as the year it was minted, which supposedly corresponds with the era in which many believe Joseph lived. The primary historical significance was that it proved wrong those historians who insist that coins were not used by the ancient Egyptians. Of secondary importance (perhaps primary for Christians & Jews) is that it is evidence for the historical veracity of the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Muslims are also excited, because the Koran explicitly tells of coins being used in Egypt in Joseph’s time. (Note: Islam considers Joseph one of their early Prophets, as well.)

"Joseph coins" from ancient Egypt

Scarab "coins" (note dime for size comparison)

While it would be cool for this to be a valid find and the conclusions drawn by the researchers involved shown to be accurate (or at least reasonable), I would urge people to not get too excited or go about claiming this is “proof” of anything quite yet. There are a number of issues being “worked out” among various experts and questions that still need answering. For example:

1) Can the engraved scarabs legitimately be called “coins”?

2) Were hieroglyphs (like those inscribed on the “coins”) even in use during Joseph’s time?

3) Would the Pharaoh have allowed his Treasurer’s name & likeness to be put on the coin rather than his own?

Much like the “Jesus Bone Box” (actually, the supposed ossuary of Jesus’ brother James) of a few years ago, this is an interesting find — one which, if true, would lend validity to certain religious historical claims. It would be a nice-to-have piece of evidence, especially since there is currently extremely little extra-Biblical evidence for the Hebrew Patriarchs. But, if the claims of the researchers in question prove false, then it’s no big deal.

Did you ever hear someone say “All religions are the same.”, or something along those lines? Or, maybe you’ve said it yourself. Did you ever really think about that statement? Does it make sense?

I say, “Not even close.” Hear me out….

Sure, religions have some things in common. That’s why they are all called ‘religions’. For example, each religion has some sort of belief system about physical and metaphysical issues, often expressed in rituals and ceremonies. This belief system in turn influences a broader worldview, a picture of reality.

Then there are “organized” religions, which have a few more things in common, like hierarchies of authority, “official” creeds, scriptures, perhaps special buildings where adherents gather to worship (something/someone) and/or receive teaching. Some religions also share certain basic beliefs and values. For example, many espouse love, justice, the Golden Rule (i.e., “Do unto others…”), strong family ties, etc.

But, are they all the same? No. In some cases, there may be a few similarities, but it is really the differences that matter. Even in regards to those “common” things I mentioned, each religion has a somewhat different idea of what each thing entails. Different religions make different truth claims. Some religions believe in many gods (polytheism), some believe in one God (monotheism), while others say there is no God (atheism). Among monotheists, there are differing concepts of the nature and abilities of that God. For example, some say He/She is personal (i.e., an intelligent, self-identifying “person” or entity), and others say God is an impersonal “it”. Of the former (e.g., Jews, Muslims, Christians, etc.), one teaches that Jesus Christ is/was God incarnate (among other details), while the rest do not.

Some religions believe in an afterlife; some do not. Some say the world of matter/energy/space we live in is infinite and eternal; some say it is finite in both space & time. Or, even that it is all illusion. And there are often different branches, sects, denominations within a religion. They branched off because one group held a strong opinion or conviction on one or more issues that differed from the rest of the adherents. One may teach that it is OK to murder people in God’s name, while others hold such an act to be terrible and immoral. Most of these are either/or issues. In each case, either one is true or the other, but they can’t both be true. Many of them are very important details — crucial differences, in fact, that can have significant consequences in both life and death. And there are MANY other examples….

So, you see, all religions are NOT the same.

“OK,” you say, “but all religions are still the same, in that they are equally good (or bad), moral (or immoral, or amoral). No religion is really better than any other.” But, that’s a topic for another day….