Several years ago I attended a debate about between an atheist and a Christian about Intelligent Design. The two participants were Michael Ruse and William Dembski. Part of the debate included whether or not there were moral absolutes.
I describe moral absolutes as moral requirements that apply to all people at all times, regardless of culture or how one was raised. While Dembski said that moral absolutes do in fact exist, Ruse defended the position that there is no such thing as absolute right and wrong. The ideas of right and wrong that we have are programmed into us through millions of years of evolution, and have been selected as the rules that allow us to continue to survive as a species.
While I disagree with Ruse’s point of view, his view on morality is consistent with the idea of atheism. According to Ruse, morality is the result of blind processes and not given to us by God. If we were able to wind time back and re-do all of human evolution, we could expect our biologically-derived morality would be different than what we currently know.
But this idea of there being no moral absolutes is contrary to our experience as people. We know that child abuse is wrong, murder is wrong, rape is wrong. And these are wrong, not because of what we have been chemically programmed to believe, but because they are in fact wrong. In Ruse’s view, there is nothing absolutely wrong with child abuse or rape or murder. There is nothing absolutely wrong with dumping toxic sludge into the oceans and nothing absolutely wrong with torturing people for the fun of it. All of these things that we consider wrong are just the result of social and biological conditioning by our genes.
But how does this idea of morality being derived from evolution work when there are differing points of view on morality? Are our current debates over same sex marriage and abortion and religion in schools just a part of the evolution of our species, or are there real, moral absolute issues at hand? I plan to address these questions in my next post.
Do you think there are moral absolutes that apply to all people at all times in all cultures?
Is our sense of morality derived from evolution?
Please weigh in on this discussion. I’d love to learn from you.