Evolution to Morality, and a Letter to the Hebrews

A world without God

In a sermon on Hebrews 9, 15+26b-28 for Good Friday, the friendly neighbourhood preacher just cited Smerdyakov’s maxim from Dostoyevskys “The Brothers Karamazov” that in a world without God “everything is permitted”, because there would be no punishment.

Are Christians, and in extension, adherents to other ideologies and philosophies really only good because of fear of punishment? I sincerely doubt it. Yale researcher Paul Bloom writes in the article “The Moral Life of Babies“:

“People everywhere have some sense of right and wrong. You won’t find a society where people don’t have some notion of fairness, don’t put some value on loyalty and kindness, don’t distinguish between acts of cruelty and innocent mistakes, don’t categorize people as nasty or nice. These universals make evolutionary sense. Since natural selection works, at least in part, at a genetic level, there is a logic to being instinctively kind to our kin, whose survival and well-being promote the spread of our genes. More than that, it is often beneficial for humans to work together with other humans, which means that it would have been adaptive to evaluate the niceness and nastiness of other individuals. All this is reason to consider the innateness of at least basic moral concepts …”

And what about other species that are even more remote to Christian concepts?

  • Nineteen centuries ago, Plutarch, a Greek moralist and biographer made this statement: “to the dolphin alone, beyond all other, nature has granted what the best philosophers seek: friendship for no advantage …”
  • And for our cousins in the evolutionary tree: “Humans share 98.7 percent of our DNA with chimpanzees, but we share one important similarity with one species of chimp, the common chimpanzee, that we don’t share with the other, the bonobo. That similarity is violence. While humans and the common chimpanzee wage war and kill each other, bonobos do not. ‘There has never been a recorded case in captivity or in the wild of a bonobo killing another bonobo,’ notes anthropologist Brian Hare …”

Jason Kelley writes:

“When we look at history we can see several different paradigms of morality, starting with the ancient Greeks and the morality that existed there. The application of slavery was acceptable and often necessary in order for a society to move forward or to punish an enemy. We can move to the Western European societies of the Middle Ages where the divine right of kings to rule with absolute authority was acceptable, and that it was not only socially unacceptable to peak out of your social status but immoral as well as it ‘put out’ your ‘betters’ …”

“The one thing that these examples have in common is the introduction of a theistic worldview, or the view that a personal deity or deities presided over the earth and dictated what was right and wrong to humanity. If anyone were to ask the Greeks why it was acceptable to enslave your rival they would point to the justice of the gods …”

“So how is it that today most of the modern world has moved beyond these archaic thought processes and taken on a morality that is more beneficial to a great number of people? The answer can be found not in religious texts but rather in secular philosophy and ethical studies. Rather, the answer has been found in spite of religious ideals. In every single one of the examples above we have religious texts espousing the very ideals of slavery, totalitarianism, chauvinism, violence, and a general rule of ‘us versus them’, with ‘them’ being anyone that you happen not to like.”

“Clinging to religious ideals has retarded the moral progress of the human race beyond measure …”

Religiosity decreases with higher levels of education. The least likely to be believers can rarely be found in prison, contrary to Dostoyevskys contrived Smerdyakov character as an example of a prototypical atheist, but much more likely in e.g. the National Academy of Sciences, or among Nobel laureates. The Way of the Atheist or Agnostic is not that of fictional stupid criminals like  Pavel Fyodorovich Smerdyakov, but that of role models like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Albert Einstein, Angelina Jolie, Jawaharlal Nehru, Marie Curie, Douglas Adams, or Hypatia.

Happy Easter!



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