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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 1: Sun Jan 29, 2012 6:37 pm
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Atheism, Evolution and Moral Nihilism

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It is often argued by atheist and theist alike that evolutionary explanations for morality refute the idea that there are any "spooky" moral facts, and that therefore atheists ought to think there are no moral facts. But nobody on this board (so far as I have observed) has actually made a good argument toward this end. Here is the best I can come up with:

The moral beliefs of humans have been created and conditioned by, apart from cultural factors, the impersonal demands of evolution. Thus we find that our moral beliefs tend to facilitate reproduction and the passing of healthy genetic material onto the next generation. The universal tendency to especially value one's own immediate family, offspring and friends, the protection of children and women (chivalry, perhaps), the (general) disgust for murder, rape and incestuous sex, etc. are all explained by evolution's blind selection for adaptive behaviours. Assuming this is true, we can conclude that our moral beliefs are not sensitive to "spooky" moral facts, but rather to the impersonal pressures demanded by survival. And since knowledge requires a causal connection between facts and beliefs, it follows that none of our moral beliefs are knowledge; they have never tracked facts, only evolutionary pressures.

There are two points I'd like to make here. The first is that this challenge to moral beliefs must be met by theists as well; the evolutionary explanations are impersonal, which means that their success in explaining moral beliefs entails that the idea God has endowed us with reliable moral faculties is less probable (probably false). The second is that both the theist and the atheist can conceivably get around the challenge by positing that evolution happened to select for moral beliefs that actually correlate with moral facts; theists might come out in better shape here.

Any thoughts?

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 2: Mon Jan 30, 2012 12:33 am
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I have always preferred to found moral values in moral natures, which is just an aspect of some given being's ability to obtain eudaimonia, variously translated as happiness or peace. But I'll use eudaimonia just to keep the connotations clear; by eudaimonia is meant that state wherein a being must apply themselves no further to the attainment of a more preferable state, because they have already obtained that most preferable state which includes in its nature that it is not able to be lost.

The important question then is only "What does eudaimonia subsist in?" I believe it must rest in the fount of all possible happiness, God. Therefore, eudaimonia is the beatific vision. What is moral is that which will bring one to the beatific vision.

Of course, this doesn't answer what are the efficient causes of morality, only its end. The means of morality must lie in what brings one towards or away from God, and thus the means are founded in the fact of Creation, where God imbues all creatures with natures that, because they are creatures of God, will have their good be defined by their natures. In other words, if you can find what human nature, then what is in accord with that will be moral; the immoral is that which detracts from human nature, and being propelled from oneself, one is propelled from perfect communion with God (and other persons).

Does that help answer your question? Or, I fear, does it only increase the confusion?

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 3: Mon Jan 30, 2012 6:02 am
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From Post 2:

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AquinasD wrote:

The important question then is only "What does eudaimonia subsist in?" I believe it must rest in the fount of all possible happiness, God.

Believe it all ya want.

Can you offer some means to confirm God is the "fount of all possible happiness"?

AquinasD wrote:

The means of morality must lie in what brings one towards or away from God.

Says the theist, while being incapable of showing there's a god right close or way off yonder.

AquinasD wrote:

and thus the means are founded in the fact of Creation

Assumes "creation" was due to a god.

AquinasD wrote:

In other words, if you can find what human nature, then what is in accord with that will be moral

Given that mankind has been at war lo these many eons, is it now fair to say that all war is moral?

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 4: Mon Jan 30, 2012 6:21 am
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Re: Atheism, Evolution and Moral Nihilism

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Adamoriens wrote:
It is often argued by atheist and theist alike that evolutionary explanations for morality refute the idea that there are any "spooky" moral facts, and that therefore atheists ought to think there are no moral facts. But nobody on this board (so far as I have observed) has actually made a good argument toward this end. Here is the best I can come up with:

The moral beliefs of humans have been created and conditioned by, apart from cultural factors, the impersonal demands of evolution. Thus we find that our moral beliefs tend to facilitate reproduction and the passing of healthy genetic material onto the next generation. The universal tendency to especially value one's own immediate family, offspring and friends, the protection of children and women (chivalry, perhaps), the (general) disgust for murder, rape and incestuous sex, etc. are all explained by evolution's blind selection for adaptive behaviours. Assuming this is true, we can conclude that our moral beliefs are not sensitive to "spooky" moral facts, but rather to the impersonal pressures demanded by survival. And since knowledge requires a causal connection between facts and beliefs, it follows that none of our moral beliefs are knowledge; they have never tracked facts, only evolutionary pressures.

There are two points I'd like to make here. The first is that this challenge to moral beliefs must be met by theists as well; the evolutionary explanations are impersonal, which means that their success in explaining moral beliefs entails that the idea God has endowed us with reliable moral faculties is less probable (probably false). The second is that both the theist and the atheist can conceivably get around the challenge by positing that evolution happened to select for moral beliefs that actually correlate with moral facts; theists might come out in better shape here.

Any thoughts?


It is clear to me that morals come from mankind. God, for some, is a necessary 'add-on' to which morals can be attributed to make them more compelling and for purposes of indoctrinating morality into culture and tradition...but morals exist without God..just read the Bible or the Quran and you will find moral principals emanating from these literary masterpieces..penned by man.

Morals are simply the social contracts, expressed and implied, developed and evolved over time as common sense and necessity require for peace, order and social justice. The doctrine of ethical reciprocity is a classic example (do unto others....) and long predates the story of Jesus to which it is attributed by Christian sects.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 6: Mon Jan 30, 2012 7:10 am
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"There are two errors a cooperating animal can make, and one is more costly than the other," noted Leda Cosmides, professor of psychology and co-director of the Center for Evolutionary Psychology. "Believing that you will never meet this individual again, you might choose to benefit yourself at his expense –– only to find out later that the relationship could have been open-ended. If you make this error, you lose out on all the benefits you might have had from a long-term, perhaps life-long, cooperative relationship. This is an extraordinarily costly error to make. The other error is to mistakenly assume that you will have additional interactions with the other individual and therefore cooperate with him, only to find out later that it wasn't necessary. Although you were ‘unnecessarily' nice in that one interaction, the cost of this error is relatively small. Without knowing why, the mind is skewed to be generous to make sure we find and cement all those valuable, long-term relationships."

Sorry I don't have a link picked it up from another forum. A good explanation of how moral principles evolve.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 7: Mon Jan 30, 2012 7:57 am
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Artie wrote:
"There are two errors a cooperating animal can make, and one is more costly than the other," noted Leda Cosmides, professor of psychology and co-director of the Center for Evolutionary Psychology. "Believing that you will never meet this individual again, you might choose to benefit yourself at his expense –– only to find out later that the relationship could have been open-ended. If you make this error, you lose out on all the benefits you might have had from a long-term, perhaps life-long, cooperative relationship. This is an extraordinarily costly error to make. The other error is to mistakenly assume that you will have additional interactions with the other individual and therefore cooperate with him, only to find out later that it wasn't necessary. Although you were ‘unnecessarily' nice in that one interaction, the cost of this error is relatively small. Without knowing why, the mind is skewed to be generous to make sure we find and cement all those valuable, long-term relationships."

Sorry I don't have a link picked it up from another forum. A good explanation of how moral principles evolve.


Very good. It makes sense, but a third possibility comes to mind. If one is particularly credulous, one could befriend a stranger who could lead you astray...and in that instance the error could be costly....so it would be best to get to know 'strangers' (people about whom little is known) before befriending them or accepting their advice or their 'truth' claims to any great degree....

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 8: Mon Jan 30, 2012 8:59 am
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If morals are evolved, wouldn't eveyone feel about the same way? I must ask the question then, what happened to Jack the Ripper and Jeffrey Dahmer? Did evolution pass them by?

My wife works in a department store, and they regularly find an old pair of shoes in a new shoe box in the shoe department. What do you think happened? Did evolution pass them by? They have self checkouts there, and the other day a lady scanned $110 worth of groceries, bagged them, then walked out of the store without paying. She intentionally made it look like she was paying for the groceries, and walked out without paying. This is premeditated theft. Did evolution pass her by?

Before you say these things are done by poor people who can't afford to pay for their stuff, you have to keep in mind wealthy people steal stuff as well. In fact, with the athiests I have seen, they figure if they can get away with it then it wasn't wrong. The only thing that prevents them from committing crime is the fear of getting caught. Theists are the same way, except they believe there is a God up there who sees everything they do, which is a very effective deterrent to crime.

I don't believe man has an innate knowledge of right and wrong. I believe right and wrong was defined by God in the Bible, and has been taught to people for so long that it seems to be an innate knowledge.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 9: Mon Jan 30, 2012 9:46 am
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Moses Yoder wrote:
If morals are evolved, wouldn't eveyone feel about the same way? I must ask the question then, what happened to Jack the Ripper and Jeffrey Dahmer? Did evolution pass them by?

My wife works in a department store, and they regularly find an old pair of shoes in a new shoe box in the shoe department. What do you think happened? Did evolution pass them by? They have self checkouts there, and the other day a lady scanned $110 worth of groceries, bagged them, then walked out of the store without paying. She intentionally made it look like she was paying for the groceries, and walked out without paying. This is premeditated theft. Did evolution pass her by?

People are different. There will always be people displaying extremely deviant behavior caused by ignorance, mental or physical illness, narcissism, terrible upbringing, or any number of other reasons. Evolution works on populations not individuals and is still working of course.
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In fact, with the athiests I have seen, they figure if they can get away with it then it wasn't wrong. The only thing that prevents them from committing crime is the fear of getting caught. Theists are the same way, except they believe there is a God up there who sees everything they do, which is a very effective deterrent to crime.

No it's not. It's a terrible deterrent. A poll on the religious affiliation of prison inmates in the US in 1997 showed that 83.761% of the inmates who answered were Judeo-Christian and 0.21% were atheist. Without religious people US prisons would be practically empty. http://holysmoke.org/icr-pri.htm
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I don't believe man has an innate knowledge of right and wrong. I believe right and wrong was defined by God in the Bible, and has been taught to people for so long that it seems to be an innate knowledge.

Actually it's the other way around. Man has always had an innate knowledge of right and wrong because of evolution as so eloquently described in the quote in my latest post. Christ understood that and preached those morals. Organisms started co-operating long before they thought up religions so morals must be a product of evolution.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 10: Mon Jan 30, 2012 9:47 am
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From Post 8:

Moses Yoder wrote:

If morals are evolved, wouldn't eveyone feel about the same way?

Does everybody look the same?

Moses Yoder wrote:

I must ask the question then, what happened to Jack the Ripper and Jeffrey Dahmer? Did evolution pass them by?

If we assume both of these folks were humans, then yeah, there's a veritable mountain of scientific data to support the notion that they were the product of evolution.

Moses Yoder wrote:

My wife works in a department store, and they regularly find an old pair of shoes in a new shoe box in the shoe department. What do you think happened?

God put 'em there to test our faith?

Moses Yoder wrote:

Did evolution pass them by?

Shoes are not biological entities and so are not under evolutionary pressure (except as relates to trends in human fashion).

Moses Yoder wrote:

They have self checkouts there, and the other day a lady scanned $110 worth of groceries, bagged them, then walked out of the store without paying. She intentionally made it look like she was paying for the groceries, and walked out without paying. This is premeditated theft. Did evolution pass her by?

Was she ugly? If so, yeah, it's apt to pass her right on by. Unless she buys the alcohol, at which point, have 'er give me a call.

That said, there is quite the scientific literature to support the notion that she was a product of evolution.

Moses Yoder wrote:

Before you say these things are done by poor people who can't afford to pay for their stuff, you have to keep in mind wealthy people steal stuff as well.

So we see that im/moral behavior spans the economic spectrum.

Moses Yoder wrote:

In fact, with the athiests I have seen, they figure if they can get away with it then it wasn't wrong.

A simplistic argument devoid of any understanding of just why atheists don't feel the need to run around rapin' and plunderin'.

I've been told by some theists that my consumption of alcohol is "immoral". Wait'll them and their god find out I've been a-cookin' it too.

Moses Yoder wrote:

The only thing that prevents them from committing crime is the fear of getting caught.

I don't rape because I understand a woman has a right to her own body. If I felt otherwise, you can bet your fourth point of contact I'd be the most prolific rapist on this planet. I don't plunder because we're tryin' to have a society.

Much of what you're getting at here, misconceptions and all, could be understood quite easily if you were willing to explore such ideas as sociobiology or evolutionary psychology. I'd be willing to help ya along there best I can if you're interested.

Moses Yoder wrote:

Theists are the same way, except they believe there is a God up there who sees everything they do, which is a very effective deterrent to crime.

Though the theist can't show God's up there, or that he has an opinion on the thoughts or actions of humans.

Moses Yoder wrote:

I don't believe man has an innate knowledge of right and wrong. I believe right and wrong was defined by God in the Bible...

"Believe" does not mean "danged if God didn't define it". Notice, that which is unconfirmed - as evidenced by the use of the word "belief" - is placed within the god concept.

Moses Yoder wrote:

...and has been taught to people for so long that it seems to be an innate knowledge.

Something - "God defined it" - that can't be shown to be a true statement hardly qualifies as knowledge. Notice also the use of "seems". Again we see the theist will store all of their unconfirmable 'knowledge' in the god box.

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