You’d made an argument earlier in this discussion, when suggesting that natural explanations are the best category of explanations based on their track record. So let’s try this track record on for size: in the case of mankind’s laws over the centuries, how often have those laws existed among us without a law giver or givers — laws that, if broken, carry severe penalty, and that therefore are generally obeyed by law-abiding citizens who don’t want to experience those penalties? If the answer is none, then why do we assume that our most primitive and universal moral laws, the ones written in our conscience and to which we are beholden (or at the very least to which we all feel and act as though we’re beholden), would exist without a law giver? I expect you might want to posit the evolutionary process itself as the law-giver, but I’ll still challenge you to point to another case where we have laws that were merely developed through eons of time via random chance and mutation (or something like that), without any intelligent input, without any clauses, contracts or fine print, without constraints and qualifiers — things we do have in the case of our most basic moral laws. Bottom line: when we have universal laws that humans are compelled to obey, we generally have a law-giver.. something like local governments, or Interpol, or the UN, etc. What then do we make of laws like “it is always morally abhorrent to torture little babies for fun,” or “if you run off a cliff, you will fall down”?

Moving on, you’ve give four categories or descriptions of morality. Very good. So then we would say it is good and right to be, for example, altruistic. But that only describes the state, and gives nothing about our being compelled to seek that state. Woodpeckers helping each other gather food are just doing that; if we think they ought to be doing it, we are referencing something beyond just what is happening.

So my question is how you would arrive at the ought about these things. Why ought I to be altruistic? If you say for the good of my tribe, I’ll again ask why; why ought I care for my tribe? I’m not asking whether or not it will benefit my tribe’s survival; I’m asking what it is about my tribe’s survival that ought to drive me to seek it. What if it is my desire to live greedy and selfish? Why, if I’m caught stealing my neighbor’s things, should I suffer consequences? I didn’t consider my action wrong. Was is actually wrong, or just taboo/opposite of this thing called altruism? Are my consequences part of some Harrisesque social contract? I didn’t sign it. Is it the mob rule, that I have to oblige because majority rules? If that’s all there is to it, then Hitler’s treatment of Germans should have been left alone; he had the populous majority on his side, and if he’d simply stayed in Germany, we should have left him alone to extinguish any person group in his country that the majority deemed unworthy of life.

No, your categories of reciprocity, altruism, principles of fairness, and empathy are only descriptive. From where do we get the prescriptive? Here’s the way Greg Koukl at Stand To Reason put it:

Morality is more than sentiments, feelings and behavior. Morality entails things like motive and intention. I mean, you could have a guy walk into a garage, walk out with a hose, and is that wrong? Well, it depends. Is it his hose or somebody else’s hose? Did he intend to take the other person’s hose? Is he borrowing the hose? So we can see here are elements that are part of the moral thing that needs to be explained, that are immaterial, and therefore the Darwinian explanation can’t even in principle go there. It can’t do that job.

But here’s the worst problem. Regardless of what our sentiments happen to be regarding moral actions, we can feel good or feel bad or whatever, the problem is that morality is prescriptive, not merely descriptive. That is, it tells us not just what we did, but what we ought to have done in the past, and what we ought to do in the future. That is not something that any Darwinian mechanism can describe, because nothing about my biology can inveigh upon me to act a certain way for moral reasons in the future. It doesn’t tell me why I should be good tomorrow.

This is a huge difference between these two views, the descriptive and the prescriptive. Prescriptive is part of morality, and can’t even, in principle, be explained by an evolutionary materialistic system.

What if we come across a remote island that has been unadulterated by outside influence and left to socially evolve in their own way. Let’s say they’ve somehow evolved to forcibly impregnate on every occasion (the way sharks do) and to eat any offspring who appeared ill (like many animals in the wild do) rather than seeking treatment. Ought we to intervene? Ought we to consider this culture barbaric and evil? Because if we only shake our heads at them for being less evolved or under educated, we are implying that our “more evolved” and educated way is a better way; but that implies that there is something objectively better in our society that is lacking from theirs, even though both are simply products of evolution and nothing more. “More evolved” means we have an intrinsic sliding scale that’s from outside ourselves.

There’s nothing about furthering evolution that creates “more” morality; just different. But then why do we all shudder at, say, the thought of a civilization that tortures babies for fun as a national sport? Is it just in our nature; or are we honest enough to recognize that there is some deeper truth at play, something intrinsic and outside of us — super-natural — informing our moral and ethical convictions?

One-time copywriter, now hobbywriting on ethics, values, religion, philosophy & truth, with a dash of humor. Views are my own (and others’, but not my employer)

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