This was a subject I was intending to get round to eventually, but recent blog postings have prompted me comment on it now. I am fairly sure I’ll return to this subject again in the future, it is a big subject after all.
The basic issue that is prompting me to comment is the reaction of Christians to the assertion that morality does not come from God and is in actual fact an evolutionary characteristic. As someone who accepts evolution I don’t have an issue with that premise. I find it very interesting, in a stimulating way, it takes the idea of physical traits honed over generations through evolution and applies it to characteristics. What we do and how we act, is now viewed, in evolutionary terms, as a benefit or not and selected accordingly.
Intellectually I have no issue with this at all. I believe it is at least highly plausible and will be paying attention to the results of further research on the subject.
The Failure of God Driven Morality
The idea that our morality comes only from God and that only a believer can be deemed to be a moral person is flawed. There are atheists that are upstanding and moral people as well as there are Christians who have murdered.
As a Christian, I held firmly to this belief. I never questioned the existence of good atheists; I accepted they existed but I am not sure what I did about the conflict between morality coming from God and there being atheists who were good. So I can’t answer that obvious question.
What I am sure of is that the mere suggestion that morality is evolutionary would have caused me upset and it seems that there are a good many Christians who feel the same.
The most recent article on the subject is this one in USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2011-07-31-atheism-morality-evolution-religion_n.htm (for reasons I can not explain, I am unable to reach that URL directly and so in case I am not alone, here is the google cache link for the article in question: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2011-07-31-atheism-morality-evolution-religion_n.htm)
I found the link from the Evolution is true blog which has published a couple of the comments that were received from Christians on the subject (http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/the-public-responds/).
There is a very sad irony that Christians upset by the assertion that they do not have a monopoly on morality are behaving in a way that is arguably not moralistic.
As it happens, another blog (http://formerconservative.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/red-cardigan-would-be-a-complete-sociopath-if-god-didnt-tell-her-not-to/) pointed me to a Christian blog discussing the same subject. The Christian known as Red Cardigan has a peculiar view on atheistic morals, going so far as to suggest that atheists take their morals from a specific philosophical viewpoint. Its news to me that atheism is a specific philosophy; its not clear that if she means all atheists or just some, I suspect she originally meant all and then refined to some.
Whichever she meant is not important, it’s the extension of the logic that Christians get their morality from God therefore atheists must get theirs from something too, so philosophy seems like a reasonable conclusion. I can see how that logic would be attractive and I can see how a firm Christian who has utterly bought the idea that morals come God would make that leap.
The brutal fact is, it is wrong.
The trouble with this utterly wrong viewpoint, is that it leads to further wrong ideas. These can be seen in the following three posts (http://redcardigan.blogspot.com/2011/07/atheist-hissy-fits.html, http://redcardigan.blogspot.com/2011/07/prison-atheist-fable.html, http://redcardigan.blogspot.com/2011/08/pollyanna-atheism-shakespeare-and.html) on the subject where the Christian idea of what an atheist is and believes is put forward and there is no effort at all to actually learn when corrected. Its this bit that’s so sad; even more sad is that I was once like that too. Trapped in my own ideas of what was and not listening when I was told what actually is.
- The public responds (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)
- My USA Today op-ed on morality (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)
- Can you be good without God? (4simpsons.wordpress.com)
- USA TODAY editorial by Jerry Coyne – JAM (fellowshiproom.org)