Science & Faith
5/11/12 at 10:24 AM 8 Comments

Darwinism Undermines Objective Moral Values: What 500 Emory University Faculty and Students Need to Know

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Dr. Ben Carson: Recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House on June 20, 2008

Although Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson doubts Darwinian evolution, he agrees with Darwin that if evolutionary theory were true, then Christian moral precepts such as the golden rule and love for all human races (ethnicities) are no more natural or normative than selfishness and racism. Although Carson disagrees with Darwin and Darwinists today about the plausibility of the evolution of all life from a common ancestor, Carson agrees with Darwin and many leading Darwinists today about the moral implications of Darwinism.

At least 500 students and faculty at Emory University (see my last blog post about the Carson-Emory controversy) are uninformed about how Darwin and leading Darwinists today have undermined belief in the objectivity of moral values such as “infanticide is wrong.” For such sentiments to count as objective moral truths would mean that they could not be merely illusions thrust upon us by the accidents of our evolving genes.

But, note what leading Darwinists Michael Ruse and E.O. Wilson wrote:

Morality… is merely an adaptation put in place to further our reproductive ends… In an important sense, ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate.” Michael Ruse and E.O. Wilson, “The Evolution of Ethics” in James Huchingson, Religion and the Natural Sciences: The Range of Engagement (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993), p. 210.

Or, go back to Darwin’s main book on the topic:

That animals sometimes are far from feeling any sympathy is too certain; for they will expel a wounded animal from the herd, or gore or worry it to death. This is almost the blackest fact in natural history, unless indeed the explanation which has been suggested is true, that their instinct or reason leads them to expel an injured companion, lest beasts of prey, including man, should be tempted to follow the troop. In this case their conduct is not much worse than that of the North American Indians who leave their feeble comrades to perish on the plains, or the Feegeans, who, when their parents get old or fall ill, bury them alive. Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), vol. I, p. 76-77. This is a reprint of the first edition that was published in 1871.

Darwin and many Darwinists today have argued that natural selection (coupled with other unguided natural events) is the chief explanation of all human behavior, including both loving maternal care for infants, and infanticide. Care toward elderly family members, and euthanasia, likewise, are (allegedly) both the natural results of human evolution.

John West explains some of the subtleties and contradictions within Darwin’s book The Descent of Man:

Throughout his discussion of morality, Darwin repeatedly referred to “higher” and “lower” moral impulses as if there were some transcendent [objective] standard of morality to which he compared human and animal behavior. Darwin wrote as if conventional virtues such as kindness and courage were objectively preferable to conventional vices such as cruelty and lust. But it is difficult to make sense of such comments in terms of Darwin’s own system, which clearly portrayed morality as ultimately reducible to that which promotes biological survival.

Read more of John West’s analysis of Darwinian views of ethics here.

Or, to further tie such discussion to the Carson-Emory controversy, read Richard Weikart's excellent essay: At Emory University, Consternation over Ben Carson, Evolution, and Morality. It begins with this:

Almost 500 Emory faculty and students have expressed their dismay that their commencement speaker on May 14 does not toe the ideological line on evolutionary biology. Yes, gasp, the renowned Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson does not believe in evolutionary theory. Not only that, but biology professors at Emory and their supporters also accuse Carson of committing a thought crime because he allegedly "equates acceptance of evolution with a lack of ethics and morality."

Since I am a historian who has studied and published on the history of evolutionary ethics, I was rather surprised by the Emory faculty's consternation over Carson's belief that evolution undermines objective ethics and morality. Last summer I attended a major interdisciplinary conference at Oxford University on "The Evolution of Morality and the Morality of Evolution." So I am well aware that there are a variety of viewpoints in academe on this topic. Nonetheless, many evolutionists -- from Darwin to the present (including quite a few at that Oxford conference) -- have argued and are still arguing precisely the point that Dr. Carson highlighted: they claim that morality has evolved and thus has no objective existence.

As a fellow historian of science who has read much of Weikart's scholarship, I can attest to the accuracy of what he argues in this essay.

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