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5/12/2004                                                                                       View Comments

Evolutionary morality

by A. Uiet Bhor

Introspection is an untrustworthy guide, I’d rather look to what is real, nature, and out best model of understanding it, in order to build a moral philosophy.

Social Darwinism is disliked by evolutionists, it is too Malthusian, un-compassionate, so morality is created separately from the world of science, but there still is some pointers from Darwin’s work for the social engineer.

Evolution was seen by Wallace has having nothing to say on the subject of morals, however the process can guide a philosopher in how to ensure the survival of laws. They key lies in the parallel of the environment shaping the animal, and the culture shaping the laws. If a species cannot adapt to new conditions it goes extinct, if it can it becomes a new species, if a law cannot remain relevant or keep up with society’s overall moral level it becomes archaic, backward, a retarding factor that society will grow to resent.

You must set certain mechanisms in place with moral principles, even basic "absolute" morals that take into account the enlightened state of a society or the law will be changed by someone or something else, i.e. rebellion. No laws concerning sexual activity during the mosaic era apply today, attitudes to gays as softened, or "progressed" depending on you views. I may consider myself enlightened enough to make morals that all mankind can agree with, but if I make then in stone then they may become increasingly irrelevant. New inventions, discoveries, philosophies, cultures, all need new morals, laws, so no matter how advanced moral laws may be at their origination, they will become to small to encompass the race 500 years from now.

All morals and laws must be transitory, adaptable and so I reject the religious laws of torah, bible or Koran as stagnant. Can the teaching of Jesus help us with cloning? Can Islam tell us about paedophiles? Many priests or Imams try to claim they have the answers, derived from their "understanding" of their holy books. They make themselves moral guardians of right(eousness), but in fact most things that societies worries about today are not the same worries as those of ancient Israel or Arabia. In some ways mankind is universal, and there are certain timeless features, problems, questions, and these are what appeal to the bible lovers, they think that because they have been "answered" by their faith, then that’s everything covered, all existence in a book, THE book. However, they fail to see that, in order to glean modern answers from ancient texts a religious leader has to interprets, twist, infer, divine, or make up, but in reality, the prophets and saints could not even comprehend many modern dilemmas let alone offer any solutions.

A holy text is a series of snapshots of a another time, language, ideals, beliefs, and ethics, all of a bygone era, and some aspects of these old cultures hold up to critical scrutiny better than others. The theological ideals are inspiring, (if you like that sort of thing) the stories are riveting, the details are of interest to historians and anthropologists, but the morals don’t age well, and looked at with modern sensitivities, are abhorrent, period.

Stories are eternal, supernatural concepts can evolve but often fight change, but ethics is were the bibles fall apart. The mosaic laws, brutal, the golden rule, vague and open to extreme interpretation, Mohammedian, better but still static, and not prophetic. They all fail to anticipate change, social or technological, and don’t even acknowledge it is going on. All assume society will remain pretty much the same forever, or until the "end time". Rather short sighted, but they couldn’t have seen the world today, not event the most progressive thinkers of the last century could visualise all that takes place today.

Is it asking too much for religious laws to keep up? Yes. And is it asking too much to expect us to still follow laws that are irrelevant, and to believe Jesus hates gays, abortionists and porn films? Yes. These are extrapolations, and even if these attitudes were accurate of the morals of the ancients, does that make them right? Should we base the most important decisions of our lives on one time, one culture forever? Were they better then than we are now, or are we better now? Are the people who insist on basing society on the laws of old, imposing the unjust and barbaric principles of a bunch of thugs, while claiming moral superiority? It all depends on whether you believe in god, if not then Moses, Jesus and co were just men, not capable of foreseeing all that our race would become, and can be safely ignored. At the end of the day, faith is the enemy of progress and better moral standards, as so many of are modern moral attitudes have no biblical parallels.

Only by acknowledging what were are, a race of finite, evolving primates can we build a world based on a transient set of values, not ideals of long dead men, perceives as gods or prophets. They were all just like us, they are dead, we are alive, we matter now, they don’t. I see society as sometimes going forwards sometimes back, but not all progress is good, cloning may be the next step but personally I would fight that step. This is the reason why we sometimes go back, people who are afraid of what the future holds, or that regard the ideal culture as already been reached, (an attitude common in Islam) will fight all progress, not discern good from bad.

Many cultures hark to an ancient utopia, Solomon to the Jews, Atlantis to the Greek philosophers, the caliphs in the middle-east. This is largely a product of religion or mysticism, a supposed solid reference, or precedence to steer for. History shows the past does have aspects that should be preserved, but very few, most of history belongs there, I would hate to see the return of the feudal society or the death penalty. But to hate all the past and blindly rush forward is also a bad idea, all that is new is not better, and those who fail to learn from history, etc. The solution is an amalgam, the best of all are cultures, in all periods, but there are many interpretations of what was laudable about ancient civilisations. As a sceptic I would choose Athens, but many theists, the days of their churches greatest power. It is understandable that conservatives would rather things slowed down, they are satisfied with the status quo, all who are fight change. They miss the past, but nostalgia should not be mistaken for an accurate appraisal of the past, I’m sure many others hated the “good old days”, a dispassionate assessment of the past and a open minded judgement if new ideas is the ideal we should all aim for. Nature made itself, now it is up to us. If we keep relying on non existent deity and spirits we will be unable to exempt responsibility as a culture, as a race we will fail to live up to are potential, we have spend millions of years struggling to get here, and we will have millions of years ahead. Believing that it is all ultimately up to some higher power is childish. We need to grow up, the world is not going to end, Jesus is not coming “soon” we can’t keep banking on salvation, it has cost are ancestors dearly, it was cost even more if we allow emotions and wishful thinking to blind us to the truth. Evolution may take a god away but it gives us far more, a place in the universe of much greater importance. The highest form of life, not the cursed outcasts of Eden, but the custodians of it, we are the angles with the fiery sword, we must protect are planet and ourselves, we can’t if we refuse to acknowledge what we are. We are nature made aware and nature is the universe made manifest. A past, far greater than scripture, is behind us, and a future, far greater, ahead. The only way is up, the theist must stop trying to push us down, and the revolutionary must be careful not to take us somewhere be don’t belong.

As we say in my Shire, moderation in all things, and only upset the apple-cart with mouldy contents.

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