I’ll be on vacation most of this week, 20 miles from the nearest broadband connection. With any luck, I’ll return with a full head of steam (I’m deep in the heart of Fundyland) and a decent suntan.
In the meantime, here are some of my favorite articles from the past year.
A fellow blogger recently voiced his discontent with Christopher Hitchens’ standard response to the accusation that godless morality is a scary thing. Hitchens reply is usually that he is appalled to think that anyone would be good just because they’re afraid of a big supernatural hammer. True morality, he asserts, comes from within oneself, not from without.I have also felt a vague discomfort with this response for years. The thing is, it’s only partly true, and it’s skirting around a bigger issue. Theists are right to be afraid of godless morality. Yep. I said it. Godless morality is a scary thing, and theists are right to fear it. Atheists also ought to fear it. It’s scary.
Is it a failing of human morality that we are greedy to our own detriment? Are we singular in the animal kingdom in our apparent insatiability? It turns out the answer to both questions is a resounding no. In fact, we are behaving exactly like every other animal. It is not a weakness of will or a “flaw” in our nature. We are behaving exactly as evolutionary theory predicts.
At this point, we should see a certain principle of natural selection that seems counterintuitive to a lot of people. Evolution is not very good at efficiency. There is a finite amount of sunlight hitting the trees, and if competition is forcing them to grow ever taller to get to it, the net result is that trees are getting less bang for their buck. A ten foot tree only has to support ten feet of trunk whereas a fifty foot tree has five times as much trunk to support while using exactly the same amount of sunlight.
Every denomination that believes the Bible trumps our conscience interprets the Bible in a way that makes sense to them. Did you catch the trap in this sentence? They use their conscience to decide which interpretation of the Bible trumps the conscience! Again, we are faced with a nasty choice. Either there is a correct version of the Bible that doesn’t rely on conscience or logic to find, or we are right back to conscience and logic being the ultimate guide for morality
Within the animal kingdom, there is a remarkably consistent tendency. The smarter the animal, the more flexible are its mating habits. We can see this very clearly in chimps and coyotes, two species that are very similar to humans in many societal ways. The degree of polygamy in both of these species changes slightly based on the availability of resources. With humans, we would expect that this tendency would apply, and as we progress in history, we will see that not only is this true, it is spectacularly true.
Morality is the measure by which we judge the relative value of human interactions. In other words, a moral act is one in which the action of one individual causes a change in the environment of another individual. Morality does not exist in a vacuum. Unlike the proverbial tree which still causes a sound if there are no ears to hear, the spoken lie which is not heard has no moral value.