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Atheism, evolution, morality, philosophy

Evolution’s Harsh Truth, and the Atheist’s Moral Imperative

Unlike many of the children who grow up today learning about the “conflict” between Creationism vs. Evolution, I grew up in a comfortable bubble where the two never saw eye to eye, but never drew swords.   In church, I was taught that humans were special, and in school, I was taught that all life began from something not unlike an amoeba.  While my young mind had a hard time grasping how an amoeba could turn into a human, my religious mind had no trouble assuming that a loving and very intelligent God could work such a thing if he wanted to.  In fact, it only reinforced to me the notion that humans were special.  Why would God have gone to so much trouble to create such wonderful beings as people if we were not very important to him?

Shortly after graduating from college, I discovered just how incredibly misplaced my trust had been.  One thing in particular was troubling:  scientist after scientist, each independent and unknown to each other, kept telling me that humans were in no way special.  Nothing about us was anything more than a difference in degree from any other animals.  Apes, chimps and parrots are very smart.  Birds  and chimps use tools.  Bonobos, sheep, giraffes, and octopi have homosexuals.  Vampire bats have ethics.

Today, I’ve got a different take on things. The universe is consistent and predictable.  We are built by genes expressing through our environment.  Morality is the product of evolution, and our conscience should not always be our guide, for it is often wrong.  These are now the foundations of my worldview, and it is a comfortable and comforting worldview, not only because it is overwhelmingly supported by the facts, but because it makes sense of the senseless.  Suffering is not the result of a malicious God bent on punishing us for masturbating to Cheryl Tiegs when we were young.  When bad things happen, we don’t need to look for grand purpose.  All we have to do is what any other animal does — keep on trying to make the best of it.

However, the comfort of this worldview does come at a price.  I believe our sentience brings with it a moral imperative.  Evolution is blind, but we are not.  With our foresight and our hindsight, we can see what suffering we have caused, that which we are causing, and that which we are likely to cause, and we can decide whether or not we ought to continue on our current course.




4 thoughts on “Evolution’s Harsh Truth, and the Atheist’s Moral Imperative

  1. This isn’t the atheist moral imperative, it’s humanity’s moral imperative.

    This is exactly why I argue the way I do, and I know it’s an uphill battle. When Cognitive Dissonance theory was first proposed, it was rejected. Why would people willingly do something that causes them harm and keep doing it?

    But we’re slowly getting down to the niddy gritty of why people cause suffering and hence the way to stop it.

    Posted by cptpineapple | June 22, 2011, 4:31 pm
  2. I agree that it’s humanity’s moral imperative. However, I think the belief in a deity that has a “master plan” for humanity can stunt and even negate a person’s sense of obligation to future generations, or even the suffering of others now. The admission that we’re the only ones who understand what’s going on creates an even greater mandate: If we don’t do it, nobody will. So I think in a way, it is a mandate that is especially important for non-believers (and deists, and non-theist religionists, and anyone else who rejects a “master plan.”)

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | June 22, 2011, 8:39 pm
  3. Hamby, I brought it up not just because of semantics, but because I don’t like what it implies. i.e that “theistic religionists” can’t [and shouldn’t contribute]

    I don’t like the language of it and can isolate allies in this regard.

    Posted by cptpineapple | June 23, 2011, 2:47 am
  4. Alison, I understand your point of view, and I think that if my audience was primarily theist, you might have a valid point. However, my audience is almost exclusively atheist. So what they are *hopefully* hearing is “You are the ones who have to do something. You can’t count on anyone else to do it.”

    The way I view it is easy: If a theist *does* contribute something meaningful, it’s a bonus. If they don’t, no biggie. It’s my responsibility because they genuinely believe their god’s gonna take care of it for them.

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | June 23, 2011, 2:11 pm

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