The suggestion was made (in Abundant Living and prior posts) that the timelessness of God and the purity of God are related. The purity of God is traditionally understood to be the Source of good in the world. But what if there is no God? Where does morality come from?
If there is no God there is no eternal life, and following our human death there is only oblivion. Everything in existence is time-bound. Timelessness is just an abstraction we time-bound mortals try, with little real success, to imagine. We die and that’s it. The stretching our time horizon is just a thought experiment, with no connection to reality.
If absolute Good is a function of the timelessness we have been considering, but there is no timelessness except in our imagination, then there is no absolute Good, and it cannot be a source of our moral sense. It would mean there is no Absolute from which morality (or any other feature of our humanity) can derive. There is no timeless Being from whom we can say our sense of right and wrong originates. So where does it come from?
From the atheist – or materialist – perspective, the sense of right and wrong we have, and the kinds of conduct we describe as “moral” and “immoral,” are not a function of timelessness, as I have been arguing, but are a function of time, instead. Eons of time are said to result in evolution of both the sense of right and wrong, and the specific behaviors we attach those labels to.
Evolution as a comprehensive explanation of biological development is hugely significant to the atheist paradigm. Because that paradigm excludes any supernatural reality, we are required to find natural explanation for everything. When we’re talking about human attributes, like the sense of right and wrong and the behaviors we label accordingly, we must find explanation in the proposed eons-long development of mankind.
We would all do well to understand the theory behind Evolution better. Understanding is sometimes made difficult because so often the explanations sneak in a teleology that is supposedly absent. Here’s an easy example. Atheism advocate Richard Dawkins wrote The Selfish Gene, to explain Evolution. Think about that title. We’re to imagine the gene wanting something. It has an object of desire, which gives it a purpose. It directs its will toward that purpose. If we suppose that the individual genes of our body have a will and a direction and a purpose, we’re giving credence to our intuition that there is a Source for that will and direction and purpose, rather than disregarding that intuition, as Evolution requires.
The theory of Evolution supposes that there is no driver of the biological development at all. The theory of Evolution is utterly passive; biological development is not driven by anything. The passage of eons of time is sometimes confused as being the “driver” of Evolution, but that’s not what the theory actually holds. In fact, the theory supposes vast amounts of time precisely because the process lacks an external driver such as design, direction, will, or purpose. The same is true of the theory’s process for change in populations, for which we use words like “adaptation,” and “natural selection.” These are misleading, because Evolution is not theorized to have drivers that actually “adapt” or “select.”
Evolution imagines variation within a population, and the population subjected to environmental pressure, with the result that some combinations of variants survive, and others die. That results in a different mix of variables in the population. Though this is referred to as “adaptation,” we have to remain mindful that no individuals actually adapt. A population doesn’t either, except in the passive sense that the changed conditions result in a population with a different combination of genetic variations.
To be accurate about Evolution, it would be better to use phrases like “results in,” rather than “adapts” or “selects.” The entire process is passive. Words and phrases like “natural selection” are misleading. The theory means that no person or thing is doing any selecting. We just confusingly call it that. But when we call it that, we import notions of willfulness, purposefulness, and goal-directedness – all features which are supposedly excluded by the theory. Semantically slippery discussions of Evolution, like Dawkins’, confuse.
That little side-bar discussion of Evolution is necessary not because I’m trying to refute the theory of Evolution, but because the atheist paradigm depends upon Evolution to explain morality. From the atheist perspective, our sense of right and wrong and the specific behaviors we label as right and wrong have to be the passive result of Evolution, as with every other aspect of our existence as human beings.
Imagine, as atheists must, that our beliefs about what is right and wrong, and our moral sense in general, are derived from changes in genetic variation of populations over time, including the population of individuals we call human beings. How speciation could occur at all is a mystery, given Evolution, but that’s a discussion for another day. Just assume that it does, and that the population of human beings is somehow identifiably distinct from populations of other animals, both today and looking backward over time.
The sense of morality held by individuals in this population has evolved, if atheism be true. It is theorized to evolve in order to sustain social cohesiveness. The population has changed over time so that a higher proportion of its individuals desire social cohesiveness. Morality is, in the atheist paradigm, purely a function of living well with others. Our intuitive sense of right and wrong results from Evolution. Likewise, our sense that particular behaviors are right, and particular behaviors are wrong, is the product of Evolution.
What this means is that our sense that particular behaviors are “right” or “wrong,” and our intuitive moral sense in general, are based entirely on what was helpful to our evolving biology. Something is “good” not because it derives from a timeless God, but because it is helpful to our evolving biology, and has by Evolution become hard-wired such that we feel it innately. Something is “bad” not because it is associated with heedless, short-time-horizon thinking by one with moral agency, but because our genetic make-up makes it seem so.
This means we’re genetically disposed to think of some behavior as carrying the label “moral good,” or “moral bad;” the behaviors are not inherently so. Our conception of moral good and moral bad is an illusion. There’s no such thing. Evolution is understood to have programmed us to believe something inconsistent with the theory itself: that morality exists independently of our genetic make-up. It’s not just that we’re genetically programmed to regard some things as “good” and some as “bad,” but we’re programmed to have a moral sense, so that we regard those “good” and “bad” things as morally good and bad. Our evolved genetic make-up is theorized to cause us to think of particular behaviors with moral approval, opprobrium, pride, or shame. We don’t have moral agency because what seems to be moral decision-making is really just genetic predisposition to react to our environment in particular ways. There is only an evolved intuitive sense of something we are also evolved to call “moral.”
Speaking in terms of morality is fundamentally wrong, with the atheist paradigm. “Good” and “bad” and “moral” and “immoral” are words borrowed from a vocabulary that is meaningful only if morality has a transcendent source. They only make sense if there is a moral Source outside the evolution of human existence.
From an atheist perspective that is consistent, “right” and “wrong” would be just labels attached to particular evolved intuitions. Why, if we adopt the atheist paradigm, do we nonetheless speak of “right” and “wrong?” And why would we ever argue about it? Presumably because of the always-present genetic variation within the population. So if I say abortion is wrong for everyone, and my neighbor says it’s right for some, we’re both responding to our programming. And, we can both be “right,” because moral “rightness” doesn’t really exist. it is not an objective thing.
It also means that “right” and “wrong” are just truncheons we use in our battles over genetic predispositions. By attempting to persuade others, we act as though we have moral agency, even though the atheist view is necessarily that we don’t. These are acts which employ wishful thinking: pretending there is a nobler purpose that just does not and cannot exist, for those who hold this worldview. “Right” and “wrong” are used as a form of semantic subterfuge to cloak naked Nietzchean will to power.
God help us.