This week the Guardian is running a series on “What can Darwin teach us about morality?”
Michael Ruse is the first to answer, and he’s pretty much on good behavior, asserting that morality comes not from God, but from natural selection:
Morality then is not something handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai. It is something forged in the struggle for existence and reproduction, something fashioned by natural selection. It is as much a natural human adaptation as our ears or noses or teeth or penises or vaginas.
Well, let’s put aside the fact that we simply don’t know how much of human morality was built by selection. It seems likely that at least part of our moral instinct evolved in our ancestors, but really, we don’t know that for sure, and we don’t know how much of morality originated that way versus how much were cultural conventions that help us get along. Perhaps it’s better not to rely so much on natural selection, and to simply point out that most people’s morality can’t come from God, because most people accept a concept of good that is prior to God. That means that there must be sources of morality more important than religion.
Nevertheless, at least Ruse—for this week—isn’t catering to the faithful.
I said that there are no grounds for being good. It doesn’t follow that you should be bad. Indeed, there are those – and I am one – who argue that only by recognising the death of God can we possibly do that which we should, and behave properly to our fellow humans and perhaps save the planet that we all share. We can give up all of that nonsense about women and gay people being inferior, about fertilised ova being human beings, and about the earth being ours to exploit and destroy.
I agree completely. What I don’t get, though, is that Ruse has written several books about, and has harped on, the continuing viability of religion, and how it must stand by side with science as a valid “magisterium.” So what does Ruse mean by “recognizing the death of God”? Is he really telling Christians, whom he’s repeatedly schmoozed, that “your God is dead. Defunct. He’s an ex-god. Bereft of life, he rests in peace“? Well, maybe, in view of the above, it’s petty to quibble about Ruse’s alarmingly ambivalent attitude toward faith.
But I do fault Ruse for the end of his piece, in which he simply can’t resist getting in a slap at the new atheists.
God is dead. The new atheists think that that is a significant finding. In this, as in just about everything else, they are completely mistaken. God is dead. Morality has no foundation. Long live morality. Thank goodness!
Of course it’s significant that “God is dead,” if by that he means that religion is relaxing its hold on the minds of Americans, or people in general. That’s highly significant. And, anyway, the mention of new atheists here is completely gratuitous.
Ruse’s behavior lately almost has a Tourette-like component. No matter what he’s discussing, at unpredictable intervals, and at inappropriate times, he suddenly feels compelled to shout “New Atheists are BAD!!!” I’m starting to think that his dislike of Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins stems from a deep-seated jealousy of their literary success. This theory is supported by Ruse’s first statement in this video.
Russell Blackford has a mini-essay in the Guardian series later this week (see his reaction to Ruse’s answer here).
h/t: Russell Blackford