Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: How Evolutionary Theory Undermines Everything You Thought You Knew
Stewart-Williams (Steve)
This Page provides (where held) the Abstract of the above Book and those of all the Papers contained in it.
Colour-ConventionsDisclaimerBooks / Papers Citing this BookNotes Citing this Book

BOOK ABSTRACT:

Back Cover Blurb

  1. If you accept evolutionary theory, can you also believe in God? Are human beings superior to other animals, or is this just a human prejudice? Does Darwin have implications for heated issues like euthanasia and animal rights1? Does evolution tell us the purpose of life, or does it imply that life has no ultimate purpose? Does evolution tell us what is morally right and wrong, or does it imply that ultimately 'nothing' is right or wrong?
  2. In this fascinating and intriguing2 book, Steve Stewart-Williams addresses these and other fundamental philosophical questions raised by evolutionary theory and the exciting new field of evolutionary psychology. Drawing on biology, psychology and philosophy, he argues that Darwinian science supports a view of a godless universe devoid of ultimate purpose or moral structure, but that we can still live a good life and a happy life within the confines of this view.

Contents
    Acknowledgments – ix
    1. Darwin and the Big Questions – 1
  1. Darwin gets religion
    1. Clash of the Titans – 21
    2. Design after Darwin – 45
    3. Darwin's God – 54
    4. God as Gap Filler – 73
    5. Darwin and the Problem of Evil – 103
    6. Wrapping up Religion – 128
  2. Life after Darwin
    1. Human Beings and Their Place in the Universe – 141
    2. The Status of Human Beings Among the Animals – 162
    3. Meaning of Life, RIP? – 188
  3. Morality stripped of superstition
    1. Evolving Good – 201
    2. Remaking Morality – 223
    3. Uprooting the Doctrine of Human Dignity – 258
    4. Evolution and the Death of Right and Wrong – 280
    Suggestions for Further Reading – 309
    References – 311
    Index – 333



In-Page Footnotes ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: How Evolutionary Theory Undermines Everything You Thought You Knew")

Footnote 2:
BOOK COMMENT:

CUP, 30 Sept. 2010



"Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin and the Big Questions"

Source: Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life, Chapter 1


Author’s Book Abstract1
  1. Part I: Darwin Gets Religion
    1. I open with the question of the existence of God. Did God create us in his image, or did we create him in ours? Or, as Nietzsche put it, 'Is man one of God's blunders? Or is God one of man's blunders?' Here are some of the other questions we'll be asking in this section:
      • Can someone who believes in evolution believe in God as well?
      • Did God directly guide the evolutionary process?
      • Did God choose natural selection as his means of creating life indirectly?
      • Must we invoke God to explain the origin of life, the origin of the universe, or the origin of consciousness?
      • Does the suffering entailed by natural selection suggest that there could be no God - or that if there is a God, he must be evil?
    2. We won't be concerned with the full range of arguments for and against God's existence, but only those directly related to Darwin's theory.
    3. Here's a synopsis of the chapters that make up Part 1 (Chapters 2-7).
  2. Part II: Life after Darwin
    1. Moving right along, our second major topic is philosophical anthropology, the sub-discipline of philosophy that deals with questions about human beings, their status in nature, and the meaning and purpose of human life. Here are some of the questions we'll be asking in this section (Chapters 8-10):
      • Does the mind survive the death of the body?
      • Is the universe conscious?
      • Are we superior to other animals?
      • Are we inferior to other animals?
      • Does natural selection inevitably produce progress or is this a misunderstanding of Darwin's theory?
      • What is the meaning of life?
      • Does evolutionary theory imply that life is ultimately meaningless?
    2. Chapters:-
  3. Part III: Morality Stripped of Superstition
    1. Next we'll turn to the important field of ethics and morality. Here are some of the questions we'll be addressing in this section (Chapters 11-14):
      • If a behaviour has an evolutionary origin, does this imply that it is natural and therefore morally acceptable?
      • Does an evolutionary approach to psychology justify the status quo, imply that we can't hold people responsible for the things they do, or justify inequality and war?
      • Are suicide or voluntary euthanasia ever morally permissible?
      • How should we treat non-human animals?
      • Are there ever circumstances in which the lives of human beings should be sacrificed for the good of other animals?
      • Does exposure to evolutionary theory make people immoral?
      • Does evolutionary theory imply that, ultimately, nothing is morally right or wrong?
    2. Chapters:-
  4. Conclusion
    1. So, that's our subject matter: God, man, and morality in the light of evolution.
    2. These topics are densely interconnected, such that whenever evolutionary theory has implications for one, this usually has downstream implications for the others. For example, evolutionary theory lowers the probability that we are the privileged creation of a supernatural being. This has implications concerning our place in nature (it lowers the probability that non-human animals exist merely to satisfy our needs), which in turn has implications within the domain of ethics (it forces us to re-evaluate the way we treat other animals).
    3. This example also illustrates something about the structure of the book, namely, that Part I (on the existence of God) lays the groundwork for much of what follows, and that Parts II and III (on humankind and ethics, respectively) contain the more original and less widely discussed ideas.
    4. Regardless of your starting point, though, I hope you'll take the entire journey with me. Along the way, we'll meet a diverse and colourful cast of characters, including Creationists and Theistic Evolutionists, vitalists and mechanists, evolutionary psychologists and Blank-Slate Darwinians, Social Darwinists and human supremacists.
    5. We'll challenge some commonly-held beliefs, such as that Pope John Paul II accepted evolutionary theory; we'll assess some ancient dating advice (from Plato, no less); and we'll even contemplate the ultimate destiny of the universe.
    6. Last but not least, we'll reach definitive answers to some age-old mysteries:
      • Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
      • Why do innocent people suffer?
      • What happens when we die?
    7. There's a lot to get through, so we'd better make a start. The first item on the agenda is God.




In-Page Footnotes ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin and the Big Questions")

Footnote 1:
  • This is most of the text of the Chapter.
  • The Chapter Abstracts have been removed to form abstracts for the Chapters themselves.
  • The motivational text prior to this has been ignored for now.



"Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Clash of the Titans"

Source: Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life, Chapter 2


Author’s Chapter Abstract1
  1. We'll start at the beginning: did we evolve or did God create us in our present form? These are not, of course, the only options, but they're the ones that get the most airtime and that are the most important to the most people. One of them also happens to be correct. Those readers already familiar with evolutionary theory, and with the evolution versus creationism debate, may wish to skip ahead to the next chapter, but my hope is that even these readers will find something of value here.
  2. The chapter starts with a sketch of the Creationist viewpoint followed by a sketch of evolutionary theory. (Did you know that Darwin did not actually originate the concept of evolution?) Then we'll survey some of the fascinating and bizarre evidence supporting Darwin's theory. We'll see how evolutionary theory explains otherwise inexplicable facts about the biological world, such as why bat wings are less like bird wings than they are like whale flippers; why flightless birds have wings; why human embryos2 have gill slits; why whales are occasionally born with hind limbs; and why humans are occasionally born with tails.
  3. Finally, we'll examine some of the arguments against evolutionary theory. One of the most persuasive of these asserts that there are certain things in the biological world that simply could not have evolved through natural selection. This includes the bacterial flagellum, the immune system, and the blood-clotting system. Even some scientifically minded laypeople are secretly given pause by these apparently reasonable arguments. If you're one of them, you've been taken in by the slick marketing of the Intelligent Design movement. Hopefully, by the end of Chapter 2, you'll never suffer from this malady again.




In-Page Footnotes ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Clash of the Titans")

Footnote 1: Taken from Chapter 1 ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin and the Big Questions").



"Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Design after Darwin"

Source: Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life, Chapter 3


Author’s Chapter Abstract1
  1. In Chapter 3, we'll tum our attention to an important philosophical argument for the existence of God: the argument from design.
  2. The basic idea is as follows. Certain parts of the natural world look as though they were designed (eyes, teeth and claws, for example); you can't have design without a designer; thus, there must be a designer and the designer is God.
  3. We'll see that evolutionary theory undermines this argument and therefore poses a serious threat to theistic belief, even for those who believe for other reasons.
  4. We'll also see that, within this area of philosophy, Darwin had a greater impact than one of the greatest philosophers of all time: David Hume.




In-Page Footnotes ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Design after Darwin")

Footnote 1: Taken from Chapter 1 ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin and the Big Questions").



"Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin's God"

Source: Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life, Chapter 4


Author’s Chapter Abstract1
  1. The remaining chapters of Part 1 address the question: can someone who believes in evolution also believe in God? In a sense, the answer is clearly yes, you can believe in both. We know this because a lot of people do believe in both evolution and God.
  2. This fact is often held up as evidence that these beliefs must be compatible. But the conclusion is too strong; it shows only that, if they're incompatible, it's not in any obvious or straightforward way. We might still find that, when we look more closely, they are inconsistent with one another.
  3. In addressing this issue, we'll sample some of the clever ways that believers have tried to meld their belief in God with the truth of evolution.
    • Some suggest, for instance, that God personally guided the evolutionary process, either in whole or in part.
    • Others suggest that, rather than intervening, God chose natural selection as his means of creating life.
  4. Many notable scientists and other intellectuals have held views of this kind. Thus, if you think these are reasonable solutions to the problem of reconciling God and evolution, you're in good company.
  5. But you're also wrong. That, at any rate, is what I hope to persuade you of in Chapter 4.




In-Page Footnotes ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin's God")

Footnote 1: Taken from Chapter 1 ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin and the Big Questions").



"Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: God as Gap Filler"

Source: Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life, Chapter 5


Author’s Chapter Abstract1
  1. In this chapter, we'll deal with a counterargument that will already have occurred to some readers. Evolutionary theory may account for the apparent design found in the biological world, but there are still many mysteries left to explain - mysteries that may require us to posit the existence of God.
    • Mystery 1: how did life begin? Evolutionary theory can explain the origin of new species from pre-existing species, but it can't explain the origin of life from non-life in the first place. How did the first self-replicating molecules come to exist?
    • Mystery 2: how did the universe begin and why is it so exquisitely suitable for the evolution of life?
    • Mystery 3: how is mind or consciousness possible in a world of mere matter in motion?
  2. Each of these questions reveals a gap in the scientific vision of the world, a gap that perhaps only God can fill. As we address them, we'll encounter ideas that – to many people – might seem quite outlandish, including the idea that this universe is merely one of many, and that Darwinian principles shed light on how universes come to have the properties they do. We'll see, though, that given the current state of play in physics, such ideas are – at the very least – not unreasonable.
  3. Also in the realm of surprising conclusions, we'll see that an examination of the evolved mind actually lowers our estimate of the likelihood that God exists, rather than raising it. And we'll touch on what I like to think of as the ultimate question: why is there something rather than nothing?




In-Page Footnotes ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: God as Gap Filler")

Footnote 1: Taken from Chapter 1 ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin and the Big Questions").



"Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin and the Problem of Evil"

Source: Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life, Chapter 6


Author’s Chapter Abstract1
  1. Evolutionary theory doesn't just eliminate reasons to believe in God; it provides reasons not to believe.
  2. Have you heard of the problem of evil? It's an argument against the existence of God, the gist of which is that an all-powerful and all-good God would never allow as much 'evil' (i.e., suffering) to exist in the world as we actually find, and thus that there probably is no God.
  3. Evolutionary theory radically exacerbates the problem of evil. The evolutionary process that gave us life involved grotesque quantities of suffering across vast tracts of time. Darwin himself described it as 'clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horribly cruel'. Why would God choose to create life in such a reprehensible manner?
  4. Our conclusion in this chapter will be that, if there really were a God, the Creationists would be right – but they're not so there probably isn't.
  5. As we make our way to this conclusion, we'll deal with various related issues, such as:
    • Are other animals conscious?
    • Do they experience pleasure and pain, or are they merely unconscious biological machines?
    • Even if there really is a God, should we obey him?
    (You'll need to make sure you read the footnotes if you're interested in the latter question.)




In-Page Footnotes ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin and the Problem of Evil")

Footnote 1: Taken from Chapter 1 ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin and the Big Questions").



"Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Wrapping up Religion"

Source: Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life, Chapter 7


Author’s Chapter Abstract1
  1. Chapter 7 deals with a common response to the types of arguments discussed thus far, namely, that they only deal with a traditional, anthropomorphic conception of God. Many claim that the God they believe in is something far grander and more refined than this traditional conception; it is Ultimate Reality, or the Ground of All Being, or the condition for the existence of anything, etc.
  2. Maybe such a vision of God is immune to the universal acid of Darwinism. Then again, maybe it's not. This is the subject matter of Chapter 7, the final chapter of Part I.




In-Page Footnotes ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Wrapping up Religion")

Footnote 1: Taken from Chapter 1 ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin and the Big Questions").



"Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Human Beings and Their Place in the Universe"

Source: Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life, Chapter 8


Author’s Chapter Abstract1
  1. This chapter looks at the place of human beings and the human mind in nature, and is, in my opinion, one of the best chapters in the book. We'll see that evolutionary theory poses a challenge to some of our most deep-seated common-sense ideas about the world, including such ideas as that everything in the history of the universe
    • either has a mind or does not,
    • can be classified as either a human being or not, and
    • can be classified as either living or non-living.
  2. We'll also see that, from an evolutionary perspective, the mind does not stand outside nature but is a tiny fragment of nature – a fact that has some important implications. One is that our consciousness is not simply consciousness of the universe; our consciousness is a part of the universe, and thus the universe itself is partially conscious. The section dealing with this topic (entitled 'The conscious universe') probably constitutes my favourite four paragraphs of the entire book; if you read nothing else, I recommend that you read this.
  3. Elsewhere in the chapter, we'll see that, although the traditional distinction between humans and animals is still workable after Darwin, it is revealed as no less arbitrary than the distinction between, say, dolphins and non-dolphins; we'll come to the apparently paradoxical conclusion that, although human beings, living things, and minds have not existed forever, there was no first human being, no first living thing, and no first mind; and we'll discover why medical doctors are merely glorified veterinarians and surgeons merely glorified mechanics.




In-Page Footnotes ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Human Beings and Their Place in the Universe")

Footnote 1: Taken from Chapter 1 ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin and the Big Questions").



"Stewart-Williams (Steve) - The Status of Human Beings Among the Animals"

Source: Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life, Chapter 9


Author’s Chapter Abstract1
  1. This chapter picks up where the last left off and represents, I hope, one of the main contributions of this book to the field. Many commentators have observed that, like the Copernican revolution before it, the Darwinian revolution deflated human beings' view of their own importance in the grand scheme of things. As the zoologist Desmond Morris put it, we are no longer fallen angels but risen apes.
  2. But many who accept Darwin's theory find consolation in the idea that humans are superior among the animals. Often this is based on the idea that evolution is progressive — that it involves an inevitable march towards greater intelligence and complexity, and that we are at the forefront of this trend. You yourself may hold such a view, and thus you may be surprised to leam that, in Chapter 9, I will argue that it is wrong in every particular.
  3. My aim is that, by the end of this chapter, you will cringe every time you hear someone refer to chimpanzees or other animals as 'sub-human animals' or 'infra-humans', just as you would cringe if someone described you as a sub-chimpanzee animal or an infra-turkey. I also hope to persuade you that phrases like 'more evolved' and 'less evolved' should be jettisoned from your repertoire of ideas.
  4. Along the way, we'll see
    • why the rock star Jim Morrison was an evolutionary success story even though he died at the age of twenty-seven;
    • why, from a certain point of view, we are not significantly smarter than blue whales or even ants; and
    • why it is incorrect to say that humans are descended from the lower animals.
  5. Finally, we'll ask a question that few ever ask: would the universe be a better place if we had never evolved?




In-Page Footnotes ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - The Status of Human Beings Among the Animals")

Footnote 1: Taken from Chapter 1 ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin and the Big Questions").



"Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Meaning of Life, RIP?"

Source: Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life, Chapter 10


Author’s Chapter Abstract1
  1. In Chapter 10, we deal with one of the biggest questions of them all: what is the meaning of life? Evolutionary theory could inform our answers to this question in a number of ways.
  2. A common intuition is that the purpose of an object derives from the intentions of its maker. If I made a screwdriver, for example, I would have bequeathed it a purpose; to drive screws. Likewise, if we were made by God, our purpose would be the purpose for which God created us.
  3. What happens, then, if it turns out that we were not created directly by God, but were created instead by natural selection? There are at least two responses to this question.
    1. The first is to substitute natural selection for God: 'If our creator was natural selection, then our purpose in life is whatever natural selection "had in mind" — i.e., passing on our genes.'
    2. The second response is very different: 'If our creator was natural selection, then we didn't really have a creator at all, and thus our lives have no purpose.'
  4. It's not much of a choice, but I'm going to argue that one of these options is indeed the case. You'll have to read Chapter 10 to find out which.




In-Page Footnotes ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Meaning of Life, RIP?")

Footnote 1: Taken from Chapter 1 ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin and the Big Questions").



"Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Evolving Good"

Source: Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life, Chapter 11


Author’s Chapter Abstract1
  1. In the first chapter of Part III, we'll ask whether human morality is an adaptation, crafted by the hidden hand of natural selection.
  2. This turns out to be quite a tricky question.
    • On the one hand, there's little doubt that evolutionary theory can shed light on the origins of some of the behaviours that fall within the rubric of morality, including altruism and our characteristic attitudes about certain kinds of sexual behaviour.
    • On the other hand, the morality-as-adaptation hypothesis faces some serious challenges. If morality were a direct product of evolution, why would people constantly argue about what's right and wrong? Why would we have to teach our children to be good? Why would we experience inner conflict between what we think is morally right and what we really want to do?
  3. You might expect that, as an evolutionary psychologist, I'd have snappy comebacks for each of these questions. But I don't; I think they represent important criticisms and I don't think that morality is a direct product of evolution.
  4. What I do think, and what I'll argue in this chapter, is that morality is a social institution; to some extent, it embodies and reflects our evolved inclinations, but to some extent it also counteracts them.




In-Page Footnotes ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Evolving Good")

Footnote 1: Taken from Chapter 1 ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin and the Big Questions").



"Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Remaking Morality"

Source: Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life, Chapter 12


Author’s Chapter Abstract1
  1. In Chapter 12, we'll deal with some questions that have cost a lot of people a lot of sleep over the years.
    • Does evolutionary theory imply that we should adopt the survival of the fittest as an ethical maxim?
    • Does it justify the status quo and the disadvantaged position of women in society?
    • Does it imply that men cannot be held accountable for infidelity or rape?
    • Does it imply that social welfare should be abolished and that dog-eat-dog capitalism is the only acceptable political system?
    • Does it imply that we should forcibly prevent the least fit among us from having children?
    • Does it justify the Nazis' attempt to cleanse the gene pool?
  2. More generally, if something we consider bad (e.g., aggression or sexism or racism) can be traced to evolved aspects of the mind, does this imply that it is actually good?
  3. I won't keep you in suspense; you'll be relieved to hear that the answer to all these questions is an unequivocal 'no'. But this might not be for the reason you think. If you know a little about the area already, you will have heard of the 'naturalistic fallacy'. This is generally understood as the fallacy of inferring that because something is natural, it must therefore be good, or that the way things are is the way things ought to be.
  4. Technically, such inferences would indeed be logically fallacious; thus, the fact that something has an evolutionary origin does not automatically imply that it is obligatory or even morally acceptable.
  5. However, we'll see in Chapter 12 that there is in fact no logical barrier preventing facts about evolution from informing our ethical conclusions, as long as we attend to certain logical niceties.
  6. Thus, if there's anything wrong with the ethical conclusions alluded to in the above paragraph (which there certainly is), it is not that they commit the naturalistic fallacy. All will be revealed in Chapter 12.




In-Page Footnotes ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Remaking Morality")

Footnote 1: Taken from Chapter 1 ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin and the Big Questions").



"Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Uprooting the Doctrine of Human Dignity"

Source: Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life, Chapter 13


Author’s Chapter Abstract1
  1. This is another candidate for my favourite chapter of the book. In it, we'll survey the implications of evolutionary theory for a series of topics in applied ethics, including suicide, euthanasia, and the proper treatment of non-human animals.
  2. The thread knitting the chapter together is an important trend in moral thinking known as the doctrine of human dignity. This refers to the view that human life is infinitely valuable, whereas the lives of non-human animals have little value or even none at all.
  3. We'll see that the universal acid of Darwinism dissolves this ancient dogma, and that this in turn leads us to some unsettling conclusions. It suggests, for example, that the notion that human life is supremely valuable is a mere superstition; that there may be circumstances in which it is morally acceptable to take an innocent life; and that there may be circumstances in which it is completely immoral and unethical to keep a person alive.
  4. The demise of the doctrine of human dignity also has important implications regarding the treatment of non-human animals. Our species has a long track record of treating other animals poorly; some even liken our treatment of the animals to the Nazi Holocaust. While we've struggled over recent centuries with moral issues such as slavery and the rights of women, few have thought to question the morality of the way we treat members of other species. Recently, however, awareness of the issue has grown, and there is now even a word for discrimination on the basis of species membership: speciesism.
  5. In Chapter 13, we'll see that a Darwinian perspective supports the view that speciesism is just as morally objectionable as other forms of discrimination, such as sexism and racism – after all, a universe with less suffering is better than one with more, and, with the doctrine of human dignity safely out of the picture, it makes no moral difference whether the suffering individual is a human being or some other creature2.
  6. The Australian philosopher Peter Singer has gone as far as to argue that the animal liberation movement is the single most important liberation movement in the world today, more important even than the social movements combating sexism and racism. He has also argued that in certain circumstances, the life of a chimpanzee or a pig may be worth more than the life of a human.
  7. A moral system anchored in evolutionary theory is entirely consistent with Singer's views. I suspect that some readers will see this as a radical and unreasonable position, and dismiss it out of hand. It would be interesting to know what they'll think by the time they get to the end of Chapter 13.




In-Page Footnotes ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Uprooting the Doctrine of Human Dignity")

Footnote 1: Taken from Chapter 1 ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin and the Big Questions").

Footnote 2: Maybe, provided we correctly count the hedons – ie. (maybe) human beings suffer more than other animals.



"Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Evolution and the Death of Right and Wrong"

Source: Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life, Chapter 14


Author’s Chapter Abstract1
  1. In the final chapter of the book, we consider two main questions.
    • The first is whether exposure to evolutionary theory makes people bad. Many Creationist critics of Darwin claim that his theory purges existence of any ultimate meaning and reduces the value of human life to zero. In doing so, it destroys morality, making people selfish, sexually promiscuous, and violent (so they argue). This concern is exemplified by the famous (possibly apocryphal) words of a nineteenth-century bishop's wife: 'Let us hope that what Mr Darwin says is not true; but, if it is true, let us hope that it will not become generally known.' Many hold this view. But do we really have to deny our evolutionary origins and hold false and groundless beliefs about the universe in order to be good, treat one another nicely, and care about one another's welfare? Could it be that it's actually safer and more effective not to tie morality to religion? That's the first topic for Chapter 14.
    • The second relates to the question of whether our moral beliefs – any moral beliefs – are objectively true. You probably feel pretty confident about the veracity of your moral convictions. You feel that murder is wrong and helping people is right, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is simply incorrect. I feel the same way. But think about this: if we were intelligent ants, we would think individual rights were an evil; if we were termites, we would have no moral qualms about reproductive love among siblings (indeed, we'd favour it); and if we were bees, we would consider it a sacred duty to kill our nest mates. We would have these attitudes because they would fit us, as ants, termites, or bees, to the evolved lifestyle of our respective species. But that's precisely the reason we have the moral attitudes we actually do have: because they fit us to the evolved lifestyle of the species Homo sapiens. Our moral beliefs are informed by desires and emotions that are there solely because they helped our ancestors pass on their genes. How, then, do we know that our moral beliefs are objectively true? More to the point, how do we know that any moral beliefs are objectively true?
  2. The verdict of Chapter 14 is that we don't know that they're true, and that in fact they're not. In the final analysis, there is no such thing as right or wrong. This does not imply, however, that we can or should dispense with morality. On the contrary, in the last pages of the book, I argue that evolutionary theory helps make the case for a utilitarian approach to ethics – that is, an approach that judges the tightness or wrongness of our actions in terms of the effects of those actions on all involved.




In-Page Footnotes ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Evolution and the Death of Right and Wrong")

Footnote 1: Taken from Chapter 1 ("Stewart-Williams (Steve) - Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life: Darwin and the Big Questions").



Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



© Theo Todman, June 2007 - July 2019. Please address any comments on this page to theo@theotodman.com. File output:
Website Maintenance Dashboard
Return to Top of this Page Return to Theo Todman's Philosophy Page Return to Theo Todman's Home Page