Charles Darwin, Meet Your Successor

Suppose you're looking at a new car. The salesman says, "We have just the car for you! It's impossible to steer, and the brakes don't work, but it looks nice." An odd sales pitch, wouldn't you agree? Yet this is precisely the sales pitch we're asked to buy when it comes to moral principles. But if you wouldn't buy a car without asking Is it a car? or Does it work?, then we shouldn't buy moral theories without asking the same questions: Are they moral? and Do they work? Obviously, if we don't ask these questions, we'll end up with a lemon in both cases: a lemon car and "lemon" morals. I mention this because another theory of moral relativism has just come off the presses. It's called "evolutionary ethics," and it's spelled out by Robert Wright in his new book, The Moral Animal, which is being taken seriously in academic circles. Wright says that everything about us human beings—our eyes, ears, brains, and moral intuitions—is a product merely of natural selection. "Each tiny step between your ancestral bacterium and you," says Wright, "'just happened' to help some intermediate ancestor get its genes into the next generation." This means, for example, that if you think theft is wrong, it's only because of your evolutionary ancestors. Somehow "don't swipe someone else's food" was selected and turned into a gene. "Morals" are only an "unconscious process" of evolution. Well, let's test Wright's theory: Does it withstand the test of reality? Patricia Williams, a professor of philosophy at the University of Virginia, can help us. Williams suggests that we compare moral theories with our deepest intuitions about right and wrong: If the theories can't account for these intuitions, she argues, they're not theories about morals at all. As a test case, let's cite Joseph Mengele, the Nazi doctor who performed tests on Jews and Gypsies because he deemed them "inferior racial types." Can "evolutionary ethics" judge that Mengele was wrong? No, it can't. Because Mengele's behavior made perfect sense if acting to ensure that our own genes are passed on to the next generation is the highest good we can do. "But what Mengele did still was `wrong'!" you might protest. Of course it was. But moral sentiments and moral judgments are impossible to explain apart from what theologians call the "natural law" of our very being. And as far back as the historical record goes, every culture has expressed some understanding of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. No, these ideals have never been perfectly achieved. But they work, and if we forget them, we find them reasserting themselves when our vaunted alternative "lifestyles" fail. Every page of the historical record proves this truth. Historians of no faith at all still know this, and they know that immorality fails and morality works. This is because moral endeavor is so fundamental to our nature as human beings that it can't be explained by any theory of evolution. It's an external law, an objective reality. Wright's book is just another attempt to sell us evolution, and, like the lemon on the car lot, it doesn't sell.  


Chuck Colson



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