“Awaken Generation” and its coterie of goons is yet another discovery I rather wish I hadn’t made, because I can’t help but point Internet fingers at something with a tractard-beam as strong as the one that blog has. Once again, Frank Turek has bent over and, with a hearty grunt, explosively shat some of the most foul, semisolid ultrastupid all over the back of my screen, or so it appears.
Frank has decided to be wrong today about various facets of evolution and morality. I’m not a psychologist, a biologist, or a philosopher, but I think I can ably handle Frank’s objections in his post, “Evolution Cannot Explain Morality.”

Some atheists, such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, insist that morality is simply the product of evolution. Common moral sensibilities (Don’t murder, rape, steal, etc.) help ensure our evolutionary survival. There are number of problems with this view:

I’m not sure Hitchens–a journalist, not a scientist–has had much, if anything, to say one way or the other about evolution, with or without describing its relationship to morality. I think Frank is merely grabbing the name of a well-know atheist and ascribing characteristics to him that seem convenient. This is because Frank is as lazy as he is ignorant. But this is not central to the post.

1.Rape may enhance the survival of the species, but does that make rape good? Should we rape?

I’m not clear where he gets the idea that rape is useful in terms of species survival. A female is obviously better off with a male around to help with child-rearing, and rapists aren’t known for sticking around to be fathers. There is ample consensual copulation (with or without the aim of procreation) among humans so that wanton, forced sex is not beneficial, even in the coldest mathematical view.
But even if it were, Frank’s question is about as stupid as questions get. We humans are not slaves to whatever processes have led us to what we are. We use birth control (the ultimate back-at-ya in the face of natural selection within an intelligent species, really), extract wisdom teeth, and do our best to treat and eliminate nasty genetic diseases. We circumcise a lot of our male infants, a procedure which has been shown to reduce STD transmission rates. We do this because we value life and fairness, not owing to some cosmic mandate.
Frank is confused about a lot of things, but here he seems to think that evolution implies that we aren’t supposed to interfere with our own inherited traits and tendencies in any way. In that case, since he’s presumably of a mind that we’re all born sinners, why fuck around and try to do any better? Just submit to inevitability.

2. Killing the weak and handicapped may help improve the species and its survival (Hitler’s plan). Does that mean the Holocaust was a good thing?

This is not even worth addressing except to note that Frank thinks “survival of the fittest” implies a need to consciously cull the ill from the herd. This is as demented as it is cynical and is, of course, something no sane scientist believes.

3. Evolution provides no stable foundation for morality. If evolution is the source of morality, then what’s to stop morals from evolving (changing) to the point that one day rape, theft and murder are considered moral?

If nothing else, Frank has no shortage of false premises. He’s a little short on “getting” stuff, though. If he had given this any thought, he might realize that a society collectively “evolving” in such a way to render murder and theft benefical is akin to expecting a fish species to thrive while losing its fins and gills. He thinks evolution is something that can just up and change course on a whim–I’m sure he envisions it as a conscious process, as he can’t see the universe in any other terms. And like a lot of fundies, he freely interchanges complex behaviors with genes. It gets worse:

4. Dawkins and Hitchens confuse epistemology with ontology (how we know something exists with that and what exists). So even if natural selection or some other chemical process is responsible for us knowing right from wrong, that would not explain why something is right or wrong. How does a chemical process (natural selection) yield an immaterial moral law? And why does anyone have a moral obligation to obey a chemical process? You only have a moral obligation to obey an ultimate personal being (God) who has the authority to put moral obligations on you. You don’t have a moral obligation to chemistry.

HI think he’s not so much making a straw-man argument here as he’s showing how utterly confused he is. He genuinely seems to think that biologists propose that “morals” are something tat can be neatly packaged in DNA and passed on to the next generation, like hair or eye color. His questions are meaningless; no one has a moral obligation to obey either “a chemical process” or God (I can freely fornicate, blaspheme, and have other gods before the Biblical one, all at the same time and while extending both middle fingers toward the sky and cackling. And don’t assume I haven’t done this.)

As I mentioned in an earlier post (Atheists Have No Basis for Morality), several atheists at a recent I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist event at UNC Wilmington struggled greatly when I asked them to offer some objective basis for morality from their atheistic worldview. They kept trying to give tests for how we know something is moral rather than why something is moral. One atheist said “not harming people” is the standard. But why is harming people wrong if there is no God? And what if harming people enhances your survival and that of most others?

This is more pathetic than anything else. I can see a panel of atheists struck silent by questions from this guy because he doesn’t ask anything more meaningful than a cocker spaniel would if it could talk. If he can’t understand why it’s intrinsically wrong to harm other people for no good reason even when there are no deities in the equation, he’s not just cum-dumpster dumb, he’s a menace.

Another said, “happiness” is the basis for morality. After I asked him, “Happiness according to who, Mother Teresa or Hitler?,” he said, “I need to think about this more,” and then sat down. This says nothing about the intelligence of these people- there just is no good answer to the question. Without God there is no basis for objective morals. It’s just Mother Teresa’s opinion against Hitler’s.

At this point it’s clear that Frank is telling us an apocryphal tale. Lying is the stock-in-trade of people like him, so I’m not surprised.

See also Neil’s post: Does our Morality come from our DNA?

You can if you want. I didn’t. I’d had enough by the time I got to the end of Frank’s mess.

  1. #1 by Dervin on March 27, 2009 - 11:17 am

    The principle of Utilitarianism would probably be the closest to a “Natural Selection” basis of morality. The concept of the individual rights is far too new to be considered as having any genetic component.
    The great thing about Utilitarianism is you can pretty much justify almost anything. Rape, Murder, eating babies, etc…

  2. #2 by catgirl on March 27, 2009 - 1:10 pm

    2. Killing the weak and handicapped may help improve the species and its survival (Hitler’s plan)

    This guy must be a confused about the Holocaust. Hitler’s plan was not to kill all the weak and handicapped.
    The biblical view of morality isn’t so great anyway, considering that they can rape anyone and if she doesn’t scream during it, then it doesn’t actually count as rape. And the biblical “punishment” for rape is to marry the victim! If this guy’s morality is based completely on the Bible, then I never want to be in the same room as him, for fear of my own safety.

  3. #3 by Spirula on March 27, 2009 - 8:02 pm

    Ex-Christian here.
    Objective basis of morality? That is a hoot. Funny how they always bring up “immoral” behavior which also had been explicitly sanctioned by their god, as can be seen in their own “good book”. (Catgirl already covered rape.) But I also would point out some other glaring examples.
    For example, this whole “what’s to stop us from culling the herd” (OMG!…eugenics!) crap is particularly amusing. As anyone can read it, the god of the “chosen nation of Isreal” demonstrates a pathological indifference to the rest of humanity. Dashing the heads of the infidel infants against the rocks and all.
    Morality is a basically a learned social contract that we are trained to abide by as we grow up.
    In a nutshell, as we are social animals, we learn “the rules” of acceptable behavior in our society. Behaviors that are harmful and destructive are discouraged (at a cost to those that disobey). Those behaviors that help are encouraged.
    Non-social animals have few, if any, of these rules.
    Simplistic, I know, but that really is the basis of human morality.

  4. #4 by Snowbird on March 28, 2009 - 9:22 pm

    It’s utterly incredible that these fundies don’t even read the Bible, and if they have that makes then liking scum bags. As catgirl points out, Deuteronomy forces a girl (let’s not forget the victims are likely to be just past menarche) who has been violated to marry their rapist. They also forget the good parts like how if you were to do any work at all on the Sabbath then you were stoned. Of course if you are the bother-in-law of the guy who started the religion then you can break it’s first commandment by leading others in idolatry and, heh, no big deal.
    They also skip the part where 42 small children are ripped to shreds by a bear just because they teased an old guy for being bald. Or the part where God opens the earth and kills 250 people for NOT killing everything in a city — then when other people complain, he kills 14000 more. Guess he was just a little upset.
    Let’s not forget that Moses murdered his kinsmen. Moses married a Midianite, yet turned around and slaughtered them for leading the Israelis astray. Yup, this is real moral behaviour.

  5. #5 by Heraclides on March 30, 2009 - 6:24 am

    Looks to be pretty standard stuff from someone who his trying to follow some apologist’s arguments and pass them on.
    They also forget the good parts like how if you were to do any work at all on the Sabbath then you were stoned. Forgive me, we we could read this a more “modern” reading of this and draw a meaning other than what I know you meant to convey. Where someone could quip in reply “Yeah, the good part was, man, I could, like, flllyyyyyy” :-) Sorry. Lousy late night humour…

  6. #6 by mjknoxville on April 1, 2009 - 11:57 am

    Does it bother anyone here that most of what is said is being taken out of context! Not sure how much of Frank Turek you watch or read, but he is very careful to say the a non-christian can be moral. His question is, with respect to evolution, where do we get our morals? Who is the moral law giver? Is there an absolute standard by which morals are measured?
    Hitchens has it backwards, everything poisons religion, not the opposite.
    As for Dawkins, it is ok to be cranky, just be cranky by yourself.

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