Moral Evolution

Last month, April and I joined FnC in watching the movie Expelled (I would have linked directly to their site, but it’s an atrocity of Flash and nothing else). During the movie, Ben Stein conducts an interview with a historian at a concentration camp, and is essentially attempting to link Darwinism, or the concept(s) of survival of the fittest, to the Nazis. The movie acknowledges that Darwinism is not to blame for Nazism, but it does make the claim that Hitler’s mission was based strongly on the concept of “survival of the fittest.” That the Rom, Pols, Jews, et. al. were weaker than true Germans, and that by allowing them to exist, we were harming the human race by weakening it through interbreding. Therefore, such peoples must be exterminated to preserve the human race, ensuring that the fittest survive.

Hitler argued that we had been violating the natural laws of Darwinism, and must forcefully reverse such mistakes. As the movie progressed through this argument, I began to wonder about what constituted “fitness.” There are obvious traits one might note, such as physical strength, stamina, or mental acuity. A genius will more likely survive than an ignoramus, just as a track athlete has a greater chance to survive than a parapalegic. Despite this, most humans would not argue in favour of the extermination of those who are not as “fit” as other people; we recoil at such horrors, and maintain that “all people are created equal.”

Obviously, not everyone feels that way, or someone like Hitler would neither have arisen nor would have gained support. The same goes for some of the programs of the early 1900s. It made me wonder about what separates humanity from other animals, though, and whether there might be more traits than just physical and mental when considering the evolutionary stepladder.

What I’m getting it, if I may be brief, is the consideration of a moral code common to all humanity. This isn’t a new idea, by any means, but it was the first time I really thought seriously about why we don’t abandon the weaker to their fate. Why do we protect those weaker than us?

I have religious answers of obligation, mission, and duty, but without my faith and the words of my God, I don’t know that I could come up with a feasible answer. The best I can come up with, without resorting to religion, is to fall back on the foundational concept of our social contract, and the recognition that everyone is weaker than someone. Therefore, we agree to protect the weak so that someone stronger will agree to protect us in a somewhat feudalistic way. I find this answer a bit of a stretch though, especially because our thoughts and responses on this subject seem to be unconscious. No one really consciously agrees to this structure, but we also don’t steal or beat the poor just because we can.

And the idea of morality gaining primacy through survival of the fittest doesn’t seem to work either. Outside of fairy tales and Bible stories, the immoral often win the day through backstabbing and trickery. If one person is honour-bound and attempting to not hurt the other, the other will probably win because their job is simply easier. Then again, if there is some sort of “morality gene,” it would make sense that members of the opposite sex would be attracted to those who treated them well, thereby increasing morality’s prevalence… but there’s no real evolutionary reason to justify morality, that I can see.

Regardless, I find the subject challenging and worth further consideration. What are your thoughts? Plesae join in the conversation by commenting.

3 thoughts on “Moral Evolution

  1. Hey Matt. Thanks for the comment. I really appreciate your feedback.

    And, yes, feelings are boring. And kissing is awesome. And qwantz is some ridiculously sweet stuff. Have you been reading them for very long? That’s about all the philosophy I read anymore… 🙂

  2. Mankind, and by that I mean the human race, seems to have a natural process of, for want of a better word, culling those that are so far beyond the survival of the fittest. Cases in point, the Darwin Awards. How else do you explain the insane stupidity of acts that with just an ounce of intelligence would not have been committed. Admittedly this has nothing to do with your issues of morality, but is interesting anyway.

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