Evolutionary Morality: How Empathy is Chicken Soup for Humanity
Updated: Nov 20, 2020
To begin I would like to preface with the following: the existence of god(s) is not the focal point of this discussion, however uncertain or unprovable. Being of such low probability to effectively be scientifically negligible, when full consideration is given to all of the physical evidence ever collected, for the supernatural I digress. Instead within this discussion the topics I am setting up and ultimately intend to discredit are as follows.
1.) Evolution cannot provide a moral framework since it is a purely “theoretical” biological phenomena.
2.) Morality was given by god(s) through the respective holy texts and cannot be found using any other means or philosophy.
To begin, I would like to warn that I will not be directly commenting on the second assertion until after I have fleshed out my hypothesis for the origins of morality and its most base forms, namely empathy and grief. The way in which I will be doing so is using the evolutionary principles as my biological apparatus. So with no further digressions, “Incipere”.
In a broad state of nature, as Thomas Locke once described, one devoid of moral guidance and social structure, anarchy reigns supreme. The controlling emotion of the mind is one of fear, fear of famine, fear of predation, and fear of isolation. The complete and total lack of ANY emotional connection to another human is statistically zero, majority standards ignoring psycho and sociopaths, by the necessity of the parent to the survival of the child. Certain species are born in such a way that they are given no paternal assistance but these such creatures are usually born en masse to offset the probability of infant fatality. Why is this important to understand? There is an innate emotional response that human parents have for children that is so universal that I will contend that this is the place where morality was born.
To say morality was born would allude to a set of parental factors, to which I propose the following. The initial and psychological connection to another of the same species gave birth, if you will pardon the pun, to the phenomena of empathy and grief. Also an emotional responses so common I will intone to call them universal. The two “parental” concepts of empathy and grief work in twine to create a social connection to the offspring that provides reasoning for the sacrifice of food and energy by the parent in an effort to increase the probability of the child’s survival.
This risk is multiplied in its importance due to the low number of children per pregnancy and long gestation period of the human animal. In this scenario empathy is simply an understanding, through memory, of what it was like to be a child and the pain of life experiences that one accumulates on the path to becoming an adult. Grief on the other hand is the understanding that upon death a strong emotional toll will be felt. I cannot express how important both of these concepts are as they were relatively unique in the infancy of our species as it reinforced a rare and incredibly strong sense of community based on highly developed emotional states.
The beginning of social life was an extension of the family unit. In the early times of human ancestry the small family units were scavengers, hunters, and gatherers. Which while sufficient to sustain life was in no way overly proficient in reducing the danger of famine and other natural hazards. To counter this the first groupings of families began to occur; higher probability of successful hunts and lower potential for injury or death were responsible for a slightly less danger plagued existence. This new social situation is where empathy began to take a larger role over grief in influencing the standards of human behavior. The understanding that to empathize with the other families, to relate to their hunger, to rationalize their fear of injury/death, and to feel their pain when a loved one died would help direct natural competitive behavior into collaborated efforts with the goal of assisting all within the group.
This new behavior was a basic response to better the condition of the collective through cooperation. The process of empathizing with each other’s emotional states became the basis of morality.
To empathize with the emotions and the physical pain of another helps one create a mental role reversal that places them as the recipient of their own behavior.
To understand that an action would create pain and suffering and the ability to imagine this pain in the first person is the driving force for the earliest concepts of morality. This is the closest to an objective morality I believe humans can come to. An objective morality is a system of morals or ethics that are independent of a person’s subjective opinion and cannot be interpreted through social or historical filters. A truly objective morality, I believe, would be subject to all living things and there is significant physical evidence to the contrary of accepted human morality in nature through its intensely violent natural selection processes (more discussion here).
The entire previous set of social scenarios was put forth to illustrate the basic needs and intentions of the first social contracts that humans entered into leaving the state of nature. The most basic agreement was to relinquish the right to kill or harm through competition which would result in more successful hunting and gathering. This was done with the sole purpose of providing a net gain result for both/all parties involved.
Now, is where evolution would enter into the scenario. The many different groups that existed in the ancient past had diversity in their social interactions. The groups that possessed one or both of the following were privy to a better probability of survival: first would be hereditary protein mutations that resulted in a mental tendency to empathize (I will contend that brain structure and mutations are factors that support or diverge from empathy) and second is the “education or indoctrination” into a culture that highly favors empathy.
The reason of course, it would affect early development and lifelong tendencies to support the culture in an indigenous natural scenario over hundreds of generations. The more of these successful groups that possessed these two factors the higher the probability is that this behavior would become hereditary and, employing the evolutionary principle, the deeper morality would be ingrained into the mind physically and psychologically.
This is important because empathy can be used to describe, on the most base level, every human interaction related concept of morality. I implore you to provide me a non religious morality based claim that does not break down to the concept of feeling the effects of such an action as if you were the person/group to be affected (divine morality is highly suspect and subjective hence my omission). Thus I will conclude that the first assumption has been shown false as evolution can utilize empathy to create a hereditary moral code.
I will reiterate the second topic to be refuted for reference: morality was given by god(s) through the respective holy texts and cannot be found using any other means or philosophy.
Using the evidence based argument that I presented earlier I have shown that evolution can in fact develop what I like to call the most objective morality humanity can have. Utilizing the basic human rights mentality, community welfare behavior, basic sociology, and evolutionary biology one can easily find evidence of morality naturally occurring in every society in history. But that aside, as it properly refutes half of the argument, can we argue that morality was given by god using his “Divinely Inspired Holy Texts”? For the sake of brevity we will only be considering the monotheistic judeo-christian-islamic god but the argument can be put forth in relevance to any sacred text.
First I will contend that the god(s) of the three major religions are so deeply inconsistent, incompatible, contradictory, and hostile that unity can never be achieved theologically or ethically. With this one simple fact in mind I wish to point to the predictably and VASTLY different morality directives in all three holy books. Not to mention the multitude of ways in which to interpret the “commandments” that apologists and Sunday devotees all explain away as the morality of the times or the different but true contextual meaning. This subjectivity, to me, removes any validity and further fuels my skepticism that under the routinely blood soaked passages of holy writ there is something more humane and objective, the evolutionary empathy model.
I think most holy texts begin with the best of intentions unknowingly using the morality of empathy and evolution, but when something is put into a more specific framework human fallibility leaves its mark. Whether it is an attempt to place a supernatural power or control over an as of yet unexplained natural physical phenomena instead of simply accepting ignorance and seeking the truth through evidence. Also the manipulation of the social contracts in an attempt to gain power over others using religiosity is a moral violation where the mark is indubitably left.
Since this is such a polarizing topic I have kept my language frank and my ridicule absent but in the end the level of inconsistency that is evident in the supposed infallible word I choose evidence once again over supposed omniscience as well as omnipotence. I can be good without god, can you?