Monday 28 November 2011

Evolution Morality.

How can Evolution account for the existence of Morality.

Consider the following strategies for survival:

1. I prefer to eat healthily, exercise regularly and avoid unnecessary risk.
2. I like to hammer rusty nails into my head, wrestle with crocodiles and only ever eat roadkill.

Strategy #1 is a good strategy for my personal health and survival while strategy #2 is detrimental to my health and survival. 

People are not identical in their behaviour, beliefs, likes and attitudes. There is always a range or a spread of such attributes encompassing both #1 and #2 strategies. This spread can be plotted on a standard distribution curve. 

This is a standard normal distribution curve marked up with standard deviation percentile values. All statisticians are familiar with this graph.

Most (68%) people will be close to the centre of the curve, and as we get further from the average or the "Mean" or the "Norm", we get more extreme versions of those attributes but fewer practitioners. There will be a very small number of people at the very extremes. People who follow strategy #2 would be close to the extreme left of the curve in the bottom 0.15% of the population, It's an extreme behaviour and there will be very few people with such a lifestyle. People who follow strategy #1 would be somewhere to the right of the central average maybe at a standard deviation from the mean of about +1.5. Most of us will be near the centre, We eat healthily some of the time but we still like our burgers, chocolate and the occasional bacon butty. We exercise sometimes but usually not enough. 

The curve is not fixed or set in stone, it's free to move as the behaviour of the group changes. The "Norm" can (and does) move over time.

In the above example, the people who don't live healthily and don't look after themselves will on average die earlier and have less chance/ability to breed when compared to the healthy members of the group. Their offspring will inherit or learn equally unhealthy habits and perpetuate the poor survival strategy thus further decreasing their ability to survive.  The healthy members will live longer and be better able to reproduce and successfully bring up healthy offspring who will perpetuate a healthy lifestyle. 

Over many generations, on average there will be a reduction of people on the left hand side of the curve and an increase in the number of people on the right hand side of the curve. Therefore the average or mean point of the curve will move sightly to the right each generation. The change may be imperceptibly small but will become apparent over time.  

It's self evident,  Fit healthy populations are more successful than unhealthy, self abusive populations. An A Priori argument.

This transfers easily to the development of Morality.

To demonstrate the principle, we'll throw in some additional parameters and real life scenarios. We'll also expand the scale and scope of our groups to large populations, civilisations or empires. The groups live in proximity to each other and may, or may not be in competition with each other for resources or territory.

Each group will have a distribution curve of attributes.

1. Cooperate, has empathy, is compassionate
2. Selfish, doesn't care about others.

Type 1 attributes to the right of the mean and type 2 attributes to the left of the mean.
Different groups will have different sized and shaped distribution curves and the mean point will be different relative to the other groups.

A group that works cooperatively between its members will build teams and organisations that are more effective than the sum of it's individuals. If the members are cooperating with each other for the benefit of the group even slightly more than than another group, it will give a slight advantage to the group. If the members of the group feel empathy to-wards their fellow group members, if they can understand when someone is in distress or needs assistance, they will be more inclined to help the weaker members. Such assistance increases the overall strength of the group. Two groups that are willing to work cooperatively in an alliance or a trading partnership will perform better and be able to defend itself better than groups that have a tendency to be solitary and insular.

Conversely, A group who's members can not or will not work cooperatively will not develop, or will develop an inferior infrastructure, weaker organisations and fragile, insecure teams. If the group does not help the weak or it eliminates the weak, the overall strength of the group will be lower on average or will leave it underpopulated. In either case, they will be weaker than their neighbours or there competition. If members steal from others or treat them badly, the group as a whole will suffer. A reluctance to trade with other groups and form alliances will hinder the development of the group and make it susceptible to stronger groups and alliances of groups.

Over time, Groups that work cooperatively for the benefit of the group and strengthen it's weaker members will be more successful than groups who do not or do so to a lesser extent. 

Over time, the population of stronger cooperative, empathic groups will increase while the population of weaker selfish groups will decline. This will move the global overall mean point of out distribution curve to the right.

The thing or concept we call "Morality" is directly proportional to the mean point of the distribution curve. It has a tendency to increase over time, to become more refined and developed and it's benefit to society more easily recognised as desirable. 

Even is you start from a position of total chaos with no recognisable mean point, the variation and spread of the type 1 and type 2 attributes will guarantee the development of "Morality" in a group over time.

Christians generally reject the Evolutionary explanation for morality and insist on an absolute objective morality promulgated by God in a religious book. But let's have a look at some real life scenarios:-

Entities that are internally cooperative and join cooperative alliances like the USA, UK, Europe are generally stronger and more successful than those that don't, such as North Korea, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan.

Animals that look after and nurture their young only need a few offspring while animals that abandon their young at birth need to generate large numbers of offspring to remain a viable species.

War was seen as glorious, the winner determined by who was left. Later on, who killed the most.  Wars still happen but much greater effort is given to protecting the innocent non-combatants of war zones. There is probably no such thing as a moral war, but it is becoming less immoral.

Biblical morality is not absolute or objective. Genocide of infidels was considered OK, it is now morally wrong, Beating a slave to death was OK in certain circumstances, it is now wrong. Slavery itself was just a part of everyday life, it is now wrong for a person to own another person. Moral guidelines change between the OT and the NT... if they've changed, then neither testament can be promulgating absolute objective Morality.

Over time, morality is changing, it's increasing, moving to the right of the distribution curve. It's becoming more developed and refined. It is subjective and relative to other societies and other periods in history. It is a natural self improving process that follows many of the principles of Evolution. 

This evolutionary process doesn't conflict with the Christians aversion to Evolution because it is Micro Evolution in action, not Macro Evolution. The vast Majority of Christians accept Micro Evolution and should have no problems with the Micro Evolution of Morality... even if the morality of today bears no resemblance to the morality of Neolithic man.

The Christian concept that morality can not exist without their God is incorrect. Anyone can derive from first principles that a group that kills it's own, steals from potential allies, is dysfunctional, anti-social and generates mistrust is detrimental to that society. A supportive and caring society is beneficial and strengthens the group. No one can pretend we would be completely ignorant of this concept without having to be told in a book from a supernatural entity. Even dogs, rats and aardvarks understand this. Why do Christians think we need to be told that selfish = bad and cooperative = good. 

There is still however a distribution curve with an extreme left hand side. There are still individuals and groups in that section of the curve who do immoral things relative to the norm. Religion is the way society has determined it can provide a formulaic promulgation of Morality to those who do not have, or have a weak intrinsic morality. There are many who just don't get it, they have no internal concept of morality and need it to be provided by some external authority. Religion provides this function and helps move the mean point to the right.

I've listened to many Christians stating if it wasn't for their God, there would be no reason to act in a moral way, if there are no consequences (Hell, loss of salvation etc.), there would be nothing to prevent us all from doing as we please. They see Atheists as Immoral because Atheists do not live by the morality given to them by their own brand of religion. Morality determined by society is invisible to them, they have no concept of such morality or it's value. 

Religion is allowed to perpetuate for exactly those individuals and groups that lack an understanding of intrinsic morality and need to be given a simple binary moral code that allows them to be productive members of society. One of the problems of relying on religion is that it is a historical promulgation, it can not self improve or adjust to meet prevailing circumstances. In fact it is desirable to convince the adherents of religious morality that it's morality is static, unchanging and doesn't need to be changed because it is somehow infallibly perfect.

Religious Morality is an imperfect system. As well as being unable to make corrections based on circumstance, it often backfires. When the adherents believe their own morality is perfect, anything they do is therefore morally perfect. They confuse the moral code they have been given with their own moral values. They incorrectly equate the two. Of course the reason they follow a promulgated code is BECAUSE their own moral code is lacking. Another problem is that religious moral codes are followed by people with defective moral values, which is why they need a promulgated code in the first place. This becomes painfully evident amongst the leaders and policy makers of each religion. The Pope was less concerned with the welfare of the children being molested by his staff and more concerned with the damage it would do to the reputation and the assets of the church if the extent of the abuse became public knowledge. People with intrinsic morality understand that molesting children and providing safe haven for paedophiles is morally repugnant. The leadership of the Catholic Church is missing this intrinsic morality but believes it's own actions are morally justified... because it follows a perfect moral code.

Evolutionary Morality is not perfect either but it IS able to improve. Once you believe your moral code is perfect there is no need to improve. If in the 1920s Ford believed the car it was building was the ultimate machine and could not be improved upon, it could have concentrated all it's efforts on manufacture and sales. It could get rid of all it's designers, market research people etc. They would no longer be required. 90 years later Ford would still be trying to sell Ford Model 'T's while BMW is selling the latest 645i Convertible. This is what has happened with religious morality, It's now totally inappropriate for today because like our imaginary Ford company, it believed in it's own perfection and is now obsolete.

© Sinbad July 2008

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