Is Morality a Bi-Product of Evolution?


Does evolution show that belief in God is a mere biological adaptation?  According to Epstein and many other prominent atheists, yes. In a clearly affectionate tone, Epstein recounts what he says is the story of evolution this way.

“from the first multicellular animals, to mammals who could sense their environment and feel emotion, to human self-awareness and the ability to stand upright and use tools, to the domestication of fire and the human creation of myth, agriculture, villages, religion, culture, cities, and eventually to the three universalist religions (Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam), mass migration, liberal democracy, the multinational corporation, and American Idol.” [1]

The quote is significant because of the extremely wide explanatory scope that he attributes to biological evolution. According to most, random mutation through natural selection only aspires to explain how one life form can transition into another.  But for Epstein, it does not just explain biological diversity, it explains everything about human civilization including why people believe in God! This view of evolution is sometimes called “Darwinism”. Epstein makes a number of other fantastic claims about evolution’s explanatory power that, he says, are overwhelmingly supported by science. For that reason, he says that Humanists ‘build their entire worldview’ around evolution. Moreover, he believes that this process must be unguided. [2]

According to Epstein, and many like him, this is a decisive blow against theism because we have a ‘better’ naturalistic account of religious belief and anything that God is supposed to explain.  Therefore, he concludes, we should not accept the supernatural demands of theism.

Unfortunately, in my view, it would seem that many Christians have also accepted the Humanist premise that they have to choose between God and evolution. Therefore, some have rejected evolution in favor of what they believe has been empirically verified; their relationship with God. But Christians should reject this choice.  Whether evolution is true or not, there are several fatal flaws with the Darwinian view of evolution and so the choice that is thrust upon Christians (God or evolution) is a false one. 

In fact, this Humanist haymaker is aimed at theism, but lands on atheism.  That is, Epstein’s Darwinian view of evolution, if true, is a serious, perhaps unworkable, problem for Humanism!

The Absurdity of Genetic Determinism

As he explained, if Epstein’s understanding of evolution is true, it provides a full accounting of our thoughts and behaviors.  But if evolution provides a full accounting of theists’ beliefs about God, then it also provides a full accounting of Epstein’s beliefs about God.  Including his belief that God does not exist!  Is he going to argue that he alone is immune to the epistemic implications of his worldview?  No.  Epstein’s belief in Humanism, therefore, is self-defeating because if it were true he would have no way to know it.  That is, on his view, his belief in Humanism was produced by evolution and, consequently, his thoughts are a mere reflection of the blind, repetitive, and physically determined chemical processes taking place in his brain.  Epstein wants to argue, proudly, that he comes to his beliefs through “free, unfettered rational inquiry” [3] as opposed to scared and “credulous masses” who believe in God.  But, hilariously, he is completely unaware that his epistemology severely undermines his trust in his own intellectual capabilities!

Epstein compounds the error later when he addresses why he believes that some LGBT people are also believers in God.  He says, “we talked earlier about the evolutionary reasons for belief in God” and, he continues, “well these affect gay people just as much as straight people”. [4] It appears that if you disagree with Epstein’s Humanist ideology, you are stuck in your determinism.  Humanists, on the other hand, can rise above their selfish genes; though Epstein does not tell us how.

It should be noted that Epstein does make a point to say that he rejects social Darwinism, but once again he gives us no explanation for how he is able to rise above his genetic programming.  He argues that we must “acknowledge and understand our selfish genes precisely so that we can continue to evolve beyond them”. [5] But this high ideal sits very poorly with the view of evolution that he has just given us!  Even worse, when he argues that we ought to evolve “beyond” our selfish genes, is he not referring to a moral imperative that is ‘beyond’ himself?  This too is incompatible with his view of morality as we saw earlier.

In summary then, if Epstein’s Humanism is correct, then our brains are the result of purely physical, unguided chemical processes.  Since physical material is fully governed by deterministic physical laws, it follows that we do not come to our beliefs through a process of reason and weighing of evidence.  On Darwinism, we lack the requisite free will to engage in such a task.  Rather, we believe what we believe because that is what we were determined to believe by processes beyond our control.  Similarly, if our minds are the purely physical result of Darwinian evolution then our beliefs are, necessarily, aimed at survival and not truth and, thus, we have very little reason to trust them.

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