Most fundamental are the advanced intellectual faculties, which allow humans to categorize (see individual objects as members of general classes), think in the abstract and form images of realities that are not present (and, thus, anticipate future events and planning future actions), and reason. Are these only matters of opinion? The complete program and audio files of most presentations are available on the NAS Web site at Change ), You are commenting using your Google account. The Death of Morality Morality: The Final Delusion? But how did she know them? In a bird’s brain, the rule 'Look after small squawking things in your nest, and drop food into their red gapes,' typically has the effect of preserving the genes that built the rule, because the squawking, gaping objects in an adult bird’s nest are normally its own offspring. This would be group selection: the population as a whole benefits from the behavior of its individuals. Photograph by Oscar Gustave Rejlander, ca. I will propose, however, that moral behavior does not exist, even incipiently, in nonhuman animals. Welcome to a Thanksgiving like none ever. Still have questions? The slightest nudge in the fabric of existence alters everything. I will use the term “ethical behavior” as a synonym of “moral behavior,” and “morality” and “ethics” as synonyms of each other, except when explicitly noted or contextually obvious that they are used with a somewhat different meaning. This would be group selection. The rule misfires if another baby bird somehow gets into the nest, a circumstance that is positively engineered by cuckoos. Genetic determination and not moral evaluation is also what is involved in the altruistic behavior of social insects and other animals. Namely, the fitness advantage of selfish over altruistic behavior does not necessarily apply to humans, because humans can understand the benefits of altruistic behavior (it benefits the group but indirectly it benefits them as well) and thus adopt altruism and protect it, by laws or otherwise, against selfish behavior that harms the social group. However, if this instinct is carried out to too great an extent, trust in society is undermined, which ultimately harms ourselves. Darwin is affirming that the moral sense, or conscience, is a necessary consequence of high intellectual powers, such as exist in modern humans. Evolution has determined it better to ignore hypocrisy than lose this equilibrium, or worse, lock ourselves into unending philosophical conflict. The approach is gradual, but the conditions only appear when a degree of intelligence is reached such that the formation of abstract concepts and the anticipation of the future are possible, even though we may not be able to determine when the threshold was crossed. Post was not sent - check your email addresses! Silberberg and collaborators (28) have shown that the capuchins rejected a reward whenever a more desirable reward was visible to them, not just whenever the more desirable reward was offered to other individuals. Therefore, if our intelligence is an outcome of natural selection, the moral sense would be as well an outcome of natural selection. In The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, published in 1871, Charles Darwin wrote: “I fully … subscribe to the judgment of those writers who maintain that of all the differences between man and the lower animals the moral sense or conscience is by far the most important.” I raise the question of whether morality is biologically or culturally determined. Was it directly promoted by natural selection? How Culture Transformed Human Evolution, A mechanism for social selection and successful altruism, Repeated learning makes cultural evolution unique, Human. Morality or ethics is an essential, necessary, and inescapable part of being human. Some have succeeded and spread widely throughout humankind, like the Ten Commandments, although other moral systems persist in different human societies. 1, pp. I originally published this column in the Deseret News on 13 March 2014: “I’m an atheist,” the late actress Katherine Hepburn once told an interviewer, “and that’s it. A simple argument can be formulated this way: 1.