Evolution does not threaten morality

May 16, 2012

Richard Weikart is correct that Dr. Ben Carson should not be opposed as a commencement speaker at Emory University, as Dr. Carson's accomplishments provide ample justification for this honor ("Evolution and morality," May 13).

Mr. Weikart, however, is very wrong to suggest that Dr. Carson might be justified in opposing evolution on the grounds that it threatens morality. There are three ways that evolution might be said to threaten morality, none of which are persuasive. First, one might argue that the idea of "survival of the fittest" can be used to justify eugenics. While it no doubt it has been used by supporters of eugenics, such use is theoretically confused. Comparative levels of fitness are only identified in evolution within shared fitness environments. To suggest that individuals living in poverty and those living in affluence share a common environment such that the latter are more fit is like saying birds are more fit than dolphins. Evolution provides no justification at all for eugenics.

Second, some evolutionists are also strict naturalists who insist that there is nothing more to reality than the matter in motion of the physical world. Such naturalists deny any deeper dimensions to reality in which moral or religious truth might be grounded. But this denial does not follow from evolutionary theory. It must be defended for reasons that have nothing to do with evolution. Many people who affirm evolution also affirm the reality of moral and religious truth.

Third, some biologists will argue that moral behavior is merely an adaptive advantage that has its roots in our animal ancestors. While there is much truth in this position, the problem is the conclusion that morality is "merely" an adaptive advantage. If, as most religious defenders of evolution affirm, there is a moral dimension to all of reality, then it is not surprising at all to see developing expressions of that moral dimension in some animals.

Many who find evolution to be a threat to morality are really afraid that it is a threat to traditional Christianity. If evolution is true, there was no Adam and Eve, and no Fall from which we must be saved. Yet, a threat to traditional Christianity is only a reason for Christian theology itself to evolve, and many theologians are doing exactly this.

Mr. Weikart never gives us a single reason to think that evolution is wrong, but his support of Dr. Carson's opposition to evolution will leave the impression with many that there are good reasons to think evolution is indeed wrong. There are no such reasons.

Joe Pettit, Baltimore

The writer is associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Morgan State University.

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