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Is Evolution the Opposite of Morality?

January 21st, 2010 by Bruce Nielson

On the same Scientific American Podcast previously mentioned they did a series of readings from “Origin of the Species.”

This quote stood out to me because, if I understand it correctly, it just defined evolution and human morality to be opposites: (quoted from here)

As man can produce and certainly has produced a great result by his methodical and unconscious means of selection, what may not nature effect? Man can act only on external and visible characters: nature cares nothing for appearances, except in so far as they may be useful to any being. She can act on every internal organ, on every shade of constitutional difference, on the whole machinery of life. Man selects only for his own good; Nature only for that of the being which she tends. Every selected character is fully exercised by her; and the being is placed under well-suited conditions of life. Man keeps the natives of many climates in the same country; he seldom exercises each selected character in some peculiar and fitting manner; he feeds a long and a short beaked pigeon on the same food; he does not exercise a long-backed or long-legged quadruped in any peculiar manner; he exposes sheep with long and short wool to the same climate. He does not allow the most vigorous males to struggle for the females. He does not rigidly destroy all inferior animals, but protects during each varying season, as far as lies in his power, all his productions. …How fleeting are the wishes and efforts of man! how short his time! and consequently how poor will his products be, compared with those accumulated by nature during whole geological periods. Can we wonder, then, that nature’s productions should be far ‘truer’ in character than man’s productions; that they should be infinitely better adapted to the most complex conditions of life, and should plainly bear the stamp of far higher workmanship?

What Darwin see as beautiful strikes me as brutish. Natural selection, as he defines it, seems to be the opposite of morality. Yes, there is a ‘higher good’ being served in a sense. But Darwin seems rather confused on the difference between ‘the good of the species’ and ‘the good of the individual.’

Evolution serves the species as a whole — no, not even that. Evolution serves only the existence of the DNA molecule, by forcing the strong only to survive.

Human morality (and by that, truly I just mean “morality”), while cast in this quote as ‘for Man’s purposes,’ in point of fact is to treat the inferior as equals. It is, according to this quote, to allow every man to have a wife, to allow that wife to choose and not be forced, to prevent extinction of animals, and to perserve the value of the individual even if too weak to survive the natural world.

It would seem that morality is to cheat evolution by fighting against it, even if the struggle were predestined, as Darwin believes, to be lost.

Comments (6)
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January 21st, 2010 10:09:51

January 21, 2010

Given this and the prior post, I’m going to have to take slight umbrage at being characterized as an “evolutionist.” I don’t advocate evolution; I merely accept that it is the natural way of things.

And I believe that the natural man is an enemy to God.

Bruce Nielson
January 21, 2010

I believe the word “evolutionist” merely means you believe it exists, as opposed to some other means of creation of species, such as young earth creationism or intelligent design. It in no ways means you adovcate it as the best moral approach to life.

Bruce Nielson
January 21, 2010

Oh, and let me be clear. I consider myself a evolutionist. But the immorality of it (in the case of human beings anyhow) is not lost on me as it seems to have been for Darwin.

Adam G.
January 21, 2010

Bruce Nielson
January 21, 2010

Yes, interesting article. I think I’ve read it before, but thanks for bring it up. You also had a link to this article, which I had in mind at the time of writing. (link)

[…] Evolution tells us nothing about true morality. It can only help us understand why we have a biological intuition for it. But evolution itself is the prime directive, not morality. And usually the two are at odds with each other. […]

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