RE: basis for morality

Sweitzer, Dennis (
Fri, 19 Jul 96 09:13:00 EST

Bill Hamilton wrote:>>>>>>>>>>>>>
>> Skeptics, agnostics and atheists for the most part seem to view morality
as something theists don't have a corner on, and are frequently deeply
offended when a theist implies that they have no basis for it. However, I
have never heard one give a coherent explanation of _why_ he believes
morality is relevant.

Bill Dozier responded>>>>
>All human endeavors include an elements of faith. This faith can be with or
without foundation. ... The Christian has a foundation for this faith in his
belief in a rational God that has created an orderly universe....I have yet
to see any rational, binding, non-theistic, basis for morality. ....

>This does not exhaust the list of areas in which the non-theist must make a
basically irrational faith commitment in order to develop a workable
worldview. These areas are, in principle, independent so the non-theist must
base his worldview on not just one, but many commitments of faith that have
little or no basis.

So far the discussion has centered around a rational basis for morality
(theists have one, non-theists don't have one). There is yet another basis
of morality explaination--which I am uncomfortable with & don't quite know
how to answer (yet?)--and which has an irrational basis.

That would be the socio-biology perspective, in which morality is viewed as
genetically encoded instincts which survive because they help the group

For instance, sexual monogamy. One can argue that sexual monogamy is an
especially good strategy for ensuring the survival and development of
offspring which have large brains and a long childhood. Other strategies
don't do nearly as well, as evidenced by socio-economic data concerning
poverty rates between intact nuclear families and other family types.

We Christians argue that we, as humans, are designed by God to be
monogamous, hence it is no surprise that almost all cultures are basically
monogamous (with varying rates of pre-marital permissiveness), since it is
imprinted in our nature at some level. Non-monogamous individuals are
considered degenerate--i.e., non-monogamy is part of our sin nature.

Non-theists argue a variety of explainations--from it being a repressive,
patriarchal cultural abnomally to accident. None of these fit the facts
very well, since monogamy is just too prevelant to be an accident.

The socio-biologists argue from the prespective of the selfish-gene. Over
the long haul, monogamists produce offspring that are better adapted to
their environments, and of which more survive to in turn reproduce
(producing more copies of the original gene). It also explains the cases of
non-monogamous cultures fairly well: Polyandrous (multi-husband) societies
tend to be very resource limited--hence fertility must be kept low, and
labor (supplied by husbands) relatively high. Examples are in Polynesia
(ocean bound islands of small size which can be over populated very
quickly), and Tibet (mountain bound plateaus of very low productivity).
Polygamous (multi-wife) societies tend to be labor intensive, with high
youth mortality rates--children and woman are valued for their labor, men
for their war making skills. Examples are in Africa (lots of disease & hard
work, and a traditional need for hunters & warriors, etc).

monogamy is an attempt to rationalize (i.e., codify) the irrational (i.e.,
genetic instinct), and our codification (itself an instinct) merely
reinforces the monogamy instinct. Similarly, most non-theistic
explainations are also rationalizations of the irrational--which either
reinforce or counteract the monogamy instinct.

The socio-biology arguement seems inherently circular (survival of the
fittest, and the fittest are those who survive), and it does seem like it
can be modified to fit any circumstance (because of the circular reasoning).

However it does have a solid basis in the mathematical field of game-theory,
and we see similar game-like-interactions occuring all over reality (be it
in biology, or economics--indeed, I've heard game theory is supplanting the
field of micro-economics just as econometrics supplanted the field of

My take on it is that the "selfish-gene" explaination itself requires a leap
of faith. It may be the "ultimate" non-theistic explaination of morality,
but nevertheless require faith that there is no God.

One of Bill's examples is particularly applicable here:
>For instance, Hayek's theory that morality evolved as human society
discovered how best to regulate its relationships may be plausible but begs
the question as to the authority of the resulting moral law over every

The socio-biology view seems to imply that the resulting moral law has no
authority over every individual. So society is at the mercy of
individuals--but individuals are at the mercy of society, as well. So, the
concept of authority is merely a rationalization and variation of

Socio-biology seems nihilistic by nature, and I bet that most non-theists
would be repulsed by many of it's ultimate conclusions. It seems to imply
that the individual's basis for daily morality is 'whatever you want to do
that you can get away with'.

Anyway, my apologies if I have misrepresented any viewpoints--neither
philosophy nor biology is my field of expertise (but game theory nearly is
:-] ).

Grace & peace,

Dennis Sweitzer