Morality doesn’t equal God

Shorter Robert Wright: All we have to do to end the conflict between science and religion is convert the Christians to deists and get the scientists to pretend that evolution is teleological!

Who knew it would be so easy?

Unfortunately, from my perspective, knowledge is not one of those things on which one can compromise — you’ve either got evidence for something, or you don’t. We do not have evidence for purpose in evolution, and if anything, all the evidence is against the idea that evolution has a direction or that natural selection can be anything but an unguided response to local conditions.

Furthermore, his example doesn’t work. He’s all hung up on the “moral law”, and even cites C.S. Lewis. He wants to argue that the existence of morality, even if it isn’t derived from a god, is still an indication of the existence of a general directedness or overarching nudge from the laws of the universe, and therefore we should all just get along and accept this awesome pan-galactic force.

Nope, says I. First, there is no moral law: the universe is a nasty, heartless place where most things wouldn’t mind killing you if you let them. No one is compelled to be nice; you or anyone could go on a murder spree, and all that is stopping you is your self-interest (it is very destructive to your personal bliss to knock down your social support system) and the self-interest of others, who would try to stop you. There is nothing ‘out there’ that imposes morality on you, other than local, temporary conditions, a lot of social enculturation, and probably a bit of genetic hardwiring that you’ve inherited from ancestors who lived under similar conditions.

Jerry Coyne has addressed the same silly op-ed at much greater length. It really is wrong all the way through, but as Coyne suggests, maybe Wright is just taking a practical approach to winning that lucrative Templeton prize. It’s not because the universe drives his argument, but because he too is responding in a self-interested way to local conditions.