Evolution and Morality

At scienceandreligion.com, Iain Carstairs has posted an essay from France Bourely’s book, Hidden Beauty: Microworlds Revealed, that makes an eloquent case for the inclusion of cooperation and bonding in our vision of evolution. The living world presents instances of “symbiosis, cooperation, and interdependence” that are as numerous and compelling as those of competition, Bourely argues.  “Beauty is indeed a powerful force and a law of life,” she writes.

Her observations raise an additional issue that is important. In general, science is considered to be stuff of fact and theory and not of morality, of good and bad behaviors. Religions, on the other hand, often specialize in guidance about right and wrong. This assignment of morality to one domain but not the other may be weakening. As Bourely makes clear, evolutionary biology describes the full range from cooperative to deadly behaviors. Aren’t these opposites the rudiments of the duality of good and evil? Perhaps human morality is binary because it is descended from the two primary avenues for survival. For me, subjectively, my feelings of kindness on the one hand and hostility on the other don’t seem too far from the duality of affection and antagonism that our dog displays, nor from the green interdependence and competition for sunlight in our back yard. As Bourely suggests, science offers a richer source for perspectives on morality than we thought.


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