Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Morality and Evolution

In a new book, Moral Minds, Harvard Biologist Marc D. Hauser argues -- seemingly correct to me -- that morality is a product of evolution and we are hardwired to make moral decisions as the brain develops. As the NYTs correctly surmises:
The proposal, if true, would have far-reaching consequences. It implies that parents and teachers are not teaching children the rules of correct behavior from scratch but are, at best, giving shape to an innate behavior. And it suggests that religions are not the source of moral codes but, rather, social enforcers of instinctive moral behavior.
As any look at the myriad religions humanity has believed in throughout its history, religion produces more destruction than peace. Also, the hypothesis that morality is ingrained in our genes makes perfect sense in the "fitness" department. We are slow moving animals that do not fend well for ourselves without the protective coat of society. In any setting, we are easy prey for any number of predators. Our greatest asset is our ability to cooperate in problem solving situations such as hunting, shelter, and child rearing. As the NYTs goes on to explain:
Matters of right and wrong have long been the province of moral philosophers and ethicists. Dr. Hauser’s proposal is an attempt to claim the subject for science, in particular for evolutionary biology. The moral grammar evolved, he believes, because restraints on behavior are required for social living and have been favored by natural selection because of their survival value.
Hauser argues:
[T]hat the moral grammar may have evolved through the evolutionary mechanism known as group selection. A group bound by altruism toward its members and rigorous discouragement of cheaters would be more likely to prevail over a less cohesive society, so genes for moral grammar would become more common.
Morality then becomes the essential part of our biology that allows us to group together without chaotic competition and therefore allows us to survive and prosper as a species. Without it, we would have just been dinner.