Darwin Day Revelation: Evolution, Not Religion, is the Source of Morality

There you have it: the elemental fear that belief in evolution will cause morality to collapse. That fear is predicated on a powerful assumption: that morality comes to us from God via religion. This is false. It is demonstrably false. So where does morality come from? Evolution. This is as close to certain as science gets. Human universals are pretty good evidence for a start. It turns out that a prohibition on murder is found in every known culture. Most human universals are not moral matters. Jokes, tools, and aesthetics have no inherent moral valence. That we can pick out some behaviors as morally relevant is a clue. It points to the fact that we have evolved moral instincts. At root they are empathy, disgust, and fairness. How could such behaviors have evolved in a world of survival of the fittest? A major misconception is that evolution is strictly “nature red in tooth and claw.” Sure, competition pulses at the heart of evolution, but right alongside it beats cooperation. Cooperation is everywhere, especially in social species like ours. The evolutionary pathway to morality, then, runs through the mutual benefits that come about when members of a group cooperate not only to care for kin, secure food, and fight off rival groups, but to suppress bad actors within the group. Put those together, and you have the beginnings of morality; love, sympathy, kindness, fidelity, and generosity are its shoots and leaves. Add to it the power of human language, abstract thought, and social contracts, and you get the rise of a civilization capable of moral progress.


About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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