Can Evolution Explain Morality?

I’ve been told that natural selection acting on random mutations has enough power to produce everything in biology. I’ve put these claims to the test several times

Well, I got a new challenge from a God-denier, who made the claim that evolution can even explain the origin of morality. They provided a link to a “scientific” paper , which has been cited 6 times, thinking they could bluster their way through a conversation without being skeptical. But I don’t surrender to bluster so easily. Let’s analyze her claim to see if the professor, who wrote the article, is relying on evidence or assumptions

Here’s how this works: I will post the quotes from the article in red and then just below the quote, I’ll post my analysis in the default black font. I have bolded key words throughout, so the bold does not appear in the original work. Throughout, you’ll notice that instead of actual evidence, the author of the article relies on assumptions. Let’s get started:

The author of this article, Professor Douglas Allchin, begins at a good place, with definitions. First we must start with “What is Morality?” Merriam Webster defines morality as ‘Conformity to ideals of right human conduct’.

How did this peer-reviewed paper define morality?

The first challenge for biologists is characterizing morality in terms amenable to science. Abstract concepts of “right” and “wrong” or virtuous motives and good intentions must be expressed in terms of what can be observed or measured. First, then, biologists address morality concretely as a form of behavior. As such, it fits in a context of other behaviors: foraging, mating and nesting, securing territory, play, grooming, and other social interactions

Bold text is not in the original. Notice how they immediately change the definition from “ideals of right conduct” to a “form of behavior that fits a context”. What context? EVOLUTION. While the actual word is not used, the context of evolution (foraging, mating, nesting, grooming…) is exactly the concepts that evolution is supposed to have solved. Right from the start, they’ve smuggled evolution into the definition. So right from the start, rather than actually showing that evolution can explain the origins of “ideals of right conduct”, professor Allchin imbeds the solution right into the definition.

Conceptualizing morality as a form of behavior opens the possibility of observing it in other species. Indeed, if complex features evolve gradually, one might well expect to find stages of protomorality, incipient morality, or various precursors in organisms besides humans.

Two things with this paragraph:

  • Remember they defined morality as forging, mating, nesting, grooming & social interacting behaviors. So OF COURSE other species forage, mate, nest, groom and interact. When they define their terms in such a way as it’s just living, then they can claim victory that evolution can explain eating but say “tHat’s mOraLity”
  • Secondly, humans did not evolve from any modern species. So, you cannot test any modern species for “protomorality” or “incipient morality” at least in relation to human morality. If you want to test other species for human morality, why not celebrate the morality of male lions cleaning house: the new head of the pride, methodically killing the offspring of other males in the pride. Should the evolutionists want to involve other species as tests for morality, they have no objective reason not the start there. Why don’t the atheists want to uphold the thieving, raping, bullying, and exclusion of both intra and inter species interactions in their assertions of evolution’s great power to produce morality? Why would God-deniers NOT consider male lions killing the offspring of other lions as moral?

But which behaviors are “moral”? Here, biologists must proceed cautiously. One cannot even identify the relevant behaviors without a working concept of “right” and “wrong” or of “morality.” Invoking a value judgment threatens to prejudice the whole endeavor. The biologist’s proper approach is thereby indifferent and fluid, contingent on definitions of ethics identified by others. Biologists may encounter multiple conceptions of what is to be explained. Different benchmark definitions may yield separate complementary explanations. Of course, biologists are accustomed to addressing the “same” phenomenon on multiple levels of organization: molecular and cellular, physiological, populational, ecological, and evolutionary. Biologists have, thus, developed a suite of explanations which apply to different aspects of moral behavior.

Indeed. How can they identity behaviors as right or wrong? Notice in the closing sentence, professor Allchin talks about tools: “a suite of explanations” which they will apply preferentially and arbitrarily to different behaviors. We’ll watch this as more and more of the paper is analyzed.

For guidance, then, a biologist turns to moral philosophers. Yet, even after centuries of reflection and debate, philosophers themselves do not agree on core ethical principles for defining “good.” They generally recognize, however, three basic approaches. One approach, consequentialism, focuses on the outcomes themselves. For example, morality is assessed as the greatest good for the greatest number. Good may be defined variously as benefit, happiness, or pleasure.

Didn’t these “moral philosophers” also evolve from ancestral simians with supposedly less-evolved morality. Why trust what evolved apes have to say about morality? Charles Darwin recognized this philosophical problem in the 19th century when in his autobiography, he wrote “But then arises the doubt-can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animals, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions?” Why should we trust the foundations of their philosophy?

Notice also how the consequentialists define good: Good is whatever is the greatest good for the greatest number. You’ll notice the clear obfuscation of their claim about “good”. How do they know what is truly good? Based on what metric? Over which time period? I wrote about the irrationality of claiming goodness without an objective standard in my article, Empathy is Arbitrary, Inconsistent, and Irrational for Atheists. It applies equally as well for these lab-coats, who want to talk about pragmatism.

Evolution itself does not express or yield values

Nature may seem to exhibit its own values. For example, natural selection may seem to “favor” adaptive traits. Survival and reproduction may seem inherent values because they lead to continuity of the lineage. However, historical facts are distinct from values. Effects do not indicate intentions

This is a good paragraph and I agree with it – because it definitively declares that evolution cannot explain the origins of morality – ideals of right conduct. The title of their article is misleading, but they rationalize their deception with remarkable openness about the inability of evolution to explain ideals/values like that paragraph above. After all, since morality is not objective to them, why should they be honest about their hopelessness from the beginning?

Biological analysis may enrich our understanding of morality, but it is also limited. Science is not able to discover ethical principles in nature, nor to justify them, nor to evaluate them, say, based on evolutionary history, nor even to develop them based on some presumed universal or “objective” principle of “human nature.” Many have tried. All have failed

EXACTLY! Case closed. I appreciate everyone for reading this article which exposes this admission by professor Allchin that evolution is unable to explain ethical principles, justifications, or objective ideals of morality. Should I even continue to evaluate the remaining 7000 words of their article when it is clear up to this point that they have admitted defeat? They do try as this next sentence declares:

Having introduced these caveats, then, let us consider what biologists have discovered about morality as an evolved form of behavior

Caveats indeed. Caveats of the corpse of their case

They continue anyway, although their case is beyond hope:

Behavior that benefits other organisms may sometimes also benefit the individual

Like symbiosis? Symbiosis is a definite falsification of evolution. It’s a strange tact indeed for professor Allchin to highlight one of the most damning observations to evolutionary theory. Perhaps though he meant that cooperation within your own species could help with the evolutionary fitness of the overall species. It stretches credulity that selflessness could be explained by natural selection acting on unguided mutations, but that is the claim they are making. They tried to suggest the kin selection could account for morality in the subsequent paragraphs, but I covered this failed hypothesis in my article, Can Evolution Explain Altruism? When evaluating the “scientific” articles for that post, they proposed a mysterious force called “strong reciprocity”, which had no origin or mechanism. Another failure for the theory of evolution. Professor Allchin tries later in his article to postulate strong reciprocity as a solution. Too bad.

But notice too that he’s done something sneaky here. He just assumed that cooperation (or mutually beneficial behavior) just appeared. He provided no mechanism or origin story for this behavior. Without explanation, he just assumed it was there. In an article that supposedly explains the origin, professor Allchin is short on actual explanations and long on assumptions

In describing the evolution of humans in Descent of Man, Darwin (1871) prominently addressed mental and moral abilities. Following cultural discourse at the time, he focused on what he called the moral sense, or conscience, notably reflected in the emotion of remorse. “Why do we feel moral duty?” Darwin wondered. First, Darwin observed that animals could evolve societies, structured (he assumed) by a social instinct. Second, with multiple instincts, behavior might not always accord with social benefit. But memory, Darwin thought, would help resolve such conflicts as the organism learned to regulate its instincts, making the social instinct primary. Third, the use of language would allow organisms to communicate their needs clearly to one another. Fourth, repetition would lead to habit and a spontaneous sense of what one “ought” to do.

Notice the saturated assumptions in the paragraph. Everything proposed by Darwin was an assumption. None of what he observed was an origin of the creatures, their behavior, or their “structured society”. All of those things were already in existence – so like the modern lab coats, Darwin simply assumed that they evolved. I’ve been told that “extraordinary claims (like evolution can explain morality) requires extraordinary evidence”. There’s no evidence – let alone extraordinary evidence in that paragraph. It (like the rest of the paper) can be summarily dismissed.

In the next 5 paragraphs professor Allchin describes stories of various mammals caring for others of their species as if that is an explanation of evolution’s great power to produce moral behavior. Two things he failed to realize:

  1. Humans did not evolve from any creatures that are currently alive. The best he could assume is that humans and any other mammals share a common ancestor. Professor Allchin, rather than demonstrating common ancestry, simply assumed common ancestry. The very best that professor Allchin could speculate is that both apes and humans experienced an even more impossible assertion: convergent evolution since the hypothetical common ancestor cannot be evaluated for the presence of moral behavior.
  2. The caring/moral behavior already exists in the creatures being described. There’s no step-by-step explanation of the caring/moral behavior being produced by some evolutionary mechanism. Saying that something (moral behavior) exists does NOT explain HOW evolution produced it. It is very common among internet pop apologists for evolution to assert: “x trait exists and evolution did it.” We see from this article where they get it. They are taught to think that way by their deluded lab-coat-wearing priests.

One way to assess foundational human motivation is to observe behavior before possible learning or training. Human infants (age 18 months), for example, frequently help adults in simple problematic tasks in a lab setting—without being asked and without reward…The question remains how such feelings evolved and whether the social environment was relevant historically

The question remains indeed. Everything that professor Allchin has speculated about already exists. Not one word has been dedicated to explaining how evolution was able to produce moral behavior where moral behavior did not exist before. Those reading Allchin’s article with a skeptical mind could just as easily be convinced that since this behavior already exists in “human infants” that these young humans were created in God’s image as moral agents from the beginning. The authors have done NOTHING to persuade a skeptical reader of their stated motive (evolution can explain morality). They just assume it

Neuroimaging studies show significantly that actual moral reasoning involves both emotion and logic

The naturalist author of this paper has complicated his task. Not only has he convinced me that that evolution cannot explain morality, evolution definitely cannot explain reasoning or logic. Rather than trying to just come up with an evolutionary mechanism that can produce moral behavior, now professor Allchin has inadvertently jumped into a philosophical canyon from which he could never hope to explain. Rather the unchanging, abstract, absolute laws of logic and its correct application (reasoning) is explained only in a Christian worldview.

The flexibility afforded by learned behavior allows organisms to respond to local environments, which may change during an organism’s lifetime or vary from organism to organism within the same species. Evolution may thus favor the brain’s potential for behavioral plasticity and for placing “values” on certain responses

Again – no explanation or evolutionary mechanism…but “evolution may…” as if evolution is a concrete entity that actually DOES something. That’s the reification fallacy by professor Allchin. No-no professor!

In addition, learning has the potential to modify, or regulate, innate behavior or dispositions. The psychological level thereby becomes emergent, exhibiting new interactions and properties relatively independent of lower level functions (genetic and physiological) and able in part to influence them

Emergent? This is a common assertion by naturalists when they are unable to actually explain origins. Following is a conglomeration of real/hypothetical conversations with God-deniers:

  • Christian: “From where did the laws of logic arise in a cosmos made only of particles?”
  • God-denier: “They are emergent properties
  • Christian: “From where did the laws of gravity and physics and chemistry arise?”
  • God-denier: “They are emergent properties
  • Christian: “Can you explain how evolution produced moral behavior?”
  • God-denier: “They are emergent properties

Emergent properties offer no explanatory power. It’s just a sciency-sounding moniker for the naturalist, who recognizes that from within his framework, the topic is unexplainable.

Professor Allchin goes on to complain about “cheaters” as obstacles to “sharing behavior” and common good, but in all of the complaining, he never explains how evolution produced moral behavior. Why’s that Professor Allchin?

Organisms may cooperate selectively with reciprocators

I’ve already answered the proposal of reciprocity above and in my article on, Can Evolution Explain Altruism? Giving only to get back (reciprocity) is selfish – not moral or altruistic.

Getting to the end of his rope, Professor Allchin jumps from moral behavior to Might-Makes-Right:

Social organisms may enforce cooperation through rewards and punishment

And AGAIN, professor Allchin simply observes EXISTING behavior – not how evolutionary mechanisms produced it. This article was supposed to explain how evolution could explain morality rather than just pointing to it as he does throughout. It would be like asking: “How did Honda produce that Odyssey minivan?” and having a professor respond: “There’s one over there!!!” All the while, the professor thinks he’s answered the question. Lazy and smug.

Organisms may benefit from social information

May?!?! Isn’t this supposed to be a scientific article? Something that explains the origins of morality by means of evolution?? May indeed!!! And “benefit” – how does one determine what is truly beneficial? By what metric?

Add morality to the ever-growing list of things that evolution fails to explain. I’m with Dr. Greg Bahnsen – evolution cannot adequately explain anything, and the science clearly bears this out

I’m not the only one or even the first one or even the best at analyzing the outlandish claims of the Darwinists that evolution can explain morality. Here are some articles from that show the impotent claims that “eVoLutioN cAn expLaiN moRaLity” to be nothing more than empty bluster:


10 thoughts on “Can Evolution Explain Morality?

  1. This is very good; its crazy to see you examine the question begging and other fallacies of trying to have morality orginate from differently than Christian origin. Going to share this in the next round up!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent. Love the way you lay this out. “Add morality to the ever-growing list of things that evolution fails to explain. I’m with Dr. Greg Bahnsen – evolution cannot adequately explain anything, and the science clearly bears this out”


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Presuppositional Apologetics’ Links: Early January 2023 | The Domain for Truth

  4. Interesting analysis, and I’ll be posting this on Evolution is a Lie in a few minutes, and on The Question Evolution Project (both on Fakebook) tomorrow. Oh, and Twitter as well. You may be interested to know that I had an atheist inform me that the idea of morality coming from evolution is ridiculous, and he knows of no one who thinks that. He must not have left his plastic bubble very much.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Naturalism And Paganism in Modern Media | ApoloJedi

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