MORALS ARE BIOLOGICAL IN NATURE
In the current NEWSWEEK (Nov. 28, 2005) a review of the contemporary situation of “evolution” in American culture is covered in an article titled, “Evolution of a Scientist” about Darwin and his ideas. Of course, the title is misleading in that “evolution” is not “change” like a change in Darwin’s thoughts or life values. Evolution describes a particular relational process between genetic traits and environmental niches that lead to morphological alterations in species which eventually lead to new species arising in the course of evolutionary time.
Francis Collins (director of the Human Genome Project and an evangelical Christian) is quoted in the piece: “... in my view the moral law itself defies a purely biological explanation.” He must be a Bush appointee because moral law can quite easily be shown to be a biological quirk. Just read the book, THE MORAL ANIMAL, by Robert Wright, and you will see that morality has arisen from our monkey roots.
Along this very line of thought, I wrote an essay awhile back for the Spokesman Review in an attempt to get it published on the “Faith and Values” page of their Saturday edition. I’ve never heard back from them. So, not to let my effort go to waste, I’m including it in my blog here below:
WHAT’S A VALUE? by George Thomas
It’s easy, isn’t it, for men and women to lord it over one another with values? How often in history have majority values been forced upon minorities by ridicule, torture and death camps? Who can forget the Inquisition, or the fascist devaluing of homosexuals, Gypsies, Communists and Jews so they could be eliminated? Serious business, this evaluating one another, yet very few of us take the time to seriously consider the nature of values—what it means to evaluate one another, how some human notions come to acquire value while others don’t. What is a value after all?
First we must agree that values don’t exist unless they’re put into action. To say we value something is easy enough, but values remain empty potentials until acted upon. Hypocrisy is born from values contradicted by actions. In so many behaviors we’re hypocrites and most frequently hypocrites when we’re busily mouthing platitudes.
It may come as a shock to hear that dogs have values. What I mean to say is that dogs act upon value systems just like humans do. They can’t talk about their values and probably aren’t consciously aware of them, except as emotional discomforts or physical impulses, but dogs do act upon their emotional evaluations of situations. Imagine a very hungry dog smells food, but near the food lurks a predator who enjoys dog meat. The dog must choose between meat and being meat. He must overcome his fear and go eat dinner or he must catch a Greyhound out of there. What he chooses to do is what he values most (or feels most urgently) at that moment—his hunger or his fear.
As far as research can show, dogs aren’t conscious they reveal values when they act. Assigning value to animal behavior requires human consciousness. Born of an evolved capacity for language and guided by human feeling, the human brain strives mightily to evaluate the Universe which it only recently became conscious of, perhaps 40,000 years ago during the Great Leap Forward. Human brains assign value to all things, great and small. We recognize our values in animals because we experience our values the same way dogs do—through our actions. Am I implying that human values are emotion-driven behaviors which we employ in order to make ourselves feel safer? Well....
When we hook humans up to wires and scan their brains, we find the human brain is an ever shifting energy field, altered constantly by storms of electrical impulses that arrive incessantly from the senses. The brain, mostly unconscious of the chemical storm, reacts its way through that storm, tipping toward and away from action, seeking a chemical balance or level of comfort. And it really isn’t much aware of what it’s doing. No central command center where decisions are made appears in human brain scans, just flashing synapses and chemical stirrings that result in human activity and thoughts about activity.
Human values, that is, our feelings about reality, are wired in the brain’s limbic system into everything we do and think. The human brain is constantly feeling (i.e. valuing) its way through a mental representation of the outside world that the senses present to it toward mental states which make the human animal feel safe and away from those that frighten it. Values are the chemistry of our emotions revealed through action.
Yes—scientific observation does suggest that when we closely monitor brain activity, we discover a brain chemistry which facilitates the need by humans to regulate their social contacts with one another so they can feel safe. People value what makes them feel good and devalue what makes them feel unsafe. People feel real pain when they suffer injustice and real comfort when life goes smoothly. We name that comforting chemical stasis in people’s brains their “sense of justice” (i.e. values confirmed).
Theists seek to empower their values by projecting their feelings about reality onto some greater authority above them, much like we project values onto our animal companions below. Theists seek to lend authority to their values in order to increase their control over others and over their environment, thus enhancing their sense of physical safety. They can’t be blamed for playing the survival game that brain chemistry dictates. And atheists aren’t above that either; they also require cultural rules for survival and share most of the social values which enhance survival for theists. Atheists just recognize that human values arise from human biological imperatives rather than from spiritual commandments from on high.