Thursday, July 19, 2018

Can morality exist independent of God?
A refutation of the atheist claim

A Psychology Today article asserts in the subtitle: "Morality is within us independently of God." I will use this article as an outline to address atheistic claims currently prevalent on this subject. The author is atheist Gad Saad, professor of marketing and holder of the Concordia University Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and Darwinian Consumption. I intend to show that the arguments in the article, although common in modern atheistic circles, do not withstand scrutiny. Toward the end of this blog post, I will critique several other atheist professors and scientists.

In the attempt to demonstrate that "morality is within us independently of God," the article includes 3 main arguments:
  • Not all religions have an identical view on all moral questions
  • Many atheists have done moral things in the past
  • Scientists have written books explaining the evolution of morality
Let's review these 3 assertions to see if they support the claim: "Morality is within us independently of God."

"CONTRADICTORY POSITIONS TAKEN BY RELIGIONS"

The first assertion states there are:
extraordinarily contradictory positions taken by religions on every imaginable issue of human import, let alone the fact that there are thousands of religions and Gods. Which God/religion should one use to guide his/her moral system? ... [There is a] conundrum of religious contradictions...
This is followed by a list of moral views by different historical religions that aren't in agreement.

There are many problems with this line of thinking. First, moral truth's validity is not dependent on the absence of competing claims to the truth. A moral truth is true whether there is one or ten thousand false assertions surrounding it. It is true even if it is a "conundrum" to identify it. From the Catholic perspective, deviations in moral claims are explicable in a number of ways, such as the principle of Original Sin, that man sometimes acts contrary to reason, or develops his conscience and understanding of natural law over time.

Dismissing the possibility of a reliable religious tradition on account of it being a "conundrum" to discover it is the fallacy of personal incredulity. This is to run from a problem by claiming it's too tough to solve.

Second, remember, the article opens with the subhead "Morality is within us independently of God." But not all atheists, secularists, scientists, pagans, nor whomever else, have an identical view on every moral issue. One atheist believes abortion is the taking of a life and another doesn't. One secularist believes homosexuals should marry and another doesn't. We could imitate the article's hyperbole and just as validly claim there are contradictory positions taken by the non-religious on "every imaginable issue."
The article dismisses religion as unreliable because diverse moral views exist in religions. But, by the end, the article depends on non-religion as reliable despite diverse moral views existing among the non-religious.

Using Saad's definition of "conundrum," the atheist abandoning religion in favor of "non-religion" is just trading one conundrum for another. But, if "morality is within us independently of God," why is that hypothesis not held to the same standard of producing uniformity as is demanded of "religion"? If morality is in us independent of God, and man is just misidentifying that inner voice by producing a variety of non-religious morals, why couldn't human error also explain man's various misinterpretations of God? The atheist argument here is not consistent. If we are to believe we don't "need" God because non-religious traditions can produce contradictions too, then you could also say following a religious tradition is just as good as being non-religious.

But all this avoids the issue. Is God the source of morality? Are man's moral sensibilities only conceivable in relation to God? Does science reveal moral truths? Pointing to this or that group's contradictory teaching doesn't address those kinds of questions. The "contradictory positions" argument is a straw man that can neither categorically discredit nor credit religious nor non-religious traditions.

Third, why are the similarities in moral teaching across religion not credited to God as their source?
The idea in the article that religions contradict on "every imaginable issue" is an obvious exaggeration, considering the overwhelming unity in religious history on many issues such as murder, honesty, robbery, or that due worship should be given to supernatural authority.

The article only cites deviations in moral teachings as evidence against religion's moral reliability. For example, it asks whether we should employ Kosher slaughter rituals as in Judaism or Halal slaughter rituals as in Islam. But, although there are differences in the specifics of these tenets, there are also similarities. For example, there is a larger moral obligation behind both of these religious teachings that beg a different question: Why do both religions believe human action is required in regard to a supernatural deity in the first place? One would be hard pressed to find a religious tradition lacking a similar teaching.

That Saad is even able to cognitively categorize religions as associated with "God" is an unwitting admission that they are overwhelmingly in agreement that some form of other worldly power exists. If all religions are unreliable on account of them having some differing moral precepts, then isn't it fair to say all religions are reliable in areas where they agree? At least that is what the atheist should conclude if he seeks to discredit all religion on account of them having some moral variation.

Saad concludes this section:
Incidentally, I have never received a reply from a religious person as to how to resolve this conundrum of religious contradictions other than to state: “Well, the other 9,999 religions are false. I know this to be true because my religion is the correct one. It states so in my holy book.”
It is not uncommon to hear atheists to mock Christians (or other religions) as having no concept of moral truth beyond "the book says so." But, an atheist who has "never" heard a religious argument "other than" "it states so in my holy book" is grossly unfit to speak on this topic.1

There is an abundance of material, certainly in Catholicism and Orthodoxy, that delve much deeper into moral concepts rooted in natural law, philosophy of the human person, and other arguments not merely dependent on "my book said so."  Many names come to mind like Albert, Aquinas, Chesterton, Newman, Kreeft, Ratzinger, Sheen, Sheed, Augustine, Chrysostom, and apologists like those at Catholic Answers or EWTN, just to name a minuscule few. And many of them build on philosophies of the human person such as Socratic or Aristotelian thought foundations.

Such study of religions would serve well in solving the "conundrum," by actually scrutinizing their most revered teachers and apologists, instead of throwing one's hands up and saying "Well, they don't agree, how can I tell if one is right! On to atheism!"2

The bottom line is moral truth's validity is not dependent on the absence of competing claims to the truth.

"ENDLESS INSTANTIATIONS OF MORAL...ACTS...COMMITTED BY ATHEISTS"
There are endless instantiations of moral, compassionate, and kind acts that are committed by atheists. How are such non-believers able to engage in such acts without a belief in any supernatural deity?
From the Catholic point of view, this argument attacks a straw man. Catholics don't deny that atheists can commit good acts. Consider the following magisterial, scriptural, and theological quotations:
Man participates in the wisdom and goodness of the Creator who gives him mastery over his acts and the ability to govern himself with a view to the true and the good. The natural law expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie. ... The natural law, present in the heart of each man and established by reason, is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all men. It expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties. ... The natural law is a participation in God's wisdom and goodness by man formed in the image of his Creator. It expresses the dignity of the human person and forms the basis of his fundamental rights and duties.(CCC#1954,1956, 1978)
St. John Paul II wrote similarly:
The conscience is "the voice of God," even when man recognizes in it nothing more than the principle of the moral order which it is not humanly possible to doubt, even without any direct reference to the Creator. (Dominum et Vivificantem, 43a, 1986)
[T]he moral order, as established by the natural law, is in principle accessible to human reason. (John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 74b, 1993)  
Paul, writing of the Gentiles before they heard the gospel, teaches similarly:
When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts. (Rom. 2:14-15)
In Genesis, Cain is held accountable for murder by God despite the murder occurring prior to the issuance of the Ten Commandments.

Venerable Fulton J. Sheen expounds on this very matter in regards to natural virtue in all persons:
As for natural truths, there may be considerable resemblance (between Christians and pagans), because natural truths may be known to anyone endowed with reason. God has illumined every man coming into the world. The first principle of the practical reason and the first principle of the speculative reason are the foundation upon which every man may build the rational edifice of art and science, morality and philosophy. Human minds, whether pagan or Christian, unlettered or learned, have a natural curiosity that inquires into the why and the wherefore of existence, as well as the origin and purpose of all their inspirations and yearnings. The uniformity of elementary doctrines, general liturgical themes, and rudimentary practices reveal the fundamental identity of human nature in all places and at all times 
Pagans have natural virtues, for they have, as St. Paul tells us, the law of God graven on their hearts. Man can, without faith or grace, know the difference between good and evil, immortality, supreme happiness, and at least in a vague way, sanction and retribution, all of which are elements of religion as such, and hence common to all humanity. 
(Fulton J. Sheen, Comparative Religion and Philosophy, p. 215-216, 1948) 
A Catholic should have no problem recognizing anyone's capacity to identify a natural good because he is created in the image of God. So, when Saad asks what he thinks is a strike against religion with the rhetorical comment: "Would we all engage in nihilistic crime sprees of unimaginable depravity lest we were guided by religion?" I might answer: No, just look at multiple millennia of Church teaching.

If a person who lacks formal belief in God commits a moral act, this tells us nothing about whether there is a God. I might even submit that atheists calling for morality is evidence of morality inscribed in man's heart by an Inscriptor. Modern atheists claim morals are derived from science or evolution, but we will see later how this claim collapses under scrutiny.

The matter of moral obligations
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) posits:
The recognition of morality is the real substance of human dignity; but one cannot recognize this without simultaneously experiencing it as an obligation of freedom. Morality is not man's prison but rather the divine element in him... [T]here are not only natural laws in the sense of physical functions: the specific natural law itself is a moral law. Creation itself teaches us how we can be human in the right way. (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, A Turning Point for Europe, 1994)3
Both the Church and the atheist might agree, in a basic sense, that natural truths, such as morality, are discernible through natural reason. One studying such things may seek to determine whether the Church's or atheist's or anyone else's claims are consistent with sound reason. Let the following two assertions suffice for the purpose of this section: one, as we see in the above quotes, the Catholic understanding of man and morality is consistent with atheists committing naturally good acts; and, two, neither science nor atheism can reveal moral truth.

What many modern atheists call morality, as we will especially see in the next section, is not a moral code but a tool for evolutionary advantage. One of the attributes that disqualifies atheistic "morality" as authentic morality is its lack of moral obligation.

Catholic apologist Karlo Broussard describes atheism and moral obligation thusly:
There are many atheists and agnostics whom we theists could look to and lock arms with in the pursuit of a just and peaceful society. However, only the theist would be consistent in saying that just and peaceful behaviors are morally obligatoryOne can get away with personal moral codes without God, but not moral obligation. (Broussard, Can Atheists Be Good Without Belief in God?, 2015)
Moral theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand identifies a problem among religions that lack conception of a personal God. His statement would also apply to the moralizing atheist. Von Hildebrand writes:
[W]herever no conception of a personal God is to be found, the notion of an authentic moral obligation, of moral responsibility as well as a call directed to our conscience, seems missing. The formal character of morality is hardly grasped. That does not mean that no concrete moral prescriptions are known. Far from it, for many prescriptions which are, objectively, moral commandments (not to lie or not to kill) are honored, but without a real understanding of their specific moral character. (Dietrich von Hildebrand, Graven Images: Substitutes for True Morality, p 179, 1957)
This is similar to the atheist's dilemma. In a hypothetical atheistic universe, what does it matter if one fails to act in a way the atheist calls moral? What obligation is there to act morally? So what if society isn't "nice?" So what if man obliterates himself? What does it matter if mankind persists in existence at all? At best the atheist call to morality is to achieve some temporal desire. But there is no atheistic basis upon which the atheist can even call a human desire morally "good." Certainly "moral goodness" is not observable scientifically under a microscope.

There is no atheistic basis that answers why joy or prosperity is "good." In order to declare these things, the atheist must first attribute a dignified value to human life that makes him a moral creature: both in acting toward others and to be acted toward. Such value in human beings is not shown by science and is arbitrarily assumed by modern atheists. They are not wrong to recognize human dignity and morality, but they would be wrong to think these things are revealed by something like science.

Many atheists are also materialists. To claim that humans have special moral character in a materialist universe is likewise arbitrary. It is to say the cluster of atoms that comprise humans have moral character whereas a cluster of atoms that comprise, say, deep sea marine algae or a tumbleweed in the wind have no moral character. But a microscope doesn't reveal why one cluster should have moral character versus another. As we also saw in a prior blog post about science and morality, the moralizing atheist merely presupposes morality in mankind. And, ironically, the atheist presupposition that morality in man even exists supports the Church's notion that God's law is written on man's heart.

The atheist appeal to morality to achieve some end, such as people behaving "nice," makes morality a tool that could be set aside if not needed to achieve the same desire. (We saw this suggested by atheist Sam Harris when he fantasized about some future medicinal "cure for human evil.") In this purview, morality is not obligatory, nor ontological, but a tool of man to achieve a biological or evolutionary goal. And, without obligation, any reasonable definition of morality isn't even met. The obligation to act morally is absent in an atheistic universe.

Dr. Stephen M. Barr, professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Delaware, likewise identifies the meaningless of atheistic "morality" in a First Things article:
It is quite meaningless to ask, for example, whether one “should” build a dam that will cause the snail darter to become extinct. We can only ask whether building it would be conducive to human survival, or to snail darter survival, or to some other arbitrarily chosen end. People may, of course, have feelings of moral obligation; but only the feelings are real, not the obligations(Stephen M. Barr, The Devil's Chaplain, Aug. 2004)
You see Dr. Barr cover here what we have reviewed: that human survival is only arbitrary called "good" without a prior establishment of man's dignity. This dignity is logically absent in the atheist worldview.

As we will see later, the atheist will claim to desire morality to attain a "nice" society where people "reciprocate" niceness. But, again, if we use only an atheistic purview, what does it matter if people are nice or hostile, survive or don't survive? Animals live and die all the time. Molecules assemble and disassemble all the time. So what if a combination of molecular activity that matches what we call "death" or "suffering" occurs? Certainly, atheists feel a sense that survival is "good," but they cannot draw that conclusion using only science or atheistic epistemology.

Peter S. Williams, assistant professor in communication and worldviews at Gimlekollen School of Journalism and Communication in Norway, addresses this very point:
The question is not: Must we believe in God in order to live moral lives? There is no reason to think that atheists and theists alike may not live what we normally characterize as good and decent lives. Similarly, the question is not: Can we formulate a system of ethics without reference to God? If the non-theist grants that human beings do have objective value, then there is no reason to think that he cannot work out a system of ethics with which the theist would largely agree. ... [A]lthough the non-theist can do the right thing because they know what the objectively right thing to do is, their worldview can’t cogently provide an adequate ontological account of the objective moral values they know and obey. (Peter S. Williams, Can Moral Objectivism Do Without God? Theofilos, 2012)
In other words, atheists often behave as if man is made in the image of God Who is eternal goodness itself, toward Whom man turns during acts of moral goodness, toward Whom man finds his eschatological end.4 But there is no atheistic praxis that can substitute for God and moral goodness in this way.

As we have said, the atheist can commit a good act. But in failing to have a firm ground upon which morals are built, the atheist's call to morality is brittle and collapses under scrutiny. Let's examine further in the next section.

"SCIENTISTS ... HAVE OFFERED VERY COMPELLING SCIENTIFIC-BASED ARGUMENTS TO EXPLAIN THE EVOLUTION OF MORALITY."

Saad states:
Countless philosophers and scientists (including no lesser a man than Charles Darwin) have offered very compelling scientific-based arguments to explain the evolution of morality (especially in the context of social species). Hence, to repeatedly utter the banal canard that morality is outside the purview of science is astonishingly false. Innumerable books and scientific articles have been written to explain the evolution of morality, empathy, kindness, cooperation, altruism, parental love, romantic love, love for one's friends, and numerous other emotions that constitute integral elements of our moral fortitude.
Remember, the article's premise is: "Morality is within us independently of God." Does what the article describes as scientific studies about the "evolution of morality" reveal that conclusion? As we are about to examine in detail—no.

Certainly, one could conduct a scientific study of what cultures taught what moral beliefs. Or one could study what "evolutionary" benefit various "moral" beliefs in certain cultures had for that culture's perpetuation. However, this dodges the question. The science doesn't tell us whether or not some act in any of those cultures is "moral." It only can show "this act had this result." Science doesn't reveal that any act or belief was morally "good" or "bad." Moral arguments cannot be "scientific-based" because science never can reveal the prerequisite dignity in man in order for morality to even be considered. Let's examine several scientists and professors asserting some form of the claim that morality is within the purview of science (particularly evolutionary science).

Dawkins
The topic of evolution and morality has been addressed by pop atheist Richard Dawkins, himself an evolutionary biologist. Dawkins begins his book The Selfish Gene with the following caveat:
This brings me to the first point I want to make about what this book is not. I am not advocating a morality based on evolution.* I am saying how things have evolved. I am not saying how we humans morally ought to behave. ... My own feeling is that a human society based simply on the gene's law of universal ruthless selfishness would be a very nasty society in which to live. But unfortunately, however much we may deplore something, it does not stop it being true. This book is mainly intended to be interesting, but if you would extract a moral from it, read it as a warning. Be warned that if you wish, as I do, to build a society in which individuals cooperate generously and unselfishly towards a common good, you can expect little help from biological nature. (Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, p. 2-3)
Dawkins here admits he does not advocate for morality "based on evolution" and that "biological nature" is no guide either. The reason he says this is because he believes humans are characterized by "universal ruthless selfishness" that results in a "very nasty society." His scientific studies showed him how various cultures behaved in history. From there, it is Dawkins' own beliefs as to what constitutes "nasty" that is added to the scientific observation. This isn't to say there is no basis to call, say, the Aztec sacrifices of slaves to fictional gods an objective evil, but rather that raw science offers no qualitative interpretation other than what can be observed. It is the observer who then identifies "evil" in the action. Without a conscious or subconscious recognition of man's inherent dignity, Dawkins cannot declare biological phenomenon in any form as moral or immoral.

You'll also notice the asterisk in Dawkins' quote. It refers to an endnote which also belies science as a basis of morality. In the endnote, Dawkins expounds:
Others, perhaps because they read the book by title only or never made it past the first two pages, have thought that I was saying that, whether we like it or not, selfishness and other nasty ways are an inescapable part of our nature. This error is easy to fall into if you think, as many people unaccountably seem to, that genetic 'determination' is for keeps—absolute and irreversible. In fact genes 'determine' behavior only in a statistical way... A good analogy is the widely conceded generalization that 'A red sky at night is the shepherd's delight'. It may be a statistical fact that a good, red sunset portends a fine day on the morrow, but we would not bet a large sum on it. (Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, p. 267)
The sunset analogy in this endnote is Dawkins' way of saying genetics determine behavior, but it's not a foolproof barometer. Consider the consequences of that sentiment. It means, even Dawkins does not believe raw biology should govern behavior, even if scientific observation shows those behaviors to arise through the scientific laws of biology. Simply because a society behaves a certain way because of their inherited genes, it doesn't equate to those behaviors being morally good, according to Dawkins. But this is just another evidence of the atheist deriving his principles of morality from somewhere other than science.

That being said, the question continues to loom: on what basis does Dawkins say that any action receives the moral quality of "nasty"? According to his own caveat, the source is neither "based on evolution" nor "biological nature." Remember, Saad said the idea that morality is outside science's purview is "astonishingly false."

During a 2006 talk by Dawkins, an audience member asked the following question:
Question: [Y]ou accuse people, I suppose Christians, of saying that we get our morality from the Scriptures. But clearly this cannot be the case because humanity from every civilization throughout time has a sense of morality, and clearly most of them have had not have not had access to the Bible. So I'm curious then what you think is the origin of this morality. If someone comes in here with a gun and began shooting all of us we would call that bad. Why? Why is that bad? 
You can hear Dawkins' full response in the above link. Keep in mind the two questions asked here: What is the origin of morality? and What makes something bad? You will notice that Dawkins does not answer either question.
Now if you're asking me where we get our morality from I think that's an extremely complicated question and one that I'm very interested in. I've got a whole chapter on it in the book which I didn't have time to read from. I think that a sort of bedrock of it probably comes from our Darwinian heritage as a kind of misfiring byproduct of our Darwinian past, when we lived in small villages or small roving bands, which meant that we were surrounded by close kin and that, as you no doubt know, is one good prerequisite for the evolution of altruism under Darwinian rules. And also in those small villages or roving bands we would have been surrounded by people who we are likely to meet again and again throughout our life which provides the basis for the other main Darwinian reason to be moral or altruistic—that, I think is the Darwinian origin and I suspect that, although we no longer live in small bands, the same rule of thumb, rules of thumb, which were honed in our Darwinian past are playing themselves out under the alien conditions of modern urban society. 
The rule of thumb used to be—be nice to everyone you meet. Because everyone you meet is likely to be either a cousin and/or somebody you're going to meet again and again, and therefore in a position to reciprocate. Darwinism doesn't forecast, doesn't suggest, that we should be all wise and do what is actually going to be best for our selfish genes. Instead it says that it builds into our brains rules of thumb which worked in our ancestral past. That rule of thumb—be nice to everybody—is still in our brains. It is a lust which is rather similar to sexual lust which is still in our brains even though we may use contraception and therefore are not actually using copulation to reproduce. 
Dawkins' answer does not address whether evolutionary science can demonstrate moral origins. Dawkins does say that our brains were conditioned in our ancestry to be nice to others we'll run into later because they might "reciprocate" niceness. That explanation of morality's origin, assuming hypothetically it was true, does nothing to reveal whether any given act is moral or even whether morality exists. All Dawkins is able to assert is that man in history did things to get something he liked in return. The origin of the moral values Dawkins assigns to those behaviors are not given an explanation.

The questioner had also asked, "Why is that bad" if someone came in and shot everyone? Dawkins did not address the why. He instead diverted to ancient tribes being nice to get nice things in return—a non-confrontation of the real question. If Dawkins' is implying a shooter is "wrong" to kill on the basis that he will not be shot in return, his answer still fails to address why any human merits not to be shot in the first place. 

Dawkins seems to know the inadequacy of his answer. Despite his theory about tribes and reciprocal niceness he is still left baffled as to morality's origin. During a later part of the Q and A, Dawkins states:
I think it is actually fairly baffling where our morality comes from and why we're in fact as nice as we are. ... If I ask myself why I don't steal, why I pay my taxes, why I do that all the things that keep society going, I suppose it's a slightly irrational feeling that I wouldn't wish to live in the kind of society where people behaved in the sort of ways that I wouldn't wish them to behave in.
While Saad claims "scientific articles have been written to explain the evolution of morality," Dawkins—an evolutionary biologist atheist—says it's "fairly baffling where our morality comes from." Dawkins proceeds to explain that his own reasons for being moral are "irrational." One could certainly interpret these two atheists as disagreeing on whether morality is explicable by science. This would also be a strike against non-religion as a source of morality on account of their disagreement—at least it would be a strike according to Saad's article.

In another book, Dawkins candidly asserts: "Science has no methods for deciding what is ethical." (Dawkins, The Devil's Chaplain, p 34, 2003) He goes on to argue that science reveals various biological data, but that it's up to "individuals and society" to make ethical determinations, not science. Of course, this leaves Dawkins in the position of his other quote: "I think it is actually fairly baffling where our morality comes from...", perhaps because he does not recognize man's inherent dignity in the image of God.

Darwin
Earlier, we saw Dawkins attempt on the fly to explain morality in light of "our Darwinian heritage." Saad similarly declares morality has been scientifically claimed by scientists including "no lesser a man than Charles Darwin." Thus, it is worth looking at how Darwin was able to excuse some of the "blackest" behaviors in the animal kingdom because it contributed to the species' survival:
It is often difficult to judge whether animals have any feelings for each other's sufferings. Who can say what cows feel, when they surround and stare intently on a dying or dead companion? That animals sometimes are far from feeling any sympathy is too certain; for they will expel a wounded animal from the herd, or gore or worry it to death. This is almost the blackest fact in natural history, unless indeed the explanation which has been suggested is true, that their instinct or reason leads them to expel an injured companion, lest beasts of prey, including man, should be tempted to follow the troop. In this case, their conduct is not much worse than that of the North American Indians who leave their feeble comrades to perish in the plains or the Feegeans, who, when their parents get old or fall ill, bury them alive. (Darwin, The Descent of Man, p.77, 1871)
Later, Darwin attributes morality in man not as an obligatory attribute but a tool for the perpetuation of a tribe:
It must not be forgotten that although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe, yet that an advancement in the standard of morality and an increase in the number of well-endowed men will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another. There can be no doubt that [such tribes] ...were always ready to give aid to each other and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection. At all times throughout the world tribes have supplanted other tribes; and as morality is one element in their success, the standard of morality and the number of well-endowed men will thus everywhere tend to rise and increase. (Darwin, The Descent of Man, p. 166, 1871)
In this Darwinian—evolutionary—explanation of "morality," we see no consideration of moral objectivity. Nor is there anything resembling moral obligation. Rather, "morality" is simply "one element" a tribe uses for survival success. Remember, atheists who appeal to these "evolutionary" explanations of morality are imposing onto the scientific observation the notion that man's survival is morally "good." They seem to hallucinate, in a sense, that they have observed "morality" in scientific observation, when they have not. As well, to interpret "morality" as a tool for the fittest group's survival is to strip its worthiness of the word morality. It's a nonsensical use of the term "morality."

Worthy observations are made by Theologian Dr. Scott Hahn and Ethicist Dr. Benjamin Wiker speaking of Darwin's specious use of the term "moral":
Note that neither the evolutionary process nor the results are themselves moral. Natural selection itself is pre-moral and the result (some particular "moral" trait) is not itself moral according to an objective, eternal, or immutable standard any more than a particular shape of a bird's beak is good or evil. A particular shape for a bird's beak is good for this kind of bird, under these conditions, pertaining at this historical time. But a duck's bill, while good for the duck, is not good for the eagle. And even for the duck, if conditions change, that particular shape may actually prove detrimental or not as fit as some modification. The same is true for every kind of trait, including those that we would call "moral." So, when we say "good for" or "bad for" in regard to evolution we must remember that these are not moral terms. For this reason, there cannot be intrinsically evil actions among animals, and human beings are one more kind of animal. (Dr. Scott Hahn and Dr. Benjamin Wiker, Answering the New Atheism, p. 104, 2008)
This point about natural selection being "pre-moral" is important. Atheists pointing to evolution as some kind of barometer of morality commit, perhaps unwittingly, a bait and switch. The listener is primed to see a scientific demonstration of morality, but the content is then switched to evolutionary advantage while still calling it "morality."

By appealing to evolution as a barometer for morality, the atheist also falls into moral conundrums such as the evolutionary advancement of one tribe that obliterates another, enforced euthanization of any weak members of a clan, the enslavement of rivals, etc. In any occasion where such perpetrators consistently avoid detrimental retaliation, their actions can only be considered moral according to the Darwinian principle of defining morality as "one element in their success."

And, once again, all this presupposes the perpetuation of any species, especially humans, is morally "good." The atheist really has no basis to assume natural tendencies in the animal kingdom are necessarily "morally good." This is why it is said natural selection is "pre-moral."

Regardless of the original article's histrionic claim that the existence of morality outside science is "astonishingly false," morality is not revealed by "science." It's an untenable position once scrutinized.

Churchland
Patricia S. Churchland, Professor of Philosophy at the University of California and adjunct faculty member at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, is another atheist who argues for the evolution of neurobiology as the platform of morality. In her article The neurobiological platform for moral values, she sets up her case for "morality" thusly:
Values are not in the world in the way that seasons or the tides are in the world. This has sometimes provoked the idea that moral values come from the supernatural world. A more appealing hypothesis is that moral values are not other-worldly; rather they are social-worldly. They reflect facts about how we feel and think about certain kinds of social behavior. Those processes are drivers of behavior.  
The values of self-survival and self-maintenance are not in the world either. But we are not surprised that they shape the behavior of every animal. No one suggests self-survival values are other-worldly. Instead, it is easy to see how the biological world came to be organized around such values.
Notice from the onset, Churchland admits that "values" are not an empirical phenomenon in contrast to seasons or tides. She then attempts to tie morality back into science by presupposing that moral values are connected to "survival" in the "biological world." Keep in mind, the Catholic can fully agree with the goodness of various cures or ministries. Catholics themselves have contributed much to the sciences, hospitals, and more over the centuries. However, the Catholic sees the human tendency to survive as the inherent recognition of the value of human life because it has dignity in the image of God, the numinous eternal goodness. But, as we just discussed, natural selection is pre-moral. Using a strictly scientific perspective, what animals or man have done throughout the millennia is just neutral data. Using a strictly scientific perspective, that animals or man tended in history to behave certain ways or tend toward survival tells us nothing about the moral value of those behaviors.

Churchland continues:
The evolution of the mammalian brain marks the emergence of social values of the kind we associate with morality... The evolution of the mammalian brain saw the emergence of a brand new strategy for having babies: the young grow inside the warm, nourishing womb of the female. When mammalian offspring are born, they depend for survival on the mother. So the mammalian brain has to be organized to do something completely new: take care of others in much the way she take cares of herself.
Churchland then attempts to explain maternal love as a chemical phenomenon:
Why do mammalian mothers typically go to great lengths to feed and care for their babies? After all, such care can be demanding, it interferes with feeding, and it can be dangerous. Two central characters in the neurobiological explanation of mammalian other-care are the simple nonapeptides, oxytocin and vasopressin. The hypothalamus regulates many basic life-functions, including feeding, drinking, and sexual behavior. In mammals, the hypothalamus secretes oxytocin, which triggers a cascade of events with the end result that the mother is powerfully attached to her offspring; she wants to have the offspring close and warm and fed. The hypothalamus also secretes vasopressin, which triggers a different cascade of events so that the mother protects offspring, defending them against predators, for example (Keverne, 2007; Porges & Carter, 2007; Cheng et al., 2010).
In the conclusion to her essay, she goes so far as to say:
The capacity for moral behavior...in mammals depends on nonapeptides oxytocin and vasopressin, as well as on elaborated cortical structures that interface with the more ancient structures mediating motivation, reward, and emotion.
For the moment, let's accept that euphoric rewards associated with biological chemicals are the "central" reasons why mothers care for their young. But it is a disconnected conclusion to observe a body's chemical phenomena and then apply the term "moral." Why should the label "moral" be associated with release of oxytocin but not sweat or adrenaline? Higher levels of oxytocin in meerkats has been observed to increase the meerkats' willingness to share food. Is the meerkat more moral if it let's another cat eat more food? Some studies show oxytocin to magnify a person's current mood, including magnifying bad memories. What should that mean for morality if oxytocin is a platform for morality?

Rather, there is something more to the mother's action toward the child versus the hand wiping the brow. There is something not revealed by neuroscience that even the scientist subconsciously cites when claiming morality in the mother's love versus someone sweating in the sun, an athlete on adrenaline, or a feline's dining habits.

Additionally, to accept the conclusion that man's "capacity for moral behavior" "depends" on "oxycontin" explanation isn't to explain morality but to show cause for why morality doesn't exist. In this scenario, the mother is not acting out of love, unless love is redefined as her enslavement to bodily chemicals developed in the course of human evolution. This is not morality any more than is a sunflower turning its head toward the sun to absorb the rays.

While the Catholic can recognize a properly functioning body as morally helpful to survival in accord with man's dignity in the image of God,5 the strictly scientific atheist observes how biology acts in nature and then adds to the science by declaring that natural phenomenon "morally good."

Churchland later attempts to explain other moral actions "such as telling the truth, respecting the goods of others, and keeping promises". She describes "advantages of cooperation":
Men working together can raise a barn in one day. Women working together feed all the men and the children. Singing in a group with parts makes beautiful music. Pitching a tent is easier with two people, and hiking together provides safety.
In her explanation, Churchland again does not describe morality, but rather the utility of cooperative behaviors. This is no more an explanation for morality than the symbiotic relationship of sea anemones and hermit crabs.  This line of thinking also presupposes the goodness of erecting a barn, feeding a family, making music, or pitching a tent. If the barn is not built and the humans don't have shelter and live shorter lives, what does it matter? Science has nothing to say about this. Evolution has no capacity to place a value on this. Some molecular arrangements are in the universe are "alive" and some are "dead." Science is unable to observe "moral" value in one atomic phenomenon versus another.

Later, Churchland states:
Truth-telling and promisekeeping are socially desirable in all cultures, and hence exhibit less dramatic variability than customs at weddings. Is there a gene for these behaviors? Though that hypothesis cannot be ruled out, there is so far no evidence for a truth-telling or a promise-keeping gene. More likely, practices for truthtelling and promise-keeping developed in much the same way as practices for boat building. They reflected the local ecology and are a fairly obvious solution to a common social problem.
Here, Churchland admits there is no physical gene generating truth-telling and promise-keeping qualities across "all cultures." Instead, she hypothesizes that these traits are simply utilitarian in the same way cooperating to build a boat would be. Her thesis attempts and fails to elevate evolutionary science as revelatory of morality. Not once is "moral goodness" observed scientifically. Scientific phenomenon is merely interpreted in light of a presupposed dignity in man to arrive at a moral position. The scientific skeptic is not necessarily wrong to hold this presupposition, however, it is wrong to presume that human dignity and associated moral values even exist in a strictly material universe.

Harris
Very briefly, I will mention another pop atheist who claims morality is in the purview of science—neuroscientist Sam Harris, who devoted a TED talk to the claim. I won't repeat all his errors here, but in brief, Harris arbitrarily adds moral values to scientific observation and to a universe he claims is devoid of voluntary action. His arguments are refuted in the prior blog articles Why science cannot answer moral questions and Critiquing Sam Harris on Free Will.

Ruse
I wanted to also briefly include one more atheist I studied in research of this blog post: Michael Ruse, professor of philosophy and zoology at Florida State University. Dawkins and other atheists apparently view Ruse as some sort of detriment to atheism. Ruse opens his article on morality with the words:
God is dead, so why should I be good? The answer is that there are no grounds whatsoever for being good. There is no celestial headmaster who is going to give you six (or six billion, billion, billion) of the best if you are bad. Morality is flimflam. ... 
It is something forged in the struggle for existence and reproduction, something fashioned by natural selection. It is as much a natural human adaptation as our ears or noses or teeth or penises or vaginas. It works and it has no meaning over and above this. ...  
Morality is just a matter of emotions, like liking ice cream and sex and hating toothache and marking student papers. But it is, and has to be, a funny kind of emotion. It has to pretend that it is not that at all! If we thought that morality was no more than liking or not liking spinach, then pretty quickly it would break down. ...  
Now you know that morality is an illusion put in place by your genes to make you a social cooperator, what's to stop you behaving like an ancient Roman? Well, nothing in an objective sense.
Ruse's opening words resemble what we have said about morality existing only in the purview of God. (Ruse's larger argument is that even though morality doesn't exist, man will still be moral because his "psychology will make sure you go on living in a normal, happy manner.") Ruse is an atheist who believes "God is dead," thus "Morality is flimflam."

By the end of his article, Ruse admits that what is called "morality" is just a tool like teeth, "fashioned by natural selection," one of many "emotions," but ultimately "an illusion." His description of morality follows the atheists we have studied above, but he departs with them by admitting they are not actually observing morality in their sciences. Ruse stays true to atheistic epistemology and articulates its logical conclusion that morality is an "illusion."

CATHOLIC CONSIDERATIONS
We have seen the flaws in the atheist claim that science reveals morality through study of evolution.  Although the greater point of this blog post is to show the fallacy in thinking morality exists in man independent of God, I'll review a brief primer on the soundness of Catholic doctrine on morality.

The Garden of Eden by Erastus Salisbury Field, ca 1860
Acquired from Wikimedia Commons.
As we have seen, the atheist appeals to something like evolutionary survival to determine moral behavior. Granted, as we have seen, the atheist has no scientific nor atheistic basis for declaring this measurement of morality. But, for the purposes of comparison, the atheist claims morality is founded on a result of an act, i.e. survival or something like evolutionary progress.

The Catholic foundation for morality begins with the object of the act itself, prior to measurement of result. Pope Pius XII explains:
The moral value of human action depends in the first place on its object. If this is immoral the action is also immoral; it is of no use to invoke the motive behind it or the aim pursued. If the object is indifferent to good, one can then question the motives or the end which confer new moral values on the action. But however noble a motive may be, it can never render an evil action good. (Pope Pius XII, Applied Psychology, II.3, 1958)
This is further developed by St. John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor. The key paragraph reads:
The morality of the human act depends primarily and fundamentally on the "object" rationally chosen by the deliberate will, as is borne out by the insightful analysis, still valid today, made by Saint Thomas. In order to be able to grasp the object of an act which specifies that act morally, it is therefore necessary to place oneself in the perspective of the acting person. The object of the act of willing is in fact a freely chosen kind of behavior. To the extent that it is in conformity with the order of reason, it is the cause of the goodness of the will; it perfects us morally, and disposes us to recognize our ultimate end in the perfect good, primordial love. By the object of a given moral act, then, one cannot mean a process or an event of the merely physical order, to be assessed on the basis of its ability to bring about a given state of affairs in the outside world. Rather, that object is the proximate end of a deliberate decision which determines the act of willing on the part of the acting person. Consequently, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, "there are certain specific kinds of behavior that are always wrong to choose, because choosing them involves a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil". And Saint Thomas observes that "it often happens that man acts with a good intention, but without spiritual gain, because he lacks a good will. Let us say that someone robs in order to feed the poor: in this case, even though the intention is good, the uprightness of the will is lacking. Consequently, no evil done with a good intention can be excused. 'There are those who say: And why not do evil that good may come? Their condemnation is just' (Rom 3:8)". 
The reason why a good intention is not itself sufficient, but a correct choice of actions is also needed, is that the human act depends on its object, whether that object is capable or not of being ordered to God, to the One who "alone is good", and thus brings about the perfection of the person. An act is therefore good if its object is in conformity with the good of the person with respect for the goods morally relevant for him. Christian ethics, which pays particular attention to the moral object, does not refuse to consider the inner "teleology" of acting, inasmuch as it is directed to promoting the true good of the person; but it recognizes that it is really pursued only when the essential elements of human nature are respected. (John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, #78, 1986)
If these moral qualities indeed are present in the human person in relation to God, it would explain the atheist's presupposition that man's survival is something "good," even if the atheist never confronts or identifies the origin of this presupposition.

Finally, morality must be considered in the scope of man's eternal destiny:
Acting is morally good when the choices of freedom are in conformity with man's true good and thus express the voluntary ordering of the person towards his ultimate end: God himself, the supreme good in whom man finds his full and perfect happiness. The first question in the young man's conversation with Jesus: "What good must I do to have eternal life? " (Mt 19:6) immediately brings out the essential connection between the moral value of an act and man's final end. Jesus, in his reply, confirms the young man's conviction: the performance of good acts, commanded by the One who "alone is good", constitutes the indispensable condition of and path to eternal blessedness: "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments" (Mt 19:17). (John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, #72, 1986)
You see that in Catholic teaching the goodness of an act relates to it being proper to the human condition—including in relation to man's final destiny with God. There is a divine pedigree behind all moral acts in that man is made in the image of God, Who is eternal goodness, and thus merits moral treatment and is obligated to treat others morally as well.

You notice also the them of "order" in these Magisterial quotes. This is language of the Natural Law, which is associated with the proper order of the human life. I discussed Natural Law with many Church citations in a prior blog post.

Ultimately, morality can only exist if man has inherent dignity in the image of God, which both obligates him to love his neighbor, and merits him love from neighbor.





1It is worth noting that former atheists, once also having made arguments such as "Which one is true!", have converted as a result of experiences, scrutiny of Church claims, examining apologetic works, reading source material, etc. For instance, see Why Atheists Change Their Mind: 8 Common Factors at Bishop Barron's Word on Fire apostolate.

2I recognize that there is an argument to be made that atheism and other perspectives apart from classical religious traditions can be said to be religious in themselves. The argument would say in order to be "religious," one doesn't necessarily require a formal belief in a traditional concept of God. Many atheists are dogmatic, hold unempirical beliefs (eg. their beliefs that morals exist, that certain things are "good" or "bad," that love exists, etc.), and accept numerous tenets by way of belief. In light of this argument, by choosing atheism, the atheist isn't really choosing non-religion, but merely a different religion. In this argument, the atheist isn't escaping one "conundrum" for another, but rather staying in the same "conundrum" and simply choosing atheism among the claimants of what is moral truth.

3We also see in this Ratzinger quote that morality is an "obligation of freedom." This supports the notion that freedom is a necessary ingredient when considering the morality of an act. This is one reason why it is nonsensical to claim morality exists in the universe of freedomless automatons espoused by atheist Sam Harris. See previous blog post here.

4See, for example, Aquinas' Five Ways for a proof of God's goodness.

5In 4 ways pre-marital sex is harmful, I specifically addressed how the release of oxytocin and vasopressin during sexual activity tends toward monogamy as their addictiveness tends toward attachment (as opposed to attempting detachment by promiscuity). Churchland acknowledges a similar result between mother and baby when she later writes: "[O]xytocin facilitates attachment of mother to baby. And of baby to mother." The Catholic needn't deny "meaning" in the body because a body in proper order is consistent with the whole person in proper order. (St. John Paul II spoke on a related topic about the "nuptial meaning" of the body in Theology of the Body.) The mother's love is in accord with her proper dignity in the image of God. The body's positive chemical response is simply consistent with the divine moral foundation of the act, without which it cannot be called moral. 

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