The Ethics of Morality

October 20, 2006 | By | 6 Replies More

     A few months ago I stumbled on a preacher on television.  The reason I stopped to listen was that on the screen he was scrolling through a litany of famous scientists, their fields and contributions, and noting that each was a Great Christian.  Then the preacher–I don’t know who he was, sorry–ended his litany by making the claim that science and religion are inextricably linked, that they must have each other to work, that there is no dispute between them–
     –and that evolution is wrong.
     This was a week after I listened to an NPR interview with Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania in which he made the claim that it is vital to settle this question of where “we” (meaning humans) came from because if evolution is true, then we would have no basis for morality.
     This is one of the most perverse false syllogisms I have ever heard, and it baffles me no end.  Underlying it is the assumption that morality only ever comes from a supernatural source, that without a deity we are too dumb, puerile, self-serving, and just plain hopeless to ever do anything right–for ourselves on anyone else. (The Erik Von Danniken theory of moral provenance.) That atheists are a priori immoral and that evolutionists, who reject special creation, are necessarily atheists, and therefore, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, likewise immoral.  They can’t help it.  They have no god giving them direction.
     A minute of clear thought shows how this is substantively untrue.  A few more minutes and you might begin to see that this is one of the foulest assaults on our civilization ever mounted.  By linking the two things in this way, you automatically create a Sisyphean task for anyone who doesn’t fit the fundamentalist christian mold (or the fundamentalist Islamic mold, etc).  Not only do we have to demonstrate how your argument is false, we must first demonstrate how we have a legitimate basis from which to make our counter argument, a basis automatically designated immoral, godless, groundless…
     Even christians should be afraid of this.  The logical result of this is to set a standard from which one may never deviate without fear of being labeled atheist and moral threat.  It shuts the door on any possibility of examining the universe in new ways, discovering new explanations for existence, and indulging in the wonder of examining life.
     One hesitates to engage the argument because it seems so infantile.  But when someone of Santorum’s stature makes such pronouncements–along with all his other rants about homosexuality, family planning, and the Liberal Agenda–it’s not a crackpot on the corner standing on his soapbox that one can ignore, though ignore him we should.
     What the basic argument comes down to is this: god–in this instance the christian god–supposedly created Everything.  By his will alone the universe exists and all that is in it.  By his will alone we strive to be Good.  That without him, we have no reason to be Good.  That evolution proposes that the universe just Happened and everything in it arose by processes independent of conscious intent.  And therefore, as this is an impersonal process, all the creatures within the universe have de facto no basis for being Good.  Morality, therefore, cannot pertain and we would all be lost.
     So.  The question comes to mind: if tomorrow it was demonstrated beyond any possibility of counter argument that god was gone–dead, left the building, or never existed–would you, Mr. Santorum, embark on a life of debauchery and self-satiation?  Would you rape?  Take drugs?  Go on a drinking binge?  Steal, murder, slander, and otherwise let your barely-suppressed immoral urges have free rein?
     I doubt it.  You’ve grown up living according to certain standards, standards which I’m sure you have found useful simply on the face of them, regardless of their provenance.
     Of course, if I’m wrong, and you would go on a major party rampage, flouting every standard you ever had, I would then ask: Why?  Didn’t you understand the utility of those standards?  Or are you so corrupt to begin with that you require divine muzzling?  (If that’s the case, why would anyone have elected you in the first place?)
     You have to make the argument that morality cannot exist outside a religious context, which is demonstrably untrue, as people leave such contexts all the time and do not cease being as moral as they ever were.  (Whereas many people who remain fervantly within such contexts continue to be whatever they are to begin with–as moral or immoral as ever.)
     But to make the case we have to ask a more fundamental question: what is morality?
     Depends who you ask, but the most common feature of any explanation is that Morality is the impulse to live in accordance with beneficial principles.  Maybe that’s a bit dry, but I think it’s accurate.  Ethics, on the other hand, which is often confused with morality, represents a codified approach to appropriate living within a community, and more often than not entails negotiations about terms of interaction.  These are processes and can vary from place to place, culture to culture, time to time.  What is ethical now was not always and what was ethical once is often quaint or repugnant now.
     My Oxford Companion to Philosophy, interestingly, doesn’t have one segment on “morality” but rather several segments on the various aspects of it–moral judgment, sexual morality, slave morality, morality and art, etc.  A common theme in all is that the person acting from a moral sense does not see such action–or the necessity for such action–as optional.  In other words, it is a given that morality defines what ought to be done regardless of circumstance.  Kant called this the Categorical Imperative.
     Ethics, on the other hand, is more conditional.  Ethics gives leave to weigh issues and choose among options which might be appropriate.  In our traditions, ethics is informed by morality, but often there is a break point between them.  For instance, morally one can argue that slavery is under no circumstances a moral activity.  But in the face of it, when it becomes a question of property rights and restitution to those who have paid out money, an ethical barrier may arise to freeing slaves.
     To compound that particular argument, though, if the moral standard is taken and the slaves are freed, are we not then morally obligated to accommodate those newly-freed persons and make sure they can survive and flourish?  There is no moral imperative to secure the well-being of disconnected groups, even while one could argue that ethically it would be prudent to do all one could to alleviate the worst consequences of a sudden social transition.  Certainly those who have lost their property may feel no obligation to provide benefit to the group(s) responsible for their loss of property, since, in their view, they have been victims of robbery, and there is a moral imperative against that.  Ergo, the situation remains in flux and no clear hierarchy of action emerges that might be called prescriptive–namely, free the slaves, educate and house them, find a place or circumstance under which they may assume acceptable lives (the last of which opens another door into a series of entangling questions when it is asked “What is meant by “acceptable”?).
     You can see how this leads into a tangle of definitions and clashes of will.
     The fact is, slavery did exist, and existed among people who counted themselves in all other regards among the most moral (i.e. religious) people on the planet.  Others no less moral made sound arguments against slavery, condemning it as fundamentally immoral, even though passages of Paul in the New Testament could be found that seemed to support slavery.  If in the foundational book of christianity one could not find a clear statement of moral imperative about this issue–written by those presumably close to the source–then how are those two millennia removed supposed to figure it out?
     In the hindsight of 150 years, it is clear that the ethical arguments against slavery–namely, that it is ultimately an unsupportable institution that eventually will damage the community indulging it–offer a more sound critique and standard than the muddied waters of so-called morality ever did.
     My point is, that if morality is supposed to be god’s law written in the heart for all to know, then those who need it most are functionally illiterate.  It does not do what it is supposed to do.
     At least, not the way those pushing the fundamentalist argument suggest it does.
     At this point I should be clear: do I believe there is such a thing as morality?
     Do I believe it is divine in nature and origin?
     We have to figure it out just like we have to figure everything else out.  Moral law is a result of millennia of humans trying to work out what is right and what is wrong universally.  You can see the attempts, the rough drafts, the marked-out texts, the failed experiments strewn through history.
     We still don’t have it right.
     The reason we don’t, I think, is because we keep expecting it to come from without.  We’re still waiting, many of us, for god to send a clearer, revised version of the ten commandments.  Anything short of that is just ethics and we’ve seen where that gets us.
     But we’ve also seen where a reliance on morality can get us.  Just about in the same sort of fixes. 
     Kant, among others, wanted to find a method of defining universal principles that could be held to be Morals.  The categorical imperative, fine tool that it is, fails to do this.  What it does do is allow us to determine what is not universalizable, and therefore not a moral principle.
     Morality shares in common an attribute held by both science fiction and pornography–that is, people know what it is when they see it, but find it next to impossible to define concretely.  (Why, for example, is Lady Chatterly’s Lover considered literature and Debbie Does Dallas pornography?  Granted, some people consider the former to be pornography as well, but barring the willfully blind who refuse to look at it, there is a clear difference between the two–but how to describe that difference in moral terms?)  Essentially, it is a category of judgment concerning things that ought not to be negotiable.  Things one should or should not do under any circumstances.  What we have learned from history (if nothing else) is that Ecclesiastes was wrong–there are always new things, and most of them come in the form of unpredicted circumstances.  The 20th century–and now the 21st –have handed us more of them in more unexpected ways than any other time.
     The sanctity of marriage is a case in point.  Marriage–never mind how it has actually played out–is a bulwark against illegitimacy.  People have sex.  It’s natural.  We have to do it in order to survive as a species, but the consequences–babies–are expensive and need tending.  Ergo, marriage.  The so-called family unit.  In its ideal formation, it’s a fine notion.  But very little in human activity is ideal.  There are always people–and circumstances–that simply won’t conform to our solutions.  (Note also that “legitimacy” concerning progeny is not a natural idea–it is a human one.  Nowhere else in the animal kingdom does one see any evidence of concern over the “legal” status of the parents.  Legitimacy is not about caring for the child–it is about inheritance, and, among those with no property to inherit, an easy yardstick to determine “suitability”, whatever that means.  Legitimacy, therefore, is also what we say it is when we point at it.)
     Nevertheless, the rule was for centuries that before you can (legally) have sex, you have to get married.
     Birth control methods were notoriously fickle and unreliable before the advent of vulcanized rubber.  There simply was no way to avoid marriage under most conditions, except through a life of celibacy (chiefly affecting women–men always screwed around) or ignominy–running from ones responsibilities.  Not a good lifestyle, really.
     But now Circumstance–and human ingenuity–have handed us a number of practical methods to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
     So why do we have to get married in order to have sex?  And if the consequences are containable, where’s the downside?
     Well, there are downsides, but you see my point.  Circumstances changed.  And we can now see that a hard and fast rule that had a certain practical utility for a long long time, has become an option for some, in fact a burden to many, and begs the question of its ultimate utility.
     It is optional.
     Which drives a certain crowd nuts.
     The same argument can be made in many instances.  Racial equality is a biggie.  Education is another one.
     But the one that drives me to distraction–at least in the way it’s batted about in public discourse–is the quandary over killing.
     Now here’s an instance where morality and ethics part company in so many ways it’s laughable, and where the loudest proponents of so-called Moral Virtue trip over themselves so often it amazes me they can stand and walk across a room.
     Thou Shalt Not Kill.  Commandment number six.
     There was an academic debate over whether or not the word is “kill” or “murder”.  If it could be settled, then the arguments engendered under this commandment might clarify a bit, but the last I heard people still opted to say “kill”, which if followed strictly (religiously) would make christians into Hindus, at least concerning the hierarchy of life.
     The taking of other human lives is what concerns this essay, though, so let’s stick with that rather than add the murk of vegan morality.
     Clearly, Yahweh didn’t mean it.  At least, according to the Old Testament, after handing that dictate down, he then named as his favorites some of history’s great butchers.  Joshua, Saul, David, Samson, Tobit.  David in particular, setting aside the whole issue of military actions, qualifies as a murderer.  He manipulated the rosters of troops so Uriah died and David could make his move on Bathsheba.  So not only a murderer, but an adulterer.
     It can be argued, of course, that there was a war on, and Uriah might have died anyway.  That’s beside the point.  David intentionally put him in harm’s way to achieve that end.  If Uriah had lived, what next?  But he didn’t.  David knew the odds and relied on them.  That’s murder.
     (You could make a larger point about military action in general–when is an officer/leader guilty of murder and when is it just the outcome of the vicissitudes of war?  Was Robert E. Lee a murderer when he ordered Pickett’s Charge?  Everyone–including, apparently, Lee–knew it would fail.)
     So Yahweh plays favorites.  You can find many instances in Scripture where these hard and fast rules of behavior–morals–are set aside because Yahweh decided they didn’t apply in a given instance.  So his own laws he deployed according to Circumstance, more like ethics than morality.  (Abraham knew it was immoral–heinous indeed–to be ordered to kill Jacob.  He was going to do it anyway.  Yahweh was “testing him”.  One reading of that is, Abraham holds loyalty to Yahweh higher than all else, which is the traditional reading.  My take on it was that he failed.  The law obviously had not “taken root” in his heart.  The test was whether or not he could make moral judgments and act on them regardless of circumstance.  But of course that’s not a popular reading.  However, if a moral virtue is to have the force claimed for it, shouldn’t it apply no matter who is telling you different?)
     Killing is one of those acts which falls into a category of choices which may from time to time be necessary–but can never be defended as moral.  Self defense is a case in point.  Your life or the life of your loved one is under imminent threat.  You kill to end the threat.  We classify it legally as justifiable homicide in those instances where clearly the choice came down to you or them.
     Does that redefine the act as moral?
     No, categorically not.
     But is it therefore immoral?
     Maybe, maybe not.  It depends on how it stacks up against your own metric.  You may do it anyway and then loathe yourself for committing an immoral act.  Yet to not do it, to abide by your own moral code, would have meant the sacrifice of your life–which is a legitimate trade–or someone else’s, which is not yours to weigh.
     Then of course there’s the instance of war.  What is it in the decree of your state that makes killing suddenly “all right”?  Or at least acceptable?  If, to be a moral law, an action is wrong under any and all circumstances, from where does a state derive the authority to set such law aside in the instance of war?  And how can that decision be relevant to your own personal moral code?
     If, as seems to be the assertion by the chief purveyors of a “return to moral values”, morality is an absolute standard, then by what authority do some of these same people claim to establish exceptions to that standard–which would make it somewhat less than absolute?
     Easy answer, complex phenomenon.  Obviously, absolute standards will get you in trouble just as quickly and thickly as no standards at all.  At least, they will if your notion of a standard is a hard and fast rule, like Thou Shalt Not Kill.
     Consider: a rule like that doesn’t give leeway to circumstance.  It’s a Law.  You may not violate it.  Strict adherence means you will find yourself in positions where killing may be the only way to survive and you will therefore not survive.
     What is the point of handing down such rules to people who will not survive?
     This quickly becomes redundant.  The blatant impossibility of living by absolute codes of conducts undoes the asserted necessity of them.  We get into a round of begging exceptions which are only practical and often necessary to the survival of the species.
     (Let’s take a biggie–incest.  Now I’m not about to advocate it, but there’s a Bible story that has always bothered me: Lot’s daughters.  Here in this one saga we see all manner of exception to hard and fast moral conduct being indulged.  The part of the story that gets me, though–never mind the mass destruction of two cities who had no warning and never knew they were on trial–is the aftermath, when Lot and his two daughters hide in a cave.  Genesis 19: 30-38.  They became the mothers of two tribes, which fared well, and no taint of the sin of incest followed them.  Now, they seemed to think the world was over, and that they had some responsibility to repopulate–circumstance, survival of the species.  But these were also the two Lot had offered to the mob in Sodom.  The question is: is incest immoral or not?  In point of fact, it’s not listed in the Ten Commandments.  Adultery is a question of marital priority.  The ten commandments hold forth on covetousness, but actually don’t actually say a lot about premarital sex.  All the prohibitions about that come from the long, long list of proscriptions and rules in Leviticus, and people pick and choose among them as suits circumstance.  But if incest does represent a moral proscription, why the exception here?  In fact, we have come to understand that the ban on  incest is a biologically determined behavioral pattern which does not necessarily apply to blood relations.  There is something called the Westermarck Effect (Edward Alexander Westermarck), which showed that the sharing of living quarters from birth to a certain age seems to establish a later psychological barrier to sexual interest.  This applies to adopted children as well as family members and, in the instance of those separated at birth, shows no barrier later in life.  It is, apparently, an Evolved  psychobiological condition, which brings me to one of the main points of this essay.  In any event, back to that cave.  Two angels were sent to Lot in Sodom to warn him to get out.  How come Yahweh couldn’t have sent the same pair to that cave to tell Lot’s daughters that they didn’t have to shag dad, that the world, in fact, had’t ended?  Easy for an omniscient deity…one would think…)
     The tangle over what constitutes a moral principle, as opposed to ethical standards and practice, may well be a problem of language.  How to describe an effect that cannot be universally codified.  Law is, on one level, all about this problem.  Something occurs which we know is wrong, but attempts to define why it is wrong–and wrong in all instances–fail.  Does that failure mean the thing done is not wrong?  Maybe.  Maybe it’s just the circumstances around it that conspire to make it wrong.  (For instance, during wartime, Speculation.  In times of prosperity, no one sees this as particularly heinous, but when economic conditions are constrained, Speculation becomes a subject of condemnation.)
     But if that’s the case, then is it fair to say that there are no moral standards?
     No.  Because we know better.  We just can’t quite describe it.
     As in the case of the Westermarck Effect, however, it may be that moral standards are what might be called deep programming.  Psychobiological structures which have become part of our operating systems over time.
     In other words, they are standards which have evolved.
     Clearly, we can see this in terms of sociology.  What was once morally acceptable is not now, and perhaps vice versa.  Why?  If a standard is a god-given, absolute imprint, then there would be no shift, no reassessment.  (This seems true even among fundamentalists–we don’t see them keeping slaves, sending their women out of town during menstruation, etc.)
     In some ways, there hasn’t been a reassessment.  We’re still arguing over some of the same issues now as we were four thousand years ago.  This makes sense because societies have to have standards just to survive.  People have to get along with each other, especially when shoved into close proximity in cities.  It is the effects of human interaction that must be managed, and we rely on the idea of a moral code to underpin the surface rules.  We do these things because they are good, we do not do these other things because they are bad.
     Being reasonable about this doesn’t seem sufficient inducement for many people.  So we bring in a threat.  Do this or else.  The “or else”, to be truly effective, needs something that transcends the day to day.  So, we have gods.
     Not a new argument, but I haven’t heard a sound counter argument yet–except this debate over the provenance of morality.
     So we return to the assertion made by the far right that if Evolution is true, then there is no basis for morality.
     In fact, I suspect that the reverse is true.  Yahweh–our example here in the West–has a history of playing fast and loose with his own moral codes.  Unreliable basis for our own behavior.  If it’s okay for god, why shouldn’t I?  The old “do as I say not as I do” idea that backfires on parents all the time.  The Greeks understood that the gods were a fickle bunch of unruly, all-powerful, self-indulgent forces that had to be appeased.  Law had to come from Man.
     There’s some suggestion that this was the original idea in the Torah.  Christian editors re-ordered the Old Testament Books so that the prophetic books appear right before the birth of Yeshua, but the traditional arrangement has the prophets disappearing about when people start fending for themselves.  Yahweh appears less and less as the books progress.
     Okay, I’ve danced around this for a while so I could lay the groundwork for my main point.
     A moral standard is not a set of rules.  The rules, rather, measure themselves according to the standard, which is an inbuilt compass that allows us to make judgments from one situation to the next.  It is just that–a compass.  A compass points–it doesn’t tell what will be there when you follow it to a destination.  It says “This Way Is North” but it doesn’t tell you what North means or what to expect from North.  It doesn’t even say how to get to North.  But it will tell you when you’re not going North.  It doesn’t say to us that “this is what is always wrong” and “this is what is always right”.  Instead, it says there is a wrong and there is a right, but you won’t know it until you come into a situation and assess it.  You can’t say killing is always wrong.  You can’t say sex outside marriage is always wrong.  You can’t say working on a certain day is always wrong.  Life doesn’t hand us conditions in which we can make those sorts of absolute proscriptions.  Rather, it’s a case by case process, which means we have to think it through.
     But the standard has apparently been brought with us, wired into our deep psyches by ages and ages of experience, which has changed and modified over time.
     It has evolved.
     So it seems that if evolution is true, it is demonstrated by the fact that we have a moral standard.  Morality is the result of long processes of learning and incorporating that learning into a mechanism whereby we can make decisions for the well-being of the species and the individual as circumstance requires.  Quite the reverse of the Right’s assertion would appear to be the case–that if evolution is wrong, then we have no basis for morality. 
     So by teaching evolution–combined with, say, cultural anthropology–we can discuss and disseminate a sound moral standard, one with an actual basis in nature.  Not something dependent on a supernatural force that, if the stories are to be believed, breaks its own rules regularly.
     It kinda makes you wonder.
     I hope.


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Category: American Culture, Bigotry, Communication, Cultural Evolution, Culture, Education, Evolution, Good and Evil, History, Language, Law, Meaning of Life, Psychology Cognition, Religion, Science

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

Comments (6)

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  1. Jason Rayl says:

    As an addendum to this, I thought I'd throw out a possible Moral Rule, just to stir the debate. Here's something I think would possibly qualify as a moral dictate:

    It is always wrong to define people into Out Groups.

    Which translates roughly to "Us and Them Thinking is Bad."

    But notice–it leaves the terms loose so you have to figure out the parameters and conditions for yourself.

  2. Mark Elliott says:


    Thank You for writing this. I have been living and saying this very thing my entire adult life.

    The thing that boggles my mind on an almost weekly basis is that when I try to explain this to a person of 'Faith' they immediately categorize me as Atheist, Left Wing or Sub-Human. They couldn't be more wrong. I like to describe myself as a Realist with a true like of humanity.

    I'll visit often.

    Well done!

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Jason: I've always thought that when politicians call atheists "immoral," it's purely a matter of name-calling, and an attempt to de-humanize a group of people in order to deprive them of political power.

    Nice distinction between orality and ethics. I am in agreement with you on this.

    I chuckled when I saw your reference to Kant's categorical imperative. I agree with you that the categorical imperative does not help us to define what is good or evil. Over the years, I've had lengthy discussions with two philosophy professors who were highly learned regarding Kant. I asked each of them whether he had ever used the categorical imperative to give himself moral guidance regarding a personal dilemma. Both of them said "no," that the categorical imperative does not provide assistance to people involved in personal moral struggles.

    I wanted to mention to you how much I've enjoyed your historical reviews, including Bible history. By the way, I once stood at the sight of Pickett's charge, shaking my head and wondering how it could not have been suicidal.

    In my experience, many believers deny that morality springs from moral principles. To many believers, morality simply springs from what God wants them to do. In other words, morality is a shell game. When they want you and me to do something, they point to their moral principles. When they want to break a moral principle, they simply say that "it is God's will." In fact, it is hard to think of a criminal with a longer rap sheet then the mass murdering Old Testament God. Nonetheless, according to many believers, God is always "good and just." Therefore, you can predict that whenever carefully honed moral principles conflict with God's will (as perceived by the believer), those carefully honed moral principles will give way.

    One more thing. Many conservatives have a mistaken view of evolution. They think that if evolution is true, God can't exist. I don't see the logic in this argument (neither can the many biologists who believe in a God that works through evolution). The outcome of this conservative line of thought, however, is this: if there is no God, there is no morality. As I understand this mindset, this conclusion would be based upon the conservative belief that to be moral means to obey an "existing" God. To be moral is not about being decent or empathetic or getting along.

    Because God has such a long and heinous rap sheet (again, all those Old Testament mass murders-although I would also throw in God's New Testament decision to create hell), there is no way to judge God to be "good" by reference to moral principles. But He can be judged to be good simply because he is Almighty God who runs both the universe and the conditions of the afterlife. I'm sure you've seen it yourself: there are many (many) conservative believers for whom God would still be good even if God decided to crucify all 6 billion residents of earth (including all the small children) tomorrow.

    For many conservative Americans, morality is truly this simple. It's a matter of being terrified of hell and thus expressing undeserved and sycophantic homage to an ogre God. Or at least, that's the visible patina. I do think that a lot of believers who spout these sorts of things are fully aware of what they're doing, they don't really believe in the religious principles they spout and their degenerate, self-absorbed, arrogant, materialist lifestyles are proof.

  4. Jason Rayl says:

    "Many conservatives have a mistaken view of evolution. They think that if evolution is true, God can’t exist. I don’t see the logic in this argument (neither can the many biologists who believe in a God that works through evolution). The outcome of this conservative line of thought, however, is this: if there is no God, there is no morality. As I understand this mindset, this conclusion would be based upon the conservative belief that to be moral means to obey an “existing” God. To be moral is not about being decent or empathetic or getting along."

    I think they're being disingenuous about the source of their problem. I don't think that, in principle, they would have a problem with a god that works through evolution, if ultimately humans were still specially created–hand-crafted, if you will–and therefore separate from the rest of creation. Evolution says we're part of everything. Which means, at the end of the long chain of logic, we don't have a natural, god-given right to do any damn thing we please with the planet—or with other humans who don't see things the same way "we" (the Chosen) do.

    I've been doing some research lately for a novel I'm working on set during the American Revolution, and I came across this marvelous quote from a gentleman named Eleazar Wheelock, who was, among other things, the founder of Dartmouth College. Wheelock was a self-aggrandizing hypocrite who, even when his schemes for such were clearly pointed out to him even by his peers, could not see it. But concerning his program for the Indians, he said this:

    This earth is all God's land, and he will have it all cultivated. So long as there are not people enough to inhabit the earth, God lets the wild beasts have it for their dwelling place; and a few lazy, savage people he suffers to live a hunger miserable life by hunting. But when the childred of men grow numerous, and want the earth to cultivate for a living, the wild beasts must give place to them, and men must improve the land for God; if they do not, they are bad tenants and must be turned off as such.

    Now, where in Scripture does that come from? Mr. Wheelock, like good christians the centuries over, interpretted "god's will" to suit himself, his culture, and his conceits. It made a separate case for believers, so much so that he saw no problem stealing land from those who did not believe as he did, or obliterating habitat for "wild beasts" or remaking the natural landscape to suit himself.

    Clearly, when there are mouths to feed, you do what it necessary. This continual, traditional clothing of it as part of god's will is fickle and ammoral at best. It has been used to go far beyond necessity and feed greed. But it is based on this assertion of special creation.

    Evolution takes that away. And rightly. The kind of god that would work through evolution is not the kind of god useful to a man like Eleazar Wheelock–or John Hagee, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, et al. Therefore, they cannot accept it.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    One more point on the categorical imperative. I agree with your characterization that it is of limited use in determining what is moral. Imagine this thought experiment: Put one-hundred avowed modern day-Kant scholars in a room and ask them to apply the categorical imperative to any ten current moral conundrums. Then sit back and enjoy the hypothetical fray, as the pro-life Kantians bellow at the pro-choice Kantians, and the pro gun control Kantians yell at the NRA Kantians, each of them claiming that it is they who are carefully applying the categorical imperative, and that it is their opponents who aren’t true Kantians.

    Moral philosophy if rife with rules that purportedly lift the moral load from our shoulders and allow us to become simplistic rule-followers rather than empathetic beings who are often disoriented by our convoluted world.

  6. Draven says:

    Wonderful insights. I just wrote a short post on this myself at


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