One of the creationists favorite pieces of bullshit rhetoric is to say to anyone who accepts the facts of evolution, “You are beholden to your evolutionary past! Why would you do anything good if the point of life is to merely survive? Checkmate, atheists.” It’s an awful line that just won’t go away, but I figure if I make a post like this, at least I will have an easy stock response on hand. So here’s why it’s so awful.
First, it is a conflation of descriptive and normative claims. (I am thoroughly convinced most Christians do not understand the difference.) Evolution deals with the facts of biology as discovered via the powerful methodology of science. It’s a description of observation; it does not have a say on how one ought to act. Morality, on the other hand, is nothing but normative claims. It is the way in which we say what is right and wrong. It is the precise opposite of descriptive claims like those made by science.
Second, it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution. Simply because the history of all life is marked with ruthless struggle does not mean that we must display such ruthlessness at all times. Or any times. In fact, I think we would want to do just the opposite at most times. But none of that is really pertinent. The facts of our evolution do not mean we must act in this way or that way. It would be like saying all Americans must love the French now and forever because we got so buddy-buddy with them during the Revolutionary War. Could you imagine how upset FOX Noise would be if that were true?
This line of argumentation from creationists is really just an excuse to disengage. Rather than openly debate the merits of this or that moral position, they just appeal to a red herring of an argument. And it isn’t merely creationists. The same tactic is often used by theistic evolutionists. It does a disservice to logical, philosophical debate, but perhaps worse, it undercuts the science at the heart of it all. Ultimately, it is a misunderstanding of the issues: Evolution is a descriptive fact; morality is normative. No matter what moral conclusions one draws, evolution still remains true. Even if one draws conclusions about morality (i.e., not moral positions, but ideas concerning the concept of morality) which conflict with the descriptive fact of evolution, Mr. Darwin’s great idea, with all its modern day modifications, still remains true. And should someone think that evolution leads to particular consequences such as ruthlessness and mayhem (which, incidentally, is an invalid reason to reject acceptance of evolution), even that is immaterial. In addition to those people being wrong on the facts, evolution, once again, still remains true.
So, no, logically inept creationists and friends, you haven’t added anything of value here. As usual. Evolution is descriptive and so has no say on morality. Moreover, even if it did dictate how we ought to live, we would not therefore be beholden to our past anyway. Even if you were right, you’re still wrong. Or as I really need to say more often, you’re wrong in your wrongness.