Do gods exist? 17 How did morality evolve?

Photo: Cepheus B cloud from Chandra X-ray and Spitzer Telescope

How did morality evolve? This is the seventeenth of a series of short posts about whether gods exist and why the question is an important one.

Here is one plausible model of how morality evolved naturally.

Morality has evolved in the brains of social animals, including humans, because both cooperation and competition help us to survive.

For example, when parents look after their children, their children are more likely to grow up. When a tribe cooperates in gathering food, the tribe is more likely to survive.

So genes for caring for children, and genes for cooperating, tend to be passed on from generation to generation, and become more common.

We see three phases of evolving morality among social animals. The first phase is empathy and compassion. The second phase is cooperation and reciprocity. The third phase is understanding fairness and justice

Many nonhuman animals exhibit these types of morality. In one experiment, rats would refuse food if they saw another rat being electrocuted. Which says a lot about human morality, setting up an experiment like that.

In another experiment, monkeys were given food if they put a token into a slot. Some monkeys couldn’t figure it out. Another monkey would take that monkey’s token, put it in the slot, and let the first monkey have the food.

But aside from that, humans and some other animals have a greater capacity for more nuanced morality, because we have a greater capacity for reason. We can know that something is wrong, because we can understand that it causes unjustified harm.

So our sentience and consciousness and our ability to reason therefore give us a special role in sharing our lives on this tiny planet while we are alive, in that we know that our behaviour has consequences for other living beings.

But that does not extend to us having a special place in the overall universe. Nor does it suggest that a god created the universe in order that we might live.

Like this article? It is one of a series on this topic.
Click here to read the other articles in this series.

Do gods exist? 17 How did morality evolve?

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