In the Facebook group, Creation Evolution Debate, someone posted this question:
“Why would a good god allow such horrible things to go on?” -Daniel Dennett
In other words, why would a good god allow humans to do such horrible things?
But why are humans doing such horrible things? Assuming for the atheist that any sort of god doesn’t exist, why are we treating each other so poorly?
At this time, this is what I consider to be a reasonable response:
Why do humans do horrible things?
We would expect perfection from a perfect Creator. We don’t see perfection, though, morally or otherwise, when we open our eyes and look. For theistic apologists, this presents a difficult problem. A whole category of apologetics has been developed just to attempt to address it. Personally, I find theodicy to be generally inadequate and often, frankly, disgusting. What a relief that that’s their problem and not ours!
For non-theists or possibly even for theists who don’t expect their deity to be absolutely perfect, this problem is not quite so difficult to understand. After all, evolution does not necessarily produce optimal results but often settles for that which merely doesn’t utterly fail.
Humans are a social species. Our pre-human ancestors were also social species. We wouldn’t be here today unless evolution had equipped them to mostly get along with others. That, I think, is where human morality comes from.
We can see echoes of it in others species. Chimpanzees, for example, have been shown in experiments to be able to detect when they are being cheated. In the experiments, one chimp would receive an inferior reward for solving a puzzle compared to another chimp which also solved the puzzle. Most chimps would stop cooperating with the experiment when they noticed this unless the chimp that received the better reward was a close relative. Here’s a link to one such study. (I’m sure you can find others if you’re interested.)
It seems to me that this strongly suggests that chimpanzees have some kind of inherent ethical standard, most probably a product of evolution.
It seems reasonable to provisionally conclude that we probably have some kind of inherent, evolved ethical guide, too. None of us follow that guide perfectly and there are relatively rare individuals who violate it to the extreme (or simply lack it) but it works well enough that we are mostly able to coexist with one another and successfully produce one generation after another.
As I understand it, successful reproduction is all it takes for a heritable trait to become dominant in a population. It doesn’t have to work perfectly; it just has to contribute to (or not significantly detract from) baby critters being born and living long enough to produce more baby critters.
So, why do humans sometimes do horrible things? It’s because there is no agency in the universe dedicated to moral perfection. Evolution has equipped us to mostly be nice enough to one another that we don’t drive ourselves to extinction. So far. But that’s it. Remember, evolution doesn’t have to achieve perfection in order to work.
Evolution has also equipped us with this self-awareness thingy. We can know and somewhat understand what we’re doing and, to some extent, anticipate the consequences. Perfection is probably out of reach but mightn’t we have some potential to decide to do a little better than our programming?
If there is no God to raise us above our petty strive and turmoil — and I don’t see any reason at all to think that there is — then it’s up to us. I don’t pretend to know how to go from here to there but I’m pretty damned sure that the answer has got little or nothing to do with blindly following the delusions, lies, and dictates of the men who wrote the Bible or the Qur’an or any other “holy” book.
It’s us. Just us.