Are Morals Given to us by Religion or Evolution?

Listening to Sam Harris speak at the Beyond Belief 2006 conference, I jotted down some notes I thought were interesting on the subject of morals and religion. Harris said:

When we go to the Bible and we see that a moral precept like The Golden Rule is a brilliant distillation of some of our ethical impulses we do that on the bases of our own intuition (in this larger conversation) and reject the barbarism. So our own ethical wisdom is the guarantor of the wisdom we find in the Bible. This also needs to be pointed out to religious people. And as Richard [Dawkins] pointed out, there’s no question that our morality precedes our humanity, even.

  • We have experiments where mice are shown to be more disturbed at the suffering of familiar mice, than unfamiliar mice.
  • We also know that monkeys will withstand starvation to keep their cage-mates from receiving shocks.
  • Chimpanzees show obvious concern over fairness in the allocation of food rewards.

These are the kinds of findings you would expect if our morality were somehow an emergent property of Biology.


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