Evolution's Explanation for Evil

If Evolution can explain for “good”, eg altrusim, namely behaviours that improve or enhance the “success” of a species, including the animals, how then do Evolution explains for “evil”?

Hamilton’s Rule. Google it.

Googled and read. Says nothing of evil, only of altruistic and cooperative behaviour among kins.

And the lack of such among outsiders.

Basically, the closer the relation to you, the more “good” there is between you. The further away by genes, the more likely “evil” exists. You’re more likely to murder someone from another tribe than your own tribe. Hamilton’s Rule describes the strength of “good” between you and others, if you wish to view it that way.

This is a better explanation from an evolution perspective.

The problem with an evolution-based explanation is that there can be no such thing as a “value” judgement on “good” and “evil”. Whatever “value” judgement we make of certain human behaviour, acts, speech and thoughts will be explained away by the same evolutionary logic, namely fitness for survival, ie natural, and Nature is amoral.

We are “evil” because “evil” somehow is beneficial for a species against another species or advantaged you vis-a-vis those you compete against. It is just a natural biological mechanism that have evolved over these millions of years, and the fact that everyone of us is a evolutionary success, “evil” is then a good thing from the evolutionary perspective.

The fact that we categorised things as “evil” and judged “evil” bad is also an evolutionary mechanism, in this case a defence against someone’s evil against you. In other words if I cant win by evil, I disable your ability for evil or reduce the potency in your evil by making moral or religious injunctions, by getting access to power and legislation to outlaw and judge your acts as evil and to punish them accordingly, or by committing evil against you but calling it good instead, such as calling you enemy and go to war with you.

And so genocides and ethnic cleansing and wars are just the human animal way of eliminating undesirable parts of itself. There is no good or evil about it. That it is happening is enough justification that it is “good” from an evolutionary perspective, for evolution is doing what it is supposed to do. And it certainly cannot be bad for even Nature cooperate with it, for from time to time we have massive catastrophic natural disasters like earthquakes and floods that wipe out hundreds of thousands of people.

These are just the inevitable mechanistic cog of evolution turning as it has over the millions of years to evolve us. That we may not remain as a species is beside the point. If we are not fit to survive, that we destroy each other, is just evolution inbuild mechanism to eliminate us and maybe let the flies and cockroaches rule the earth instead.

But really is evolution any explanation at all? It is simply saying what is, and not saying what ought. It is then merely tautological: what is, is. And secondly what we see in what is, can be liken to seeing a set of dots on a piece of paper. Evolution is just one way of joining the dots and calling it an explanation. There are no reasons why the dots cannot be joined another way. But really is joining the dots the issue here? Or is knowing why these dots and whether they should be there in the first place and what’s the next dot to be the more important thing? For seemingly it is within our influence to make or prevent such future dots from happening. Evolution, being just joining the dots as we find them, address none of these issues. The truth or otherwise of evolution maybe entirely irrelevant.

I disagree. Nature is not amoral. Our morals and emotions and all are based entirely in nature. Evolution produced them. They are products of nature, parts of nature. And the values associated are caused by the demands of survival. That is not amoral. It’s 100% moral, because nature and srvival is where our morality comes from. In large part, anyway. Sometimes cultures spontaneously develop incredibly weird ideas too.

Ah… As you may be able to guess, I am leaning heavily toward the sociobiological explanations for behaviour.

Thats what I am saying too. What is, is. What’s natural is what’s moral. You are not saying anything new and neither am I contradicting you. And so is evil is natural. That is the natural and inevitable conclusion of evolution. Nothing more nothing less, but to me, meaningless.

That’s the part I disagree with. What reason do you have for saying natural = amoral? To me, morals are made by nature, therefore morality is inextricably linked to nature.

So what’s immoral for you? That not of nature?

Well, immoral and amoral are different. All of the terms are related to our evolution.

Amoral: nothing to do with morals at all. Not moral, not immoral.

Immoral: Going against what is moral.

And I think morality is basically behaviour and ideals which suited the purposes of survival. Except in odd cases in which our cultures make up weird morals for no real reason.

So, I ask again, what’s immoral? or that term is meaningless?

I don’t see how morals can be attached to anything natural, they’re value judgements that didn’t exist until intelligence did.

A cat will quite happily play with wounded birds, rabbits, etc., is that evil? From an evolutionary point of view your young playing with their food is a good thing as it helps them practice hunting.

And yet it is seen to be moral to make a quick and clean kill.

Nature has nothing to do with morals, society, which is built on civilisation which is only natural by a stretch of imagination, is what determines morality.

Adam’s point that every occurance in nature is natural, is true by definition (in the widest sense of the word “natural”). Thinking along these lines, we see why a synthetic chemical such as Polytetafluoroethylene (Teflon) is perfectly natural, and why a deep-fried Twinkie is a perfectly natural food. Furthermore, there truly is no such-thing as an “unnatural act.” And by the same token, a “supernatural phenomenon” is something that, by definition, can never happen.

Still, this fact doesn’t cut to the heart of chanbengchin’s question. Chanbengchin skirted the core of his own question when he wrote:

Descriptions of how people behave (whether in sociological or psychological terms), or a theory of why people behave (in sociobiological, cognitive, or psychochemical terms), are vastly different from the concern of how we ought to behave. Dawkins, Ridley and others, have repeatedly stressed that knowing we have a proclivity to act in a certain way, is not to say that we ought to act this way.

Suppose you know that your car’s front-end is misaligned such that it pulls slightly to the left. Have you no choice but to ride the car into the ditch? Or does knowing that your car pulls to the left enable you to counter-steer to the right, and thus drive your car straight down the road? More importantly, do you only ride along in your car or do you drive it? Morality is based on a notion that we have at least some ability to drive our lives; that we’re not merely along for the ride.

Suppose now, for the sake of argument, that men really don’t “drive” their own lives; that our actions are entirely determined by biological, sociobiological, electrochemical, or whatever forces you care to name. Would this imply that these forces dictate our morality? No, and here’s the reason: If you remove the moral agent then you simultaneously eliminate the possibility of a moral judgement. If philosophers agree on anything, it’s that ought implies can. As soon as you hypothesize-away the moral agent, you can say good-bye as well to morality. Morality might be as ephemeral and delicate as a soap bubble; nevertheless, a free moral agent is minimally required to blow this bubble. No moral agent - no morality.

Most men would acknowledge the existence of a powerful inner force commanding them to jump every attractive (non-family) female they come across. But when I see a cute girl, does my body go skidding across the floor as though our crotches were oppositely magnetized? As I’m being dragged along do I just smile and toss up my hands, as if to say, “It’s out of my hands now”? A dog strains against his leash when he gets the scent of a bitch in-heat. A man, on the other hand, knowing his front-end is being pulled to the left, counter-steers to the right. We might be sex-crazed, but we’re not sex-crazed robots. Even if it only feels like we’re driving; even if, as Wittgenstein said, we’re only a falling leaf thinking to itself, “Now I’ll go this way, now I’ll go that way,” the fact remains that it’s my illusion. Shopenhauer’s remark is worth repeating:

“Spinoza says that if a stone projected through the air had consciousness, it would imagine it was flying of its own will. I add merely that the stone would be right.”


The moral “Don’t kill your own offspring” is based purely on biology, survival of one’s genes. It extends to “Don’t kill you’re closest relatives”, since, after your own offspring, they are the next best shot at carrying on something close to your own genes. The further from your own genes, the less people matter. This is why people like their families. Very simply, this is Hamilton’s Rule. Your “goodwill” is based on how close people are to your own genes. This is why people generally care less when they see lots of dead people “over there”; it’s just a statistic. Most would care more, one way or another, if it was all people closer to them, like family members.

The reason we have societies, people living together in groups, is for survival. We humans don’t have claws, huge fangs, natural armour, or anything like that. What we have is a creative brain, opposable thumbs, and the ability to function together. This is how we survived the rigours of natural selection. “Morals” are the social ideas which allowed those groups of humans to function together. Therefore, morals are those social ideass which are beneficial to society, to groups of humans living together. And they exist because nature built them into us through the trial and error of natural selection.

“Immoral” is something which is counter to those social ideas which enable humans to function together. Such as walking around punching other people. Consider a small tribe in the last ice age. If you wandered around punching the other tribe members, you’d soon find yourself alone, without a tribe. You’d probably die off, out in the cold, eaten by something big and nasty, or dead from exposure. Something like that. So the people with such proclivities would die off, whereas those who could function with other humans survived to pass on their genes.

But they exist, just as “moral” exists, and hence natural. And what’s natural must be the outcome of evolution.

And I can also similarly explain, in evolutionary terms, ie as an evolutionist, “immorals” as you have explained for “morals”. We are deluded to think that just because they go against “social ideals” they are bad. This is not necessary: it is just that we failed to comprehend the deeper workings of evolution, something that escaped us, the mere offsprings and products, if not mere accidents, of evolution.

And why should “immoral” or “evil” be bad for the human species in the first place? For it can actually be “moral” or good, for what better way to survive against evil but to fight it by another evil? eg killing the killer-to-be before he kills you.

On the other hand even if we can establish, somehow, that “immorals” are indeed bad for the human species, or just collectively agree to accept that “immorals” are bad, it is cannot be so from evolution’s point of view. And a plausible reason is that it must be for the greater good of the entire Nature itself. For why should humans have a priviledged position in the order (or disorder) of Nature?

And it is good for Nature as humans are bad for Nature, such as causing other species to go extinct, “immorals” is just one evolutionary built-in self-destruct mechanism to eliminate us, or any other species, for the good of greater Nature. And it is no fault of the human species, we were just programmed to be what we are, by mindless and aimless Nature, to come into being and to go extinct. And there is also no point “willing” to go against the tide of Nature; it is all pre-ordained in evolution from the very beginning.

To Polemarchus, are you saying we are more than what Nature and its evolutionary mechanism shaped us to be? We have something that is somehow outside this mechanistic, inevitable scheme of evolution, ie not under the influence of sociological, biological, psychological, electrochemical forces, etc? That we can be such as a “moral agent” to override and resist whatever built-in impulses and instincts in us, despite these being there for the survival of our genes and species? In other words we have an uncaused entity that exists in but apart from our caused bodies.

Yes, moral and immoral exist. So does amoral. All are natural. I never said any of them were unnatural. All of it is the product of the requirements of physical reality. In the case of life, it is the product of evolution and such. Evolution gave us moral and immoral. Immoral would be the guy in the previous example who punches people and is tossed out of the tribe. Purely the result of nature.

Walking around punching other members of the tribe = pain for those members. Thus they don’t want it. Thus it is “bad”.

But entirely beside the point, right?

Not at all. It’s precisely the point. Good and bad, moral and immoral, are products of nature.