Posts Tagged ‘evolution


Where do you get the idea that killing is wrong?

I’m back from our mini New Year’s vacation, and I’ve returned to find a smattering of new comments on my posts, most of them with some great questions to answer. Thanks to all for the comments!

I’m planning to answer most of the questions I get in new posts, rather than responding in comments, to make them more visible, and possibly inspire more discussion from others.

This question comes from DG Pomerhn Jr., who is waving his hand frantically from the back of the room:

Oh, oh, oh!! Question, please!

Where do you get the idea that killing (with the exception of self-defense) is wrong?

Darwinian evolution says that we should eliminate the competition – so we don’t have this intrinsically inside ourselves…so where does the moral concept come from…hmmm?

Interested in your answer. I agree with you, about not killing others over differences of belief, by the way. Good one on you!

Thanks for the question, DG. I’d like to start by clearing up something you’ve said that is untrue, and commonly heard in discussions about Darwin and evolution: Darwinian evolution does not say that we should eliminate the competition. This is a common misunderstanding of natural selection and the phrase “survival of the fittest” (which itself is something that someone else used to inaccurately describe natural selection – see more here). Rather, it said that certain traits that help a species survive and reproduce will become more common in that species over time.

The image of bigger and stronger varieties of cavemen clubbing their weaker ancestors and dragging their women off by the hair is nowhere near an accurate representation of natural selection (though it was something I frequently saw happen first-hand in high school). For a much better example of what evolution says about selection, read more about Darwin’s finches.

Now, on to your question -Where do I get the idea that killing (with the exception of self-defense) is wrong?

Initially, I received the idea from my parents. They taught me a very strong sense of right and wrong that included not taking the life of another. They in turn learned it from their parents, who learned it from their parents, and so on through my family’s history.

Most, if not all, of my ancestors were religious, and I would probably go far enough to say that all of those were Christian. All of them likely began with religious reasons for recognizing this rule, as did I:  Kill someone, and you’ll go to Hell and burn forever (unless you’re forgiven).

But when I look past the religious reasons for not killing others, I can see why we’ve developed this rule as a species. Killing others brings misery – it saddens those who suffer the loss of a loved one, it breaks up families, and it even hurts societies when it removes productive members from them. When I thought about how early human societies were formed, and how those that developed firm rules about murder as a way to help those societies survive, I saw the bigger picture.

Observation shows us that societies that work together and abstain from slaughtering each other are more productive, and benefit the individuals much more. One classic example is the piranha, schools of which will ravenously devour every living thing in sight, except for their fellow piranha.  Humans have developed this philosophy to a much higher degree.

When I look at religious reasons for abstaining from murder, however, I find that there are a lot of exceptions permitted. Some religions permit the murder of nonbelievers, unbelievers, witches, and homosexuals. Some even promote the murder of specific societies or races. These rules appear in their holy books for all to see. (You can see a few examples for yourself here, here, and here.)

I reject every one of these exceptions. The fact is, most people living in our society today reject them as well, believer and nonbeliever alike, and many of those have no idea that these exceptions are even in their holy book. They’ve come to the same conclusion, beyond any religious belief, that these exceptions bring misery, break up families, and hurt societies.


Why do you accept evolution?

(This is the second question in Brett Keane’s Atheist Challenge)

Why do you accept evolution? Explain how you came to your conclusions.

First, I would like to note that my acceptance of evolution has nothing to do with my lack of belief in gods. If I were to change my position on higher powers and begin believing in a god or gods, I would still accept evolution until there was sufficient evidence to stop doing so. Despite anything I have to say, it is a fact that there are believers who accept evolution, and even nonbelievers who don’t, so there shouldn’t be an assumption that I accept evolution just because I’m an atheist.

But for the record, I do accept evolution.

I’d also like to add, before I get around to actually answering the question, that I appreciate Mr. Keane’s use of the word “accept” rather than “believe.” I often hear the question “So I guess you believe in evolution and the big bang?”, and I always make a point of correcting it. Sometimes it’s an honest mistake or misunderstanding, but many times it’s a subtle attempt to try to make it seem like a faith issue.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten all of that out of the way, on to the answer:

I accept evolution because it is the best explanation that our understanding  of the natural world has for how we and all other species came to be. I accept it for the same reason that I accept gravity as an explanation of why objects are pulled to the earth, and for the same reason that I accept germ theory as an explanation of why people become sick.

We don’t have all of the answers, and it’s doubtful that we ever will – but we can collect all of our knowledge and build our best understanding with it. We’ve done it in other areas of science and medicine – areas that no one has any debate with (as long as they don’t contradict what is in their holy book).

This last part is very important, which is why I saved it for last – I am fully capable of rejecting evolution if new evidence to the contrary was discovered. My acceptance of evolution is not a religion, it’s an acceptance of reality as we best understand it.

And now, a bit of friendly advice. Please take it as that, and nothing more:

If your response to this is “Well, evolution is just a theory!”, then I strongly suggest that you investigate what a scientific theory really is – a statement like this clearly demonstrates that you don’t know the real definition of the word.

Likewise, if you feel the uncontrollable urge to respond with how the theory of evolution doesn’t explain where life came from, why there was a big bang, or something about how it defies the lasws of thermodynamics, you really need to become better informed on the subject before you embarrass yourself further. I’m not a scientist either, but I make a point of being as informed as I can be on issues that I want to discuss and debate with others.

I am an atheist, a person who does not believe in the existence of any gods.

Many people don't know a lot about atheists, and have questions about them. In this blog, I do my best to answer them, to help build an understanding between atheists and theists.

Do you have a question? You can post it in the comments to any of my blog entries, and I will do my best to answer it in a new entry.