To answer the question bluntly, we simply wouldn’t have morality without evolution or natural selection. However, being fair to morality, we probably wouldn’t have survived as a species without it either.
If we consider morality to be a defined system of ideas about right and wrong shared by a group of people, then it is a culturally-bound notion that changes with the society of reference. Many cultures share characteristics of what they consider moral, which might seem to validate morality as an external force, but that’s actually what makes it a function of evolution.
In evolutionary theory, the ultimate goal of any species is to reproduce successfully and continue to evolve by way of adapting to one’s environment. In this way, morality is a construct within human evolution because it increases the likelihood of successful mating. For example, most would agree violence is morally wrong, but it’s the social sanctions like losing access to food or freedom that make it maladaptive. If perceiving something as wrong makes people more desirable members of a group, they will find partners and pass that trait along until the douchebags of said society go extinct.
Evolutionary morality is a generally good thing, though it has mixed results. Take for example our evolutionary need to care for our children. From that we developed empathy, which we are even able to extend to other creatures. It’s useful to read another creature’s disposition when it may be trying to eat you. However, in a scientific sense, refusing to eat said creature because you perceive its pain can be a hindrance stemming from the same quality.
Natural selection is an interesting way to look at morality as well, as it favors species that survive and promotes ‘best fit’ traits that aide survival. A fatalistic approach to this idea would pit it against humans with disabilities or genetic deformities, but our society has evolved to provide numerous ways for a disabled person to contribute. The reference to vegetarianism in the last paragraph applies as well; we now have ways to supplement dietary needs for calcium or protein, but that lifestyle choice would have been much costlier before we developed ways to support it.
In closing, morality is effectively a type of social exchange. While it may disappoint some that it doesn’t lend humanity a special status within the animal kingdom, it still serves a valuable purpose in the way that we and our society evolve.
Travis Vail is a fourth- year communication major.