Naturalism provides a sound basis for morals
In this debate I will be advocating a naturalitic account for the origin of morality. My opponent should either posit that naturalism can not provide a sound basis or posit a supernatural origin.
R2) First argument
I would like to start with a warm welcome to my opponent and a thanks for his acceptance of the debate.
Before humans, did anything have a moral value? Was anything inherently “good” or “bad”?
From a naturalistic perspective, I would be inclined to suggest otherwise. It is of my opinion that, without the existence of a creator, objective moral values cannot exist, for they would not have any objective grounding. Theologian and philosopher William Lane Craig illustrates this in his moral argument. 
Whilst the existence of God is certainly an important topic, in this debate I am more concerned with explaining morality without the need for a deity. This is not to say that God’s existence is dismissed, but rather that a supernatural entity is not required for explaining our moral intuitions. It is for this reason that I will base my argument off naturalistic presuppositions.
In order to explain moral origin, it is important to highlight exactly why morality is required. If there is nothing from which morality is a corollary, it is tempting to reject a purely naturalistic account. However, I will attempt to demonstrate how our morality is prerequisite of our evolutionary past. Indeed, how is it that we progressed from an amoral environment to our deeply ingrained moral principles?
Our search for naturalistic explanations finds solace in Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection. Upon first reading, natural selection is predominantly selfish; competition amongst species resembles little of what we, today, regard as morality. However, natural selection should solely be regarded in terms of the better adapted of the species surviving and producing more offspring.  It does not, as some might think, preclude the selfish behaviour one expects.
Reciprocal altruism is behaviour common amongst species in the animal kingdom. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy defines it as: “when [an organism’s] behaviour benefits other organisms, at a cost to itself.”  Simply: if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
The internationally acclaimed Nature journal documents several types of species within which reciprocal altruism is found. For example, in an observation of vervet monkeys, researchers concluded that “grooming between unrelated individuals increases the probability that they will subsequently attend to each others’ solicitations for aid.” In another study, pied flycatchers would assist a group assault alongside its co-operators whilst refusing assistance from those who had withheld help one hour previously. 
Perhaps the most prominent account of reciprocal altruism is that reviewed in Robert Trivers’ paper in 1971. He reports an observation on cleaner fish, where “[the cleaned] spread the right gill-covering so wide that the individual gill-plates were separated from each other at great distances, wide enough to let the cleaner through.” 
Obviously, these observations of reciprocal altruism carry significant value. It offers an insight into where our altruistic behaviour might have originated. If we consider early human societies, we can see positive benefits in altruistic behaviour. In Anthony Johnson’s and Timothy Earle’s book on The Evolution of Human Societies, they assert that whilst risk of danger was low on a daily basis, hunting as a group offered important advantages. 
The 2014 film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a provocative demonstration of group cooperation. It depicts an ensemble of apes building a society in the forest, hunting together, constructing shelter and educating each other. If the basic tenet of “ape not kill ape” were not obeyed, their destruction would be imminent. Much could be the same about our early ancestors.
With this mechanism at hand, it is not hard to see how our morality might have evolved. I consider it parallel to language: it starts with primitive gestures and sounds, gradually progressing towards grammar and manipulation through art. In the same way our language has evolved from these basic origins, our morality is also susceptible to progression. For example, consider what Thomas Huxley has to say:
No rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average negro is the equal, still less the superior of the white man. And if this be true, it is simply incredible that, when all his disabilities are removed, and our prognathous relative has a fair field and no favour, as well as no oppressor, he will be able to compete successfully with his bigger-brained ad smaller-jawed rival… 
Whilst the naturalistic perspective is not in a position to state that our morality has evolved for the better, this is an example of how our morality can shift.
Perhaps, then, after we have observed a potential explanation for why we have these moral intuitions, we can resolve that naturalism does indeed provide an explanation for morality.
 Huxley (1871)
The rest of your argument is contingent upon the disappointing statement, "Our search for naturalistic explanations finds solace in Darwin"s mechanism of natural selection." This assumes that natural selection is a valid mechanism for which to place one's trust in naturalism. Natural selection only works to select from what is already present in the genome, it does not and cannot add anything new. Unless you cite a mechanism which demonstrably can change a scale into a feather over time, your whole argument is invalid. Let's continue.
Your argument of reciprocal altruism is flawed. As you state, "Simply: if you scratch my back, I"ll scratch yours." Reciprocity is the key element to note. Can you really say this phenomena is the animal kingdom is an example of pre-human moral development? The reason a monkey helps another monkey, even if it puts itself at risk, is that it expects other monkeys to do the same for him. This is a far cry from a selfless act of honor, and it in no way supports your main argument.
You say, "With this mechanism at hand, it is not hard to see how our morality might have evolved." What mechanism? You cite no mechanism, all you do is state certain phenomena but make no demonstrable link to human morality. And if you think you have, then consider yet another flaw in your argument. You seem to be asserting that morality is rooted in survival, that is, if I do something to help another survive, like preform CPR for instance, I have done something morally "good." But really, there is no reason to say it is morally "good" as I could just as well decided not to help the person for my own reasons which can be just as morally "good." If an animal helps his fellow animal by warning him of danger, it is not morally "good" as the same animal can kill his fellow animal for the same reason: survival. A male lion will often kill cubs in order to coax the female into mating again. This can be seen as good for survival but you cannot say it is immoral. And besides this, whose to say survival of a species is good? Consider this quote by naturalist Jacques Cousteau, "In order to save the planet it would be necessary to kill 350,000 people per day." Is this a moral or immoral statement? Well if morality is determined by survival of a species then sure its moral, but what species should survive? Should humans be preserved? Should animals? Both? It's up to one's opinion. Back to square one of the problem with your argument thus far.
Your most confounding statement is when you say, "Perhaps, then, after we have observed a potential explanation for why we have these moral intuitions, we can resolve that naturalism does indeed provide an explanation for morality." Firstly, you seem to imply that, thus far, neither you nor anyone else has resolved the exact position you are arguing for. Therefore you have shot yourself in the foot. Indeed neither you nor anyone else has or can provide such a sound explanation. Secondly, you seem to acknowledge that as human beings, we have moral intuitions. The Bible of course tells us why, humans have God's moral laws "written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness..." (Romans 2:15). Only man was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). While the Bible provides a sound answer, your naturalist paradigm does not, as even you admit. You're left to study beasts in order to explain why humans know murder is wrong, stealing is wrong, lying is wrong, etc. Is it wrong for a lion to kill an antelope? He has to survive right? Is it wrong for Hitler to kill Jews? They have to survive right (as Hitler taught that Jews carried diseases and the like which would eventually affect all humanity and be the cause of their extinction)?
The ultimate flaw in your argument lies in the idea of "good" and "bad." What determines whether a though, action or inaction is "good" or "bad." It is basically the same question of morality, only at a more fundamental level. Why should selfishness be "bad" as you seemed to imply? Why should survival be "good"? Without an objective moral standard, you cannot soundly state that one though, action or inaction is either "good" or "bad." The reason I do my best not to kill, steal, etc. is because I have a moral standard, the Bible, and I know I will face judgment one day. The reason you do not kill, steal, etc. is based entirely on opinion. You may very well kill, steal, etc. and that would be based on your opinion as well. No, you cannot have an objective morality without God, and a subjective morality is not sound. So according to your resolution, I have won. I await your response.
I would like to start by thanking my opponent for his thoughtful and provocative rebuttal.
I will address each point under a separate heading.
It appears that – and I accept the blame entirely – there has been some unnecessary confusion over the definition of “sound”. My opponent takes the initiative in defining it as reliable, in which case his rebuttal is to be expected. However, to avoid any further misunderstanding, I wish to define “sound” as: a sufficient and reasonable explanation. Thus, I will be arguing that naturalism provides a sufficient and reasonable explanation for morality as we perceive it today.
My opponent is correct in stating that I hold to a relativist approach to morality. Despite this, I do not see morality by means of natural selection to be prohibiting of explaining how we arrived at our moral intuitions. Indeed, we have no objective standard by which to judge them, though this does not necessarily invalidate the concept of evolved morality.
I understand that my opponent does not accept Darwin’s theory of evolution as a truth. However, I invite him to consider the results from the Pew Research Centre, which states how 97% of scientists agree that human life evolved over time.  Whilst appeal to the majority does not reveal truth, it certainly begs the question of why so many scientists have been misled, how so many could misinterpret the evidence. It also questions how ignorant eminent biologists must have been to dedicate their life to such studies; we can only conclude that Richard Dawkins had a funny-five-minutes whilst writing a five-hundred paged book documenting the evidence for evolution. 
Creationtruth raises an important question with regards to how reciprocal altruism can relate to selfless altruism. It is important to become familiar with the idea of a “rule of thumb” concerning behaviour amongst animals. A similar parallel could be drawn with infertile partners; though there is a sexual desire there, it would be to no avail. Whether we restrict natural selection to acting upon what is in the gene or not, it is still plausible to suggest that an organism will feel these sexual desires in order to maximise the chance of gene preservation. Hence, the organism will feel a sexual desire towards an infertile partner despite conflicting with the intentions of natural selection.
The same could be said for reciprocal altruism. A bird might be acting on the rule of thumb which precludes that “you should feed the birds in your nest.” When an unfamiliar bird finds itself in that nest, it would be likely to tend to that bird, minus the allure of reciprocation.
I also fear that my opponent has restricted reciprocal altruism specifically to scenarios in which there will be a direct reciprocation. This is not always the case:
Here we have three behavioural traits amongst animals that could explain altruistic behaviour amongst humans. For example, the paper Competitive Altruism suggests that: “[competitive altruism] is probably most suitable to explain more public displays of helping, like philanthropy, heroism, bystander intervention, charity work, and volunteering.” [see 5]
I invite my opponent to recognise how these altruistic traits could evolve into the basic principles that we accommodate today: love your children, be charitable and act with integrity. Evolution of morality is not unknown to the human race; in my opening argument I demonstrated how racism was a norm – similar arguments could be put forward for misogyny and homophobia.
Morality in survival
Creationtruth proceeds to challenge my model of relativist morality. In this section he only succeeds in demonstrating that there is no actual “good” or “bad” in relativist morality, an objection with which I agree. However, if we consider my definition of “sound” from earlier, this does not refute the idea that naturalism provides an explanation for how we perceive morality.
I wish to argue that it is only us as humans who attribute these kinds of labels. It is akin to aesthetics; would anything be beautiful if humans did not exist? I would argue that things are only beautiful because we, as humans, have developed the brain capacity to appreciate them. They’re not actually beautiful, it’s just our opinion. I liken this to morality.
Problems with relativism
When we have conceded that relativist morality does not hold any intrinsic value, we are left with problems which Creationtruth has raised. Who is to say that Hitler was wrong in exterminating the Jews?
I appeal to my empathy in matters like these. Over the centuries of human civilisation, we have developed ideas of equality and justice. I will happily admit that these have been dogmatically and passively pressed by religion – graphic depictions of hell in the fifteenth century is one example. 
Thus, we are guided by our moral conscience. Due to shared objectives in natural selection, it is not surprising that our moral principles are similar to those in our culture.
After hopefully resolving confusion on the definition of “sound”, I have refuted each point made against the case for naturalism. Until Creationtruth can provide more convincing reasons for why naturalism does not provide a sufficient and reasonable explanation for morality as we perceive it, we can conclude that naturalism is a sound explanation for our morality.
 Pew Research Centre, http://www.people-press.org...
 Nature journal, http://www.nature.com...
 Competitive Altruism, p8, http://professormarkvanvugt.com...
 Competitive Altruism, p18
Your quarrel with my definition of sound is unwarranted. If something is sufficient and reasonable, it can also be reliable. Indeed both "based on reason" and "reliable" are within the definition domain (https://www.google.com...). So there is no confusion on my part. In either case, you have not addressed your own resolution even given your specified definition of "sound" as I will show.
You say, "My opponent is correct in stating that I hold to a relativist approach to morality. Despite this, I do not see morality by means of natural selection to be prohibiting of explaining how we arrived at our moral intuitions. Indeed, we have no objective standard by which to judge them, though this does not necessarily invalidate the concept of evolved morality." Not only do you agree with me, but you offer no rebuttal. Just saying you do not "see" morality by means of natural selection to be prohibiting of explaining how we arrived at our moral intuitions does not equate to evidence or a refutation.
Your appeal to majority is quite silly. In the 1600s, Galileo gathered evidence which refuted geocentrism and supported heliocentrism. Most people in the world at that time accepted geocentrism or the Tychonic system (essentially geocentrism). The Roman Catholic Church was the academic authority at this time and his findings seemed to refute their ideas of astronomy, so they persecuted him and sentenced him to life under house arrest (http://en.wikipedia.org...). The point to be made here, as you surely know, is that majority can often be horribly wrong. Then there was only a handful of scientists who opposed geocentrism. Today hundreds of scientists oppose Neo-Darwinism and accept biblical creationism (http://creation.com...), and even more are suspicious of its true mechanistic capabilities of macro-changes (http://www.discovery.org...).
The answer to your question of how so many can misinterpret the evidence is actually quite simple. Lets say you are a young Richard Dawkins living in Northamptonshire, England attending a school which teaches only the theory of evolution as the explanation for all living organisms today. As you learn, you naturally have questions which unsurprisingly your Sunday school teacher is unprepared to answer. As you mature, you begin to realize church teaches "bible stories" whereas public school teaches "science." Since in the case of Dawkins the church actually accepts evolution, there is no reason to reject it. But when he begins studying in college and the university, surely it is here where he should have rigorously scrutinized the theory especially at the point of its mechanistic power for macro-changes. Had he done this he would have found that Neo-Darwinian evolution fails, but he would have also been ostracized by his peers and colleagues for taking such a position. So that is the answer to you question: a one-sided education, and peer-pressure.
But let us consider your reliance upon natural selection for your acceptance of naturalism a little more carefully. I must first point out that you did not address my statement from round 2, "Natural selection only works to select from what is already present in the genome, it does not and cannot add anything new. Unless you cite a mechanism which demonstrably can change a scale into a feather over time, your whole argument is invalid." You have not addressed this crucial point. Since you are arguing for morality based on naturalism, surely you must provide a working model in which we can base our acceptance of naturalism? Let me remind you of your statement, "Our search for naturalistic explanations finds solace in Darwin's mechanism of natural selection." No evolutionist understanding of biology, genetics, etc. would make such a statement. Natural selection is not the singular mechanism required for evolution. While your argument is about morality, since you made this part of your argument, you must provide demonstrable support for naturalistic explanation.
Let me spell this out for you clearly because I fear it might be so simple as to easily glance over it. You argued for "reciprocal altruism," not altruism alone. This necessitates the restriction to scenarios in which there will be a direct reciprocation. With that said let us move one.
You say, "I invite my opponent to recognise how these altruistic traits could evolve into the basic principles that we accommodate today: love your children, be charitable and act with integrity." Inviting me to recognize your position is tantamount to asking me to read into your argument the evidence which is not there. Answer this for me and you will have made a big stride in the way of providing support for your argument, how could 'these altruistic traits' evolve into the basic principals we accommodate today?
Morality in Survival
You concede to my point that morality is subject to one's opinion without an objective moral standard, yet you still do not provide any support for how an intuitive human morality can derive from natural selection. You also did not answer my question, "Why should survival be good?" In fact, why do animals strive for survival at all? In a naturalist perspective it doesn't make much sense, but in a biblical creationist perspective it does. God created animals which would, ". . .breed abundantly in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth" (Genesis 8:17).
Problems with Relativism
You say, "Who is to say that Hitler was wrong in exterminating the Jews? I appeal to my empathy in matters like these." You cannot appeal to a moral judgment to explain morality. Empathy cannot be an answer to the question unless you are implying a certain moral response as a derivative of your empathetic cognition.
You say, "Over the centuries of human civilisation, we have developed ideas of equality and justice." What ideas? The "ideas" America was founded on are derived from the Bible, so I hope you are not referring to these. You make these statements and yet provide no support for them. The fact that you have some kind of response to my rebuttals does not equate to providing support for your defense. For example, if you say God cannot exist because of x, and I say well God does exist because of y, I have not addressed x and therefore have not supported my defense. But you don't even provide y, you just make unsupported statements.
Your most telling statement is when you say, "Thus, we are guided by our moral conscience. Due to shared objectives in natural selection, it is not surprising that our moral principles are similar to those in our culture." Moral conscience! Now you are admitting to a moral conscience? But of course you state this conscience is derived from natural selection, yet again, you do not provide any support. As stated before the Bible gives a perfectly sound reason for our moral intuitions: we are made in the image of God, and His law has been written in our heart, as our conscience bears witness to it.
As stated before there was no confusion on the definition of "sound." You have refuted nothing. I have already provided coherent rebuttals against your relativistic morality derived from natural selection. I believe there are better arguments for your position of which even I can think of, but based solely on what you provided, we cannot reasonably, logically, or rationally conclude that naturalism is a sound explanation for our morality (or moral conscience as you say).
I hope you recognize the absence of support in your argument and provide some for which I may address, else we must concede that you cannot demonstrably address the resolution. Thanks :)
I would like to start by thanking my opponent for his participation in this debate and I commend him for his challenging rebuttals.
Similarly, naturalism can provide a reliable explanation for morality, but this is not to say that morality itself is reliable.
Thus, there is nothing to be considered in Creationtruth’s definition.
In the first round of rebuttals, my opponent challenged my resolution by claiming I held to a relativist approach to morality. He then accused my response for its lack of evidence. I wish to clear this misunderstanding:
My opponent held the view that: if morality is subjective, naturalism does not provide a sound basis for morality. I merely commented on how relativist morality certainly does not conclude anything of that sort, providing the proper definition of sound is advocated.
Appeal to majority
I was somewhat disappointed by my opponent’s analogy. It is beyond me how somebody could claim that scientific knowledge in the seventeenth century is comparable to modern day science. I ask you: How can we rationally compare seventeenth century science with advanced scientific equipment and advanced scientific knowledge? Our knowledge of the sciences has progressed in unimaginable proportions: the Higgs-Boson, the discovery of DNA, the Hubble Telescope, quantum mechanics – my opponent’s comparison does not take into account the vast steps we have taken since then.
Whilst I expected compelling evidence, I was further disappointed by my opponent’s source credentials. He might be interested to know that the original 700 “dissenters” represented approximately 0.00063% of all biological and geological scientists in the world.  For a careful examination of exactly who signed the list, I invite my opponent to realise how only 2% were actually biologists. 
My opponent also expects us to believe that the vast approval of evolution in the scientific community is due to “peer pressure” and a “one sided education”. The thousands of articles and observations published in peer-reviewed journals are, that’s right, a result of peer pressure! My opponent should be familiar with the rigorous process of peer-review before making such claims. 
Not only is this offensive to proponents of evolution, it is blissfully ignorant.
Natural Selection and Reciprocal Altruism
Please see the comments for this rebuttal.
Morality in survival
I was concerned as to why Creationruth did not respond to my key arguments in my last rebuttal. He persists in arguing “why is survival good?” and “why do animals strive for survival?” without engaging with my previous response.
I will reiterate for my opponent’s sake. The fatal flaw in my opponent’s question is that it is assuming that survival and drive for survival actually have moral worth. Now, if I asked you why it was good that the Earth revolved around the Sun, or why it was good that a branch fell from a tree, you would consider me lunatic. I regard survival in the same light. The answer is that it is simply amoral; it is neither good nor bad.
The apologist would be encouraged to probe deeper, asking questions such as: “Why is life preferable to death?” However, it is only because we have conceived connotations of life and death that we attribute preference to one or the other. Our desire for survival can also be viewed cogently from a mathematical and logical standpoint:
The reason that we have the desire to replicate is because we are programmed to. And the reason that our DNA sequences program us to do this is not because of some innate desire of them to replicate, but rather because, since they do replicate, those traits which replicate more successfully will be more frequent. 
I contend that we only consider survival to be good because we developed the brain capacity to attribute them these qualities. Much could be the same about aesthetics: beauty, and art.
Problems with relativism
Unfortunately my opponent has disregarded the inextricable relationship between morality and psychology. Our empathy is shaped by our upbringing. We do not condemn a child for asking if a woman is pregnant, or pointing out the size of a man’s nose. We do not condemn a child for screaming in the supermarket in the same way that we would for an adult. Why? Because their empathetic cognition is shaped as they grow up. 
This can also apply to the development of our morality, i.e., moral conscience. [see 8]
As I demonstrated in “Reciprocal Altruism”, our moral principles have evolved. Thus, I appeal to what I consider to be true. This is not to be confused with what is actually true.
Religion and morality
My opponent is correct in identifying the Bible as a key propagator of moral principles. I cannot deny that it has promoted ideas of equality and justice. I consider this to be a part of our evolving morality. For example, no longer do we consider burying children in building foundations to be morally good, or the burning of witches to be divinely commanded. 
However, the human species have been around much longer than the writers of the Pentateuch.  They would not have had scriptures to advocate, for indeed communication by writing was elusive to the illiterate. I contend, using evidence of reciprocal, competitive and kin altruism, that humans must have had a basic morality before the Bible. If not, the only alternative would be that humans were purely amoral or immoral previously.
Thus, I would view the Bible as a means of establishing (and innovating) values that had existed before the Pentateuch.
It appears, then, that any objection my opponent makes is either due to a confusion of definition or a misunderstanding of an argument. Having observed his refutations, we can safely conclude that there is no plausible reason for why naturalism does not account for our morality through means of altruistic behaviour.
 Competitive Altruism, p13, http://professormarkvanvugt.com...
 Due to the lack of literature on this subject, I sought opinions from Rational Response. If my opponent or any readers wish to point me to more informed articles, I will be happy to read them. http://www.rationalresponders.com...
 Empathy and Moral Development, http://books.google.co.uk...
 Referenced article found here: http://www.samharris.org...
 National Geographic, http://press.nationalgeographic.com...
You should not have chose "sound" as your descriptive term for your debate in that case. Enough with the semantics, lets move on to the main points of your arguement.
Your defence of your appeal to majority is faulty. You say that our knowledge has advanced in science, which I agree with, but then you go on to list such things as the discovery of DNA and the Higgs-Boson. My friend, lets remember that your appeal to majority was for the theory of evolution which is based on ZERO demonstrable evidence. DNA, particle physics, etc. are all studied using the scientific method, you know, observable, repeatable, etc.
You also seemed to take offence to my remarks about a one-sided education and peer-pressure, yet you do not defend it with any evidence to the contrary. If you really think peer-review is all its cracked up to be and is an objective means of reviewing sientific hypothesis and theories then you should read this: (http://creation.com...).
Also, you cannot use the comments section as part of your arguement so I ask the ready to disregard the comments on the grounds of fairness and equality. In this debate you have provided no evidence to support a naturalistic eplaination for all bio-organisms which your main arguement hinges on. So by default you have lost the debate.
Your concerns about my questions on "why is survival good" are unwarented. In fact, I was driving at the same concluding point you made, in a naturalist world-view, survival is an amoral phenomena. Your conclusion about survival based on as "mathmatical and logical standpoint" is really a bad one. I am saying God has programmed all animals to endeavor to reproduce (and that after there own kind). You are essentially saying, they reproduce because DNA replicates and therefore that's just what they do. Thats not really an answer but I digress.
You claim that so far my objections have been due to a misunderstanding of definitions or misunderstanding of arguements. I would hope that the reader can see that this is simply not the case. I understand your arguements all to well which is why I was able to effectively refute them.
What I think your arguement has come down to, since you have provided no demonstrable support is, "I believe morality has evolved via natural processes, therefore morality has evolved via natural processes." I'm sorry but this does not equate to a supported arguement. I'm afraid you have not addressed your own resolution. Your advocation began and ended with your beliefs and never did it incorperate support as evidence.
Thanks for your time. Vote Con!
|Agreed with before the debate:||-||-||0 points|
|Agreed with after the debate:||-||-||0 points|
|Who had better conduct:||-||-||1 point|
|Had better spelling and grammar:||-||-||1 point|
|Made more convincing arguments:||-||-||3 points|
|Used the most reliable sources:||-||-||2 points|
|Total points awarded:||3||0|