The Natural Philosophy community, now called scientists, are flummoxed when confronted with religious stalwarts. The scientists rightfully make no claim to knowledge they see as residing outside of testable reality. The religious zealots, having no such restrictions, readily spring into the void with the unjustified claim that everything that science doesn’t have an ready answer for, they do. The philosophically bent science community yields a little more ground to the dogmatists when they claim that positive proofs of a theory don’t exist in a pure form, only negative ones. A good scientific theory is one that can be disproved by an example of where it doesn’t fit the observable phenomena. If there is the tiniest exception to an existing theory, the theory becomes suspect, and an answer must be found, and a more comprehensive theory found, and the earlier theory is no longer used.
The appearance of human beings through the processes of natural selection from lower forms of life greatly disturbs the religious folks, and they chafe at being descended from monkeys. Of course it would get much worse for them if they looked at the whole biological record; but being descended from a fish, or jellyfish, or slime mold would be far too much to even consider, even if the geological record and DNA clearly point in that direction. Somehow, going all the way with the Genesis 3:19,”for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” at least until the speculated resurrection, doesn’t seem so bad. Apparently, a handful of dirt isn’t as creepy to them for an ancestral source as an ape.
Where the moral landscape gets a hard hit for the scientist types is that natural selection doesn’t seem to be prone to imbue humans with a moral sense. Humans evolved our special qualities very rapidly, and we have a lot of unusual qualities. The problem is the great quantity of time needed to evolve even a single new quality and the great number of unique qualities humans have, was a problem that stumped Darwin and Wallace in their now 150 year old theories of natural selection and sexual selection.
Some heritable traits like musical ability, and mathematical ability would seem to have little use in the jungles of tooth and claw, but something very special obviously happened. Humans evolved the ability to speak! This development of speech happened after our ancestors were separated from our next of kin, the Neanderthals. That occurred approximately 500,000 years ago. For a short period, around the time of the eruption of Mt. Toba about 71,000 years ago, our ancestral population is reported to have dropped to about 5,000 individual people. These are all soft numbers, but clearly things did happen, because we now speak and we do have special abilities. A small breeding population is one that can change rapidly.
Animals do not have speech but they do have various calls, such as warning of predators in the area, and some primates have quite a few specific calls, equivalent to snake, cat, and bird, for example; some monkeys in the wild have been observed to have about seventeen calls, maybe more. What humans discovered that changed everything was using pairs of words close together in time, which meant they became associated in meaning, a primitive syntax, like cat-tree, snake-tree, bird-tree. This pairing of words would be a standard learned behavior for a while, but it is so useful for preserving an individual’s life that the ability to make this association developed as a heritable genetic trait. Once that happened sexual selection, a faster and more adaptive sub-set of natural selection, could take a giant step forward. Mate selection went from being based on general health, derived from good adaptation to the local physical environment, to one that included other qualities. Among the other qualities necessary for a successful early human was the ability to speak well, so the genes needed to speak well evolved rapidly. Clear speaking ability made it possible for mate selection to include the multitude of other qualities that make us human. Mate selection based on these methods is driven mostly by female humans, it is commonly called gossip, but it refines and clarifies and develops special qualities. Males are still primarily seek mates using the older sexual selection method, that is seeking for biological health, usually termed beauty.
Now for human morality. When approached in this way human morality is simply a continuing development of already existing morality possessed by our pre-human ancestors. Our morality goes back at least to 65 million years ago, with the extinction of our competitors, the dinosaurs, by the Chicxulub meteor and the opening up of the now exposed world of opportunity to our mammalian ancestors. Many mammals are social animals, and perhaps all mammals possess some rudimentary social instincts. Even the cats have some sociability. All of these animals get their morality from their inherited DNA. If they are raised in a normal way, that is, they are in contact with other members of social species, they will relate to them in appropriately social ways at least for their specific local group. That social group can be expanded by people to include dogs, and to lots of other social species. I have had dogs for housemates much of my life and never had the slightest dread that they would attack and eat me in my sleep; quite the opposite, they were my friends and would defend me with their life.
We don’t learn morality from philosophers, we inherit the propensity for morality from the ancestral choices made mostly by females. Morality is like a human language; we have the built-in genetic code to learn it easily, when exposed in a normal social setting. Some people lack these genes and we call them sociopaths; some people have them but learn a destructive style of behavior from their companions and we call them criminals. Some people think long and hard about these issues, and we call them moral philosophers. Teenage girls talk endlessly about boys and choose what they consider the best ones for mates.
Morality goes much deeper than philosophy; it goes to the very core of our genetic makeup.