I recently read a post that asks “Why shouldn’t I kill you?” The gist of the argument is if actions are determined solely by the chemical interactions in one’s brain, which are in turn determined by DNA, then isn’t any action performed completely a-moral? It isn’t right or wrong, it’s just what my DNA has me do.
Yeah, because a God that wiped out every man woman and child in a flood (excepting of course Noah) is a true moral compass. Sorry, I digress. It does seem to be an interesting question though doesn’t it?
Actually no, it isn’t. Like most of these arguments it’s a stilted straw man of an argument rigged to favor the scientific ignorance of the religious masses disregarding the actual science that’s been done and the growing understanding we have.
The question assigns too much influence on a limited concept like DNA alone. The reality of the mechanisms that promote survival of certain genes is more nuanced and complicated than the raw survival of the fittest “kill or be killed” rules typically attributed to the oversimplified concept of natural selection.
Like many other species our survival and general ascendancy has happened because of our ability to form cohesive social structures in which we can specialize our roles and work together to improve our collective existence. These abilities of course have been enhanced by the genetic natural selection that promoted a multitude of attributes like speech, empathy, and complex reasoning. Without these genetic predispositions we would not be able to work together as a society. So while some individuals have greater or lesser ability to do these things it is our collective ability to cooperate that is essentially embedded in our genes and allowed us to flourish as a species.
Ethics and Laws (the religious can call it Morality if they wish) are simply the codification of the social contracts that have proven the best at maximizing our survival. Some of us have more advanced “Morals” than others. One need only look at the doctrines of stoning women in Muslim cultures or the bombing of family planning health centers to see…oh wait, that might be a bad example. Well, I think you get the thrust of what I’m getting at anyhow.
In any case this is a very limited venue for such a weighty topic. If you really want to understand more about the evolution of social behavior in ours and other species I would encourage you to go get “Our Inner Ape” by Frans De Waal from your local library. It’s a great read.