Sunday, 5 August 2018

Morality - A Tale of Three Evolutions

At Stockport in July Brian Gane of Central Lancashire Humanists spoke about Morality: a Tale of Three Evolutions.

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe” said Carl Sagan. The Big Bang resulted in the evolution of the universe. Gravity pulled together matter to make stars and eventually material from stars made planets. Under the right conditions amino acids were formed leading, after 3 billion years, to the Human Brain. Some examples of evolutionary stages include Pikaia which had the beginning of a spine and may have been related to the common ancestor of all vertebrates. Eusthenopteron lived in the mouth of rivers and moved into the shallows, developing a neck, lungs and stubby fins which eventually extended into limbs. Aconthostega was among the first vertebrate animals to have recognizable limbs. Tulerpeton lived in shallow waters and breathed air. Its limbs were stronger than the fins from which they developed and it could lift its head giving it an advantage over other animals whose heads only moved side to side. 

The animals that survived the dinosaurs were very small shrew like creatures which developed into modern mammals. Human beings have 96% genes in common with chimpanzees. Humans are more intense and better at reading faces than chimps are. As chimps have no whites to their eyes it is difficult to see where they are looking.

Brian claims that morality begins with early humans and he considered three moral clusters which contribute: co-operation, empathy and justice. Humans are born with a co-operative streak and this is shown by the behaviour of young children who are eager to help where they can. They would pick up items that someone had dropped accidentally, but would not pick up an item that had been thrown in anger. Examples of co-operation are when taxes are paid to obtain infrastructure etc that would not be possible for individuals. The ultimate in co-operation is the CERN project, funded by 10 countries and employing scientists from 100 countries. Threats to food supplies leads to tribalism in early humans. In modern times gangs and political organisations take over this role. 

Small children tend to get upset if companions are upset. If a child is put with an upset child he/she will join in. Laughter is also infectious. Smiling results in a release of hormones into the blood. People with big smiles tend to live longer than those who rarely smile.

A sense of good and bad begins at about 4 months of age and a sense of fairness is a very powerful emotion. Some issues where unfairness has been addressed, at least in part, are slavery, health care via the NHS, women’s rights, the labour movement. Gay rights and the legal system.

Legal systems have been internationalised. Interpol has reciprocal arrangements with other countries, and the International Criminal court was formed in 2003 to put on trial those people accused of war crimes or crimes against humanity whose own countries will not or cannot put them on trial. The United Nations encourages Jaw Jaw rather than War War. The EU has the European Court of Justice and the European court of Human Rights.

The Brain has three levels of morality.1. Basic Instincts about In-Groups( Co-operation, empathy and sense of justice), and 0ut- Groups(tribalism), 2.Individual caring, 3. Societal caring (evolution of social norms). There is an expanding circle from the Human Family to International events.

According to Steven Pinker there has been a decline in violence from biblical times to the present day. And that in many areas (e.g. homicide, war and poverty) we are doing better than previously.

We are all connected.