The “Problem of Goodness”

Thought this was a great piece by Chuck Colson in Christianity Today on why naturalism (i.e. the belief that nature is all that there is, there is no God and evolution explains everything) has failed to provide a convincing rationale for our innate sense of goodness. Simply, if there is no God, there is no such thing as good and evil. Certain naturalists have attempted to explain why altruistic actions can be better for the species as a whole and thus have "survived" in the fittest (though that in itself turns the whole process of natural selection on its head), but they have failed to explain why those altruistic actions are "good." In other words, we might be kind to someone else because somewhere deep down we know it's good for the species, but doing something solely because you delight in the happiness of another has no place in evolutionary scheme.

"But the evolutionary explanation for altruism is really just selfishness in disguise.  According to this reasoning, when a volunteer offers to give his time to a help a child… it’s not goodness – it’s a kind of enlightened self-interest.  We do what we perceive as good for others so that they, in turn, might do the same for us, thus increasing both of our chances for survival.  But that, of course, isn’t altruism at all.  

Recent advances in neurobiology show that the impulse toward altruism may even be hardwired.  For instance, practically from birth a baby who hears the cry of another baby will cry also.  However, when scientists play a recording of the sound of that child’s own cry, rarely will the baby respond.  By about 14 months, not only will that infant cry when he hears another infant crying, he will also try to soothe the other child in some way…. Of course, we’ve learned many ways to shut down this response, but it appears that our brains have been hardwired for compassionate action – the opposite of the kind of wiring natural selection would have produced." (emphasis mine)

In other words, naturalistic evolution can’t explain why justice is good, just that it is an adaptive trait. But so is cheating, lying, and killing. Why should certain adaptive traits be shunned but morality embraced? Dawkins gives no reasoning.

A couple of books that I've been reading that have really helped develop this thought are John Haught's God and the New Atheism and David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions. Here's my favorite quote by the latter, regarding Dawkins' book God Delusions: "It probably says something about our culture that we have lost the ability to produce profound unbelief.” (220)