Can altruism evolve?
I direct the reader to Elliott Sober's and David Sloan Wilson's book Unto Others, subtitled "The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior" for an answer. The authors write "...since individuals are isolated units but nevertheless compete in the creation of new individuals...natural selection can operate at more than one level of biological hierarchy, as Darwin clearly appreciated...[g]roup selection favors traits that maximize the relative fitness of groups"(pp. 26 - 27). They admit that the evolution of altruism and theories of group selection are controversial subjects (p.31) but maintain that group selection is on solid scholarly ground and that one use of group selection is to explain altruism. Further, this explanation is on solid scholarly ground too (pp. 98 - 99).
Can ethical behavior exist without a god?
Ethics and morality do not require a diety to be developed. Prehuman ethics can be theorized based on non-human ethics as a function of society building. The following is based on the article "Ethics" in the Macropedia of Encyclopaedia Britannica written by Dr. Peter Singer.
Many professional philosophers' and ethicists' work is not based on an idea of god. Aristotle and Plato wrote on this subject. More famously, Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, while ending in his description of ethical Christian society, starts with a description of ethical society without any god.
The very fact that philosphers can and do theorize ethical systems without religious motives means it is possible. Three examples are given above, in additon to a very general example of evolving ethics. This is contrary to some religious people's claims that ethic systems must have a diety at their core.
Are morals a special case of behavior?
What are the characteristics that separate morality from other behaviors? I can't think of any.
Some time ago, I stumbled on the notion that ethics are really just economics without money. We buy our place in civilization by being civilized ourselves. If we stop payment by ceasing to obey the (man-made) law then society will collect payment. Ethics are not different from economics. And that generalization works to show ethics aren't a special class of behaviors.
Just as morals are world-wide and man-made so is the marketplace where things are exchanged for money or goods in kind. Just as ethics are the rules of right behavior so are economics the rules of exchange. To call ethics god-mediated would require more mundane human activities to be god-mediated too. While Hammurabi's Code includes a great deal of price adjusting law along with the moral law our modern society can adjust prices based on supply and demand.
The "invisible hand" in Smith's study of economics refers to this supply and demand relationship coupled with the share holder's goal of maximizing profits, the seller's goal to maximize price, and the buyers goal to minimize price and maximize value all interacting to set the price and scarcity. And the price and scarcity are set without god's hand.
Morality is an interaction of individual's maximizing their freedom while the needs of civilization greedily consumes our time and health and our associations of family and free associations of friends and colleagues strive to maximize group productivity. We work out morality as a society without god's hand.
The argument isn't about comparing morals and economics but that market exchanges are far-ranging man-made behaviors and provide an example of behaviors whose complexity rivals or equals moral behavior. While I personally hold them to be governed by the same rules, or the same type of rules, that is not central to the success or failure of this idea. An article entitled "The Economics of Fair Play" is in the January 2002 issue of Scientific American. While the article does not restate, or better state, what I'm trying to communicate here the association of economics and ethics indicates I'm going in the right direction.
Finally, while Marx asserts that morality is the result of class warfare; that economics and history is the study of changing means of production; and that morality is decided by the winner of the class war...the controller of production...I see morality as the materialist concept decided by a society of cooperating and competing (not warring) individuals and groups.
last update: 3/11/02