Synopsis and biography for Star 1997:


Ruse assembles a strong case which at the least shows that evolutionary psychology (or sociobiology) makes claims on altruism. Human genes condition all aspects of culture, including religion and morality. This suggests that evolutionary psychology undermines the power behind and the content of altruism. While Ruse draws atheistic conclusions from this, we needn't be that rash. If taken seriously, though, evolutionary psychology calls into question several religious traditions' beliefs in God's ultimate responsibility for the content of human morality.

In this workshop, we will examine Ruse's case and several published responses to it. Hopefully this will allow workshop participants to move closer to their own conclusion over evolutionary psychology's claims over morality.

The workshop leader has his own agenda as well. Evolutionary psychology's case against altruism is serious. Science again has a strong hand against traditional morality and religion. Again the religious tradition adjusts to keep in touch with and appropriate to this continuously changing world. The call is not to defend the tradition to the end; it will continue to dissolve with the inevitable growth of science. The call is for positive construction using the wisdom of science and the wisdom of religion.

Workshop Leader: Kevin Sharpe

Kevin Sharpe was born in 1950 in New Zealand, lived in the United States for sixteen years, and now alternates his year between Oxford, England, and Concord, New Hampshire. He is a professor in the Graduate College of The Union Institute, Cincinnati, a non-traditional distance learning program, where he supervises and advises doctoral students. His academic background includes two doctorates, one in mathematics (from La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia) and one in religious studies (from Boston University). Ecclesiastically, he is an Episcopal (or Anglican) priest.

The chief area of his academic interest lies in the relationship between religion and science. He thinks of himself as a full-time writer in the area, publishing two books ("From Science to an Adequate Mythology," and "David Bohm's World: New Science and New Religion"). Another book is submitted for publication ("Between the Idea and the Reality") and he has nearly completed his next on natural morality. Prehistoric archaeology (especially cave art) also interests him a great deal.

Kevin edits the newsletter, soon to be magazine, "Science & Spirit" and its companion website. He also edits the Fortress Press book series "Theology and the Sciences" and serves as an advisor to the John Templeton Foundation.

Revised 1/30/92


     SB10                                  Version Date: 17 March 1993



Kevin J. Sharpe

The Graduate School of The Union Institute

Mailing Address: 65 Hoit Road, Concord, NH 03301, USA


Copyright <<Date>> by Kevin J. Sharpe

CHECK: 1. Overuse of however.

2. Using too many difficult words together.

3. Use illustrations, examples.

4. Flow between sentences, paragraphs, sections.

5. Long sentences.

6. SPICE is needed throughout.

7. Make the point loud and clear. Stop the text jumping all over the place.

8. Check use of which and that.

9. Using too many technical words.

10. Avoid using our, we and us.

An idea for writing a popular paper: on justifying Ruse's argument.

The debate Michael has set up for himself seems really interesting and challenging.

Suggestions for content

i. Relation between altruism and "altruism".

ii. Ruse's attack.

iii. Clarifying Ruse's case (not necessarily atheist, eg) and critiques.

iv. Other arguments that morality is a projection (see the evil paper).

v. Undermines altruism and "altruism".

vi. Rebuilding altruism.

vii. Refer to evil paper as another consequence.

A good discussion on projection and anthropormphization in the proposal for Jim Ashbrook's ms to Fortress, 8/13/94.

this is cut from SB09RS. There probably are changes in it from the original Loccum paper, so want to keep those in the MT01 version.

The Ruse case I make in SB05 is better than the older versions.

My context is altruism, a chief focus of many of the critiques. What does sociobiology say about altruism and how does this fare against the assaults? That subject lies in the latter half of the essay. The discussion centers on altruism and biological `altruism', a key idea joining theology and sociobiology. Michael Ruse has developed these uses of the word to where they conflict.<1> That is one problem to address. The explanations of sociobiology also raise problems for the functioning of both altruism and `altruism'. I have two concerns: one is the power behind each to motivate human behavior, and the second is how they can help promote each other to the betterment of humanity.


Morality's roots are in biology. People sense what is right and what is wrong, and they are aware of morality. They also feel obliged to do what is right. In doing so, in being altruistic, they are also being `altruistic'; altruism promotes `altruism'. Both senses exist because both have biological worth.

Ruse attacks the Christian understanding of altruism. First he turns to what he calls the love commandment, `Love your neighbor as yourself'. `Real Christian practice', he believes, centers on this command.<2> Here he thinks the evolutionist and the Christian differ.

He distinguishes two interpretations of the command, a weak and a strong form. The latter is `to love everyone: family, friend, nodding acquaintance, and enemy'.<3> Further, people must forgive their enemies `virtually without limit'.

Ruse criticizes the strong love command from a biological point of view. Biological theory and empirical research suggest altruism would exist toward other members of the same kin (we want our relatives to reproduce). It also could exist toward people with whom we could exchange help (reciprocal `altruism'). However, the more distant others are from our immediate circle, the less we feel morally responsible for them. This trans-kin altruism problem, mentioned above, contradicts the strong love command, even as an ideal toward which to strive. Thus, while the love command and biology agree on some level of altruism, they disagree on extreme forms.

Even worse, the strong love command acts against survival. The biological urge to retaliate, for example, undermines turning the other cheek without limit. Rather, biology encourages frustration at abuse - humans by nature seek to counter mistreatment near its onset.

Ruse thinks there are good reasons for adopting the evolutionist's position. For example, a moral dictate must by itself appeal or make sense to people if they are to accept it. Biological morality is also closer to the usual practices and intuitions than is the strong love command. In fact, Ruse says, `most people would think it quite irresponsible to let someone else sin against them 490 times'. He feels `uncomfortable with a god who demands' what human nature feels is `morally perverse'.<4>

`Altruism' is a more restricted term than Christian altruism. It is altruism as the strong love command that Ruse cannot accept.

Ruse then bypasses all love commands and moves to the heart of his case against Christianity. He believes he can undercut all forms of Christian altruism.

His indictment concerns the grounds for making ethical claims. To recognize morality as only a biological adaptation, he maintains, undermines its traditional base.<5> The Christian `surely' believes in `an independent, objective, moral code' - a code that does not change and does not depend on humans. Unless people `think morality is objectively true - a function of something outside of and higher than [them] - it would not work'.<6> Christians feel this absolute, moral other as a force on them, and so follow its moral dictates. This belief, Ruse thinks, biology destroys. Then he adds: `Morality [altruism] is just an aid to survival and reproduction, and has no being beyond or without this.'<7> (Perhaps this critique by Ruse is an example, a pointed example, of the modern approach to traditional God ideas focussed, as Grant has it, on the individual and humanity.) Where does the new sociobiology leave Ruse's critique? It was that the moral God is a human projection created by us under the power of biology to make us be `altruistic'. This is too extreme. Better: humans project ideas such as morality onto God (=that which causes all to be) so that we would be `altruistic' (and other reasons too, e.g., maintaining social classes, etc.). There are cultural transmissions going on too - eg., in the meme `God'.

The issue goes further than Ruse takes it. `Altruism' depends on altruism; for instance, sometimes `altruism' needs a push from the powerful altruistic feelings to counter selfishness. Undermining these feelings, therefore, also undermines `altruism'.

Awareness of sociobiology, building on Ruse's suggestion, takes away the power that supports both altruism and `altruism'. This adds to the undermining that comes from recognizing the variety of moral claims. What can replace their support? How can altruism and `altruism' survive?


There are two parts to this question. First, what might be the modern content of altruism so it would promote `altruism'? Second, what might give altruism the power of objective truth so people would want to follow it and thus also `altruism'?

A culture could use the results of sociobiology to help fashion the content of its morality.<8> (This appears to contravene the naturalistic fallacy. On the other hand, doing it is an act of choice, even though the need for a morality is biological.) Yet the results - and at present there are few of them - do not provide a morality broad enough to apply in most circumstances and they do not make the choice between competing biological inclinations. They need expanding by culture. Wilson would have the decisions on social control made by democratic consensus weighted toward behaviors that are natural biologically.<9> Bernard Davis says a scientific process cannot replace a political one, `with its reliance on trial and error and on compromise'.<10> Theoretically, therefore, a culture will build a morality from the findings of sociobiology.

Wilson lists values he thinks are essential for ethics: maintaining and preserving the human gene pool; second, maintaining the diversity of this pool; and third, universal human rights.<11> This last value begins to look suspiciously Christian, rather like the strong love command Ruse rejects. Some theologians build on it. Hefner, for instance, discusses ways in which altruism might apply beyond one's closest relatives and he looks to Burhoe's theory in which religion promotes altruism as a major contributor to cultural evolution.<12> Alexander's theory, mentioned above, may also assist theologians. With the discoveries of science, religion can help society build an adequate ethics.

Ruse draws another conclusion from this and rejects the strong love command because, he thinks, it goes against biology. On the other hand, he also writes the opposite. With modern technology, most people are part of each person's social circle; the world is becoming smaller and smaller. `Here perhaps our technology has out-run our innate moral sentiments. Our animal nature is, in respects, inadequate to deal with today's problems.' Programs devised by culture must supplement biological feelings, Ruse says, because they do not extend to a wide enough circle. This command comes from biology. To devise such programs is to `take our evolutionary evolved powers of reason and understanding, and to apply them to our ultimate biological self-interest'.<13> We are morally obliged to all people. This is much like the strong love command of Christianity.

The problem I am addressing is the survival of altruism and `altruism' in the face of the critiques from the modern West as typified by sociobiology. The discussion above suggests the contents of a new morality could emerge from joining the results of sociobiology to the wisdom of religion. Part of the task remains. Suppose Western culture works out such a morality. How does it have power? If the morality comes from public debate, from where does it gain its strength of conviction? The power would have to come from within the human mind because it needs a subconscious base through epigenetic rules.

There are two possible sources for its strength: the power of science and the power of religious traditions. The perceived hold of religion and its objective God used to have the current force of science as explanation and of religion as the caretaker of the moral wisdom of Western society. Together, present-day science and religion have that power.<14> Thus, joining them at their deepest levels may provide both the altruism/`altruism' and the hold behind them to make them function. Wilson writes:

The best relation between religion and science toward which we might aim...[is] an uneasy but fruitful alliance. The role of religion is to codify and put into enduring poetic form the highest moral values of a society consistent with empirical knowledge and to lead in moral reasoning. The role of science is to test remorselessly every conclusion about human nature and to search for the bedrock of ethics - by which I mean the material basis of natural law.<15>

Wilson thinks liberal theology can help. `Dogmatic religions and religion-like political ideologies' draw in people because of the rigid nature and power of epigenetic rules. `Liberal theology can serve as a buffer' between science and the dogmatisms. By raising deep questions about the human mind, it challenges scientific materialism. On the other hand, it competes with fundamentalism by serving the spiritual needs of most people. Liberal theology also can learn: from science it can discover new truths and strengthen its goals.<16>

The development of a world view based on evolutionary naturalism might help.<17> Wilson calls this myth scientific materialism, centered on the evolutionary epic. He thinks it competes with traditional religion and will replace it.<18>

We need not fear this scientific world view. Science is synthetic as well as analytic, Wilson believes. They are linked. It is reductionist, but sensitive to such cultural expressions as art and religion. Science does pursue the spiritual to try to explain it. When it comes close, however, `both will evolve into something new, permitting the capture and the resolution'. Each will use the other.<19> This is not a total reductionism.

    Here  may  be  an  answer  to the plea Sol Katz makes for a global
morality.<20> The human species  may  soon be extinct if we do not act
urgently on our problems. How are the peoples of the world to agree on
a  global morality? Even if they were, from where  does  the  morality
gain  its  power  so  people  will  follow  it?  Fear of extinction is
probably not enough, but a global morality backed  by both science and
the  world's  religious  and cultural traditions may be.  Because  it 
emerges from these traditions,  perhaps  this  global morality may not
`acquiesce  in  the simplistic assumption of our own  centrality',  to
quote Grant again.  Then  `the  future  of  the  earth'  may  be  more


I have argued that sociobiology makes claims on theology because human genes condition all aspects of culture, including religion and morality. Thus sociobiology's undermining of the power behind and content of altruism is unavoidable. Unfortunately, it also undermines biological `altruism'. I also suggest there is a way to rebuild altruism and `altruism', and harness power for their support.

Sociobiology's case against altruism is serious. Science again has a strong hand against traditional morality and Christianity. Again the religious tradition adjusts to keep in touch with and appropriate to this continuously changing world. The call is not to defend the tradition to the end; it will continue to dissolve with the inevitable growth of science. The call is for positive construction using the wisdom of science and the wisdom of religion.


<1>:Michael Ruse, `The Morality of the Gene', The Monist, 67, no. 2 (April 1984), 167-99; The Darwinian Paradigm: Essays on Its History, Philosophy, and Religious Implications (London: Routledge, 1989); `What Can Evolution Tell Us About Ethics?', in Kooperation und Wettbewerb: zu Ethik und Biologie menschlichen Sozialverhaltens, ed. by Hans May, Meinfried Striegnitz and Philip Hefner, Loccumer Protokolle vol. 75/1988 (Rehburg-Loccum, Germany: Evangelische Akademie Loccum, 1989), pp. 203-25; Michael Ruse and Edward O. Wilson, `The Evolution of Ethics', New Scientist, 108, no. 1478 (17 October 1985), 50-52; and `Moral Philosophy as Applied Science', Philosophy, 61, no. 236 (April 1986), 173-92.

<2>:Ruse, The Darwinian Paradigm, p. 258.

<3>:Ruse, The Darwinian Paradigm, p. 265.

<4>:Ruse, The Darwinian Paradigm, p. 267.

<5>:See also Wilson, On Human Nature, p. 3. William H. Austin, in `Are Religious Beliefs "Enabling Mechanisms for Survival"?', Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, 15, no. 2 (June 1980), 193-201, explores this claim and suggests that explaining religious beliefs as sociobiology attempts does not necessarily discredit their rational credibility.

<6>:Ruse, The Darwinian Paradigm, p. 268; see also Sharpe, From Science to an Adequate Mythology.

<7>:Ruse's argument is subject to criticism and clarification; see, for example, .

<8>:Hefner, `Sociobiology, Ethics and Theology', p. 203.

<9>:Wilson, `The Relation of Science to Theology', p. 431.

<10>:Davis, `The Importance of Human Individuality', p. 279.

<11>:Wilson, On Human Nature, pp. 195-209.

<12>:Hefner, `Sociobiology, Ethics and Theology', pp. 197-202.

<13>:Ruse, `What Can Evolution Tell Us About Ethics?', p. 219. See also Ruse and Wilson 1985, 52.

<14>:See Sharpe, From Science to an Adequate Mythology, for a further development of this theme.

<15>:Wilson and King, `Religion and Evolutionary Theory', p. 89.

<16>:Wilson, `The Relation of Science to Theology', p. 433.

<17>:Peters, `Evolutionary Naturalism', for instance.

<18>:Wilson, On Human Nature.

<19>:Wilson, `The Relation of Science to Theology', p. 429.

<20>:Solomon H. Katz, `Toward a New Concept of Global Morality', unpub. presentation to the conference, Menschliche Natur und Moralische Paradoxa: Aus der Sicht von Biologie, Sozialwissenschaften und Theologie, Evangelische Akademie Loccum, Rehburg-Loccum, Germany, 1989.

<21>:: 449.