BYRAM CAMPBELL provides an historical perspective on the struggle between the biologically-based concept of evolutionary ethics and the legacy of Judeo-Christian asceticism.
PRE-CHRISTIAN Greeks developed a wholesome attitude towards the human body for they came to regard it as a thing of beauty and encouraged athletic pursuits to make it strong and healthy. They also had a considerable understanding of the importance of heredity. Due to these factors, we may say that they believed in a sound humanity, based on the facts of biology.
Across the Aegean and towards the south, strange ideas were gaining a foothold; at first only with a few but gradually the few became many; who embraced the dogmas that the world is an evil place and that the flesh is the seat of sin. With the acceptance of these beliefs, arose a complementary one, this being that the proclivity to sin might be overcome by practising mortification of the flesh. At least a few ascetics put this into practice and were admired for their "spirituality". Beliefs of this nature are such as to preclude any based on biological facts, and some of this unhappy situation is still with us. We are the spiritual heirs of asceticism. Thus, historical facts show that ascetics once overcame sane and wholesome attitudes and beliefs; and, as we shall shortly find, they are well on their way to doing so again.
One of the means employed by modern ascetics to belittle biology is to reject all ideas of innate worth. To account for differences in ability they assure us that environment is the all-powerful factor. Though environment does play a part in making us what we become, their faith that it is paramount has proved to be unjustified. Based on experience, the livestock breeder exercises great care in the selection of breeds, as well as preserving their purity. He knows that an improved environment has no permanent effects on his stock, nor can it have on humanity. He has also discovered that crossbreeding (mongrelization) will eventually lead to biological inferiority.
The continual arising of warped individuals such as we have observed ― both ancient and modern, with their unwholesome attitude, suggests that an hereditary factor is involved. At least a few psychologists have recognized that inborn temperaments predispose us to certain kinds of belief. The tender-minded 'monist' is born.
The American sociologist, Lester Ward, was one of these. Ward profoundly affected American thought. Thoroughly versed in biology, he employed his knowledge to confuse and mislead his fellow sociologists with respect to the facts of human biology. When Social Darwinites advanced the belief that the survival of the fittest should work for the betterment of humanity, this aroused the fanatical opposition of Ward, who decided that society should be collectivized for the purpose of perpetuating the weak. Such an idea would have offended the sanity of the Greeks, and it should be equally revolting to us. But let us see what happened to it.
Ward called on 'morality' to back his position. Now, men of Ward's cast of mind have conditioned us to the belief that morality should be based on "spiritual" or abstract beliefs for they thrive on these. Thus, they reject facts, for these interfere with the pursuit of their manias. Based partly on mis-information, but largely on his interpretation of morality, Ward gained acceptance for his improper ideas.
Only sane beliefs about human biology can save us from deterioration. Without selection, a tendency towards degeneracy will overtake any group; human or animal. We may therefore declare that a belief which leads to the biological betterment of our group represents a first principle of morality. This is called evolutionary ethics.
Modern ascetics have greatly expanded their field of operations. Though our very natures cry out against it, they would integrate us by force or persuasion. We reject their attitude as well as their arguments for these but reflect their own warped and defective natures: In addition, we repudiate their programme as a threat to our biological worth. As such it is offensive to our sense of morality.
One of the "spiritual" problems that agitate men of Ward's cast of mind, is that of equality. Though the belief in innate equality has been thoroughly disproved, Wardites reject these findings; showing that they are border-line mental cases. Still, for other reasons, the question of equality presents certain problems.
Nature has so constituted us that we wish to be superior. A belief in equality solves the problem presented by this fact; but only in a negative way. Under the sway of such a belief everyone, but more particularly the emotionally disturbed, may indulge in a feeling of oneness with the best. But, as we have seen, such a belief is untrue. It therefore endangers our sanity. Further, with time it will lead to a degenerate humanity.
Properly channelled, the drive towards superiority becomes of inestimable worth to our group, for it leads to more care in sexual selection ― a basic factor in building an improved race.
In case we take pride in our race, group or kind we do not envy our superior members as do Wardites. On the other hand, we experience a proper feeling of oneness with them, for they are biologically a part of us. Further, this represents the only practical or wholesome solution of the problem presented by the fact of inequality.
If we are to have a sane and sound humanity, values must be tested in the light of reason as did pre-Christian Greeks. In case this is done we may incorporate the best elements of our culture into a value system; thus drawing on the accumulated wisdom of our kind, both ancient and modern.
We have a duty to our descendants to maintain the quality of our race. This, we place at the apex of our hierarchy of values. For us, it is the supreme morality.