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We wonder.

  • Only in the animal world does a female eat a male that she just mated with. (The Black Widow spider)
  • Only in the amimal world does a male feast on his own children at every opportunity. (The Hyena.)
  • Only in nature do animals abandon their children. (The fish in the sea, snakes in the grass for two of numerous examples.)

But other parts of nature behave otherwise. So what is morality? Is it an artifact of nature? Or is it, as many believe, God's presence among us, and only us? Or is it something else? Is nature moral? Does the context of the question matter? On other pages of this site we write that nature is amoral. What was our context when writing those words? In part we used the common belief that it is amoral to violate, torture or kill others of our species, and that nature is amoral because it does not prohibit such activities. These things happen in many species all the time. And species eat other species. Nature is silent about morality, and in that sense it is amoral. Nature and morality are not polar opposites because they are not the same thing. Nature is where the genes for morality may or may not reside.

Our world-view also is that since all species, as we live and die, are actually part of the carbon cycle in the biosphere. There can be neither morality nor immorality in that. Our biosphere is the way it is; however it came to be. How it evolves constitute the laws of nature. Survival is the issue in nature, and there, morality is a secondary issue, and then only among more advanced organisms.

The meerkats are one interesting example of how nature works. Members of the mongoose family, they form cohesive family groups of a score or more animals and live in underground dwellings -- houses. They are highly social; they groom one another, baby-sit other's pups, hunt in groups. They consciously teach their young the arts of killing and eating scorpions. And they fight other groups to the death defending their turf. Looking at the meerkat as a product of evolution, one sees precursors for the activities of "thinking man," the ultimate product of evolution in terms of intelligence -- and should we add morality? The meerkat "codes of ethics" -- care for and protect the group while propagating a culture for teaching -- are moral activites, and very human like. Also human like, their behaviors include attacking others and fighting to the death over one's homeland.

Many other examples of animal commonalities with humans are found in nature. For one further example, Binta Jua, the lowland gorilla in the Chicago zoo who saved a 3-year old child who fell 18 feet into her habitat? Is that not also highly moral behavior? And very human-like?

We therefore cannot make a case for humanity (or any other species) being unique in morality, or in any other way except pure intelligence. If morality serves an evolutionary purpose, and it almost surely does, it survives as a "thread" of genes endowing behavioral advantages in competition with other species. Natural morality can only arise from the natural law of evolution.

To return to the larger question then: "Is nature moral?" has multiple answers: white, black, and all the grey behaviors in between. All are shades of behavior, depending on the situation. So it is not a question of natural vs moral. Natural behaviors include moral, amoral and and all degrees in between. Natural law provides only for the survival of the fittest. If some form of morality increases a species' fitness, then it survives as a trait. Morality is not a law of nature, but a result of nature.

It is not realistic to think of nature in moral terms. It can only be amoral, in the sense that it lacks morality as a mechanism, purpose or end in iteslf. In expression, however, one species or another can exhibit moral or amoral behavior. And those behaviors are not exclusive to Homo Sapiens. Nature and morality are simply different things. It is not a question of either or, however "politically proper" it might be to think in that polarized way. Nature is amoral in the sense that morality is not one of the major features giving rise to permanent competitive advantage. At the same time, nature gives rise to morality as an evolved genetic trait that may or may not give some evolutionary advantage. We say "may or may not" because school is still out whether or not human morality will win the day and bring peace to humankind. Other evolved human traits such as authoritarianism and sociopathic leadership conspire to negate morality--especially when money and empire are involved.

The Authoritarian Personality is a prominent result of such traits. Since authoritarians comprise some 60-85% of all of us, we might ask: "How is it that the other 15-40% still survive?" School is still, out and the population explosion has brought human evolution to a period of stasis, unless we interfere with the evolutionary process itself. Given that we now alter the genetic makeup of other species, it is only a matter of time until someone tinkers seriously with our own. Will that be considered moral? If nature had an answer, it might be it is either, neither, or both. But in fact nature is silent on this issue, or we presume it is, not having heard from other worlds.


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