Question 4

Question: Can you detail your beliefs regarding the morality of killing (man or animal) with respect to the above point, and where exactly the cutoff point is (if any?) –Skyclad

Answer: The morality of killing is by far one of the biggest issues facing the naturalist.  If one looks at the natural world, we see that animals kill for survival.  They must eat, they must avoid predation, and they must protect their offspring and territory from rivals and predators.  Within human society, the idea of killing for food is still valid.  We have to eat, and be it plant or animal; something must die for you to survive.  It is the natural way of things.  Humans in our normal surroundings do not face predation (really, when was the last time you had to rely on your natural camouflage to avoid a lion), but we do face interspecies competition and many times in our world, that competition turns violent.  The problem of killing in regards to human competition is that within our society, many of the things we compete for are not necessities, and thus we would not live or die based on the presence or absence of them.

In my opinion the best way to look at killing amongst humans is this, is there NO OTHER resort but to kill the person?  Yes, this means that I am against the death penalty, I feel that many of our violent criminals could be purposed to something better (though not being a criminologist, I have little clue as to what).  However, if an attacker was bearing down on you, knife to your throat, I would expect that every human would choose themselves over their attacker, in this case, its back to survival.  The golden rule is a very good gauge for this as well.  Would you want someone to kill you?  Didn’t think so.  They probably would not want to die either.  So don’t kill them.  It is easy and requires no personal god hovering over your shoulder threatening fire for eternity.  We simply do not kill each other out of respect for the life of your fellow humans in the hopes that other humans respect yours.

Brian Humanistic Jones

8 Responses to “Question 4”

  1. sidfaiwu says:

    I would also like to add an evolution-based reason for why we should not kill other humans. The driving force behind evolution is survival of the species. Thus our purpose is to ensure and enhance the survival of humans. Under such a purpose, any action that promotes the survival of the species as a whole is a moral one. Any action harming the survival of the species is an immoral one. Thus needlessly killing humans (which reduce the survivability of our species) is morally wrong.

  2. Pseudonym says:

    This is a misunderstanding of evolution.

    In many pack species, for example, a dominant female will kill the offspring of others in the pack. Infanticide is also known in human anthropology. What’s good for a species is not necessarily good for an individual, the obvious example being overpopulation.

    But the more serious misunderstanding here is the idea that evolution is moral imperative. This, indeed, is one of the few legitimate complaints of the “creation science” movement, whatever it’s called this week: The idea that “survival of the fitttest” (which is ALSO a misunderstanding of evolution, though not as bad a misunderstanding as some others) is “right”. This historically led to beliefs like eugenics and fascism.

    Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s right. Typical human females can reproduce from age 12 or so, but this doesn’t mean they should.

    Evolution is a fact of nature. That’s all. If you want moral philosophy, look elsewhere.

  3. Naery says:


    I love your way of putting that ‘natural is moral’, I’m so tired of hearing that ‘unnatural’ bullshit from religious people…

  4. Your Father says:

    “Within human society, the idea of killing for food is still valid. We have to eat, and be it plant or animal; something must die for you to survive. It is the natural way of things.

    We simply do not kill each other out of respect for the life of your fellow humans in the hopes that other humans respect yours.

    The thing is we don’t HAVE to eat animals (atleast in developed nations). People can be very healthy without eating meat. Would you eat a dolphin or ape if they tasted good? Do you find this morally objectionable? If you do, I can only assume that it’s because they are intelligent like us… so where is the cut off point? Why respect only human life?

    I’m only mentioning this because I don’t expect the normal “god made animals tasty for us” argument.

  5. sidfaiwu says:

    Hello Pseudonym,

    Thanks for your post. I see exactly what you are saying. Deriving ‘purpose’ from evolution is like deriving it from any other natural law. As you so aptly wrote, “Evolution is a fact of nature. That’s all.” You could demonstrate this by pointing out another natural law, such as gravity (which had its own ID arguments back in the day; see “Why Darwin Matters”, by Michael Shermer). The law of gravity does not mean that the ‘purpose’ of objects is to attract each other nor does it mean that it is morally good for a rock to fall down.

    I am not surprised that I misunderstood evolution since I am not a biologist. Evolution is no where near my area of expertise (mathematics). Evolution is, however, my wife’s area of expertise and after a discussion with her last night, I now largely agree with you.

    That being said, I can’t help but think that it might be impossible to form a comprehensive theory of ethics without discussing or including evolution. If you think about, the way we have judged all ethical theories is if it is consistent with our collective moral intuition. Well, what is the source of our moral intuition? It seems to me (again, I am not an expert) that our moral intuition was selected for by evolutionary processes. In other words, our moral intuition increases the survivability of our species. So if our moral intuition is fine-tuned for the survival of our species, how can we ignore evolution’s impact on our morality?

  6. Bones says:

    Like Your Father I’m curious as to how things are determined for non humans. The answer to the question seems to imply that all non human life is fair game and it doesn’t matter what it is; at least that’s the way I took it.

    For my 2 cents, when I put on my reasoning cap about this issue, ‘bad’ things come out. The first being that I don’t approve of eating humans because I’m a human. The second being that I don’t mind eating apes because I’m not an ape, and there’s little chance that an ape will ever eat me. Seriously, not to be an asshole, but why do I care if something is ‘intelligent’ (and what does that mean, exactly)? There are some people out there that I wouldn’t mind if got eaten. So either we say ‘let’s not eat anything with a nervous system’, or ‘nothing that can demonstrate langauge skills’ or some other arbitrary measure, or we find a practical solution. Which is we do what’s best for ourselves and eat what’s plentiful and good for us. Well, we don’t do that but we should. And before I get completely misunderstood, I do believe in protecting biodiversity and likewise things that are good for the human species. And before the evolutionary ethicists get mad at me, I don’t give a damn about the human species. But it’s hard to convince all of humanity to do what’s best for me, and only slightly easier to convince them to do what’s best for themselves.

    At least that’s what I got from a discussion with a vegan. She made a valid point that it’s bad to draw arbitrary lines when dealing with ethics. And then she drew the line at the kingdom. I do it at the species, which is not only well defined but practical.

  7. Pseudonym says:

    sidfaiwu, I hear what you’re saying.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever read any Joseph Campbell. His books are a very good account of Jung’s theory of mythology and religion. In a nutshell, mythology randomly mutates over time, and some of those mutations get kept more than others in a process like natural selection. But in the case of mythology, the selection is psychological in nature. So by studying mythology, you can learn about the human mind.

    Jung, of course, believed that mythologies and religions served a psychological purpose, but that Freudian psychology was the “truth” that those mythologies approximated. (The dust hasn’t settled on this, but it’s now more clear that Freudian psychology was itself a kind of mythology. But you have to remember that Freud et al were pioneers of a new science, and though pioneers are often proven wrong in part later, that’s no reason to discount their major contributions. Remember, some of Darwin’s ideas have been disproven in hindsight, too.)

    This, incidentally, is why arguments that Christianity “copied” elements from previous religions (apart from Judaism, which it obviously inherits directly from!) often don’t hold under scrutiny. It does, however, lend credence to the Deist argument that all religions are wrong, but all have a lot of truth nonetheless.

    So in that sense, I kind of agree with you. Our moral philosophy has been historically rooted in mythology, and so reflects our psychology. And our psychology is part of our natural history.

    However, the rapid pace of change over the last few thousand years of human history sometimes make this a liability rather than an asset. Take environmentalism, for example. Protecting species that can’t survive in the face of a threat would seem to act against the forces of evolution, wouldn’t it?

  8. sidfaiwu says:

    Hello Pseudonym,

    I have not read Campbell. Actually, I know next to nothing about psychological theories so I am unfamiliar with Jung. Your description of his theories is very interesting. It also sounds a lot like mimetic theory applied to mythology.

    I was actually thinking of our biological instincts as they relate to our moral theory. We, and other species, have instincts that inhibit us from killing or injuring those within the same clan because we are likely to share some of the same genes. Thus genetic survival is enhanced. The same is true for altruism for family members. My guess is that it these biological intuitions derived from natural selection has a large influence on our core ethics. I think that the ethics we invented through mythology was built around these instincts, though we added a lot of extra rules that have nothing to do with evolution.

    You make a great point about the last few millennia. Not only has rapid change rendered some memes disadvantageous, but also some genes. Take, for instance, our desire for fatty foods and our tendency to overeat. In a food-scarce environment that we experienced for most of our existence as a species, these traits would be an asset. But in a food (and fat) rich environment that is present in many places in the modern world, these traits become liabilities.

    “Take environmentalism, for example. Protecting species that can’t survive in the face of a threat would seem to act against the forces of evolution, wouldn’t it?”

    I would have to answer that it depends on whether the survival of said species would somehow enhance our survival (as a food source or medicine source). I do get you point. We do have many moral rules that are definitely not derived from evolution. This is due, in part, to our ability to my favorite human attribute: reason. Through reason we have developed epigenetic traits (I hear that that term actually has a scientific meaning now that has replaced the McKenna definition). Imagination has also played a role in developing new mythologies and morals.

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