Letter to the Editor: 03.29.13

Well, this has been an interesting few weeks; first, we have a couple creationists trying to convince the Murray State population that humans coexisted with dinosaurs, and now we have a professor railing against the moral decay of America, driven he says, by such untenable positions as the right to an abortion, universal health care and gun control. Professor Rose knows his history, and as Vicki the software program in the movie “I, Robot,” would say, his logic is “undeniable.” However, as I will endeavor to demonstrate, his basic premise is flawed. I am not going to argue here for or against abortion; that is a personal decision and it is a difficult one for all of us as compassionate humans to make (but isn’t it interesting that the most outspoken critics against a woman’s right to an abortion are predominantly old white guys?).

Rather, let’s consider the premise that there even exist any universal moral positions, let alone who has the right to decide what those positions might be. Abraham Lincoln won the fight against slavery, not because he was guaranteed to do so because he held the moral high ground, but because he happened to be the most powerful human in America and commanded the superior set of armed forces. Isn’t it interesting how morality tends to flow that way through history?

Other than religious fundamentalists who believe there are universal laws handed down by a deity (and those laws differ depending on the religion, of course), very few others are naive enough to believe that morality is anything except a set of rules to eliminate societal chaos at any given time and place. While some may choose to believe that God delivered the Ten Commandments to Moses in order to guide humanity, a much more credible idea is that Moses was a smart guy who realized that his people needed a healthy shove away from the Golden Calf for their own good.

I am a biologist and an evolutionist; I see human behavior, the good and the bad, as the result of millions of years of adaptation to some pretty difficult conditions, first in Africa, then in Eurasia as humans evolved and spread out during the Ice Ages. We had to be both tough and cruel, as well as smart, to survive, and we still carry all those genes. We see them play out every day in the mayhem that plagues the world. American societal problems, of which there are many, are hardly due to “moral decay” as a result of current activities and trends, most of which come and go through the generations, but to the primitive, cruel genes we carry, expressed mostly by short-sighted, pompous, vainglorious, greedy, angry, testosterone-driven males (yes, of course I have those tendencies, too).

Letter from Robert Martin, professor of biology.