The Evolutionary Research on Morality and Theological Ethics

October 23, 2018 - October 24, 2018
University of Urbino


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University Of Rome 2, Tor Vergata
Universität Augsburg
Oxford University


University Of Rome 2, Tor Vergata

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Recent works in biology, social psychology and cognitive sciences show a growing interest for evolutionary accounts of morality. Following the seminal research agenda of Bill Hamilton, an impressive body of empirical inquiries has investigated into the nature of animal groups and behavior within them. As a consequence, joint agency, altruism, and collaboration among kin and non kin have become an important focus of experimental tests. The cumulative evidence that prosocial behaviors favor biological fitness has progressively lead to questioning whether human morality is naturalistically framed upon evolutionary grounds. Grossly speaking, two parties are disputing at present. The former originates from Frans de Waal’s studies on great apes. According to such option human morality is rooted in animal emphaty, and is continuous in respect to behavioral patterns which most mammals exhibit. On the contrary, the latter denies that human morality has anything to do with animal prosociality, because the cognitive abilities of human beings are noncontinuous in respect to animal ones, and such abilities alone constitute the conditions for the possibility of morality. Michael Tomasello is a leading proponent of such an option.

The purpose of the conference is to investigate whether the evolutionary debate on morality is relevant to theological ethics. Questions which may be addressed are the following: What do evolutionists mean by relating morality to prosociality? How do they outline altruistic behaviors? Why should such behaviors be relevant to understanding human morality? Does the evolutionary emergence of animal prosociality provide reasons against the legitimacy of ethics? Are evolutionary accounts of morality debunking tools for the irreducibility of morality?

Notoriously, many theists have no problem with the theory of evolution, because they hold that it does not undermine creationism (i.e., God is the creator of nature and the laws of nature). If this is the case, some questions arise. Which God is the designer of the evolutionary process? Does He act in the world only by framing a natural mechanism at the beginning of time? Can we understand his purposes by considering the natural history of the universe? Are animal sufferings which are required by the evolutionary process reasons in support to the argument from evil?

The conference provides a venue to debate such topics and advance fresh contributions to the international research on different approaches to the nature of ethics and the related notions of God.

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