What science has to say about the origins of good and evil is much more profound than anything ever posited by religions, even by Judaism. And besides being more profound, it is also appears to be stunningly accurate.
Where do good and evil, "sin" and merit, come from? Is there a scientific answer to the age old question of why evil exists?
There is a scientific answer to that age-old question and it is, I believe, far more profound than any reason even proposed by religion:
“Are people innately good, but corruptible by the forces of evil? Or, are they instead innately wicked, and redeemable only by the forces of good? People are both. And so it will forever be unless we change our genes, because the human dilemma was foreordained in the way our species evolved, and therefore an unchangeable part of human nature. Human beings and their social orders are intrinsically imperfectible and fortunately so. In a constantly changing world, we need the flexibility that only imperfection provides
“The dilemma of good and evil was created by multilevel selection, in which individual selection and group selection act together on the same individual but largely in opposition to each other. Individual selection is the result of competition for survival and reproduction among members of the same group. It shapes instincts in each member that are fundamentally selfish with reference to other members. In contrast, group selection consists of competition between societies, through both direct conflict and differential competence in exploiting the environment. Group selection shapes instincts that tend to make individuals altruistic toward one another (but not toward members of other groups). Individual selection is responsible for much of what we call sin, while group selection is responsible for the greater part of virtue. Together they have created the conflict between the poorer and the better angels of our nature.
“Individual selection, defined precisely, is the differential longevity and fertility of individuals in competition with other members of the group. Group selection is differential longevity and lifetime fertility of those genes that prescribe traits of interaction among members of the group, having arisen during competition with other groups.
“How to think out and deal with the eternal ferment generated by multilevel selection is the role of the social sciences and humanities. How to explain it is the role of the natural sciences, which, if successful, should make the pathways to harmony among the three great branches of learning easier to create. The social sciences and humanities are devoted to the proximate, outwardly expressed phenomena of human sensations and thought. In the same way that descriptive natural history is related to biology, the social sciences and humanities are related to human self-understanding. They describe how individuals feel and act, and with history and drama they tell a representative fraction of the infinite stories that human relationships can generate. All of this, however, exists within a box. It is confined there because sensations and thought are ruled by human nature, and human nature is also in a box. It is only one of a vast number of possible natures that could have evolved. The one we have is the result of the improbable pathway followed across millions of years by our genetic ancestors that finally produced us. To see human nature as the product of this evolutionary trajectory is to unlock the ultimate causes of our sensations and thought. To put together both proximate and ultimate causes is the key to self-understanding, the means to see ourselves as we truly are and then to explore outside the box.
“In the search for ultimate causes of the human condition, the distinction between levels of natural selection applied to human behavior is not perfect. Selfish behavior, perhaps including nepotism-generating kin selection, can in some ways promote the interests of the group through invention and entrepreneurship. As the final touches of cognitive evolution were being added before and after the African breakout 60,000 years ago, there likely lived the equivalents of Medicis, Carnegies, and Rockefellers, who advanced themselves and their families in ways that also benefited their societies. Group selection in its turn promoted the genetic interests of individuals with privilege and status as rewards for outstanding performance on behalf of the tribe.
“Nevertheless, an iron rule exists in genetic social evolution. It is that selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, while groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals. The victory can never be complete; the balance of selection pressures cannot move to either extreme. If individual selection were to dominate, societies would dissolve. If group selection were to dominate, human groups would come to resemble ant colonies.
“Each member of a society possesses genes whose products are targeted by individual selection and genes targeted by group selection. Each individual is linked to a network of other group members. Its own survival and reproductive capacity are dependent in part on its interaction with others in the network. Kinship influences the structure of the network, but it is not the key to its evolutionary dynamics, as is wrongly posited by inclusive-fitness theory. Instead, what counts is the hereditary propensity to form the myriad alliances, favors, exchanges of information, and betrayals that make up daily life in the network.
“Throughout prehistory, as humanity evolved its cognitive prowess, the network of each individual was almost identical to that of the group to which he belonged. People lived in scattered bands of a hundred or fewer (thirty was probably a common number). They had knowledge of neighboring bands, and, judging from the lives of surviving hunter-gatherers, neighbors to some degree formed alliances. They participated in trade and exchanges of young women, but also in rivalries and vengeance raids. But the heart of each individual’s social existence was the band, and the cohesion of the band was kept tight by the binding force of the network it composed.
“With the emergence of villages and then chiefdoms in the Neolithic period around 10,000 years ago, the nature of the networks changed dramatically. They grew in size and broke into fragments. These subgroups became overlapping and at the same time hierarchical and porous. The individual lived in a kaleidoscope of family members , coreligionists, co-workers, friends, and strangers. His social existence became far less stable than the world of the hunter-gatherers. In modern industrialized countries, networks grew to a complexity that has proved bewildering to the Paleolithic mind we inherited . Our instincts still desire the tiny, united band-networks that prevailed during the hundreds of millennia preceding the dawn of history. Our instincts remain unprepared for civilization.
“The trend has thrown confusion into the joining of groups, one of the most powerful human impulses. We are ruled by an urge— better, a compelling necessity— that began in our early primate ancestry. Every person is a compulsive group-seeker, hence an intensely tribal animal. He satisfies his need variously in an extended family, organized religion, ideology, ethnic group, or sports club, singly or in combination. The possibilities are vast. In each of our groups we find competition for status, but also trust and virtue, the signature products of group selection. We worry. We ask, to whom in this shifting global world of countless overlapping groups should we pledge our loyalty?” –– E.O. Wilson, The Social Conquest of Earth, beginning of chapter 24.