Filling The Gaps With Gods

Today, Thursday, was one of the days I give English lessons to this girl of Catholic parents. It was not exempt of discussion. Apparently I must have really shaken the girl’s faith since the mother, a decent woman, found it necessary to have a healthy (yet innocuous, I must stress) discussion that continued from Tuesday’s.

“So”, she said, “what was that thing you said about morality on Tuesday?”

She nodded, apprehensively and smiled. I mentally braced for impact with religious dogma in 3…

Er… “That… I was a moral person even if I do not have faith?”

“No, no, the thing about where morality comes from”

“Oh! That. Yeah. Some biologists postulate that morality in a base form comes pre-packaged with evolution”

She nodded, apprehensively and smiled. I mentally braced for impact with religious dogma in 3…

“Some monkeys”, I continued, “exhibit altruistic behavior as a way not only to benefit the good of the tribe of monkeys but also to raise their social standing”


“Altruism, it seems”, I pressed on, “is built into animals, not just humans”


I paused and grabbed the table metaphorically, bracing for impact.

“But where did this morality come from?” she asked, smiling.


“If morality is built into animals like humans and monkeys, then who did this programming?”

She’s a tough cookie.

“Well”, I admitted, “that’s a question science is not capable of answering for the time being”

Her smile extended, as her two daughters (the youngest of whom is my pupil) listened on with interest.

“If morality is built into animals like humans and monkeys, then who did this programming?”

She’s a tough cookie.

“See?”, she remarked, “the answer lies with God”

I had to drop a devious little bomb so I replied: “Well, that science cannot answer a question now does not mean it’s a gap that can be filled by God. 2500 years ago, Eratosthenes in Ancient Greece undertook some incredible lateral thinking and found with the shadow of a stick that the Earth was a sphere. At the time, facing the question ‘Is the Earth flat?’ people would have just assumed that yes, it was and not given it a second thought. Even today, if you were to ask a physicist ‘What is gravity?’ he would shrug. We just don’t know. It doesn’t mean God wills things to fall at a rate of 9.81 m s-2 at the surface of the Earth. I like to think we’ll find the answer to that question in my lifetime. We probably won’t find the answer to the morality question in my lifetime, but science tells me it’s there. It’s how science advances”

“Ah, so your reply is that you have no answer but there is an answer. Very convenient”

She smiled again and I took it as a cue to start talking to her daughter about the passive voice so I could just take my money and leave.


5 Responses

  1. Now you can give her an answer. It is an emergent feature of a dynamic social system. Predicted and verified through experiments in game theory. Isn’t that wonderful?! 😉

    — Typos corrected by the Alpha and Omega

  2. Sorry, didn’t read that through before clicking post. Feel free to correct my appaling typing. I have no edit-after-the-event option. feel free also to delete this comment if you want to! In future I shall read what I typerwfgwe

  3. Meh, as I say, typos are the new tyops. : )

  4. Well…they HAVE found where morality is in the brain (unless I am mistaken and took the article wrong…which is possible)…I read an article (I believe on Slate?) that stated doctors found that certain brain damage gets rid of our morals. Kinda. PLEASE correct me if I misunderstood as well … parenthood fries your brain and my brain is nice and crispy. They used a group of people with damage to a certain part of the brain and then put problems in front of them like if you were in a group of people that were hiding from an enemy and a baby was crying…would you kill the baby to save the rest of the group or just hope the enemy didn’t hear you. All of them said that they would kill the baby to save the rest of the group.

    So…maybe we don’t know how we get to be moral…but we know how to take it away and that is a start…is it not?

  5. […] any case, this argument plays on the God of the Gaps idea. Science doesn’t have an answer to this particular question? Insert God. It’s made […]

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