Guest Article: The Roots of our Ancestry, Need not be the Roots of Our Morality

Chris Kavanagh: The following article was submitted by my good friend Joseph Finch (a fine pianist), it touches on some sensitive issues and proposes some interesting thoughts on science, religion and morality and as such I think it’s a good fit for the blog.

All the opinions and arguments below are Joe’s and not mine (though I do find his argument quite compelling) and as such all credit (or criticism) should be directed his way. I’m sure he’ll be happy to discuss any responses in the comment section. Anyhow, without further adieu here is the article.

During the 19th century, in the new context of Darwinism, Europeans hypothesised that Africans were more closely related to earlier ancestors of human beings than they were. The hypothesis is of course incorrect as all human beings are equally related to a common ancestor which we share with chimpanzee and bonobos, however, the moral conclusions that were drawn from the false belief were considerable and abhorrent  to say the least. The belief in a racial hierarchy and the subsequent treatment of other races as ‘subhuman’ is too well chronicled to need any further explanation.

We traditionally place the blame for such behaviour on the inaccurate scientific hypothesis. ‘How could they have thought such a thing?’ we ask as though the idea that inter-special versions of homosapiens existing is a self evidently ridiculous and bigoted one. But the tendency to place the blame for the evil of the behaviour on the hypothesis is misplaced. There truly is no reason that members of homosapiens more closely related to earlier ancestors than us might not have survived, and if this had happened, would eliminating our moral consideration of them according to how closely related they were to us be morally justified?