Man, Moral and Baker’s Yeast

Moral is often defined as human capability to separate between good and evil. Ethics, on the other hand, is philosophy of moral, which suggests that moral needs some kind of definition, being not self evident.

But what does this mean, who defines moral?

At the time I was in the elementary school back in 1960’s, it was customary to read tales from the Bible in the classroom [1]. Tales about Josef in Egypt, fight between David and Goliath, or the golden calf.

They were though to have educational value and somehow connected to the origins of moral, thus part of knowledge all kids would need.

Without doubt these tales still have a meaning to many people and I don’t have much to say about that in this context. They are typically such stories, that have been told in all cultures: they all are supposed to include a moral, something we should either learn or take as a warning.

The Bible is supposed to be literal word of God, so these morals  supposedly originate from him. When you are seven years old, tales like these affect you very easily.

There is nothing basically wrong with these stories. Stories have  always been told. But these stories are written by man, not by imaginary entities. Similarly moral, and ethics for that matter, are human concepts,  maybe originally developed with evolution to benefit the species.

It can be argued, that the basics of moral are similar in all cultures and religions:
– Thou shalt not kill
– Thou shalt not steal
– Thou shalt not commit adultery..

.. well, maybe not always. When we come to sexuality and marriage, the rules can be very different indeed, especially in some so called primitive cultures. But generally, the basic view of what is good or bad to ourselves and other people around us, is quite universal. The rules have been molded by our cultures, but the idea of good always relates to our own,  as well as our neighbors, well being.

When you take a look at the world around us, you should immediately see that the idea does not work perfectly. That is an unfortunate fact. The Bible explains the problem with the original sin, which we are still  paying a high price for.

There should be a more reasonable explanation however, but not everyone is willing to see it. The origin of moral becomes apparent, if you watch the nature around you and remember that you are part of it.

For an atheist, a moral given by God cannot be an explanation. Nor is moral relativism[3] an acceptable idea. I don’t think all moral system can be treated as equally valid.

Sam Harris explores the origin of moral in his book ”The Moral Landscape – How Science Can Determine Human Values”.  I can’t say I absolutely agree with everything Harris writes, but I think he has the basic idea right.

Moral relativism[3] as such is of course an unbearable idea, and I believe the foundations of our moral system must be found from the nature and from our evolution. Where else?

But culture and religions add there own to the concept of moral. Some of these additions are necessary, some artificial, selfish or just exercise of power. Obviously no society can live without rules, but here we meet true relativism: even if killing is forbidden in all societies, it may become a desirable thing in some situations, in war for example. Some societies allow death penalty, some do not, even if the idea of “Thou shalt not kill” is common to them all.

We have always been good at circumventing our own rules and justifying exceptions for them. Doing that, we usually know when our choices may have been morally questionable, even if we do not openly admit it.

How about the nature and other animals? Yes, we can find altruism in the nature and that should not be very surprising [4].

Picture: Wikimedia Commons


Man and baker’s yeast had a common ancestor billions of years ago. Maybe we should just accept, that the origin of moral lies in the fact, that all living organisms on this beautiful planet are part of one big family.

Finnish Bakers’ yeast. Picture: Wikimedia Commons



[1] The Role of Religion in the Finnish Comprehensive School Curriculum




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