I also given what I do acutely understand the role that morals play in the functioning of our society and why they might evolve, but here's where I have a problem and I find it to be a leap: If morals evolved so that we can live together as a group and provide order, as our living together in a group is safer for the species than alone that makes sense, but what about the emotions of say, pity, compassion, remorse, etc. In Mr. Dawkins view, nature is pitiless, there is no place for sentiment here, if it favors survival it is kept, if not, discarded. Why would the tribe develop compassion for the sickly weak member that isn't smart and doesn't contribute anything to the tribe towards its survival? Why would we feel moved to feed, care for, and protect such and individual? It would seem what we deem the higher aspects of human behavior really don't benefit our survival all that much if at all, in fact they may actually be counter productive in many situations. This is where I find a problem with the theory and find myself having to make a leap of faith to accept it akin to that made in accepting a god.
before i get into the rest, Dawkins does not suggest that because nature is cold and indifferent to our survival, that all survivors also need to be cold and uncaring. but rather that we have the capacity to survive natures indifference, and make life even slightly more easy and humane in the process.
so, this is all very similar to your question regarding art and poetry, and it's evolutionary history. and to a certain technical point, it's speculative to a degree of certainty about how morals developed. there is no fossil record of morals. what we mostly have is all the biological and paleontological evidence for evolution (brain size etc). we also have well documented modern human psychology. the speculation comes from marrying the fact that we know that we evolved, with what we see now in modern psychology, and modern behaviour. if we evolved physically, then it is safe to assume that we evolved psychologically too. exactly how is speculation. but not all speculation.
let's break the discussion into an anthropological explanation of the evolution of morals, and evolutionary psychology's explanation of morals.
the anthropological explanation is very similar to the explanation that i provided in the other thread where i described art and poetry to you, from an evolutionary perspective. morals evolved as our brains evolved. mind evolved as our brains evolved. consciousness evolved as our brains evolved. compassion ...etc etc.
but as an interesting aside, "moral" behaviour is not limited to only homo sapiens , as i am sure you are aware. depending on one's definition of morals, we could say that dogs ( canus lupus familiaris ) have morals, as they seem to treat us well, will protect us, even love us on a certain level. apes also tend to band together and take care of each other.
however, there has been a recent find at a site in Georgia (country) where paleoanthropologists have been uncovering very early hominids (non human) since the 90's. The site is called Dmanisi .
the find i am going to point you towards is a rather new one, and it is causing some heated debate in anthropological circles about the ability of early hominid apes to care for one another. they have uncovered a skull of an old (40 yr) male H. ergaster or H. erectus that had no teeth, and by the looks of the jaw had survived for some time after losing all of his teeth. to many anthropologists, this is strong indication that he was propped up and supported by the community he lived in. here are some articles culled from the comments and articles of the anthropologists that support this hypothesis:
and some actual sources in support of caring early hominids:
DeGusta, David. "Aubesier 11 Is Not Evidence of Neanderthal Conspecific Care." Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 45 (2003), 91-4.
Delson, Eric, and others, eds. Encyclopedia of Human Evolution and Prehistory. Garland Publishing Inc., 2000.
Gabunia, Leo, and others. "Earliest Pleistocene Hominid Cranial Remains from Dmanisi, Republic of Georgia: Taxonomy, Geological Setting, and Age," Science (12 May 2000), 1019-25.
Jurmain, Robert, and others. Introduction to Physical Anthropology, 10th edition. Wadsworth, 2005.
Lebel, Serge, and others. "Comparative Morphology and Paleobiology of Middle Pleistocene Human Remains From the Bau de l'Aubesier, Vaucluse, France." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (September 25, 2001), 11097-102.
Lordkipanidze, David, and others. "An Edentulous Hominin Skull from Dmanisi, Georgia." Submitted to Nature. Under review.
and, in all fairness, here is a critical look by a rather well known anthropologist:
so it would seem that there is some anthropological evidence for the early development of morals and feelings like empathy and caring, although the specifics are debated. the main point that i would take away is, not that morals developed at all, but more when and why. they are obviously here today, and they did not just appear 3000 years ago in full form, but like everything else, they evolved. this is a special find, because these hominids were supposed to have live 1.8 MYA. anthropologists have long known that in order for humans to work within a tribe system, a certain type of moral code would have been needed. this is obivious from observation. but these old hominids were supposed to have been really primitive. so it's interesting to note that morality did not originate with humans alone, but is most likely something we obtained from our ancestors.
more than art & morals, i am starting to sense that your apprehension really lies at the boundary between the brain and the mind. the computer and the software, so-to-speak. how did the Mind evolve? after all, art & morals are really products of the mind, right? like consciousness, they are like software running atop, and dependant on, the brain, or computer.
like any complex system, if we simply compare our minds to that of a shark, we sense that it is impossible to make that leap. and it is impossible. but, to study current behaviour and neural patterns that reflect not a "civilized" mind, but a "primitive" mind, is one of the basic tenets of evolutionary psychology. and we see those sorts of ancient survival behaviours everywhere, nested in with the newer, more moral behaviours.
we know from paleontology that over the past 6 million years, the size of hominid brains have increased, leading us to where we are now. along with the increase in size, we see evidence of increased self awareness and intelligence (tools, culture, cave art, clothes, etc) especially in the last 200 000 years. but what really do these developments boil down to? general intelligence increased with brain size, this is a fact. but why the extra, non necessary things like consciousness, culture and morals? well this really boils down to the development of Mind after Brain. and it's not a clear cut differentiation either. other apes have a sense of cognition too, just not a highly self actualized one, like us.
and it's not to say that the mind developed first, and then culture, morals and art came after, but that they are symbiotic to each other. they evolved together. only a small bit of cognition would be required to look after a sick relative. and like all memes, our ideas about ourselves, our morals, our consciousness and culture evolved by a process very similar to natural selection.
the very fact that we are not perfectly moral (a lot of bad disgusting stuff happening along with the good stuff in society), is testament to the fact that we evolved our morals over a period of time that was very different to our own. morals, modern or ancient, come from our mind. and our mind is still wired for survival, not modern living. from http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/primer.html :
Principle 5. Our modern skulls house a stone age mind.
Natural selection, the process that designed our brain, takes a long time to design a circuit of any complexity. The time it takes to build circuits that are suited to a given environment is so slow it is hard to even imagine -- it's like a stone being sculpted by wind-blown sand. Even relatively simple changes can take tens of thousands of years.
The environment that humans -- and, therefore, human minds -- evolved in was very different from our modern environment. Our ancestors spent well over 99% of our species' evolutionary history living in hunter-gatherer societies. That means that our forebearers lived in small, nomadic bands of a few dozen individuals who got all of their food each day by gathering plants or by hunting animals. Each of our ancestors was, in effect, on a camping trip that lasted an entire lifetime, and this way of life endured for most of the last 10 million years.
Generation after generation, for 10 million years, natural selection slowly sculpted the human brain, favoring circuitry that was good at solving the day-to-day problems of our hunter-gatherer ancestors -- problems like finding mates, hunting animals, gathering plant foods, negotiating with friends, defending ourselves against aggression, raising children, choosing a good habitat, and so on. Those whose circuits were better designed for solving these problems left more children, and we are descended from them.
Our species lived as hunter-gatherers 1000 times longer than as anything else. The world that seems so familiar to you and me, a world with roads, schools, grocery stores, factories, farms, and nation-states, has lasted for only an eyeblink of time when compared to our entire evolutionary history. The computer age is only a little older than the typical college student, and the industrial revolution is a mere 200 years old. Agriculture first appeared on earth only 10,000 years ago, and it wasn't until about 5,000 years ago that as many as half of the human population engaged in farming rather than hunting and gathering. Natural selection is a slow process, and there just haven't been enough generations for it to design circuits that are well-adapted to our post-industrial life.
In other words, our modern skulls house a stone age mind. The key to understanding how the modern mind works is to realize that its circuits were not designed to solve the day-to-day problems of a modern American -- they were designed to solve the day-to-day problems of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. These stone age priorities produced a brain far better at solving some problems than others. For example, it is easier for us to deal with small, hunter-gatherer-band sized groups of people than with crowds of thousands; it is easier for us to learn to fear snakes than electric sockets, even though electric sockets pose a larger threat than snakes do in most American communities. In many cases, our brains are better at solving the kinds of problems our ancestors faced on the African savannahs than they are at solving the more familiar tasks we face in a college classroom or a modern city. In saying that our modern skulls house a stone age mind, we do not mean to imply that our minds are unsophisticated. Quite the contrary: they are very sophisticated computers, whose circuits are elegantly designed to solve the kinds of problems our ancestors routinely faced.
so, i hope this helps. again, let me know if there is anything i can explain better, or perhaps expound on. i can round up sources that get into the evolution of our mind (rather than brain size) if you like. but here is some further reading:
Barkow, J., Cosmides, L. and Tooby, J. 1992. The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. NY: Oxford University Press.
Dawkins, R. 1986. The blind watchmaker. NY: Norton.
Pinker, S. 1994. The language instinct. NY: Morrow.
Williams, G. 1966. Adaptation and natural selection. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.