I recently read the statement, “I don’t know about anyone else, but I find the entire idea of an ‘instinctive morality’ highly disturbing. If we are to shrink and over-simplify our entire moral code down to the existence of a single instinct, we do great harm to its purpose and application,” and I found it disturbing, especially considering the intelligence of the fellow who wrote it.
Not because I disagree. Indeed, the notion that moral codes are nothing more than lists of “goodness genes” is quite disturbing and inaccurate to basic observation. A simple instinct should not vary in the manner that human morality does in its basic constitution from culture to culture. Knocking down this strawman, however, should certainly not mean that morality is necessarily supernatural in origin.
My purpose here isn’t to suggest some new model of how morality and altruism might have evolved; that’s been done and done again by people much smarter than me. I merely wish to point out that saying morality evolved does not mean saying that it sprang fully codified from the unreasoned goo. Human morality is a secondary function of biological drives mediated by a sophisticated brain in a variety of learned, cultural contexts. There’s no reason to see that as a diminution. There’s no reason to see that as anything but perfectly obvious and apparent.
I rather like how Craig Stanford put it in his The Hunting Apes:
“The history of the study of human cognition has been like the peeling of an onion, each layer of which is more cannon of divine intervention that falls beneath the weight of natural explanation. The outer layers come off early; the earth is not the center of the universe and humans are not the preordained centerpieces of the evolution of life. At the onion’s heart is the idea that he human psyche is simply an outgrowth of the evolution of the organic brain. Most of us have no trouble with the first claims, but many still have qualms about the center of that onion.” (p. 164)
The center of the onion is the next, great frontier of scientific exploration. Let’s not surrender it to supernaturalism when there is no good scientific or moral reason to do so.
 . That is a quote from this blog post, which I’m not really responding to in its entirety as it’s mostly philosophy and that’s not my forte. I’m just concerned with this specific scientific point. Needless to say, though, Nietzsche probably isn’t the best authority on sociobiology, and I for one have never encountered the term “herd instinct” in any evolutionary literature.