These Gifford Lectures for 1997 comprise a philosophical enquiry into the soundness of reigning evolutionary theories (e.g. those of Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, David Dennett, most prominently) concerning the origin of ethics and morality. These theories of course rule out any sort of transcendent source for these pervasive structures of human life, attributing all religion and altruism to survival mechanisms devised By our ''selfish genes.'' Or as Dawkins astoundingly announces, concerning the ''oughts'' of how we should live, ''all attempts to answer that question before 1859 [the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species
] are worthless and that we will be better off if we ignore them completely... There is such a thing as being just plain wrong, and that is what, before 1859, all answers to those questions were.'' Rolston uses one such pre-1859 answer, the parable of the Good Samaritan, as a paradigm for a rebuttal. This spacious book incorporates the resulting argument for pure altruism into a theory of natural and cultural evolution that sees profound ''genius'' at work, resulting in a whole that is greater than the sum of its constituents, a world that is value-laden rather than value-free.
An Eighth Day View:
Can the phenomena of religion and ethics be reduced to the phenomena of biology? Holmes Rolston says no, and in this sweeping account of the subject, written with considerable verve and clarity, he challenges the sociobiological orthodoxy that would naturalize science, ethics, and religion. The book is thoroughly up to date on current biological thought and is written by one of the most well-respected figures in the philosophy of biology and religion. It is likely to provoke considerable controversy among a wide range of readers in such fields as philosophy, religious studies, and biology, as well as being suitable for courses on science and religion.