Here is my long overdue reply to Mark Kleiman on evolution, morality, and torture, and his follow-up on literalism, skepticism, and torture.
In his original post Mark argued that those of us on the culturally liberal, scientifically-minded "blue team" should show more respect for people who resist evolutionary biology. He notes that many religious conservatives are uncomfortable with evolution because it implies that humans descended from non-human animals:
The red team is, I am convinced, wrong to think that believing the account of human origins in Genesis is a necessary condition for behaving well. But red-teamers aren't wrong to think of that account as providing a potentially powerful prop to moral behavior, and can't, therefore, justly be faulted as unreasonable or superstitious for objecting to attempts to kick that prop out from under their children, and other children who are their future fellow-citizens. [Emphasis mine.]
In my last post, I argued it would be irrational and superstitious to reject evolution for the reasons Mark ascribes to the red team.
First off, there's overwhelming evidence that the creation myth of Genesis is wrong.
If members of the red team are rejecting evolution because they think that the story of Genesis might encourage good behavior, they are indulging in wishful thinking. It is irrational to start with the conclusion you prefer and adjust your reasoning to reach that conclusion. Some people are afraid of the implications of evolutionary biology, but the desirability of those implications is irrelevant to the plausibility of the theory itself.
Obviously, not everyone takes Genesis literally. However, non-literalists have even less intellectual justification for opposing evolution than their fundamentalist counterparts. If you regard your holy book as an inspired mixture of fact and allegory, you shouldn't necessarily feel threatened by evolutionary biology. As Mark said previously, the story about humans being created in God's image is a potentially ennobling metaphor. It is a poetic reminder of our shared humanity and our duty to respect other people. This is a good metaphor regardless of whether Genesis is an accurate geology textbook.
As Mark notes in his second post, it's a mistake to approach a holy text as a collection truth-valued propositions. That's the fundamentalist approach. Skeptics who assume that all religious study is an exercise in finding truth values are missing the point. As a skeptic, I approach holy books as literature. I don't expect them to be literally true, or internally consistent. I read the bible much the way I read a Shakespeare history play--as a potential source of moral, aesthetic, and psychological insight that can be appreciated independently of its historical accuracy.
I think my approach is similar to that of most religious believers, except that I deny that the bible is in any sense holy or inspired. Typically, religious people believe that their scriptures are a privileged source of insight relative to other texts or sources of knowledge. If you take that view, you can have the best of both worlds regarding evolution: God gave us these ennobling metaphors and the rationality to investigate his creation. It is our job to decipher the moral message and apply it to the world as we find it. If humans descended from apes, the faithful just have to figure out how the spirit of Genesis applies to an evolved species of primate.
The viability of any religion as a moral framework is simply independent of the truth of evolutionary biology. I have argued elsewhere that so-called revealed truths proffered by most religions are superfluous for morality. Specifically, the alleged supernatural or revealed source of the moral truth is irrelevant to the value of the moral principle.
If there are moral truths, they ought to be discoverable, or at least defensible by reason. Religious traditions may be rich repositories of accumulated moral insight, but at the end of the day, it's the arguments themselves and not the putative mystical authority that matters. Even if some religion turns out to teach the a valid moral code, that set of principles ought to be explicable and defensible to someone who isn't religious. If so-called moral principles must be accepted on faith, they cease to be moral principles at all.
That's what I was getting at when I argued that Genesis could just as easily be a corrupting influence. If you aren't committed to taking your entire holy book as unalloyed and literal truth, you get to pick and choose which metaphors and themes you find relevant and compelling. The story of Genesis only bolsters an appeal to universal human rights among those who already embrace those values. If you have other values, you can use the same source material to justify those baser impulses.
Unlike Mark, I won't say that those who advocate torture are bad Christians or bad Jews. I will say that they're bad people. Being a good member of religion X is just to be a faithful upholder of the tradition in which you find yourself. Sometimes being a good X increases your chances of being a good person, but not necessarily. Depending on the X tradition in which you find yourself, good Xness may be an impediment morality.
Members of the red team who reject evolution because of its moral implications are deeply confused about science and morality. I would argue that their reticence also bespeaks a lack of faith and/or a muddled theology. They deserve the same courtesy as anyone who is advancing a view in a public debate, but they don't deserve any special deference from us because their beliefs are well-intentioned and/or faith-based.