He begins by saying,
Imagine someone said to you that English provided the only basis for grammar. After you overcame your shock, you would respond that English is certainly not the only language with a grammar. You would add that grammar is not limited to language: understood broadly as rules for combination and transformation, many phenomena have a grammar, from sports to baking. Nor is grammar the sole or essential component of language: language also includes sound systems, vocabularies, and genres and styles of speech. And you would remind the speaker that grammar does not depend on human language at all: some species including chimps and parrots can produce grammatical—that is, orderly and rule-conforming—short sentences. Ultimately, you would want to explain that English does not “provide a basis” for grammar at all but rather represents one particular instance of grammar. English grammar is definitely not the only grammar in the world and even more definitely not the “real” grammar.What is morality? Eller quotes Michael Shermer: "right and wrong thoughts and behaviors in the context of the rules of a social group" (The Science of Good and Evil, p. 7). What this terse statement reminds us is that (1) morality always refers back to a set of rules and (2) each social group may have its own set of such rules(p. 352).
The person who utters a statement like “English provides the only basis for grammar” either understands very little about English (and language in general) or grammar or is expressing his/her partisanship about language (i.e. pro-English)—or more likely both. Thus, the person who utters a statement like “Christianity provides the only basis for morality” either understands very little about Christianity (or religion in general) or morality or is expressing his/her partisanship about religion (i.e. pro-Christianity)—-more likely both. But as a savvy responder you would answer that Christianity is certainly not the only religion with morality. You would add that morality is not limited to religion: understood broadly as standards for behavior, many phenomena have a morality, from philosophy to business. Nor is morality the sole or essential component of religion: religion also includes myths, rituals, and roles and institutions of behavior. And you would remind the speaker that morality does not depend on human religion at all: some non-human species demonstrate moral—-that is, orderly and standard-conforming—behavior. Ultimately, you would want to explain that Christianity does not “provide a basis” for morality at all but rather represents one particular instance of morality. Christian morality is definitely not the only morality in the world and even more definitely not the “real” morality.(pp. 347-48).
Why do humans have moral principles?
Because we, as an inherently social species, are necessarily interested in the actions and intentions of other members of our group (which may include, we now realize, non-human agents as well). Therefore, we need to evaluate each other’s behavior—to be able to determine the meaning of that behavior, the intention of that behavior, and the predictability of that behavior. Indeed, the very existence of society depends on, one might even say is, a shared set of standards for the interpretation, evaluation, and prediction of behavior(p. 352).Morality is ultimately nothing more than a special case of the more general human predilection to appraise behavior and to erect systems and standards of appraisal (p. 353).
“Morality” is one entry in the universe of appraisal-talk, of which there are many other entries. What I mean is that “moral” and “immoral” are two labels that can be attached to behaviors depending on their conformity to group standards. But there are other labels too, available to members to praise or denounce (and hopefully affect and control) behavior: legal/illegal, sane/insane, mature/immature, normal/abnormal, polite/impolite, ethical/unethical, professional/unprofessional, and so on. None of these other pairs of terms quite overlaps (p. 353).Different societies have different moral standards, for example,
most Westerners do not regard the display of a woman’s face or arms to be a moral concern at all, and some tribes like the Warlpiri or the Yanomamo did not regard public nakedness to be a moral concern. The Jains consider eating vegetables or killing insects to be a moral problem, while the average Westerner does not (pp. 353-54).How do societies develop their moral standards (i.e., what they approve of and what they disapprove of)? They develop them based on how they believe their group can best function so as to survive and grow and have stability and order. The actual moral rules grow out of what Michael Shermer calls premoral sentiments: attachment and bonding, cooperation and mutual aid, sympathy and empathy, direct and indirect reciprocity, altruism and reciprocal altruism, conflict resolution and peacemaking, deception and deception detection, community concern and caring about what others think about you, and awareness of and response to the social rules of the group (The Science of Good and Evil, p. 31 cited by Eller, p. 354).
In order to give more authority to the standards, societies have typically tied them to their particular religion, thus giving them divine authority.
Just as religions have different beliefs, they also have different standards of behavior. In orthodox Judaism, what one can and cannot eat is a moral matter. In many forms of Islam, it is morally wrong for a woman to show her face in public. In Hinduism, the moral standards differ based on the particular caste to which a person belongs:if one is pariah, one’s moral duty is to perform dirty jobs, and if one is kshatriya one’s moral duty is to lead, to fight, to kill, and to die (p. 357). In Buddhism, one is to follow the Ten Precepts: to avoid harming any living thing, taking anything not freely given, misbehaving sexually, speaking falsely, ingesting alcohol or drugs, eating untimely meals, dancing/singing/miming, using garlands or perfumes or other adornments, sitting in high seats, and accepting gold or silver (p. 357). Each religion and even various sects within each religion have their own moral standards which they believe is part of their faith to follow. As Eller says: Every ancient and tribal religion included its own moral standards, some similar to Christianity, some foreign to Christianity, some absurd to Christianity. And the feeling was mutual (p. 358).
While religions attribute the origin of their moral standards to a supernatural being, philosophers going back to the ancient Greeks have sought the basis for morality in reason. Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Kant, and J.S. Mill each developed a system of morality apart from religion or revelation.
Recent research has shown that its not just human beings but other species as well that have morality. For example,
Peter Singer’s 1981 The Expanding Circle, Robert Wright’s 1994 The Moral Animal: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology, Marc Hauser’s 2000 Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think and his 2006 Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, Michael Shermer’s aforementioned The Science of Good and Evil, Richard Joyce’s 2006 The Evolution of Morality, and the many works of primatologist Frans de Waal, including Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved (p. 362).
The core of this research is that “morality” is not utterly unique to humans but has its historical/evolutionary antecedents and its biological bases. “Morality” does not appear suddenly out of nowhere in humans but emerges gradually with the emergence of certain kinds of beings living certain kinds of lives. This is not to assert that animals have full-blown “morality” any more than they have full-blown language. It is to assert that, just as some pre-human beings have “linguistic” capacities, some pre-human beings also have “moral” capacities. The key to the evolutionary theory of morality is that social beings tend reasonably to develop interests in the behavior of others and capacities to determine and to influence that behavior (p. 362).So, to summarize, Eller has shown that moral standards develop within societal groups (human and non-human) as a means to help them function and survive, these moral standards are often tied to a religion to give them "divine authority," and become incorporated within the culture. These moral standards evolve and change as everything within the culture does, including language and religious beliefs. To say that morality has to come from outside of man is to ignore the findings of sociology and anthropology.