The behaviourist B.F. Skinner mistakenly believed our nature is an infinitely malleable blank slate, others erroneously believe our genes are secretly in control of us, and E.O. Wilson made the incredible suggestion that genetic explanations would "cannibalise" other scientific fields, such as psychology. Wilson's idea that distinct fields of enquiry can all be reduced to more fundamental disciplines may be wildly misguided, but it is not as destructive as ignoring the role of individuals in behaviour. Consciousness cannot simply be abstracted into insignificance, and motives belong to beings with minds, not to self-replicating chemicals.
The story of ethics does involve genes, but they are merely the beginning of the history of morality. The evolution of certain genes has set the stage for the innate capacities of a whole host of organisms, but no gene is a direct cause of behaviour, it is rather a specification for a particular chemical protein. Our bodies are made of these proteins, and certain behaviours can be associated with certain chemicals, but our lives involve more than our bodies and instincts. To complete the moral picture requires considering the history of our conceptions of morality, and even exploring the role of imagining good and evil in fiction, since in human societies, imagination and stories play a far greater role in moral judgement than any gene.
Part 3 of 23 in the Pentenary series.