Christian ethics and human evolution


(John Stephen Mustol) #1

My question is about evolution and Christian ethics or morality – what we ought/ought not do, or what kind(s) of people should we be as Christians. Today, evolutionary theory has a lot to say about human nature. Its ideas are spreading into many areas: anthropology, psychology, sociology, political science, economics, marketing, and so on. There is even a field of study called “evolutionary ethics.” Christian theology and ethics seem to have largely ignored this. But if we accept that we are evolved beings, then what is the impact of evolutionary theory on Christian ethics?


#2

I would say none. We are evolved beings that are made in the image of God.


(Christy Hemphill) #3

Christian ethics are by definition, Christ-like ethics. There is no knowing Christ apart from God’s revelation in Scripture and by his Holy Spirit. So I wold agree, that “evolutionary ethics” would/should have no impact on Christian ethics.

Besides, when we are talking about the evolutionary model in biology we are talking about many things that can be observed and empirically verified. When we start talking about “evolutionary psychology” or other such soft science ventures, things become much more speculative and often much more circular. Ethics is not even a science.


(Phil) #4

I would tend to agree regarding biologic evolution, but ethics do seem to evolve or perhaps they just change. Looking at what was hunky dory in Leviticus and what was condemned, vs what we condemn today and accept, I think as our revelation of God has become more full, that we come more Christ-like both personally and as a church, though sometimes I wonder. Maybe if we look at the subject of slavery… :wink:


Another "What do we do with slavery in the OT?" thread
(Casper Hesp) #5

8 posts were merged into an existing topic: Another “What do we do with slavery in the OT?” thread


(Mervin Bitikofer) #7

Does that “Tranquility Now” oil blend mentioned in an adjacent thread come with a bulk discount? We have a loading dock nearby where we could unload a pallet shipment. I could get enough to share industrial jugs with Beaglelady, Larry and others who will be starting in here.


(John Stephen Mustol) #8

Christy and Bill,

Thank you for your comments. You point to the relationship between science and theology (ethics), which is fundamental to the mission of Biologos (as I understand it). I certainly sympathize with your concern that Christian ethics be understood in terms of the character and teachings of Jesus Christ. I agree that these should be central, but I am not sure that Christian ethics can be so easily separated from our biology. Can body and behavior be kept apart?

Jesus himself seems to have been a pretty “physical” (biological) person. There’s a lot in the gospels about eating, allusions to plants, animals, farming, many physical healings, and Jesus had a lot to say about money and wealth (the civilizational currency of material life). And his death and resurrection were quite “physical” (biological) affairs. In fact, Paul seems to say that the resurrection of Christ’s physical body is key to the Christian faith (I Cor 15). So maybe Jesus and Paul are more affirmative of a physical/biological view of human nature than we might have thought.

Do you think that human behavioral evolution might offer some insights for how we actually do live and behave in our real day-to-day life? Might a deeper understanding of our evolved biological nature help us better understand ourselves – our motivations, dispositions, and inclinations, so we can better engage the task of becoming more Christ-like? Is a more accurate self-knowledge a pre-requisite to Christian transformation?


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #9

@Christy, I am going to disagree with you. Ethics is a science when we mean that Ethics a s body of “knowledge” or “science.” Now of course this is not the same as “natural” which is what most people mean when they speak of science, however when John 1 identifies Jesus Christ as the Logos the Bible is saying that He is the foundation of the natural order or science.

BioLogos with its Two Books philosophy says that Jesus Christ, the Logos, is the Source of both Ethics and Evolution. The question that I have tried to raise is that of the Survival of the Fittest, which is objectively not Christian, but has been revived by the President of the US who claims to support Christianity.

My claim is that Survival of the Fittest is objectively not the basis of evolution, despite the views of Darwin and neoDarwinists. I have yet to see hard evidence that I am mistaken.


#10

I would say no. The Bible gives us a pretty good picture of where we are now, fallen, and where we need to be, Christ like. Knowing more of about what it means to be fallen wouldn’t help you get to where you want to be.


Another "What do we do with slavery in the OT?" thread
(Christy Hemphill) #11

Yes, of course, we are embodied creatures. That was obvious to everyone long before evolutionary science came along. I don’t see how any of it is relevant to evolutionary ethics. Evolutionary ethics tries to find motivations and justifications for morality (or lack of it) in evolutionary biology. In my view, that is the wrong place to look when you are asking moral questions, especially if you are asking for a Christian perspective on moral questions. I do not have any faith in evolutionary biology when it comes to revealing truth about my soul or about what pleases God.

No, not if the knowledge we are talking about comes from science. To claim otherwise is to give ourselves some sort of privileged place in Christian history because of the depth of our scientific knowledge. I don’t think we merit a privileged place, and I don’t see much evidence that all our knowledge about how brains and genes work are making us any more exemplary as Christians than cultures who lack(ed) this knowledge.

Astrology and advanced doily crocheting also involve “a body of knowledge.” Doesn’t mean they are sciences.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #12

That is not an argument. That is an opinion.


(Albert Leo) #13

John, it is my personal belief that this is exactly what Jesus is asking us when he says we need to be born again. With due respect, I differ from @Relates because I accept the obvious evidence that Darwinian evolution operates to a significant degree on selfish genes. For example, 'evolutionary ethics" says it is OK for the first hatchling to shove the later siblings out of the nest if its parents cannot find enough food to satisfy both. I believe that the God who created such a wonderful variety of life using this methodology still wanted a creature produced who was more like him, more in his image. So he “arranged for” the over-sized (exapted) Homo sapiens brain to be “programmed” so as to operate as Mind with a Conscience. Jesus was the first human who totally overrode his evolved nature to truly assume the divine. As followers of Jesus, we should try our best to imitate him, even tho we will fall grossly short.

Clearly this is not orthodoxy Christianity. But is it heretical? Intrinsically evil? I hope not!!!
Al Leo


(Albert Leo) #14

What about the contrast that human ethics should maintain from evolutionary biological ethics, as I described in my response to @johnm above?
Al Leo


(Stephen Matheson) #15

Uh, neither. “Fact” is the word you’re looking for.


(Christy Hemphill) #16

Evolutionary ethics is a discipline. It is not just describing nature. It is looking to evolutionary biology for moral prescriptives. I don’t understand why Christians would feel the inclination to look to evolutionary biology for moral prescriptives. And I am admittedly quite skeptical of the entire field, probably because I think evolutionary psychology is mostly bunk, and it seems to me that evolutionary ethics is an off-shoot of evolutionary psychology.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #17

Al,

Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. To say that He totally overrode His humanity to be divine is not true. Also so it is something that we humans cannot do.

The fact is that to be an evolved human is to be able to think, to create, and to love. God created or evolved humans to be in God’s Image, to be like God. This is how I disagree with your position.


#18

I agree that evolutionary psychology is very shaky.


(John Stephen Mustol) #19

I appreciate the participation of everyone. Many complicated issues are involved. After studying the responses, I decided to address one issue – what is called the “naturalistic fallacy.”

In my initial question, I used the term “evolutionary ethics.” This raises the question of whether or not we can derive ethics from science (evolutionary science) or whether science can contribute to ethics. Assuming that science gives us information about the world and ourselves – that is, it tells us “what is” – can we derive “what ought to be” from that information? In other words, can we go from “what is” (science) to “what ought to be” (ethics)? To make this jump has been called the “naturalistic fallacy" - that is, it cannot be done. I believe this is the argument presented by Christy and Bill and perhaps others. They say that scientific information (what is) cannot be a resource for ethics (what ought to be).

However, I suggest that this relationship is complex. Let me explain by giving an example. Evolutionary theory includes the basic principle that all animals compete for survival, hence they are self-interested. All animals are naturally motivated to survive – to seek resources, secure their safety, and so on. If we humans are evolved animals, then are we too naturally self-interested? Is some level of self-interest (or self-care) normal and morally acceptable? On one hand, as biological beings, we all need to care for ourselves – find food, get clothing, shelter, obtain membership in social groups, and so on. Jesus seems to affirm some level of self-interest or self-care when he says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18; Mt 22:39). In fact, self-interest (or self-care) seems to be assumed in many of Jesus’ healings and other actions. So maybe, in one way, Jesus was affirming our evolved biological nature. Conversely, excessive self-interest (selfishness) is morally problematic. Seeking too much food, appropriating excessive resources to ourselves, being overly concerned with social acceptance are all morally problematic. In point of fact, at other times, Jesus seems to repudiate self-interest (Mk 8:34-35).

Thus, evolutionary science (what is) helps us understand both “what ought to be” and “what ought not to be” with respect to self-interest or self-care. We ought to be moderately self-interested, but we ought not to be excessively self-interested. It also helps us see what kind of beings we are. We can see that we are naturally inclined to be self-interested, so modulating or overriding that self-interest will often be hard to do. Indeed, this is what the Christian life is like for me and, I suggest, for many (all?) Christians. Thus, evolutionary biology makes an important contribution to our understanding of ourselves and this key issue as we all seek to live out the agape love of Jesus in our lives.


(Albert Leo) #20

Christy, I don’t know what the ‘discipline’ of Evolutionary Ethics teaches, but, from my perspective, such studies are useful only to point out the contrast between the dictates of evolution [pass your genes on to the next generation at all costs] and human morality [love your God with your whole mind–and your neighbor as yourself] When compared to human morality, the evolutionary imperative seems amoral. Is evolutionary ethics some kind of offshoot of Rousseau’s discredited idea of the “Noble Savage”?
Al Leo


(Christy Hemphill) #21

I still don’t see how the insight “humans are motivated to take care of themselves” is something we need evolutionary biology to realize. It has been self-evident to humans for centuries. And I don’t see how anything that is self-evident from the “natural” behavior or inclination of humans adds anything to Christian ethics. Jesus doesn’t preach some kind of healthy moderation or balanced self-care or actualization of our natural potential. He preaches taking up one’s cross and laying down one’s life. Christian morality calls followers to fight against nature and deny natural self-preservation instincts.