Does evolution promote morality?

Hi…I’m new to Biologos. I just viewed the basic videos and enjoyed them greatly, especially the simplicity and the graphics. I do have a question about a statement in #9 (What Happens to Christian Theology if Evolution is True?). The statement is “evolution promotes cooperation and moral development”. I believe that God promotes cooperation and moral development for sure. And I see that evolution promotes cooperation (and competition) but not morality. It seems to me that morality enters in when God created us humans to enter into a relationship with Him and represent Him in/as His image. Any thoughts on this?


Hello, Tom - and welcome.

I personally agree with you in that - though others here are welcome to weigh in with different perspectives. As has been observed, science doesn’t get us from the “is” to the “ought”.

That said, we definitely do (right or wrong, for better or worse), get our “oughts” from somewhere, don’t we! And meanwhile, science does give us a clearer lens to see all the “is” that we have as a God-given context for morality. At least those are my beginning thoughts here. As a fellow-believer with you, I agree that God calls us and enables us to be moral creatures. Feel free to elaborate more on where you come from in all this too.

So how did human beings manage morally for at least fifty thousand years? How did the eighty billion who have lived without invoking a relationship with Him manage? And how well did those who have, done?

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Evolution is largely morally neutral; however experiments show young babies prefer goodness long before they receive any instruction. And even animals have been shown to have a sense of right and wrong and fairness.

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Does evolution promote morality?

Yes. To a great extent it does. But not the complete fullness of morality.

A pretty good argument can be made that evolution invented morality. I don’t think that personally. That would be like saying a child invents walking. I think God created life as this system by which we learn for ourselves and we learned the value of morality in the survival strategy of cooperation, and when God saw this, He said, “it is good.” But evolution only has one thing by which all things are measured and that is survival. And while many things have some impact on survival, I do doubt that everything good can be reduced to survival alone.

It seems to me that God doesn’t require morality any more than evolution does. In either case, the choice is up to us. But I very much believe that morality is its own reward and not just because God has propped it up with extra consequences. God commands things because they are good and to our best interest in the long run, and not simply that things are good because God commands them. But if there are reasons why some things are good and others bad or evil then we can learn what they are and since learning is the very essence of the process of evolution then many such reasons are something which evolution can discover also.

But with survival as the only measure in evolution, I do think that means that there are elements of morality which evolution cannot discover. So I agree with you in part that God wanted us to have more than just survival as our measure of good and so initiated a relationship with us in which we could go beyond this limitation.

Science doesn’t get us from atoms to fairies, either. “Ought?” As in one person telling another that they should do this or that? Does that mean any more than their opinion about what is good for that person to do? And are there any reasons why it is good – more than because I say so? If there are good reasons then are these not an explanation of why this is to a person’s advantage… usually taking into account a bigger picture about what makes for greater well being and happiness? If the word “ought” is nothing more than manipulative rhetoric to get other people to do as you say so you lord it over them and there is no advantage to them at all – then I would say that this “ought” is no more than the fairies of other made-up stories of fantasy. (And BTW, I am not making an argument that everything is selfish. I think this simply renders the word “selfish” itself meaningless. Understanding that greater happiness in life can be found in serving others does not make it ultimately selfish. I don’t buy into that poppycock!)

Regardless, science does show us that cooperation is the most successful survival strategy on the planet. Science can also show us the advantage in a great many behaviors and the harm to self and the community in other activities. It may not be enough to make morality purely objective but it does show the absurdity of claiming morality to be something purely subjective as well.

I think that is overstating it a tad. I would say instead that there are aspects of morality where evolution is neutral. The point being that survival cannot be the sole criterion for all of morality.

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I guess first you would have to define morality. I see morals as being based on the standard God set. The prophets, Jesus and apostles then laid out a series of things that are ok and not ok.

I don’t see how evolution would ever tie into something like the morality ( right snd wrong way ) to speak in tongues or why the Jews needed to rest on Saturday.

But there can be arguments for other things like murder. I don’t believe it does a good job at answering things like celibacy before marriage or monogamous relations between a husband and wife and so on.

God doesn’t require morality?

Well perhaps that is a tad of an exaggeration. After all, He demonstrated with the flood that His toleration of immorality has limits.

So, after 1656 years the population of the world was OOM ten billion, right? Because average life expectancy was 900 right? And the average woman was having 6 kids starting at age 60 right? Hardly anyone was infertile as with incredible longevity there was therefore very low genetic damage.

So God murdered ten billion people because of immorality?

Is that moral, as well as scientific?

To answer the OP, yes. We’re here by evolution and we’re moral; we say what’s right and wrong.

Mervin…I was having trouble with the “is” and “ought” but I think I get it now. When you talk about the “is” I think you are saying science tells us what is (and perhaps how it happened) and when you say"ought", this is what ought to be, what is right and just. So we ought to love God with our whole heart and mind and our neighbors as ourselves. We don’t always forgive others but we ought to. We ought to praise God in all things. We get our “oughts” (our morals…sense of right and wrong) from God. Evolution gives us what is, what we see and hear and touch. Is that what you think?


Klax…I’m thinking that God at some point “adopted” some ( I don’t know when or how many) pre-humans and breathe into them a soul/spirit, gave them free will, made them in/as His image, entered into a two-way relationship with them. Somewhere a sense of right/wrong (morality) came into the picture. I think this is when God created us or transformed us into human beings. So before all this happened we weren’t humans, we weren’t His children, there was no sense of right and wrong and no relationship with Him. We just managed as evolutionary processes naturally allowed. This is highly speculative I admit…What do you think?

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Yep. You got it. Some will tell you that science “tells us the best way to survive or thrive … etc.” But they can’t get there without smuggling in at least some basis that is entirely non-scientific - i.e. that human life is worth preserving (either individually and/or collectively). But science cannot tell me why I ought to survive. Or why my species ought to survive. We have to import those motivations from somewhere entirely outside science. In fact maybe it would be better in some situations for me not to survive? Jesus didn’t seem to think that bodily preservation was the highest of all goods in his own case. And it isn’t a leap to imagine from some eternal perspective, that it might not be a given that our species ought to eternally survive in its present form. I’m not presuming [here] to weigh in either way on such big questions. I’m only saying that science cannot do anything to help me decide between such priorities. But once I have decided that life is worth preserving, then science can do lots of things; like informing me of what’s dangerous, what’s essential for life, how to cure this or that malady, etc.

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Seems to me the only reason to make a distinction between good and ought is so that people can tell you that you ought to do something which not good (shades of Stephen Weinberg!). And that is why I equate these oughts with fairies – invented fantasies, but for the more malign purpose of manipulation rather than merely entertainment.

And what shall I say to this often repeated rhetoric that nothing says that you “ought” to do what is good? My reply is to laugh out loud at the absurdity of such a thing. That something good is sufficient reason by itself to do it and I have no need whatsoever of your ought or fairies added to this in order to know such a thing. “Good” actually means something, but doubt that “ought” means anything more than someone is trying to manipulate somebody else.

Hi Tom. Perfectly understandable, perfectly reasonable; well it was for me! My namesake Arthur C. Clarke (I’m Martin P.) pictured that in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I moved to that after decades as a ‘strict’ OEC Genesis literalist hybrid: of course the Earth is old, but God has intervened seamlessly in that with Theistic Evolution. That process stalled for decades but took off to where I am now in the last one. Like many… all of us believers you are on the spectrum of trying to square the circle. I’ve come to the end of that process and I have both superpositioned, all I have to do is tilt my head. I see eternal nature running like autonomous clockwork doing what it dysteleologically does in the infinity of universes. Sustained by God, who comes down to Earth once upon an A-conscious species time, priming us for transcendence, inviting us to invoke, make up, a relationship with Him in to which He yearns back, which energizes our being, particularly that of the existentially sick. In the Spirit. Those whose morality falters, whose reason for being begs. The well, those whose morality is naturally more functional, who are more existentially robust, don’t need that. Or can’t access it.

Christian theology and indeed theology regarding any religious persuasion, goes out the window once you take evolution as true.

Why do we have a conscience, which is the guiding light for morality? This can only come about when we consider that we are conscious beings and not simply the embodiment. As conscious being, made in the image of God, i.e., having consciousness and love, we have spiritual connectivity.

This is what gives us empathy. We can feel for another person and not simply someone we know and love, but even a stranger. There are plenty of cases where a total stranger sees another person in danger of some sort and moves to help them, sometimes even risking their own life. There is no genetic component whatsoever to explain this. Only our spiritual connectedness can explain it.
And we can also see more evidence in the fact that inhumane people have deadened their conscience. They haven’t evolved to be inhumane. It is an act of disconnectedness, spiritual disconnectedness by doing harm to others and firstly feeling indifference and lastly feeling pleasure at seeing the other’s pain and suffering.

Ethic and morality and the fact that we have a conscience is die hard evidence that evolution is not true. There may be some adaptation for sure, but this is not evolution even though most biologists take it as evolution. Species can adapt to their environment and when the environment changes back to what it might have been before, then they adapt again and may become similar to previous versions. The finches adapted to have stronger beaks but if and when the environment changed so the seeds were again finer and easier to crack the beaks would have again adapted to finer beaks.

No that’s us demonstrating the limits of ours. Still.

This is like concluding: “human value and rights go out the window once you take prenatal development to be true.”

Seeing the physical manifestation of things does not one whit refute spiritual significance they may also have. The incarnation was not bereft of all significance for us, after all!


The BioLogos approach to history as “science” becomes an issue here. This is why they treat “evolutionary religious studies” like a SCIENCE, instead of like an ideology (which includes the supposed naturalistic, meaning, non-theistic “evolution of morality”) now at work in the field of “religious studies”. There are those who avoid the philosophy and ideology involved, and try to take a “just science” approach, sadly it seems even when the topic is “religion”, in the case of ERS.

If BioLogos can’t position itself against ERS, and more specifically re: anti-evolutionism, then it will eventually become irrelevant. Once evangelicals start catching up to Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox on this topic, BioLogos won’t be as needed for de-conversion of YECists anymore. They should become more rare as time moves on, not because they’re “more spiritual” or “theologically purer”, but because they finally have put aside their prejudices against “science” and invited a science, philosophy, theology collaborative conversation in their hearts and minds.

p.s. Ani99, as for me, it’s evolutionism, not merely biological evolution, which pushes theology out the window. “Theistic evolutionism” thus constitutes an ideological stain on traditional Christian theology. It almost sounds like you would require Christians to “avoid biology” due to evolutionary theory, which doesn’t seem like a wise solution moving forward.

I’ve read a few books by Michael Shermer. He seems to reason that humans are social and living in small packs or groups was always useful for our survival. Reciprocal altruism works for social creatures. The golden rule is best for everyone but we know some still break it. But at any rate, I guess in this sense evolution may have wired us towards loving and helping our immediate neighbors. Not sure how much validity there is to this but it seemed plausible when reading it. I think we tend to have more of an out of sight out mind for people far away from us though. For the last whatever thousands or millions years, our ancestors did not have to deal with global phenomenon and population issues. We are in uncharted waters.


“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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