Does Morality come from God, Evolution or both?

One thing that does bother me is morality and moral law. Is Morality unique to humans or does it come from evolution like Richard Dawkins Frans De Waals seems to think. After all don’t primates sometimes show self-sacrificing traits, as well as love and sympathy. Or perhaps our mortality is objective like William L. Craig suggest and our intelligence is unique, I just don’t know and it bothers me to an extreme. Thank you to those who can help me. To be honest this post was made out the impulsive skeptic side of me, But I am curious on the reconciling of Evolution and Faith. Its been a while since I read Language of God, but other viewpoints like Jonathan Haidt and Micheal Dowd will be good to read. I also heard good things from David Berlinski’s book The Devil’s Delusion.

You are setting up a false dichotomy. It doesn’t have to be from evolution or god. There can just be a set of brute moral facts. Swinburne holds to something like that. Erik Wielenberg is a big defender of it. A moral foundationalism if you will.

3 Likes

The best treatment on this by a country mile - despite the flaw of group selection - is Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind.

I’ve read it repeatedly and will do so again.

Here’s a Ted Talk extract.

Our morality is hard wired by evolution, we come pre-wired for experience, just like all other infinite conscious species from eternity.

None of which excludes God in Christ.

And yeah, it is extremely bothering : ) especially when we come from narrow backgrounds.

[I’m extremely bothered by WLC too! But not in a good way… and as for Berlinski… sigh]

4 Likes

One of the main differences between humans and the animal kingdom is that humans have a conscience and by intuition know the difference between good and evil, right vs wrong. Or as the good word states:

Gen 3:22 - Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.

Looking at the news, history, movies etc. the main ingredient (as a pattern) is about that, good vs evil, doing what’s right or wrong. Even fantasy stories like Starwars etc. etc. in the end is about the struggle between right and wrong.

I believe this attribute in humans is God given as if He wants us to know and learn that difference in preparation of our eternal future with Him in afterlife.

3 Likes

I think we need to acknowledge that ancient societies developed rules (written or unwritten) of moral conduct. we can for instance witness the ancient Arcadian and Babylonian Law codes that predate Moses. We can also witness to cultural life of American indigenous tribes that also had their own moral customs before Europeans arrived. These are examples of “natural law” and indeed any group of intelligent beings needs something like it.
But we should also recognise that the Word of God is spoken to all, and moral conscience of all kinds can be a result of it.

How is the Word of God is spoken to all? And as for the moral consciousness that arises in all, how is that going for all?

Rom 1:18-25

It’s in Romans 1 where Paul writes of the fact that the truth of God is evident to all.
The fact of certain moral standards that have been common to various societies (prohibitions about theft, murder, adultery) etc, and various forms of “do good to others as you would like to be treated” etc seems to me to evidently come from God. The Light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world (John 10.

1 Like

So for the past 50-100,000 - fifty to one hundred thousand - years of behavioural modernity in humans at least and in higher animals going back millions of years, hundreds of millions, the evolution of morality is by divine intervention? And is it also something epigenetic?

I think it’s both.

I think as we evolved we had to learn what’s good for our community and what’s something we want to personally do. To me the fruits of the spirit are to love God and to love our neighbors. That’s community look out.

It’s also God because god is the one who drew the line in the sand. Is eating from a tree sinful? No. It becomes sinful when he says don’t touch it or eat it.

A dog I had before was a good example. Peeing and pooping is not wrong. Chewing is not wrong. However, I drew a line in the sand about not chewing the couch and not using the restroom inside but waiting for me to take him outside. He understood it. If he did either of those things before I even knew it he would act ashamed. Once he understood it was wrong, he knew when he broke it. One thing I did not teach him is to be loyal. Because of breeding in part, and because I raised him and and loved him he was loyal to me. Evolutionary wise, due to nature and nurture, he knew without being taught that it was his duty to bark if someone came on the property or in the house. Without being told, he knew it would be wrong to not bark at trespassers.

Richard Dawkins routinely saws off any branches he tries to stand on when he speaks about morality. he “explains” human morality as the end product of essentially the same evolutionary forces that gave us the ability, to see, excrete waste, and burp. That is, our morality is merely an instinct that happened to develop just like our other abilities and instincts.

But simultaneously, he claims that there is no such thing as morality in any absolute, transcendent, or objective sense.

“ The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

Evolution by itself could create only that kind of “morality” that is indistinguishable from any other arbitrary instinct. we have the morality we have because it somehow benefitted our ancestors in such a way to give them a survival advantage and thus those mutations which caused those instincts got passed on, while other alternate genes that would have created different moral instincts were non-selected. We thus don’t believe things to be good because they are good, but because those happened to benefit our ancestors survival.

any belief in a real morality requires belief that such morality be transcendent, absolute, and objective, and thus not the product of a “blind, pitiless indifference”.

It seems to me that Dawkins has the potential to be partially right on this, so far as he goes, but simply does not allow for the “baptism” of any such morality into its higher, real forms as you call them. Just as a secular meteorologist might be accurate enough according to the demands of their trade to describe and predict rain behavior without mentioning God, and rather than declaring the meteorologist to be wrong - the Christian simply recognizes even more - that rain, sunshine, indeed all weather are also gifts of God to us (even if not always wanted, maybe destructive, or even deadly). But the only way the Christian has recourse to rail against the meteorologist is if the latter ends their broadcast with a statement: “and remember, folks, that this rain only comes from clouds and naturally explainable phenomena - God is not part of any of this!” - then, and only then should the Christian rail at the meteorologist’s wrong-headedness. Dawkins is indeed of that latter wrong-headed category, but only because of his abysmal theology, not because of his science - even any of his more speculative science about morality.

1 Like

Yeah the book I am reading right now Gunning for God by John Lennox does a great job showing Dawkins foolishness when he tries to say evolution demands atheism and how little he knows about theology. I guess my main question is what makes us unique in terms of morality, don’t animals also have the ability the look out for those who not beneficial to their survival and Sam harris mentioned something about Kin Selection and Exaptation for explaining Altruism?

Dawkins ends up cutting off the branch he’s trying to stand on, though. Hypothetically, i could grant his hypothesis as far as it goes… we evolved to burp, prefer chocolate ice cream to tree bark, and to have this moral instinct.

but two problems…

firstly, Dawkins then wants to turn around and claim that many things are evil… and clearly in context he doesn’t simply mean that we happened to have evolved a species level distaste for certain activities, even though these things aren’t actual violations of any eternal moral law… he wants to claim they are evil. but he simply can’t. everything he wants to say is “evil” he seems to forget is “merely” an evolved distaste. it isn’t really evil, i would remind him. there is no evil, no good, the universe is just as it is with indifference.

secondly, if morality is merely an instinct, it is clearly an instinct in competition with other instincts. our evolutionary process has evolved people that sacrifice their lives for others, that traffic young girls for sex, that have altruism, that have racism, that conduct great campaigns to fight world hunger, and which conduct great campaigns to exterminate millions of people.

the same evolutionary process gave us both sets of “moral instincts,” and there is nothing in our evolution that somehow tells us we “ought” to prefer the one kind of behavioral instincts to another.

for that, we would have to recognize an absolute standard above and outside of human experience, to which certain human behavioral instincts in fact conform to, and which some violate.

the science itself simply could tell us that humans did indeed develop a moral instinct through the evolutionary process… the same process that gave humans certain inclinations that lead toward prostitution, murder, trafficking, genocide, extortion… our ancestors who exhibited these qualities presumably passed in those genes as these behaviors aided in their survival.

2 Likes

There’s nothing arbitrary about instinct. And what is the magical epigenetic component in morality? As for the rest of evolution?

And can anyone point to any of this divine morality in action in their own lives? You know morality that’s just so good it’s unnatural?

Like the evil?

What wrong-headedness Mervin? And what is wrong-headed about Dawkins’ theology? We got a way to go have’t we.

Oh - I guess maybe it’s just his certitude that God doesn’t exist that probably just rubs me the wrong way. It might be a few other minor things too, like that the aforementioned non-existent god is petty, cruel, and generally a jerk.

1 Like

My ‘trouble’ is I completely agree with him but my desire for God as revealed by the Church in Christ won’t go away. The evolving God of the Bible, when taken literally at all, is those on steroids. God is better than that. And Richard needs to deal with that God.

I agree that there is a lot (way too much) truth in that.

1 Like

There are arbitrary aspects of morality which are simply a matter of convention whether religious or social. Such are the cases when it is more important to have a rule rather than what the rule actually is… like which side of the road we drive on. The only absolute aspects of morality are those which come from logical consequences and thus were we have good practical reasons why some things are good and other things are bad – rules without which human life, social relationships, and cooperative work of civilization becomes very difficult if not impossible.

As for God, we have the old philosophical conundrum: are things good because God commands them or does God command them because they are good? The former is generally advocated to support an authoritarian morality, the latter finds more substance and objectivity in reasons why some things are good or bad. Authoritarian morality generally confuses the difference between the relative morality of convention and the aspects of morality founded on objective reasons – especially with arguments from morality equating divine dictation with absoluteness (but which is really just relative to the so called divinity or divine command). The flaw in authoritarian morality is that those inevitably rebelling against authoritarian dictates which seem largely arbitrary and not knowing any good reasons why some things are bad to do, generally end up in considerable trouble as their life ends up in the crapper. Another flaw is that this doesn’t deal very well with a changing world and thus fosters ignorance and stagnation.

A free society tries to limit the law to those rules for which there are objective scientific reasons for them. But this admittedly may exclude things where there are good reasons which we just don’t know about. Even when we believe God commands things for good reasons we don’t necessarily understand what the reasons are in all cases and sometimes we simply accept on faith that there are good reasons for these commandments whether we understand them or not. But at least this leaves us with the challenge of coming up with the reasons and trying to understand.

As for evolution, that can be a source of both types of morality, whether finding those thing for which there are good reasons why some things are good or bad, or generating rather arbitrary rules such as in mating rituals, for example.

So where did the morality we have come from? Both kinds of morality come from a number of different sources which includes God, evolution, society, philosophy, religion, science, and reason. To be sure ideologues of various types want to exclude some of these from the list or even narrow the list to one single source.

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

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.