Human Beings Mere Animals? Ethical Considerations

I have seached Biologos and have come up empty on the ethical implications of theistic evolution. The issue I have always heard is that if humans are animals, what prevents us from just following our animal instinct and living in immorality? If we are animals, we would seem to have a good excuse for immoral behavior. I would be interested in the Biologos response to this question. But I couldn’t find any. I am neither for nor against Biologos. I am just curious about how this ethical question might be answered.


Evolutionary biology is descriptive. It doesn’t speak to what humans should do.

Also, I don’t know any evolutionary creationist who believes that just because humans have common ancestry with other animals, they are “just animals.” Just like they don’t believe that because many things about the human mind can be explained in terms of neurological responses and chemical reactions, that we are essentially just biological machines.

You might like the podcast series that was done on what it means to be human. I think you will find that Christian scientists who accept human evolution freely admit that biology does not answer all of our questions about what it means to be a human created in the image of God. We need answers from theology, philosophy, sociology, psychology, and anthropology to have that conversation.


Pax Christi and welcome to our club!

While I personally find that the reasons the non-religious atheist might give are “cheapened” by empty eternities and universal happenstance (not completely negated though), they often say that human societies and a natural intuition to do good and reduce suffering will always hold us accountable. Helping out your fellow man and ensuring life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are good because they make life worth living for others; it is intrinsically good because it just is.

For the theist, it is God that makes us responsible because we are the animals supposed to represent Him, and were given all of the mental faculties to do so.


Animal instincts become immoral only when embodied in a creature able to make moral judgements. Perhaps it is that quality which differentiates us and gives us the ability to do good, and the ability to sin. Perhaps that is what made Adam and Eve different from the other animals in creation. And, rather than instinct being an excuse to behave in an immoral way, it is the ability to overcome instinct which makes us human.


Thank you very much. I will look into those podcasts toute suite. I have heard too many arguments that any kind of macro-evolutionistic theory leads to rationalizing immorality. I am aware of human beings being God’s “imagers” (verbal). I first heard that from Dr. Michael Heiser.
By the way, I realize that evolutionary biology is descriptive. I am just curious about what ethical implications can be drawn from this description by Christian theists who believe in the Bible. I think this involves some exegesis, philosophy, and theological thinking, which people more intelligent than I may have done before me.

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I guess it depends on what you mean by us being just mere animals. I think we are animals just like any other animal. Some animals have a greater range of what we recognize as emotional intelligence, cognitive skills, creativity and academic learning. But none of that undermines that as Christian’s we are given a standard by Christ.


That gave me something to think about. Thanks!

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True, we are given standards. I would say that as a Christian, the Holy Spirit helps us overcome our instincts. However, a case is sometimes made that we are unable to overcome them due to the inevitable triumph of evolutionary programming. I am skeptical about just what we are “programmed” to do or not do. Or even if programming is the correct term. Forgive me for being a layman at this topic. I had biology and physical anthropology courses in college, but I didn’t go further.


Probably for the same reasons that it would be difficult to find sources about the ethical implications of thermodynamics or meteorology. One might glean all sorts of insight about many things from those fields, but probably come up dry regarding insight about what it means to be human. The study of evolution does come closer to the study of anthropology, however, and helps us cull away wrong headed ideas about origins at least. But even there, it does no more to show us our relation to God than meteorology helps us understand God’s role in sending the rain. For knowledge of that final conviction of faith, we are obliged to look into sources other than science.


What’s immoral or amoral about animal behaviour? What is unnatural, unevolved about human morality?

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I just call it instincts and free will. Some instincts are good and some are bad. It’s just as much biology as it is culture and insecurities or confidence. Specific and super accurate technical terms is not required to explain behavior and it’s probably not even possible. There is no clear cut scientific answer for things like free will or not.

The Bible says Jesus faded every temptation and did so without sinning. I think all sin is a choice. We can choose to obey God or we can choose to do what we think looks good.

As for sin I think only humans, and angels, can sin against God. Sin is simply the line God draws in the sand. Some of it make sense to us. Some of it does not. Take the genesis tale. There is nothing wrong with eating a delicious fruit, unless God says do not. Some sins seem to primarily hurt God and some seems to hurt others. Taking the lords name in vain does not really hurt my neighbor but killing them does. Covering his stuff does not hurt my neighbor but it hurts me by making me unsatisfied and jealous. Since animals have not been told by god to not do something they can’t sin.

Hey, Kendall!
Interesting question. Already a number of people have given better responses than I could. I’m curious about your understanding of the source of the moral consciousness of humans. You seem (maybe I misread) to assume that there is a source of moral consciousness in humans that is incompatable with evolutionary creation. What is that source, do you think, or the process whereby it is applied?
Welcome to this forum.
Nice to finally “meet” the person I have been mistaken for my whole life.


Might or might not fit here but worth the saying anyhow. Animals have a kind of nobility in always behaving true to their nature. Immorality is not an option for them but that is precisely what sets them outside of the moral sphere, making “amoral” an apt description for them - from our perspective. It doesn’t mean there is no goodness in their nature, only that it is hardwired in. It is precisely because we can fail morally that it is something real and important for us. It is an essential aspect of our nature. For humans to attain the nobility of animals requires us to recognize and affirm what is best in our nature, something that can’t be reduced to simple rule following.

Regarding the original question …

… I believe the short answer is: nothing prevents that from happening. Merely limiting bad behavior is better than asocial self obsession but it doesn’t allow for the real happiness that flows from saying yes to what is authentic and pro social in our nature. Caring relationship on a human scale is what promotes true happiness.


I certainly don’t believe human beings are just animals and I see worse philosophical implications in asserting that human beings are just golems of dust and bone created by necromancy.

I believe human beings are a different form of life altogether than just another biological animal species because the human mind is an example of the life process in a whole new medium than that of biological life. Yes our bodies are from a common biological heritage with other living organisms and by that we are brethren to all life on Earth. But our minds are derived from another inheritance from God via Adam and Eve, by which we are literally the children of God.


Personally, I take what is written in the Bible as my standard for morality. I think that the Bible is an example of special revelation rather than human inspiration or the result of evolutionary processes on the human mind or the result of cultural processes. From my perspective, I do not think that any fact about human origins is devoid of philosophical, theological or moral implications. I think we draw them daily from our worldview to guide our thinking and our actions, whether we are aware of this fact or not. However, I sincerely want to understand the perspective of other people. I am glad many of you have taken up this question. You have all given me things to think about. My opinion is that God created human beings. So far, I am not 100% satisfied with any of the perspectives on Genesis1. It seemed to me that one of the purposes of Biologos was to build a bridge between science and faith. I am personally more educated in theology than science, although I took extra science courses (especially Biology and Anthropology) through college.
I also wanted to answer what the source of moral consciousness is, and I guess it’s late and I forgot. I was wondering if you mean moral consciousness or moral conscience? If the latter, then I think that it comes from several sources. Although our basic conscience is implanted by God into our spirit (I am a dualist), it is also influenced by the culture in which we live, as well as our ongoing personal choices. I think that sometimes, when we choose to go against our conscience repeatedly, we are able to reprogram ourselves.

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Some of the things that you say remind me of Daosim. (Sorry, I am in China, and it is late here, otherwise I would look it up and quote).

I think it is rather impossible to follow rules perfectly, at least for me. Others have had the same experience as well.

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So does that mean you oppose slavery like those who used the Bible to justify abolishing slavery, or does that mean you support slavery like those who used the Bible to justify slavery?

Does that mean you believe God only created Adam and Eve and the rest of us are products of biological reproduction?

Because… most of the people here believe God created ALL of us despite the fact that we are a product of biological reproduction.

Perhaps it is our animal instincts that help us to live morally.

In my experience, the feeling of guilt does seem instinctual at times. When I am faced with the disapproval of others around me it’s not as if I spend time reasoning how I should feel. Rather, I immediately feel guilty, and it feels like a very base emotion. It seems to me that humans instinctually seek out approval from others, and instinctually form social units.

As far as humans being “mere” animals, I tend to view things from the other side of the microscope. Humans have demonstrated how amazing animals can be. I think it is a testament to our natural history that there is now a species on this planet that can have such a deep understanding of how the natural world works, and have such amazing creativity. “Mere” animals? No. Amazing animals.

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These questions really made me chuckle!

I think that people can use the Bible to rationalize a lot of things, especially when verses or sections are taken out of the context of the whole. Biblical interpretation is not a subject for the faint of heart, or the lazy. In my opinion, if the Bible is taken as a whole, it reads like a story of God , in love, drawing all humans into his family. Without a proper understanding of the whole picture, the historical and cultural background, it is easy to unfairly stand in judgement over great and small parts lifted out of their context.
I am a traditional Christian who believes that Adam and Eve were the first human beings. However, I am not trying to argue against anyone taking a different perspective. I realize that there are some mysteries as to how this would be scientifically possible, given our current understanding of genetics. I am interested in understanding the views of people who do not necessarily take my perspective. I think there certainly may be something I could learn.

I would say non-Christian humans are able to overcome their instincts too. Our ability to engage in moral reasoning and make altruistic choices is part of what makes our species human. As a Christian I believe the Holy Spirit empowers us in a special way to act justly and love mercy, but all humans are more than simply creatures ruled by instinct.

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“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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