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Only the Bad Die Young? In Search of the “Moral Gene”

January 3, 2011

 In a study of Darwinian theory, I was recently confronted with the thought that, for evolution to hold true, morality must survive immorality if the world is to get “better” through biological evolution. This means (I think!) that the “bad” ones must die off and the “good” ones must survive.

Of course we all know that this is what evolution teaches with regard to that which is physically good and bad – “survival of the fittest” and all of that. But it must also apply to that which is morally good, right? So, this generation’s kids must be “better” – physically and morally – than their parents. Now, we could easily poke fun and say that the evidence clearly weighs against any hope of that! Yet evolutionary theory requires eons, not decades, so let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this generation is incrementally better than the previous one. Or maybe it’s kind of a “two-step-forward-one-step-back” thing and it takes a generation or two (or twenty) for any discernable improvement to appear. But that opens up another can of worms. Follow me here.

If person a has child b who has child c (and so on), we are assuming that c (or q, if it takes a while) will be “better” than a. But if b is skipped, how is it that c is better than a? Better yet, let’s go with q. After so many years, surely a provides no personal positive influence on q, so we can discount the possibility of ensuing generations being progressively better because they were taught to be better.

That leaves genetics. No surprise there, right? After all, we are talking about biological evolution. But wait – are we saying, then, that morals are genetic? That “kindness” and “generosity” are inherited through the genes like green eyes and male pattern baldness, maybe just skipping a generation or two before revealing themselves? I know that I have heard of kids being born with green eyes, for instance, when both their parents had brown eyes and you would have to go back to some maternal grandfather to find green eyes in the family. Is that what is going on with the “moral gene”?

Let’s be clear. Evolution doesn’t teach that morals or ethics are innate in all people and only “emerge” to a progressively greater degree as time passes and evolution marches on. If they said this, then they would be faced with the dilemma of saying that humanity’s reptilian ancestors also had this innate morality (discuss that with the next alligator you come across!). No, they insist that – at some point – this sense of morality appeared in the evolutionary chain. But, when? How?

It seems to me that we are faced with a fairly straight-forward choice: either the “moral gene” appeared and progressively evolves through successive generations (occasionally skipping a few, regressing, etc.) or people do, in fact, have an innate sense of right and wrong. Hmmm… this whole thought really has been rather off the cuff, and I haven’t even Googled the evolutionary position – so I may be off by a mile. But I think I’ve got at least a pretty good handle on the logic of it all. That being the case, I think I will go with the second of those two choices. As Paul said, the law of God (“right” and “wrong”) is written on the human heart (Romans 2:15). He further makes the case that – far from evolving – the human race is “progressively” degenerate, actively suppressing the truth more and more (Romans 1:18-32).

So, the “bad” do die young . . . and old . . . and everywhere in between; because we are all bad. We are all sinners in rebellion against a holy God (Romans 3:23). Yet for those who acknowledge that – those who acknowledge that they have been suppressing and rebelling against their conscience (“moral gene”?) that was given to them by their Creator, there is the promise of redemption, atonement, and reconciliation with the God they have spurned (Romans 6:23). Which do you believe . . . and why?

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