What basis, morality?
11 May 2004
The April 2004 cover of Discover magazine poses the question, ‘Are Right and Wrong Wired Into Our Brains?’ The article’s author details the work of postdoctoral researcher, Joshua Greene, who has been studying the biochemical reactions within people’s brains when they are faced with moral decisions.
As a result of his study, Greene has discovered that clusters of neurons in the brain begin to react under an MRI scan when people are making moral judgments. From his perception of this biochemical reaction, Greene hypothesizes that our moral judgments are not based solely upon reason alone but also upon emotion. Furthermore, Greene believes that such responses are the result of millions of years of evolution and that, ‘A lot of our deeply felt moral convictions may be quirks of our evolutionary history.’1
Is Greene right? As the magazine asks, ‘Are right and wrong wired into our brains?’ The inquiry is a false one. Rather than questioning whether or not evolution has hardwired morality into our brains, the researcher should be questioning how the evolutionary hypothesis can claim anything is right or wrong at all.
For an evolutionist, life exists merely as a result of chance mutations occurring within a chemical ‘soup.’ The same primordial soup that produced human beings produced plant life, animals and all of the seemingly infinite varieties of things which we observe on earth. In such a system, there is indeed no basis for determining value for anything aside from the shifting sands of human opinion. For example, one may believe that sending airplanes into skyscrapers is evil and wrong, and another may believe that it is pleasing to God and correct. But, without a higher moral code than just one’s own beliefs, how could anyone be able to say that he or she is right and another individual is wrong? There can be no such universal principles as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in an evolutionary system as there is no higher authority for such principles than man himself—who is no more valuable than his own opinion would deem him to be.
Greene seems to recognize this problem within his evolutionary framework when he addresses people’s questions concerning morality by stating that it is simply another biochemical process. According to Greene, ‘People sometimes say to me, “If everyone believed what you say, the whole world would fall apart. If right and wrong are nothing more than the instinctive firing of neurons, why bother being good?”’
Disturbing as that question is, Greene still insists that this is what the research indicates. ‘Once you understand someone’s behavior on a sufficiently mechanical level, it’s very hard to look at them as evil,’ he says. ‘You can look at them as dangerous; you can pity them. But evil doesn’t exist on a neuronal level.’2
Greene is right. Good and evil cannot possibly exist within a world that defines everything by chance. In his evolutionary belief system, only (fallible) human preference can determine ideals of right and wrong, and such preferences may shift from society to society.
Biblical Christians have a much more satisfying and rational point of view.
In the beginning, a holy and immutable (unchanging) God created human beings with a sense of right and wrong built into their very being. This sense of right and wrong is known as God’s moral law. God, the moral lawgiver, also revealed His moral standards more perfectly and directly following creation, by way of the Ten Commandments revealed to the children of Israel and subsequently in the New Testament through Jesus Christ.
Although man’s moral intuition has been severely damaged through the effects of sin (from the Curse of Genesis 3), each human being can see right and wrong; we are all without excuse before God and man for our evil actions.
Evil and good do objectively exist because they emanate from the fact that there is an unchanging, omniscient (all-knowing), and holy God. These are not subjective opinions invented and written down by man. Rather, ‘good’ expresses the innate characteristics of God Himself that He has built into every human being, and every human being is responsible to live up to those standards. And the absence of good defines evil.
But, evolutionary ‘science’ will likely never recognize this simple truth. While continuing in its quest to overturn the existence of God in the mind of society, it is inadvertently revealing the truth regarding the ghastly implications of evolutionary philosophy. With the Discover magazine article, we are witnessing the ‘leading edge’ of evolutionary research drawing towards the inevitable and logical conclusion that in a world without a God there is no objective basis for moral truth. There is only human preference. A frightening, anarchical proposition.
The question is, will society continue to blindly follow this flawed theory of origins and life?
- Carl Zimmer, Whose Life Would You Save? Scientists say morality may be hardwired into our brains by evolution. Discover, p. 60, April 2004. Return to text.
- Ibid, p. 64. Return to text.