Evolution and Morality

Two videos circulating last week caught my attention. One was of a small great white shark that had a dead porpoise in its mouth. Suddenly a much larger great white appeared and wrenched the porpoise from the jaws of the smaller shark.

The other video showed two men beating an older woman, stealing her purse and then running over her with a car. She was carrying a large amount of money from her business and was an easy mark for hardened, violent criminals. 

In the animal world, might makes right. Any twinge of sadness for the smaller shark is merely projected sentimentality. The men filming in the boat were whooping and hollering over this amazing spectacle of nature, but no one jumped in the water to stop the thievery in the interest of fairness.

But why do we view the second video so differently? Why do we feel moral outrage over human predators taking advantage of a defenseless woman? What does it matter that they had no regard for her property, her dignity or her life? Why do we want to catch these criminals, try them in a court of law, and punish them accordingly?

And how do we feel when nature intrudes into the human realm? Did anyone demand a search for the stingray that killed Steve Irwin? True, sometimes when a vicious animal kills a human it might be put to death (as in the case of the alligator that killed a woman in South Carolina last week). But this is usually a matter of prudence to ensure that the animal doesn’t kill again or to satisfy a human emotional need of closure. No one asserts that the animal acted criminally or unjustly and that its death satisfies a debt to society. As sad as the outcome may be, we simply reason that the animal acted according to its predatory programming.

Now this may sound like a no-brainer until we really pay attention to what humanists say about moral relativism. When God is abandoned, so is the fixed moral framework that emanates from His nature and character as Creator. While the notion of being free from the constraints of Biblical morality is exhilarating to humanists, how do we construct from scratch ethical standards that ensure proper universal treatment of all humans?

And what exactly is “proper treatment”? Do not the terms justice and fairness assume a fixed standard that determines such? Where would that standard come from in a world devoid of overarching authority? To what standard would the smaller shark appeal in arguing the injustice of having his lunch stolen? And who would he appeal to? And the little shark might bite the big shark in anger, but can it articulate why it feels aggrieved?

Is it not self-evident that when we begin reasoning (as only humans can do) about what is just, fair, treacherous, heinous, vicious, premeditated and so on that we are unconsciously appealing to the uniqueness of human existence and the expectation of a certain standard to be observed in the treatment of one another? Human laws reflect the ability of mankind to consider the dignity and rights of others and act in respect to them. We sense a fundamental difference between an animal acting instinctively and a human doing the same thing. The one we excuse; the other we punish.

But what happens when we remove the spirit from man? When we dehumanize a fetus? When we demonize an ethnic group? When we defame our political opponent? Evolutionary philosophy says that man is not qualitatively different from other earthly life forms, that we are merely that which has achieved the highest level of evolutionary development. Experience tells us we are well capable of treating our neighbor like an animal.

This path inevitably leads to moral relativism. We can make ourselves feel better by saying something like, “So long as we don’t hurt anybody,” but 1) who is going to define “hurt,” and 2) what happens when cultural consensus puts individual rights above hurting others (a la abortion)?

Someone wrote: “We live in an age of anarchy – not political anarchy, but social and cultural anarchy. Everyone is encouraged to ‘do their own thing’, whatever that thing may be – and it’s all supposed to be okay so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone or infringe upon anyone else’s rights. It’s an inconsistent premise at best and I don’t buy it. When the boundaries of morality and ethics are deemed malleable and subject to individual interpretation, the concept of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ becomes driven by convenience and preference, lacking any principled bearing” (Bryant Rice, The Social Construct of Morality,, 8/11/10).

Scripture consistently cites the Creator as the source of moral standards: 

* “Let us love one another, for love is of God …” – 1 Jn 4:7. 

* “There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?” – Jas 4:12. 

* “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering …” – Gal 5:22. 

* “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality … for God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God …” – 1 Th 4:3, 7-8. 

* “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” – Jas 5:9.

God is our creator, lawgiver and judge. Moral action finds its foundation in His will. While cultural and legal standards ebb and flow, the anchor around which these pivot is the character of God. Without Him, we are adrift in a vast ocean where the biggest shark gets the porpoise.