RESPONDblogs: Morality. Is it a GIFT or just the result of EVOLUTION?


My kids have always had a keen sense of what is right and what is wrong.

As twin girls, they grew up together and they did so with little finely tuned radars that instantly detected when one of them was being treated unfairly. If Naomi was given a MacDonalds Happy Meal on Tuesday while Rebecca was at her swimming lesson, Rebecca made it quite clear to us that she expected to receive a Happy Meal herself at our earliest convenience. As I am sure you will understand – Christmas and Birthdays in our house have always been a delicate balancing act.


It’s not just my girls who are like this. We are all beings with an acute sense of what should be and what should not be. How many times have we flashed the other motorist and said something like…”He should NOT have cut me up like that!” Have you ever watched the news on TV and shaken your head, “How can people be so cruel to each other? The world ought not to be like this.”


Humanity’s clear sense of “ought” and “should” is called Morality. We are a moral species.  And – as far as we can tell – this marks us out from the other life forms on this planet.


So this brings me to my question. If the Atheists are right and there is no God…if our universe is simply the result of physical necessity and the working of the laws of physics…then where do objective Moral values come from? How did we evolve our finely tuned sense of right and fair vs wrong and unfair?


It seems to me that Atheism – and particularly the Material Naturalist worldview – has a problem. It wants us to believe that a non-moral first cause combined with a non-moral evolutionary process of chance and natural selection – has led to a moral species.  Us.


How can a non-moral process led to a moral result?


At which point the naturalist may smile and respond. “Your analogy of the driver that cut you up is the right one, Stuart. Morality is simply the result of millions of years of social convention and evolution. It’s the way that society has grown to regulate people’s behavior. This is vital for us – it promotes cooperation and it avoids society from breaking down. BUT – it does not require any God to exist. It has just happened over a long period of time. Morals come from within us.”


And I would answer – why? Why is it better for society for someone to cooperate and have their behavior regulated? Why is it better for society NOT to break down? The answer – survival of the fittest – right?


Yet this answer is not a good description of what is under pinning our morals in society. Why? Because it misrepresents us.


What do I mean?  Well a society that was truly built on the principle of “survival of the fittest” would have no time for the handicapped or the elderly or the sick. But this is not what I see today. An incredible amount of time and care is expended every day on our planet to care for people in this unfortunate position. I see it in the Western countries, and I also see it in the developing countries in Africa. The people doing the hard work of caring are to be applauded … they deserve a medal! Right?

Did you ever see the Science Fiction movie from the 1970’s – Logan’s Run? That was all about a society that killed its elderly as a matter of course. Elderly is classed as over 30 (I’d be long gone, myself!) The drama of the story comes from two characters – Logan and Jessica – who instinctively know this is wrong and decide to fight against it. And – as they approach the big 3 0 – they run away so that they will  not be killed themselves. This story resonates with us when we watch it because we know inside – it’s wrong to put old people down for the benefit of the young. It’s wrong in fiction as well as fact. A society built on survival of the fittest…or the youngest…or the better off…or the minority is inherently corrupt and evil.


Those who claim that evolutionary principles have led to human moral values – are simply not thinking thru the issue. They aren’t honestly going where their claims would ultimately take them to. Why? Because “survival of the fittest” leads us to Hitler’s final solution. Do you really sense that it’s right to go there? Because I don’t…and I can bet the majority of the people alive on our planet today agree with me.


No – I think that OBJECTIVE moral values exist. They don’t come from within us at all. They are given TO us. They are baked into us by the Baker. Morality is not about studying beneficial behaviours and copying them. No – morality is about studying behaviours and making an objective moral judgment on them!


Where does that objective standard come from?


Here’s what I think.

I believe that our hard wired sense of right and wrong – comes from the character of the God who made us and left his imprint on us. I think human morality is a signpost to the source. It’s like a stamp of authenticity from the manufacturer. Objective moral values point to our creator, who is described in these terms by the Bible.

“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5

“…God is love.” 1 John 4:8

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I live in the UK, I'm married to Janet and I'm passionate about proposing a case for the historic Christian faith. You can find me on Twitter at @stuhgray.

13 thoughts on “RESPONDblogs: Morality. Is it a GIFT or just the result of EVOLUTION?”

  1. Great post! It hits and does great damage to the soft underbelly of atheism which consists of one fundamental dogma:

    Everything just happens all by itself.

    In fact all civilizations grow up around religion.

    No religion, no civilization.

    That is because religion attenuates the baser side of human nature and fosters the cooperation among men that is necessary to construct civil society piece by piece.

    Atheism is in fact a clarion call to pre-civilized, prehistoric, atavistic man.

  2. “And – as far as we can tell – this marks us out from the other life forms on this planet.”

    I disagree. We’ve seen many mammals make moral decisions and take moral actions. A sense of right and wrong is easily demonstrated in jealousy… anyone with more than one dog will know that dogs are also moral creatures.

    There are no objective moral values. Because ‘morality’ or a sense of fairness is based in the brain, all mammals have it. This makes it seem like it might be objective but near universal morality is not objective morality. There is no objective morality.

    You are making assumptions and conclusions about how the mind works without even knowing what a thought is. You can’t explain the processes of the brain but declare you know the how of the results. You have to admit this is a bit odd.

    Objective morality is the same for all people, all times, all places. Name something you think is objective morality that does not predate your holy book and is not explained prior to religions.

    1. Hey there –

      Thanks so much for taking the time to respond to my blog post – I do appreciate it.

      Your comment about jealous dogs is interesting! I think you might be confusing “emotion” with “having a system of values, e.g. morality”. Lets expand the picture from a domestic setting…to the Nature Channel. Imagine a Lion is stalking a Gazelle… eventually pouncing…and ripping its throat out and then eating its prey. I suspect that no-one would watch that and claim the Lion was a murderer. They might find it difficult to watch (I would) but in the end they would accept that as how nature is…red in tooth and claw. If a dog kills a rabbit, well caught mate! If a dog kills a child – the law requires that the dog is destroyed. If another person breaks into my house and murders a member of my family…the situation is completely different. Do you see the progression here from no-morality in nature…thru to the unique position of mankind as a moral agency? We make moral judgements on people. We don’t make moral judgements on animals because they are not inherently moral creatures.

      You’ve stated that all mammals have a brain. Yes – I completely agree. But again – I think you might be confusing two things. Science helps us DESCRIBE what happens down to a biological level. But it is ethics that PRESCRIBES what should and should not be done. Description and Prescription are two different things.

      I don’t feel it is odd to discuss ethics – while not understanding how the brain works (even the brightest medical scientists would not say they fully understand how the brain works). Ethics and morality is an essential and vital component in any civilized human society. And its a discussion that is quite separate from brain chemistry and the firing of neurons (altho ethics assumes that living brains are involved in the moral choices being made by them!).

      Sorry – I’m not quite sure what you mean by your last comment – could you explain a bit further?

      Thanks again for taking the time to respond to my blog post.


      1. Hey Stu,

        There are other cultures and small tribes whose morality may in fact be disgusting to you. So much that you think them immoral. What you can’t do is say they are not ethical/moral agents. All you can do is say you don’t understand or like their morals/ethics. Because we cannot talk to dogs and other mammals we can only judge from their actions whether they are ethical agents or not. They are conscious beings. To assert that they are not ethical agents flies in the face of all that we have witnessed of them. Their set of ethics may not be to your liking or even immoral in your eyes, but you cannot say they are not ethical agents. Empathy is another clue that they are ethical agents. Some of the least ethical humans are those who lack empathy. One may not cause the other but they is strong correlation. We might argue that cat and dogs hate each other as they often seem to but then again, often they do not. That’s not biological, it’s a choice. A dog may be agressive toward adults but not children, this is a choice. Choice strongly implies ethical behavior. No, not all animals are this way and we have evidence from study of humans that ethical behavior is a spectrum, not simply on or off. Animals perhaps have a smaller scale of ethical behavior but this does not mean they are not ethical agents.

        When you talk of a big cat killing for food I get the distinct impression that you’ve never seen Halal or Kosher butchery. Go on, watch a youtube video or three and then tell me humans are inherently moral. No, I mean that. Go watch videos on Halal or Kosher slaughter. You’d much rather watch a lion and it’s prey. We raise and fatten other mammals simply to slaughter them. Some are tortured so that our food supply will be to our liking- foi gras?

        We humans are apes. We are mammals just as other mammals are. Our big brains might give us reason to think we’re different or special but there is no evidence for that. Ethics in humans is arbitrary. We may universally believe that murder of humans is wrong, but we kill for sport. We may think the animal kingdom is dog eat dog but to say humanity is different is to ignore all the evidence. That lion won’t kill for sport and in fact can be friends with humans. The lion eats all of his kill and only kills to live. Life on this planet is life eats life eats life eats life eats life. Humans are not above that.

        Please see

        Objective morality is the same for all people, all times, all places. It is not subject to the observer or time of year or century. Can you name something you think is objective morality that does not predate your holy book and is not explained prior to religions. We are constantly told that morality is objective and it comes from a god. So there should have been no morality other than in god’s chosen people. For monotheism that means the Hebrews. They weren’t all that moral and even before them there were moral codes and laws – evidence of morality without the god of Abraham. Ethical behavior is an animal behavior. We humans have simply added layers of complexity onto it and conceitedly think we’re different now from other animals.


      2. Hi Mal –

        How are you doing? This is an interesting discussion…I’m certainly getting alot out of it…so thanks! I’m trying to engage with the issues you are raising here…hope I succeed.

        I wonder if it would be good to define what we mean by Moral Law…or Ethics…as it’s the main topic of discussion here? What I mean by Morality…Moral Law…a code of Ethics…is the intangible “something” that presses in on us. It pokes and prods our conscience and challenges us about how we should behave, what we ought to do, what we should have done, etc.

        Some current examples of moral norms that are also found in many ancient cultures (not a complete list)
        – the sense of rightness about doing good deeds, and acting kindly to others
        – or a duty to treat our elders with respect
        – or the wrongness of stealing from someone else
        – the importance of a legal system and the exercising of Justice in that legal system
        – Truth telling being viewed as a virtue
        – the rightness of mercy when dealing with others…etc…etc

        Now – my contention is that these inherently “right” behaviours are not a result of social convention or instinct. rather – there is an absolute Morality that we are subject to here.

        By the way – I absolutely agree with you. If these things are absolutes, then there should be evidence of this common Moral Law throughout human civilization…not just in 1st century Judaism and the resulting Christian worldview that followed. And – in fact – this is exactly what studies have shown. Ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Old Norse, Hindu, Ancient Chinese, Ancient Jewish cultures are all very different in many ways. BUT – they share a connection in the above moral codes underpinning the civilization…which suggests to me that every human civilization has derived itself from another one. I can provide references for the studies of these ancient civilizations if you are interested in reading more.

        Your comment about small tribes with cultural practices which would be abhorrent to us…is well made. Yes – there are tribes which practice ritualized child abuse. And these people are ethical and moral agents. But – you know – the fact that I point to their rituals as being abhorrent (and I think they would probably be abhorrent for you too…would you send your child to live in that tribe?) suggests an objective not a relative moral standard. Why? I would suggest that this tribe practices broken human behavior which goes against the moral practices described above that are documented from generations past in previous and current human civilization. We can call their behaviour abhorrent for this reason. And also for the reason that – if we were being honest – we would not send our children to live there (if everything is relative…why wouldn’t we?)…we are revealing our absolute moral understanding by our actions.

        What i’m saying is – its not that I personally don’t like a behaviour…and that I am trying to impose my personal ethical framework on it. No – human civilization has an often assumed and unspoken moral framework that we have all shared…and diverging from that framework in brutal ways…going against the moral framework…is what makes the act immoral. That’s true whatever I personally think about it.

        Morals and Ethics isn’t actually a study of animal behaviour. It’s the recognition of a law of rightness that imposes itself upon humans. It’s also the work of asking the question – what is good and what is evil?

        If I am understanding you, when you talk about humans as evolved apes…animals eating other animals, etc… I think what you are saying is that ethics is just another way of describing animal instincts. I think you are saying that morals are just an imposed complex belief system built on top of our animal instincts? Well – personally – I don’t think this is an understanding that makes sense. Ethics is not a study of what people do (that’s anthropology and psychology). Ethics is the study of what people SHOULD do in any given situation. Ethics is an uncomfortable study of oughts and shoulds.

        I do agree that we have many conflicting instincts within us. Animals do as well. The family pet is a great example – i’m a dog person…i grew up with a dog…loved it. I agree with you – animals have instincts. We also have instincts. Animals have compassion and empathy and emotions. So do we. BUT – what separates us from the animals – is that there’s a moral code which is separate from our instincts…telling us the appropriate way to use our instincts in a civilized way.

        A dog will follow the leader of its herd/family. It will learn how to obey. But the one it is obeying…is the leader of the pack. Me…if it’s my dog. However – I am a moral agent I’m not just copying someone else to behave in a moral fashion…I have a moral standard that I am given that I either succeed or fail at adhering to. With the effects on my conscience when I fail to live up to it. People can be good or evil depending on their choices. I’ve never heard of a dog being described as evil in the moral sense. (aggressive, damaged, abused, angry…yes. But that’s a description of behaviour, it’s not a judgment on the animals ethical position)

        If someone were to say something unkind to me at the pub…and what they said made me angry…and I began to fight them…then this would be viewed by the Police as an amoral and illegal behavior. The moral law encourages me to keep my fight instinct in check in the face of a personal insult. But – if I’m a soldier on the battlefield on a mission…then my fight instinct is vital for my survival and the success of the mission. What is right in one setting – is wrong in another. Even tho the instinct is the same in both places. This is ethics. Ethics is not arbitrary because human civilisation displays agreement on the right and wrong use of the instincts that we humans have…

        What I’m saying is – morality helps us control the mass of conflicting instincts that are at war within us. And to do that – the moral law cannot be one instinct that all the others obey – it has to be other than those instincts.

        By the way – the great thing about Christianity is NOT that it attempts to push the moral law down on our heads harder and harder. NO – that is religion. And no amount of religion will ever make anyone better. Christianity is completely different. It says that – you and I will NEVER succeed in living up to the demands of the moral law. BUT – we need not suffer the inevitable results of this. There is hope. This hope is where God’s forgiveness, Jesus sacrifice on the cross…and the hope of a changed heart come in. Christianity holds out hope to those of us who recognize that we can never live up to the demands of God’s perfect, moral law.



      3. Stu,

        I am enjoying the conversation as well.

        I don’t want to redefine ethics as it has been well defined here
        The study of ethics has several branches and is not simply what we should do. It also covers why a good act is good and under what circumstances it is good.

        When the word morality is brought into the discussion things get murky. Morality deals with good and bad. These two categories are less well defined. When defining morally good and morally bad we fall straight into the subjective world.

        When you say “Morals and Ethics isn’t actually a study of animal behaviour. It’s the recognition of a law of rightness that imposes itself upon humans. It’s also the work of asking the question – what is good and what is evil?” I believe that you are not using the commonly accepted definitions.

        I hold that good and bad are always subjective terms and are areas of a large spectrum, good on one end and bad on the other. The area of good for me overlaps the area of good for you but they do not match exactly. For almost all humans there is large overlap on both but a big grey area inbetween where we have differences and even grey areas at the extreme ends where we have differences. We can discuss this further if needed but it should be safe to say that I do not see good in the same way you do and you do not see bad the same way I do and vice versa and if we add another person we’ll get yet a third set of boundaries for good and bad and a larger set of grey areas.

        When you describe moral law you use terms that describe universal morality – moral values which are near universal but not objective/absolute. You hint that human societies have evolved from one single society in our past. I agree with this. Human migration out of Africa (aparently 3 times) means that all societies link back to a single tribe in Africa whose morals/ethics were imprinted on those who emmigrated to other parts of the world. These were, of course, pre-modern humans. Our current big brains had little to do with the ethics of those animals. I still hold that all mammals are ethical agents despite your (dis)agreement with their ethics. This quickly points to the common source of ethical thought/behavior to something other than human qualities. The universality of ethics stems from the mammalian brain and goes back toward the first mammals, if not farther.

        Because of the universal quality of common ethics we tend to ‘see’ it as absolute when it is not. By asserting that there is objective/absolute moral law you are putting your foot in another trap. If an act is moral is it because god says it is or because it is objectively good. If there are objective moral laws then god must also obey them to be good and this brings doubt on whether he is a god. If an act is morally good because god says it is then if god says killing babies is morally good it is morally good. You and I would not agree to that which then disputes objective/absolute moral law. This is terribly problematic for the theist.

        I’ve not replied point by point for brevity’s sake. When you talk about having the same instinct in the pub and on the battlefield I have a question. If your instinct is to kill in both situations then you’re sense of fairplay and equality are well out of whack. Even animals respond with minimal force necessary rather than blood lust at any infraction. Starting a fight in the pub over words is wrong both for humans _and_ animals. Animals do not follow blindly. They do make choices and there are many examples of this. I’m not arguing that all mammals have equivelant behavior, just that the behaviors we observe in humans is present in other mammals and therefore likely to be an extension of common mammalian behavior millions of years back. You call it instinct but that word is left undefined. If you mean “a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason.” then when we see animals involve reason or logic we know them to be moral agents. Humans have bigger brains, so we seem to involve reason and logic in almost all matters… even if the reason/logic is really bad or failed.

        What we’ve talked about follows that mammals acquired the ability to reason and curb simplistic instinctual responses. The manner in which we do this has been passed down over time such that all humans and many other animals seem to have a common or shared sense of ethics. This does not indicate that there is some objective or absolute set of moral laws governing ethical behavior. It is much better explained as a successful survival mode for social animals. We do not even have to bring gods into this discussion as it sits. There are absolute morals or there are not. The evidence says that there are not and that we humans mistake near universality of ethics as objective moral laws. Is there objective reason that mammals nearly all have four limbs for locomotion and a tail and head? Yes, apes have a tail. In humans it is called the coccyx at the end of our spines. If there are objective moral laws there should not be evidence that they are simply near universal and further that there should be evidence that gods obey these objective moral laws and punish those who do not. Without punishment they are not laws. Punishment in the next life is not punishment in this life. This reduces the law to mere suggestion without proof of a next life… which is why every society implements their own laws to enforce ethical behavior. This is necessary because everybody has a different set of values for good and bad. Not every human is a sociopath, but many are. Not everyone dies of cancer but many do. Biology plays a big part in human and animal behaviors. We don’t all have the same equipment for making ethical choices. We need only observe the sufferers of Aspergers to know this.

        Hope you have a good day


  3. a) Evolution is a simple fact. As is gravity. But somehow, Christians seem to be obsessed with wanting to derive morality from evolution. Why not gravity? Throwing people from high places should be morally good, because it’s natural… Or something like that? Here you see the error in your thinking, why do you not see the error when thinking the exact same thing about evolution? Just because something is a fact, that does not mean that we have to derive our morality from it.

    b) If you read a little bit about evolution, you will find the term NATURAL SELECTION. Choosing one random group of people and try to kill them is not quite “natural”. So, what the Nazis did was some form of “unnatural selection”.

    c) First of all, it’s not even survival of the fittest, but actually “survival of the ones fit enough”. You don’t need to be the best one to survive – just good enough. And yes, the same can be said about societies.

    d) And there are many possibly advantages a society can have from caring about the elderly, for example it is simply clever to cater to the egoism of people: If you KNOW, that society will take care of you later, you will be more inclined to help that society. If, on the other hand, society will do nothing for you later, why work for it? Then it would be much more effective to work only to protect yourself later.

    e) Logan’s Run? Really? The typical example of the wish for self-preservation and you somehow think his wish not to die has something to do with morality? Of course HE doesn’t want to die. But not because he thinks it amoral.

    f) We are human. We have brains. We can think. This means, there is no reason to automatically do something. We have an actual choice. So, while we should keep in mind where we and our rules come from, we do not have to rely on them, we can actually think about them and see if we can create better ones. But of course, that’s an illusion. Many of our choices are purely emotional, instinctive, etc. And this is why we should know where they come from. Yes, societies evolve. Morality evolved. But that doesn’t meant that it has to stop there.

    g) If you think they exist, then you may shown them to us. Of course, if they include not killing children, babies, newborn and unborn, then these rules cannot be quite absolute, as your god did it quite a lot. So, what are these absolute rules? And please provide rules that most people would ABSOLUTELY agree with – otherwise you just have proven that the absolute rules do not seem to be made for humans and neither humans for these rules.

    h) And of course, if morality is just “do this, because god wants it”, then it is worthless. You may chose to call it “good”, but in reality, you would be nothing more than a dumb machine, following the commands of it’s owner without ever thinking for itself. Or, if you prefer, a slave: Do it or be punished. If that is your morality, then you can keep it.

    1. Hello there –

      I think we’ve spoken before. Thanks for taking the time to respond to my post – and express yourself on the topic.

      I can see from your wordpress site that you’ve already decided that “our earth is a dark and godless place”. I’m sorry you have come to that conclusion – but you are of course entitled to your opinion.

      You know – the sentence “Evolution is a simple fact” made me smile. If you mean all life has a common, single ancestor (no-one claims to know where that came from)…that thru mutation and natural selection we have ended up with life as we see it today…then your use of the words “simple” and “fact” might wash in a pop culture sense. But do some digging beneath the surface and its a different story in the real sciences…Make of that as you will.

      As I read your comments…a to h…I can see that you have made a number of general and specific moral judgments in your post. For example – “killing children, babies…as your god did it quite a lot”. You are making a moral judgement on your perception of God’s behaviour. Actually – I find the tone of your post quite judgmental on me e.g. “Christians seem to be obsessed…”. Please take my feedback – or leave it.

      So my question stands – why do you live with a sense of personal moral outrage, sir?

      Perhaps a question to ponder. I am entitled to share my answer – and I’ve done so in the blog post. Thanks again for taking the time to respond to it.


      1. Wow, it takes either skill or a complete disregard for other people to NOT answer a single point someone made, especially if there are so many of them…

      2. I would be happy to discuss with you further. If you can decide to use a less accusatory tone , sir – and make an attempt to boil down your issues with my blog to a more manageable size.



      3. I don’t see where you’re in any position to call anyone else accusatory (you compared people who disagree with you to Nazis!) or to call anyone else’s comments too long.

  4. “As twin girls, they grew up together and they did so with little finely tuned radars that instantly detected when one of them was being treated unfairly. If Naomi was given a MacDonalds Happy Meal on Tuesday while Rebecca was at her swimming lesson, Rebecca made it quite clear to us that she expected to receive a Happy Meal herself at our earliest convenience.”
    This exact same sense of fairness has been shown to exist in nonhuman primates.

    “Why? Because it misrepresents us.

    What do I mean? Well a society that was truly built on the principle of “survival of the fittest” would have no time for the handicapped or the elderly or the sick.”
    From saying ‘misrepresent’ to doing it in record time.
    A morality that results from evolution does NOT have be the deliberate application of the ‘rules’ of evolution itself. Animals that compete a lot with their own species might do all right, but many of the most successful animals, not just humans, are the ones that cooperate among themselves. Bees would go extinct within a lifetime if it was “every bee for itself”; their ability to cooperate with each other doesn’t just help their survival, it’s essential to it.
    One thing you forget is that one major part of the environment that humans have evolved to adapt to is human society itself. When people say “according to evolution, it would be in our best interests to (insert sociopathic behavior)”, they’re missing the point in a big way; even in the absence of laws, the social consequences of behavior that hurts other people would tend to drive other people away; to have less chance of successful romantic relationships (and therefore less chance of reproducing) and even to potentially be one person alone AGAINST a group that was cooperating with each other.

    “Because “survival of the fittest” leads us to Hitler’s final solution.”
    1. This lie has been used to justify bigotry against atheists so many times that I’m tempted to assume you’re being deliberately offensive, but I won’t just yet.
    2. What do “Aryan” traits have to do with being “the fittest”? (Fun fact; while no study of possible correlation between race and intelligence is particularly convincing, there’s never even BEEN one that suggested non-Jewish white people were smarter than Jews.)
    3. Darwin’s Origin of the Species was actually BANNED in Nazi Germany.

    “No – I think that OBJECTIVE moral values exist.”
    That’s what I think: morality is a set of principles that doesn’t have to be defined by an authority figure. The fact that humans are naturally wired toward moral principles is a good thing, but it doesn’t have much to do with whether the principles themselves are objective or subjective.

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