Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Origins of Morality

Newsweek has an interesting article this week on the origins of morality. Scientists at Harvard are conducting surveys to determine how people respond to various moral dilemmas. The article says, "A new science of morality is beginning to uncover how people in different cultures judge such dilemmas, identifying the factors that influence judgment and the actions that follow. These studies suggest that nature provides a universal moral grammar, designed to generate fast, intuitive and universally held judgments of right and wrong." Regarding moral choices, it says "What is remarkable is that people with different backgrounds, including atheists and those of faith, respond in the same way."

I touched on this subject almost a year ago when an article in the New York Times noted that morality could be explained simply by evolution. At the time, I noted:

"Can we explain our morality from a strictly biological perspective? Dr. Francis Collins -- a theistic evolutionist -- dismisses the argument that humans obtained their moral reasoning from the evolutionary process. For one, evolution does not explain why humans commit acts of kindness unknown to anyone. Secondly, why do we risk our safety to help people outside of our group (as did Mother Teresa and Oskar Schindler)? The apparent existence of right and wrong, he believes, is a persuasive argument for the existence of a god. Many others who wrote before Collins (including C.S Lewis) also hold such beliefs."

The scientists at Harvard are making some fascinating findings. Morality or right/wrong is a common human trait. More importantly, our responses to moral dilemmas appears to be generally the same, regardless of religiosity and culture. This phenominon was realized close to 2,000 years ago when the Apostle Paul said, "Indeed when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law...they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them." (Romans 2:14-15, NIV)

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