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Apologetics Press :: Reason & Revelation
March 2002 - 1[3]:9-R & 10-R

Morals—Handed Down by Evolution, or by God?
by Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

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Rape. Murder. Adultery. These words conjure up ghastly images of actions that humans have deemed unacceptable. But ask yourself this: Why do humans possess a sense of moral law—right and wrong? Have we evolved morals, or were humans, in fact, created in the image of God? The late, eminent evolutionist of Harvard University, George Gaylord Simpson, stated that although “man is the result of a purposeless and materialistic process that did not have him in mind,” nonetheless “good and evil, right and wrong, concepts irrelevant in nature except from the human viewpoint, become real and pressing features of the whole cosmos as viewed morally because morals arise only in man” (1967, p. 364, emp. added).

Past decades have seen the emergence of a new discipline that is now being taught in many universities—a discipline formed to specifically combat the idea that God set forth a certain moral “code” for humans to follow. Whenever college freshmen peruse course catalogs, they now find courses such as evolutionary psychology or sociobiology. Regardless of the name used to describe the class, however, the goal remains the same—to explain human behavior in Darwinian terms and remove any biblical implications. College students now sit at the feet of professors who attempt to address—using evolutionary presuppositions—why humans rape, murder, and commit adultery.

On March 16, 2001, a biology professor of the University of New Mexico, Randy Thornhill, delivered a lecture at Simon Fraser University at Harbour Centre in Vancouver. His transcript stated that “rape is evolutionary, biological, and natural.” He further argued that “rape itself is an adaptation, a product of direct selection for rape in the past. Our male ancestors became ancestors in part because they conditionally used rape” (Thornhill, 2001). In his new book, A Natural History of Rape (coauthored by Craig T. Palmer), Thornhill characterized rape as an “adaptive reproductive strategy.” The authors contend that rape is a sexual act that has its origins in what could be called the “Darwinist imperative”—i.e., the desire to reproduce and pass on one’s genes.

Have we forgotten how to reason? If we allow these ludicrous seeds to be planted in the hearts of men and women, then responsibility for every abominable act will soon succumb to our alleged “animal ancestry.”

But the excuses for evil do not end there. In a now-famous (or infamous) article in the New York Times Magazine, MIT professor of psychology Steven Pinker argued that society should not treat mothers who kill their newborn children the same way it treats those who kill older children and adults. That’s because, in Pinker’s estimation, women who murder their newborn babies may not be either mad or evil, but instead are unconsciously obeying primeval instincts to sacrifice their children for the good of the tribe (1997). Charles Darwin declared: “There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties” (Darwin, 1898). A lion is not plagued by guilt after killing a gazelle’s infant offspring for its noon meal. A dog does not experience remorse after stealing a bone from one of its peers. So now professors expound that murder, rape, and adultery are “natural responses” to our ancient evolutionary heritage.

It is a well-known and widely admitted fact that beliefs have implications—a fact that atheists and theists alike acknowledge. The person who refuses to acknowledge the existence of God does indeed have little “latitude of choice.” Simpson thus was forced to conclude: “Discovery that the universe apart from man or before his coming lacks and lacked any purpose or plan has the inevitable corollary that the workings of the universe cannot provide any automatic, universal, eternal, or absolute ethical criteria of right and wrong” (p. 364).

So where did man learn how to differentiate right from wrong? The Bible clearly demonstrates that whatever God approves, commands, and does is good (Psalm 119:39,68; cf. Genesis. 18:25). What He has commanded results from the essence of His being—Who He is—and therefore also is good. In the Old Testament, the prophet Micah declared of God: “He showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth Jehovah require of thee, but to do justly, and to love kindness, and walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8). In the New Testament, the apostle Peter admonished: “As he who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, ‘Ye shall be holy: for I am holy’ ” (1 Peter. 1:15). The basic thrust of God-based ethics concerns the relationship of man to the One Who created and sustains him. God Himself is the unchanging standard of moral law. His perfectly holy nature is the ground or basis upon which “right” and “wrong,” “good” and “evil” are determined.


Darwin, Francis (1898), Life and Letters of Charles Darwin(London: Appleton).

Pinker, Steven (1997), “Why They Kill Their Newborns,” New York Times Magazine, November 2.

Simpson, George Gaylord (1967), The Meaning of Evolution (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press), revised edition.

Thornhill, Randy (2001), “A Natural History of Rape,” Lecture delivered at Simon Fraser University. See full transcript [On-line], URL:

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