Are Moral Truths Encoded in Our DNA?

by J Warner Wallace

How do we arrive at transcendent, objective moral truths like, “It’s never OK to torture babies for fun” or (my new favorite from a blog reader) “It’s never OK to torture non-believers just because you don’t like them?” From where do such commonly held moral notions come? Some people argue they are a part of our genetic wiring. As one friendly skeptic said recently, “We share 99.999% of our physical traits with our fellow humans . . . so why would our mental traits not be similarly shared?” Are moral truths simply part of our genetic coding? There are good reasons to reject such an explanation:

This View Defies the Evidence
Sociologists and psychologists have been conducting baby studies for several years now in an effort to discover which moral traits (if any) are inherent and common to the human species. A Yale study referenced in a 60 Minutes episode revealed the problem. In one part of the experiment, 5 month old babies were given a “puppet play” to watch. In the play, a stuffed animal attempts to open a box and is either assisted by a white teddy bear that gently comes to its aid, or defeated by a blue teddy bear that brusquely pounces on the box lid. Afterward, babies most often choose to embrace the white teddy bear. The researchers (naturalists who would certainly reject the notion moral truths are grounded in the nature of God) initially attempt to explain the behavior as an evidence of the babies innate (genetic) sense of justice, arguing that the babies reward the well-intended effort of the white bear by favoring it. A better explanation, however, is simply that the baby fears the ill-behaved, brutal blue bear as a matter of self-preservation. This also seems consistent with the second findings of the study. When babies were given an opportunity to discover a common interest with a stuffed animal (i.e. both like the same snack food), they then favored this animal and held a bias against other stuffed animals that did not share this interest. They even favored this stuffed animal when it acted brutally. Researchers concluded that we are innately biased toward people who share our interests and biased against those who are different. An altruistic concern for others appears to be missing from our genetic coding…


Are Moral Truths Encoded in Our DNA? | Cold-Case Christianity