From the moment we come to understand this world, we take for granted humanity’s appreciation for social justice, compassion, empathy, equality, and cooperation. We benefit from these innate human tendencies and behaviors. In fact, all humans of sound minds have moral compasses that seem to direct them to such actions. Yet imagine a world of opposing values. Plato, in his book Republic (p. 196), offered a glimpse of the way such a world would be.
“Consider further, most foolish Socrates, that the just is always a loser in comparison with the unjust. First of all, in private contracts: wherever the unjust is the partner of the just you will find that, when the partnership is dissolved, the unjust man has always more and the just less. Secondly, in their dealings with the State: when there is an income-tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income; and when there is anything to be received the one gains nothing and the other much. Observe also what happens when they take an office; there is the just man neglecting his affairs and perhaps suffering other losses, and getting nothing out of the public, because he is just; moreover he is hated by his friends and acquaintance for refusing to serve them in unlawful ways. But all this is reversed in the case of the unjust man. I am speaking, as before, of injustice on a large scale in which the advantage of the unjust is most apparent; and my meaning will be most clearly seen if we turn to that highest form of injustice in which the criminal is the happiest of men, and the sufferers or those who refuse to do injustice are the most miserable–that is to say tyranny, which by fraud and force takes away the property of others, not little by little but wholesale; comprehending in one, things sacred as well as profane, private and public; for which acts of wrong, if he were detected perpetrating any one of them singly, he would be punished and incur great disgrace–they who do such wrong in particular cases are called robbers of temples, and man-stealers and burglars and swindlers and thieves. But when a man besides taking away the money of the citizens has made slaves of them, then, instead of these names of reproach, he is termed happy and blessed, not only by the citizens but by all who hear of his having achieved the consummation of injustice. For mankind censure injustice, fearing that they may be the victims of it and not because they shrink from committing it. And thus, as I have shown, Socrates, injustice, when on a sufficient scale, has more strength and freedom and mastery than justice; and, as I said at first, justice is the interest of the stronger, whereas injustice is a man’s own profit and interest.”
What explains our human tendencies and preferences toward characteristics consistent with the Golden Rule, which calls on humans to love our neighbors as ourselves? In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis states (p. 25), “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”
To believers, the simple answer for humanity’s tendencies and preferences towards characteristics of love and justice is that we are sourced from love and the standard of justice: God. To nonbelievers, such an assertion is uncomfortable, at best. Many of these nonbelievers are in positions in science, so they offer alternatives.
A Scientific Explanation for Loving Human Tendencies
Biologists refer to the term altruism as a behavior that reduces an individual’s fitness but increases the fitness of other individuals in a population. Examples of altruistic behaviors can be found in animal populations, such as in naked mole rats and Belding’s ground squirrels, alongside human populations.
Biologists suggest that natural selection favors altruism by enhancing the reproductive success of relatives (kin selection) who help one another. The more distant the relatives (cousins, second cousins, etc.), the less likely the relatives would be beneficiaries of the altruistic behaviors. In other words, over many individuals and many generations, altruistic genes in brothers and sisters and offspring who help one another to survive are more likely to be propagated.
Yet attributing human behaviors and characteristics such as altruism to evolutionary adaptions to survival conditions is fraught with problems. As biology professor Sy Garte (2017) points out “The problem with this approach is that it isn’t always scientific, since the evidence used is sometimes a “just so” story that sounds logical and meaningful. In these cases the premise is a more of a faith statement with no basis of proof. And it may not be falsifiable. There is no possible human trait, real or imagined, that cannot be postulated to result from some evolutionary selective advantage.”
Professor Garte offers an example of this fallacy:
“Take, for example the well-known human tendency to bite one’s fingernails when nervous. We could say that long finger nails present an impediment to manual dexterity, which is needed to properly wield a weapon, and therefore when nervous the human tends to be sure that his/her fingernails are as short as possible. This is complete nonsense which I just made up without more than a moment’s thought. But it sounds like it makes sense.”
According to Professor Garte, who is a former atheist turned Christian, one reason evolutionary biologists and evolutionary psychologists attempt to explain human characteristics by scientific and evolutionary principles is because such explanations remove God from the realm of possibilities.
A Social Explanation for Loving Human Tendencies
On Richard Dawkins’ website (https://www.richarddawkins.net/2013/11/religion-and-natural-selection/) Tom Roberts (2013) offers the following perspective on human behavior.
“Richard Dawkins says that evolution by natural selection runs itself, it doesn’t need any intervention. But what do we make of human development in the last 50,000 years?”
“Humans evolved ability to make tools and develop language has rapidly created social complexity as jobs were divided up, trade began, knowledge being stored/shared, discussion of ideas, culture, art and so on. While genetics brought humans to civilization the subsequent changes have occurred so rapidly that additional non-genetic adaptations were needed. How are we going to live socially with the ever increasing complexity? In short, human development is writing checks that genetics can’t cash.”
“Religion in some ways sequences the societal behavior that is not genetic. For example, the weekly repetition of church service encodes the community with the behavior that is needed/expected in order to function. No one is forced to behave as a human with the values of social justice, equality, and cooperation but if these values are made out to be ordained or compulsory then maybe there is more chance that they will be collectively adopted and prevail/persist though time and this will enable society to prevail.”
In this sense we are not genetically predisposed to be human but we are socially predisposed as we learn how to behave different from animals which let’s face it, have to eat raw food every day and don’t enjoy any of the benefits of being human.”
A Divine Explanation for Loving Human Tendencies
Yet if we are to agree with Roberts’ assertion that we may not be genetically predisposed to prefer the values of social justice, equality, and cooperation, and that we are socially predisposed to such preferences, how did such social predispositions come about? Should one make the lofty assertion that almost all populations inhabiting the earth just happened to develop the same social predispositions?
Perhaps one might consider a source from which our social predispositions arose. The source would be the pinnacle of morality and the standard against which we judge moral actions. The source would help to explain why all major religions embrace some form of the Golden Rule. The source would have to be objective, so instead of judging whether actions or practices meet relative (within society and generation) standards of social justice, equality, and cooperation, we would consider an objective standard against which all actions can be judged.
With an objective standard, we can fairly assess the morality of actions and practices in past cultures (such as during the Nazi regime) or in the present (such as in populations inhabited by ISIS or Boko Haram). Relative moral standards do us an injustice in making determinations because they are insufficient explanations of reality, forcing us to adapt our interpretations to the social norms or expectations within particular societies. God is our objective moral standard. He offers a sufficient explanation of reality and the kingdom of heaven that is within us.
To those aiming for heaven, the joy of heaven can be witnessed here on earth. To those aiming for the earth, the joy of heaven will never be realized. We should rejoice that we are part of a world in which love, empathy, and justice are hard-wired within us.
“In Christian experience there is a highly satisfying love content that distinguishes it from all other religions and elevates it to heights far beyond even the purest and noblest philosophy. This love content is more than a thing; it is God Himself in the midst of His Church singing over His people. True Christian joy is the heart’s harmonious response to the Lord’s song of love” (Tozer, 1961, p. 102).
Garte, S. (2017). Evo psycho. Accessed 12/18/17 at https://thebookofworks.com/2017/10/14/evo-psycho/
Plato. (1943). Plato’s The Republic. New York: Books, Inc.
Roberts, T. (2013). Religion and natural selection. Accessed 12/18/17 at https://www.richarddawkins.net/2013/11/religion-and-natural-selection/
Tozer, A.W. (1961). The Knowledge of the Holy. New York, NY: Harper One.