I thought about this question in light of the discussion on my recent posts here, here, and here. It seems that naturalists and secularists want us to believe that our moral values come to us from our biology and these are evolving as humankind hurdles forward through time and space.
Of course, from this beachhead they are free to dismiss religion by saying that we would’ve eventually arrived at our current moral state anyway. While the last sentence is a totally unsubstantiated speculation, a faith statement, if you will, there is one way I can agree that we’ve evolved morally and one way in which I think the evolutionary assertion is false.
First, I agree that we, as human beings, have evolved culturally in the sense of becoming more aware of individual freedoms, human rights, protecting the marginalized, and condemning the subjugation of other human beings. You could also include better treatment of animals and taking care of our environment. All these improvements are good. In that sense, we seem to be growing as relational human beings. But does this mean that we evolved by way of some new discoveries of moral truths? I hardly think so.
For instance, one of the oldest moral axioms of all is to love others as ourselves. Jesus said that this is (along with loving God) is what fulfills all the ancient laws and the prophets:
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt.22:37-40, emphasis added)
You could say that actually loving others as yourself would cure every ill of moral wrongdoing in the world today. Yet, we clearly have not done so. We have not even come close to “evolving” to this ancient ideal. In fact, you could argue that we’ve just found more diabolical ways to do just the opposite and hide the bodies from our rose-colored view. If we cannot even live according to very ancient moral revelations, how can we honestly say we’ve evolved beyond this by way of some previously undiscovered secular truth?
Here’s what I think we can say. Moral truths themselves do not evolve. These timeless truths have been given to us since the beginning. As Solomon wisely put it, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” But we can and do evolve as a civilization in realizing those truths in our common experience. Progress in areas of social justice is just one example. In other words, we can say we’re on a progressive trajectory as human beings toward understanding how to live out the most ancient ideals that informed us in how we “should” behave toward one another. And even though history has proven that we’re not very good at it, there does seem to be some hopeful plodding forward.