If you are a theistic evolutionist, then I see two possible explanations for the existence of human moral reasoning.

1) That at some point in the evolution of primates (or even a more distant common ancestor), God bestowed the capability for moral reasoning.

2) That moral reasoning evolved in a sociobiological way just like every other cognitive faculty.

(There may be other explanations, but I suspect they would generally fall under these two broad possibilities).

If 1) is true, then this seems inconsistent with the general view that God used evolutionary processes to produce life, in the way that secular science would suggest. This would place it in contrast to the majority of scientific consensus (which seems to be the primary motivation for theistic evolution)

If 2) then this would seem to undermine the special place that moral reasoning has in relation to humans being made in the image of God.

How have published theistic evolutionists addressed this issue before?

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    The existence of morality (ex. the objective morality of God) is a different matter from the existence of moral reasoning, so as you seem to be focusing on the second I've edited the question to make it clearer :) Good first question and welcome to the site!
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 9:55
  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. For more on what this site is all about, see: How we are different than other sites. Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 11:15
  • Related: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/15091/… Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 19:28
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    To add more complexity to the question, I would suggest that even non-primates demonstrate what appears to be moral reasoning, for example whenever they take personal risks for the greater good, or when they aid a defenceless animal. Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 20:20
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    Keep in mind that reasoning (including moral reasoning) depends on having spiritual (immaterial) faculties, in particular, the human intellect. The intellect, however, being spiritual, is not a product of evolution (even for those of us who accept evolution as a scientific theory). Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 14:23

2 Answers 2


AnswersInGenesis.com did a review of theistic evolutionists positions. One unedited excerpt pertinent to this question is below. The paragraphs in italics of book quotations give succinct answers.

On the one hand, according to theistic evolutionists, young-earth creationists make a mistake to read Genesis 1–3 in a literal sense. On the other hand, they cannot consult science on questions of the nature of the soul, spirit, and/or the mind to explain their moral sense and awareness, for science cannot tell us anything about the existence of entities that cannot be studied by their methods. I can put the dilemma which theistic evolutionists create for creationists slightly different. On the one hand, Scripture cannot make an appeal to knowledge, unless sanctioned by science. If it does, then it must wait until validated by or accepted by the methods of the scientific community. This point is clearly implied by Collins when he said: “Science is the only reliable way to understand the natural world...” (Collins 2007, p. 6). But on the other hand, immaterial entities such as God, the soul, spirit, and mind cannot be invoked to explain our moral sense, because “methodological atheism” (to use Murphy’s words) has already “discovered” that God, the soul, spirit, mind, self, I or me do not exist (see, for example, atheist psychologist Steven Pinker 2002, pp. 31, 42). Here is how Murphy expressed her agreement with methodological atheism:

[N]euroscience is now completing the Darwinian revolution, bringing the mind into the purview of biology. My claim, in short, is this: all of the human capacities once attributed to the immaterial mind or soul are now yielding to the insights of neurobiology... (N. Murphy 2006, p. 88).

Elsewhere Murphy (1998) concluded that there is a “massive amount of evidence” which suggests that we no longer “need to postulate the existence of a soul or mind in order to explain life and consciousness” (Brown, Murphy, and Malony 1998, p. 17).11 The real reason why she and fellow theistic evolutionists found such “evidence” in the neuro-sciences is very simple:

Immaterial souls just do not fit with what we know about the natural world. We human persons evolved by natural selection...[which is] part of the natural order, but immaterial souls are not” (Baker 2007, p. 341).

From: https://answersingenesis.org/theistic-evolution/can-theistic-evolutionism-explain-the-origin-of-morality/

  • Good excerpt. Would that be the consensus of theistic evolutionists? Could you expand the point in your own words to more directly answer my question? Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 22:44
  • @StatGenGeek I can't go beyond what is written, lest I misrepresent the case. For instance, what do theistic evolutionists believe about free will and the power of choice? Do they share the same convictions as materialists, which believe that both are illusions? At any rate, since both groups have the same view as the above quotes, then it would be fair to say that they believe that our reasoning process, and by implication, our morality, is biochemically induced. By their reasoning, if it can be detected by science, then it is by definition material, hence, biochemical (in the brain).
    – Steve
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 20:39
  • That's fair. Well if you don't mind then I'll leave it open to further possible answers. Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 1:37

The question implies theistic evolutionists do not hold that, at some point in time, God infused a spiritual soul in two individuals, biblical Adam and Eve, and, from that time on, in all their descendants at the time of their conception. This is not my understanding of theistic evolution.

As I understand theistic evolution, it is concerned with only the human body, and does not deny that each human being has a spiritual soul created ex nihilo by God at the moment of his or her conception, or perhaps at a later time in the case of the first two human beings.

It is the infusion of a spiritual soul which explains the appearance of abstract reasoning - including true human language, as described e.g. by Chomsky's universal grammar - and moral sense.

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