Monday, April 28, 2008

A Critical Response to: Evolution and the Challenge of Morality by Lisle

Dr. Lisle authored Evolution and the Challenge of Morality which is available in full text on the Answers in Genesis website at:

Dr. Lisle presents morality in rigidly-defined categories of right and wrong with the Bible as the final arbiter between the two. He posits the Bible as the only absolute source of ethics and morality. In contrast he presents evolutionary worldviews as morally nihilistic and devoid of absolute. Lisle’s contrast is presented well in his following assertion:

All things belong to God (Psalm 24:1) and thus, God has the right to make the rules. So, an absolute moral code makes sense in a biblical creation worldview. But if the Bible were not true, if human beings were merely the outworking of millions of years of mindless chemical processes, then why should we hold to a universal code of behavior? Could there really be such concepts as right and wrong if evolution were true?

Hence, on the one hand moral absolutism is sourced in the Bible as the express will of a Creator who has the ontological right to “make the rules.” On the other hand a view of morality that lacks the Bible while sourcing biological reality to “mindless chemical processes” is internally inconsistent.

Lisle’s simplistic upholding of the Bible as a source of moral absolutes assumes a degree of textual perspicuity that is untenable. He fails to acknowledge that the Bible is not a simple code of ethics and morality and that the biblical reader arrives at morals from the text by a complex process of merging embedded subjective propriospect with variegated levels of exegesis. Finally, Lisle’s pejorative view of morality apart from the Bible—specifically against the backdrop of an evolutionary worldview—demonstrates profound ignorance of the dynamics of evolution at work with socio-biology.

Despite Lisle’s promise that the Bible is an “absolute moral code,” the Bible contains context specific ethics. The Bible is anything but a clear and unambiguous ethical guide or a casebook on ethical behavior. In the Bible, morality is filtered through culturally and context specific case law embedded in concrete historical circumstances and unique social exigencies. Proper biblical exegesis must take into consideration the context of a biblical reading—asking the question of what the reading meant to the initial readers. Historical reconstruction of context is a fallible process; hence, the context that one might construct for a passage might be revolutionized in time with the discovery of new and relevant information.

Unfortunately, most biblical readers are undisciplined exegetes. They lack the tools and training to read biblical texts with hermeneutical precision. As a result, modern-day assumptions about what is right and wrong creep into their readings. Despite the clear teaching of the Bible (specifically the Old Testament), for example, that women are male capital and have less rights than men, few biblical readers realize the presence of this idea in the texts. Instead, they read their present cultural paradigms back into the text.

There is no easy way to use the Bible in ethical reflection. Exegetical discipline results in readings that are dependent on fallible historical reconstruction (e.g., Paul’s opponents in Galatians, the nature of “boiling a kid in mother’s milk”, etc.). Any ethical reflection built off of exegetical energies is even more contingent than the original reading. Popular, non-exegetical, reading of the Bible is fraught with the merger of modern morality with the ancient texts resulting in de novo readings. Ultimately, the derivation of meaning or morality from the Bible is a human process. And, unless one is willing to claim that her reading of the Bible is inerrant, her reading is as fallible as the next.

Morality makes sense from the perspective of evolution. Humans are social mammals. In social contexts we evolved morality and ethics as a means to social cohesion. Behaviors that are moral and altruistic result in greater degrees of social or tribal cohesion and hence better the chances of gene dispersal (natural selection). It is asinine to assert that ethics fail to exist apart from the Bible. Frankly, biblical ethics are as much a product of evolution as any type of workable ethical situation.

I have not answered all of the points in this article, but I have articulated my priority thoughts. There is more that can be said, and, if interest develops in the form of responses, maybe they can be brought to the fore.