Collationes: Vlaams Tijdschrift voor Theologie en Pastoraal vol:41 pages:421-442
In this article the relevance of Darwinian evolutionary theory for Christian ethics is explored. Up till now, Christian ethics has ignored a significant body of scientific literature dealing with the natural roots of morality. Ignoring the findings of natural sciences on the basis of Christian identity would contradict the mainstream of the Catholic tradition. Nowadays, some popular evolution-based writers (R. Dawkins, R. Trivers, E.O. Wilson, S. Pinker, F. De Waal) claim to explain in a comprehensive way all kinds of human behavior in evolutionary terms, although the followers of Thomas Huxley (saltationists as G.C. Williams and others) still see a qualitative difference between human and animal behavior. Reductionist neuroscientists explain morality merely as a function of brain-based psychological mechanisms and consequently interpret free will and responsibility as an illusion (Verplaetse). What do Christian ethicists think about their findings? Accepting Thomas Aquinas’ axiom that truth can never conflict with truth, one can argue that knowledge provided by evolutionary theories must be in consonance with the findings of Christian ethics. Making use of insights of W.A. Rottschaefer, A. Damasio, J.-P. Changeux, W. Singer, J.D. Vincent, A. Ganoczy and G.M. Edelman, it is argued that knowledge of evolutionary roots of morality as ‘emergent complexity’ could provide helpful knowledge of the human condition because it makes us understand how human capacities, providing the basis for morality, have been raised. Biological perspectives can deepen the minds of Christian ethicists in order to grasp the differences between ‘is’ and ‘ought’ and to develop a more realistic understanding of human behavior. Making use of Damasio’s distinction between three types of self, a plea is made to give support to the possibility of free will. Knowledge of evolutionary roots of morally relevant emotions invites us to give more attention to virtue education in order to avoid as much as possible situations in which moral agency is overwhelmed by unconscious, deep-rooted biological inclinations.