Are Humans Born with a Common Moral Nature?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The Bible teaches that we are (see Rom. 2).  Virtually every adult human being seems to have the same basic sense of right and wrong.  We all agree that cowardice is wrong, that love is good, that killing the innocent is wrong.  You will be hard pressed to find a culture that disagrees with these moral values.

Many psychologists, however, have claimed that human babies are born as moral blank slates and that their culture gives them all of their moral direction.  Since cultures vary in significant ways, they argue, so do moral values vary greatly from culture to culture.  Recent research is challenging the standard view of psychology, however.

According to the Daily Mail, recent research done on 6-month olds seems to show that they already have a rudimentary sense of right and wrong.

At the age of six months babies can barely sit up – let along take their first tottering steps, crawl or talk.  But, according to psychologists, they have already developed a sense of moral code – and can tell the difference between good and evil.  An astonishing series of experiments is challenging the views of many psychologists and social scientists that human beings are born as ‘blank slates’ – and that our morality is shaped by our parents and experiences.  Instead, they suggest that the difference between good and bad may be hardwired into the brain at birth.

The article describes a few of the experiments that were run to help the researchers determine that morality may be hardwired into the brain.

As with all new research, caution is warranted.  Whether babies are born with moral values will continue to be hotly debated, but the creative work done by this research team will spur on more work.

Why is this topic important?  As Christians, we believe that God is a moral being, and that he implanted his moral nature within humankind.  This moral nature was corrupted at the Fall, but it still resides within us in a perverted state.

The existence of the same basic moral values within all humans points toward the objective reality of moral laws.  Moral laws point back to a Moral Law-giver, and we believe the Moral Law-giver is God.

If it were true that human beings differed in their basic moral values, that some cultures celebrated rape, that other cultures rewarded cowardice, that still others frowned upon love, we would be hard-pressed to demonstrate a common moral law exists.  In that scenario, it would seem that morality is subjective and random, which would seem to count against the existence of a Moral Law-giver.

What do you think?  Does mankind seem to share basic moral values or do you think basic moral values differ radically from person to person and culture to culture?

  • Arix (@UK)

    Just to play the Devil’s Advocate:

    But the problem is that each society uses the same terms to refer to different actions; thus, it would appear that at the basic level, morality is subjective.

    That having been said, the weakness of subjectivism is that it fails to explain why the same terms are used in the first place…

  • Matt Salmon

    From their Greek derivations, morals refer to customs (mores) and acceptable behavior (what “is”). Ethics refers to what “should” be (ethos). Recently, though, the distinction between the terms has been blurred.
    Aztecs killed innocent victims “for the gods.” How do you explain that?

  • Greg


    exactly the point… If absolute morality does not exist then what the Aztecs did was subjectively ok for them. However, just because they did it does not mean that it is ok.

  • Matt Salmon

    But people/cultures constantly adapt their morals to their sinful desires e.g. Romans made suicide acceptable and more honorable than being captured by the enemy in battle (like Brutus and Hercules) while the Greeks believed suicide was always dishonorable (the greater Ajax).
    Every act of genocide has a warped ideology behind it. When the culture accepts an ideology its morals follow and people generally accept the morals most appealling to their interests.
    Even if babies in the experiment don’t develop a perfect sense of ethics, it only confirms that morals are ruled by the sin nature and self interest.