A Critical, Constructive, and Christian Response to Biological Accounts of Morality
Among the societal implications of astrobiology are distinctively moral considerations. What are the prerequisites for moral agency among lifeforms? What pro-social or anti-social dispositions are inculcated by the processes by which life emerges and diversifies? One way to address questions like these is by studying the only documented cases of evolved conscientiousness: those manifested by earth-dwelling great apes. To the extent that all forms of life share common characteristics, these terrestial studies hold universal significance. My project will critically analyze what leading primatologists, neuroscientists, and psychologists are claiming about the biological “origins” of morality. Although many of these scientists portray their discoveries as falsifying religious accounts of morality, I will argue that the evidence does not demand this sweeping conclusion. To the contrary, I will show how theological accounts of human nature, moral sanctification, natural law, and providential grace can be enriched by incorporating insights from these biological studies. My project will thus illustrate how Christians might engage scientific accounts of life in a manner that is both critical and constructive.
Neil Arner serves as an Assistant Professor in the Theology Department at the University of Notre Dame. He collectively earned six academic degrees in mathematics, biology, philosophy, and theology from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Princeton Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School, and Yale University. He served in professional ministry for two years in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and he is currently an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Prof. Arner’s research focuses on the compatibility of natural-law and divine-command theories of ethics, the prospects for a Protestant recovery of natural law theory, the potential for an ecumenical ethics shared by Catholics and Protestants, the contemporary relevance of early modern reflections on morality, and biological explanations of the origins of morality. He is currently completing a book on theological metaethics from the late medieval to early modern eras, and his next major project will provide a theological response to empirical studies of morality.