An atheist who says morality is encoded in DNA

by Matt Slick

This short dialogue is a good example of the necessity of staying on topic and of examining an atheist's position logically.  I do not believe that he was rational.  But, that is my opinion.  I hope this dialogue is educational.

Rashbam:  And as an atheist, I also believe there are common aspects to human morality which have nothing to do with God or gods
Matt Slick:  But atheists have no objective standard.  At best their morality is subjective--based on their opinions.
Rashbam:  Why do you say that? Why should it be based on opinion?
Matt Slick:  What else do you have? 
Rashbam:  For example, morality might be encoded in our DNA in some ways. In the ways that we humans have evolved to think. Which would explain why there is so much in common to human morality.
Matt Slick:  I never thought that science fiction would be a defense used by an atheist. Have you ever seen morality encoded in DNA? Has any scientist demonstrated which genes are the morality genes?
Rashbam:  You don't think human behavior is encoded in DNA?
Matt Slick:  If you have morality genes, what happens when they mutate? I'm asking you to demonstrate your theory.
Rashbam:  We know of several genetic defects which result in profound behavior changes, for example.
Matt Slick:  If all you have is guesswork to defend your atheistic morality, you're in trouble.
Rashbam:  Hardly.
Matt Slick:  Absolutely.
Rashbam:  Hardly.
Matt Slick:  Guesswork isn't something you have to stand on.  Give me something solid. Show me which genes are the DNA encoded morality genes.
Rashbam:  Well, as I said, I can show cases of defects which result in profound behavioral changes.
Matt Slick:  So?
Rashbam:  E.g. Kleinfelter's syndrome.  Well draw your own conclusions, of course, but it seems quite sensible that there should be a genetic component to human behavior and ethics.
Matt Slick:  In other words, you're guessing.
Rashbam:  There is also of course a sociological component.
Matt Slick:  Hold on.
Rashbam:  As you are guessing when you invoke God.
Matt Slick:  You made a proposition about morality being encoded in DNA.
Rashbam:  Indeed I did.
Matt Slick:  I just want to know if you can substantiate it or not. I mean, I'm not going to accept guesswork.  So either withdraw your assertion or demonstrate its truth.
Rashbam:  Well I'm not accepting your guesswork about God either Matt.
Matt Slick:  I haven't brought up God.  You did.
Rashbam:  I do not withdraw anything.
Matt Slick:  Okay, then please demonstrate the DNA/morality gene connection.  Can you show us any sources that cite any specific genes that have morality encoded in them?
Rashbam:  It is an argument for plausibility, not a rigorous demonstration.
Matt Slick:  Your plausibility is nothing more than guesswork.
Rashbam:  As I said, I can show how defects result in profound changes in behavior and ethics.
Matt Slick:  So?
Rashbam:  As I said, draw your own conclusions.
Matt Slick:  Morality is a concept.  How  do you encode concepts in DNA?
Rashbam:  Morality is a way of thinking.  For example, there is a perfectly good evolutionary explanation for why we should value human life.
Matt Slick:  Yes,  thinking deals with concepts.  So, have you encode concepts in DNA?  How do you encode concepts in DNA?
Rashbam:  We are genetically programmed to love our own children, for example.
Matt Slick:  That is an assumption. Can you show us any encoding in the DNA molecule that demonstrates morality?
Rashbam:  As I said, I can show how variations in genetic makeup can account for profound behavior changes.  That is no assumption.
Matt Slick:  You sure make a lot of assertions without evidence.  You have a lot of faith, don't you?
Rashbam:  As I said, it is not a rigorous proof.  Human behavior is a highly complex subject.  But it makes much more sense than your alternative.
Matt Slick:  I haven't given you an alternative,  so you don't know what would or would not make sense. Behavior can undoubtedly be affected by a person's makeup.  But, morality deals with right and wrong.  How you encode right and wrong in DNA?
Rashbam:  What do you mean by right and wrong? 
Matt Slick:  Perhaps, you should not offer guesswork.
Rashbam:  So you have no alternative then?
Matt Slick:  Morality deals with right and wrong.
Rashbam:  What is your definition of right and wrong?
Matt Slick:  I haven't offered an alternative.  I'm trying to focus on your assertion.
Rashbam:  Ok, you introduced the concepts of right and wrong.  Please define them.
Matt Slick:  How do you encode the morality of right and wrong in DNA?  But, that doesn't even touch the topic of what is or is not right and wrong.
Rashbam:  Once again, please define your terms.
Matt Slick:  If  you want to assert that moral behavior is encoded  into the DNA, then how do you know what is morally good or bad?
Rashbam:  Well again there is clear evolutionary pressure for us to value human life, in order to perpetuate the species.
Matt Slick:  How do you judge what is right or wrong?
Rashbam:  Once again, you use "right" and "wrong" with no definition.  Please define your terms!
Matt Slick:  Rash,  I'm not trying to offer any definitions.  I'm focusing on what it is you are saying.
Rashbam:  Ok, where did I mention right and wrong?
Matt Slick:  You were the one who is told me that morality is encoded into DNA.  Morality deals with right and wrong--with what we should and should not do.  I'm asking you to demonstrate how this morality can be encoded in DNA. I am also asking you to demonstrate a standard by which you would judge what is right and wrong--what is morally good or bad, etc. You can make the claim that morality is encoded in DNA, but how would you recognize it?
Rashbam:  Ah, what we should and should not do.  That is fine.  That is human behavior.
Matt Slick:  How do you recognize morality, goodness, evil, kindness, compassion, and love from an atheistic worldview with nothing more than subjectivity based on evolutionary/atheistic principles as the framework by which you judge?
Rashbam:  I think we'd recognize it by examining human behavior in various societies and finding areas of commonality.
Matt Slick:  So then you beg the question.  You assume the thing to be true that you're trying to prove.  You look into society to see what works and that becomes what works.
Rashbam:  Primatologists for example find that there is a morality in other primate societies as well.
Matt Slick:  Is this how atheists think?
Rashbam:  We think just fine.
Matt Slick:  They commit logic fallacies and offer us guesswork.
Rashbam:  Thanks.
Matt Slick:  Apparently not as well as you think you do. You've offered no standard by which you can judge whether or not morality is encoded in DNA.  You guessed that it is possible. Furthermore, you've not been able to demonstrate any standard by which you would recognize what is right or wrong--what is morally acceptable or not.  At best, you've offered societal norms, but those are varying and highly subjective.
Matt Slick:  So, you've offered us absolutely nothing that is substantial whatsoever. Your atheistic worldview is incapable of answering the difficult questions.
Rashbam:  No, societal norms are reflections of what is in our genetic coding, to a large extent.
Matt Slick:  Begging the question again.
Rashbam:  No, simply following up on a plausible hypothesis.
Matt Slick:  You say societal norms reflect what is in our genetic coding, but you offer genetic coding to be the standard that develops our societal norms.  This is called circular reasoning.
Rashbam:  Why do you suppose people with Kleinfelter's syndrome are overwhelmingly likely to become criminals, Matt?  Can you answer that?
Matt Slick:  You use societal norms to reflect . . . Rash,  I don't know because I haven't studied the issue.
Rashbam:  Ah, well study it and get back to me.
Matt Slick:  Rash,  perhaps you might want to study logic to learn how not to beg the question. I would suggest that you also learn how to offer something more substantial than guesswork.  It was nice talking to you.
Rashbam:  Well that's one way for you to end the discussion.
Matt Slick:  There are several ways, and that is one of them.  I  do have an appointment in 25 minutes.
Rashbam:  Very convenient indeed.
Matt Slick:  But, Rash,  you haven't offered anything substantial, and you were making logic errors.  Since you were not avoiding your logic errors, there really isn't any point in continuing.
Rashbam:  No, I made no logical errors.
Matt Slick:  Yes, you did.  Begging the Question.  I showed it earlier. You  also failed to provide any explanation for how morality can be encoded in DNA.
Rashbam:  I've pointed out something you don't like:  That our innate humanness very plausibly encodes our notions of morality. Religious people don't like this because they need to feel morality comes from outside--from "god".
Matt Slick:  You also failed to provide any significant/authoritative means by which you would judge which morality is good or bad, right or wrong, after you've seen it, so to speak, in DNA molecules.
Rashbam:  But of course they have no direct evidence of this imaginary God.
Matt Slick:  That I will have to do that later, okay?  I have an appointment to go to.  I have to meet with a Roman Catholic to discuss the validity of Roman Catholicism.
Rashbam:  But they have no way to prove that their God exists. And of course their holy Bible contains numerous errors and contradictions.


At this point, Rashbam continued to attack Christianity instead of dealing with the issues.  Since I had an appointment to go to, I bowed out.  I expect to encounter him again since the dialogue occurred in the CARM chat room.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.