In the light of evolution, why do people have a moral code, a right or wrong? Animals have a code of conduct but it is always based on survival. People, on the other hand, have moral codes beyond mere survival.
Why Do We Cheat?
Dan Ariely, professor of behavioral economics at Duke University and MIT, did an interesting study recently, seeking to answer the question, Why do people cheat? Whether or not to cheat should simply be a matter of logic: What is the probability of being caught? What is the advantage of cheating? What is the consequence of being caught? When these factors weigh in favor of cheating, then we do it.
However, in his study, Ariely found it wasn’t that simple. Another dynamic is present that he called the fudge factor. We have two goals: to feel good about ourselves and to gain an advantage, even by cheating. These are in tension with each other. For example, in his test, he gave 20 simple math problems to a test group but not enough time to finish them. They were allowed to grade their own papers and get a dollar for each correct answer. The average number of correct answers was four. When the group was allowed to shred their test before reporting their score (eliminating getting caught), the average went up to seven, not significantly higher. But more money offered for each correct answer motivated no increase in cheating, even up to $10 per right answer.
How Did Cheating Drop to Zero?
The most interesting part of his study was this: when the group was asked to recite the 10 Commandments before taking the test, cheating dropped to zero! This was true in spite of the fact that no one could remember all the Commandments. It was true of avowed atheists as well! Cheating also vanished when the group was asked if they were aware that the test fell under the school honor code, though no such honor code existed!
Ariely’s conclusion was that these irrational behaviors were motivated by a personal desire to feel good about themselves. The Bible says it is more than that. It says that there is a God-consciousness in every person and an avowed atheist must drive it out. (See Romans 1:18). It goes further than just living with ourselves. There is an awareness that maybe, just maybe, we will have to account for our lives one day, and want some merit points in our defense.
Are Others Taking Advantage of Us by Using Rules?
Richard Dawkins, a militant atheist and evolutionist, said that morality was invented so we can live advantageously. Do people set up laws for themselves naturally? Think of a school classroom when the teacher leaves the room. Does the absence of authority bring better behavior or worse?
The Bible teaches that man is not evolving laws for his good but rather rebelling against God for his independence. Romans 2 states that there is a law written on our hearts. When we are reminded of it, we tend to comply. The only way to violate it and still feel good about ourselves is to rationalize why what we did was still OK. Evolution itself, as we have seen in the past, is one such rationale.