In the book of Romans the Apostle Paul writes, “when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Rom. 2:14-15, NIV, emphasis mine).

This is one of the key biblical passages supporting the idea that human beings have an innate moral sense, that is, an inborn sense of the difference between right and wrong.  This is, of course, a controversial idea, but recent studies might actually provide empirical evidence for the doctrine.  See this report regarding some fascinating research conducted by Yale University Psychologist Paul Bloom, and draw your own conclusions.

4 Responses to “Evidence for an Innate Moral Sense?”

  1. Louis


    Dr. Spiegel,

    Thanks for posting this. I read about this study a couple weeks back in a NY Times article written by Bloom himself, which goes into a little more detail:

    In the Times article, Bloom makes a couple key points differentiating between the nascent moral behavior found in babies and the “higher morality or higher altruism” exhibited by contemporary humans across all cultures:

    “It makes sense then to marvel at the extent of our moral insight and to reject the notion that it can be explained in the language of natural selection. If this higher morality or higher altruism were found in babies, the case for divine creation would get just a bit stronger. But it is not present in babies. In fact, our initial moral sense appears to be biased toward our own kind.”

    “The aspect of morality that we truly marvel at — its generality and universality — is the product of culture, not of biology. There is no need to posit divine intervention. A fully developed morality is the product of cultural development, of the accumulation of rational insight and hard-earned innovations. The morality we start off with is primitive, not merely in the obvious sense that it’s incomplete, but in the deeper sense that when individuals and societies aspire toward an enlightened morality — one in which all beings capable of reason and suffering are on an equal footing, where all people are equal — they are fighting with what children have from the get-go.”

    While I concur with Bloom that there is no need to posit a divine role in morality, I don’t believe that the findings of the studies are necessarily inconsistent with either theistic or atheistic worldviews. Would you agree?

  2. Kaitlyn Dugan


    Dr. Spiegel,

    I think Paul is referencing the Gentiles in this passage as a fulfillment of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 … not sure if the Greek renders such an interpretation that would point to this kind of innate moral sense. Just a thought … I am not convinced that this is affirming an innate moral sense explicitly nor by implication.


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