Your Inner Chimp: Moral Evolution, Inception and the Thread of the Universe

Lots to chew on in this new one from Mbird Jason Redcay: Have you ever […]

Mockingbird / 3.5.12

Lots to chew on in this new one from Mbird Jason Redcay:

Have you ever wondered where morality comes from? Could it be something inherited biologically? Is it something that has evolved over years and years? Maybe it’s embedded socially by the people and environment around you? In 2007, the popular radio program Radiolab attempted to get to the bottom of these questions in their episode “Morality”.

I’d like to add another possible view, the same one that the Apostle Paul offers in the second chapter of Romans, namely that the Law (the divine moral framework) is written on our hearts, or, to use the Radiolab language, morality is chemically embedded in our brain.

Along similar lines, in a TED talk last summer, Paul Zak spoke about an important discovery in the science of human connection, the so-called “Moral molecule”. We are designed to love and be loved and now that science says it’s true, it must be 🙂

So is all of life a string of moral decisions? An endless parsing of right and wrong, so that at the end our lives, we can say that the “good” outweighed the bad? We did the best we could with what we had? Surely, Christian or not, we all yearn to hear some form of “Well done, good and faithful servant” at the end of the day. Or, to take a more eternal view, we bank on our good works. We look to them for our justification in this life (our “legacy”) or the next, hoping God (and those we leave behind) will grade on a curve.

As we often hear on Mockingbird, what you believe about the human condition determines much of how you think and perceive the world, not to mention how you will see God. If we believe people are basically capable, biologically predisposed, and even chemically endowed to make good choices or just need to be taught how to take full advantage, we will never have compassion for those bound in LIMBO.

So how do we know objective morality (or Truth) even exists? Or is all of life subjective?

If nothing else, foundational questions like these unify us in a single desire… to suppress, sedate, hide, and build illusions so we don’t have to deal with them! More specifically, so that we don’t have to come face-to-face with an answer. Yet as both the TED talk and Radiolab episode suggest, getting away from what’s so deeply embedded in us physically, spiritually, and psychologically is a lot more difficult than it sounds. The knowledge of morality, Law, right & wrong, the clear truth we see everyday in life (and that we fall well short of) weigh on our conscience, try as we might to suppress the Truth with lies. “The problem isn’t that bad,” we say. Or perhaps we try to sedate ourselves with fantasy. “We pretend we won’t have to atone and be held accountable.” We hide from this Truth in addictions to money, sex, and power (see Tim Keller’s recent Counterfeit Gods for an especially powerful unpacking of this tendency). Yet despite all our illusions and our attempts to take control and fashion ourselves as God, there remains a Way back, that is, a thread of Truth that holds together the entire universe that “is” reality.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16)


The following scene from Inception gives us a glimpse of what I’m talking about (spoiler alert). As a quick lead in for those of you who haven’t seen the film, it tells the story of a group of elite agents who use technology to infiltrate people’s dreams – mainly to steal information, but also to plant ideas. The characters in question distinguish reality from dreams by way of a “totem,” and the only way to wake from such a dream is either via a pre-set “kick” (such as the dreaming person plunging into water), or death.

A convoluted series of factors — which mainly boil down to guilt and grief — lead Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his wife Mal to try to build their own reality, in which they are essentially God. The problem that Cobb (and all of us) run into is his conscience telling him he isn’t God, that dreams aren’t real, that he must come home. Back to reality…..


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1)

You might say, then, that the Law is the “kick” that brings us crashing back, with fear and trembling, from our subjective dreamscapes to objective reality. It is ultimately impervious to our attempts to manipulate or out run it – death comes to all, does it not? Yet the Gospel (Jesus) is our totem, telling us that by His grace, we are safe. When our self-constructed worlds have come crumbling down, we can look with confidence on the spinning top that has stopped spinning, once and for all.

At least until the sequel arrives…


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