Original Research - Special Collection: SASRF What it means to be human?

But could they tell right from wrong? Evolution, moral responsibility and human distinctiveness

David N. Field
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 73, No 3 | a4505 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v73i3.4505 | © 2017 David N. Field | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 23 January 2017 | Published: 26 June 2017

About the author(s)

David N. Field, Methodist e-Academy, Switzerland and Research Institute for Theology and Religion, University of South Africa, South Africa


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Abstract

This article takes as its point of departure the public interest aroused by the discovery of Homo naledi and the debate about the possibility that H. naledi buried their dead. If they buried their dead, did H. naledi have an awareness of moral responsibility? We have no basis in the fossil remains of H. naledi or other hominids for determining when and how the awareness of moral responsibility evolved. The article provides a brief summary of the evidence for the evolution of morality based on research into the behaviour of other primates and then argues that human moral consciousness is qualitatively distinct from this but can still be understood to be the product of evolution. In the final section the article draws on ideas from the theologies of John Wesley and Dietrich Bonhoeffer to provide a theological interpretation of this evolution of moral consciousness.

Keywords

Homo Naledi; Evolutionary Ethics; Theology and Evolution; Dietrich Bonhoeffer; John Wesley

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