Prescription for Morality?

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We often take pills to feel healthier, to ease pain, or to relieve symptoms. But what if you could take a pill to become a more moral you? According to an article in the National Post,

Neuroethicists and others thinkers are increasingly absorbed by the idea of “moral enhancement” through pharmaceuticals, implanted brain electrodes or other biomedical means.

Leading proponents argue advances in cognitive neuroscience suggest morally desirable capacities may, at least in part, be neurologically-based and therefore amenable to tinkering.

Some envision a day when we could use drugs that act directly on the brain to dial down aggression and other “anti-social” sentiments and dial up “pro-social” ones like compassion and trust.1

Some studies have indeed suggested that certain prescription drugs do modify behavior, making people, for example, “more cooperative, less critical of others and more sensitive to other people’s pain.”

Right and Wrong—Who Decides?

There are many problems and concerns with such an idea, but the most obvious problem is pointed out in the National Post article: “How do we decide what constitutes a moral deficiency? Who should be allowed to make these decisions about what is good and what is bad?”

This isn’t a problem unique to neuroethicists seeking to alter human behavior. Atheists, secularists, and others who reject God’s Word as the authority have precisely the same problem. Without an ultimate foundation for morality, who gets to decide what is moral or immoral?

The Individual?

Some say the individual gets to decide. But what if my morality is different from your morality? What if my morality includes stealing your car? Does that somehow make it right? Of course not! If this is the case, then we need to throw out our justice system, because how can one judge decide if my actions were right or wrong? If it was right for me, then who are you to say it was wrong?

Some people will say that morality is decided by the individual, but they add an arbitrary qualifier such as “people should strive to choose actions that do the most good and the least harm for the most people.” But this is just an arbitrary opinion. Why should I try to do good to others? Why not just do what benefits me? And who defines good or harm anyway?

Society?

Others will say society decides what is right and wrong. But this runs into the same problem, only on a larger scale. If this is the case, one society can’t judge another society’s actions as wrong. Yet we know certain things are wrong: exterminating millions of people in a genocide or bombing innocent people to further your cause—we recognize that these things are wrong. But why are they wrong? Well, if society determines morality then they aren’t wrong. They just might be wrong for your society.

Can Atheists Be Moral?

They borrow from a Christian worldview of moral absolutes to support their own erroneous worldview.

If atheists have no foundation for morality, does this mean they can’t be moral citizens? Of course not; many atheists are decent, moral people. But that’s not the issue. The point is that they are living inconsistently with their worldview. They claim we are just animals and that there is no absolute authority for morality, yet they live as if there is a moral code and moral absolutes. They are inconsistent because you can’t actually live with the belief that there are no moral absolutes. So they borrow from a Christian worldview of moral absolutes to support their own erroneous worldview.

God’s Word—the Only Foundation for Morality

Arbitrary human opinion can’t provide a foundation for morality. For that we must look to the inspired Word of our Creator. Morality is grounded in the character of God and revealed to us through the Bible. We can know what is right and wrong and make moral judgments because God’s Word provides a foundation for morality.

Are Pharmaceuticals the Answer?

Although pills might be able to make moderate improvements on behavior, ultimately the answer to immoral behavior isn’t pharmaceuticals. The Bible describes the human heart as “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9), and God says, “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). Altering brain chemistry won’t fix what is ultimately a spiritual problem.

The only ultimate solution is Jesus Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit, those of us who have been redeemed can overcome sin and our sinful natures and live for Christ (Galatians 5:16). Indeed, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The life-changing power of the gospel is what transforms hearts and lives.

Footnotes

  1. Sharon Kirkey, “What If You Could Take a Pill for a Better, More Moral, You? Neuroethicists Ponder the Panacea,” National Post, December 30, 2016, http://news.nationalpost.com/news/1231-moral.

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