Tapestry of Faith: Amazing Grace: A Program about Exploring Right and Wrong for Grade 6

Alternate Activity 1: Evolutionary Morality

Part of Amazing Grace

Activity time: 10 minutes

Preparation for Activity

  • Acquaint yourself with the basic idea that morality has developed through evolution.

Description of Activity

This activity offers theory and discussion that will appeal to thoughtful youth who are attracted to ideas. You can challenge such youth by giving them the basic idea and asking them to fill in their own details. If your own group is not often up for serious discussion, you might just offer the basic idea and go on to something else.

The basic idea is simple enough: Some researchers say that morality evolved as a way to help humans survive. For example, people learned that some odors came from things that would be deadly to eat. They learned through time to think of those odors as disgusting. So today, children smelling that thing for the first time would call it disgusting without having any idea what it came from or what it meant.

One such researcher is Dr. Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist at the University of Virginia. He wrote a book about the subject called The Happiness Hypothesis. (See Find Out More.) He says that when people feel strongly that something is right or wrong but they cannot say why, they are making a moral judgment that developed through evolution.

If your group talked about the Golden Rule in an earlier session (see Activity 4 of Session 4: Telling Right from Wrong), remind participants that many different religions and cultures have some form of the Golden Rule. Remind them also of what the Golden Rule says: "Treat other people the way you want them to treat you in the same situation." Then challenge the youth with these questions:

  • Could the Golden Rule be a product of evolution?
  • Do children growing up today have a sense of the Golden Rule inside them even if no one has told them about the rule?
  • How could the idea of the Golden Rule become so important to early people that it became a built-in part of everybody's morality today?