Original Research - Special Collection: Wentzel van Huyssteen

Moral origins and Christian ethics: An interdisciplinary approach in conversation with J. Wentzel van Huyssteen

Bernice Serfontein
Verbum et Ecclesia | Vol 42, No 2 | a2341 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v42i2.2341 | © 2021 Bernice Serfontein | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 31 July 2021 | Published: 30 September 2021

About the author(s)

Bernice Serfontein, Department of Systematic and Historical Theology, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


Only a small number of theologians attempt to explore the critical and constructive contributions theology can make to evolutionary accounts of morality. J. Wentzel van Huyssteen can be considered a pioneer in the science and theology discourse, with a special interest in the origin of morality as part of his pursuit of a more profound notion of human uniqueness in science and theology. In this article, the origin of moral awareness and morality will be explored by combining a variety of perspectives, including evolutionary anthropology, in an attempt to gain a more responsible notion of ethics and clarify its relationship to Christian theology. The interdisciplinary approach adopted in this study, in conversation with Van Huyssteen, reveals the necessity of distinguishing between moral awareness and morality, that is, moral norms, judgements and conventions. Evolutionary explanations of our innate sense of morality cannot explain any of our moral judgements or justify the truth claims regarding our moral judgements. Gaining insights from philosophy and developmental psychology, the origin of moral norms, judgements and conventions are explored on a more interactive level of cultural evolution and niche construction. Finally, this article briefly explores whether Van Huyssteen’s post-foundational rethinking of the imago Dei can offer insights into how this bottom-up approach to moral awareness and morality relates to Christian theology and ethics.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: This article, in conversation with Wentzel van Huyssteen, explores the origin of moral awareness and morality and its relation to ethics. The interdisciplinary conversation covers the fields of evolutionary anthropology, developmental psychology, philosophy and theology within the contemporary science and theology discourses.


moral awareness; morality; evolutionary anthropology; niche construction theory; ethics; Christian theology; philosophy; imago Dei; Wentzel van Huyssteen


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