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The Evolution of Lying?

by  Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

Bible class teachers and preachers are going to have to rewrite their lessons on lying, because according to Montclair State University professor Julian Keenan, lying is simply a product of evolution. After maintaining that every person lies, Keenan noted: “The average person tells at least one lie per day” (as quoted in D’Aurizio, 2004). A rather brash accusation, but Keenan’s assessment of human morality gets worse. Why is it that “all” humans lie? According to Keenan, there are some good reasons that allegedly go back 5 million years. He asserted:

Lying has played a key role in our evolution, in making humans, human. It’s one of the most amazing, sophisticated, advanced cognitive abilities we have. All evidence indicates that we are genetically programmed to lie. The liar has such an advantage over you. So the gene is passed on (2004).

So there you have it. All that time you have been instructing your children and grandchildren not to lie was for nought. Keenan says they cannot help it—it is “genetically programmed” into them. If this were not being presented as a scientific study, it would be laughable. But because Keenan is a professor responsible for molding and shaping the minds of college students, it certainly is no laughing matter.

Keenan’s contention is: “If you can get into someone’s mind, you’ll have a real advantage. The key to being a really good con artist is being a good mind-reader, telling someone what they want to hear” (as quoted in D’Aurizio). Reading between the lines, is one to assume that in order to have an “advantage” in life, we should sharpen our lying skills? Commenting on one of the implications of Keenan’s theory, Atlanta Journal Constitution staff writer Elaine D’Aurizo wrote: “Getting into someone’s mind is also what dating is about, Keenan said. ‘Men want to find out what women want to hear and women want to know what men want to hear.’” Keenan continued:

Women should know what men lie about and so [should] men, who don’t know anywhere near the extent that women do how the opposite sex lies. You’re much better off when you’re able to detect a lie, much more in control.

So according to this neuroscientist, lying is a beneficial product of evolution—it helps give humans more control. In fact, Keenan observed: “We find it is a sign in children of high intelligence.” So exactly where, or from whom, did we “evolve” this behavior? Keenan lamented: “Very few animals lie, except maybe a few apes. It’s one of the hallmarks of humans.” Let me get this straight—very few animals, except maybe a few apes lie? Webster’s dictionary defines a lie as “an untrue statement made with intent to deceive.” How many other animals on the planet (including apes) have the ability to make an untrue statement? Absolutely none! Had Keenan not been trying to bolster his ridiculous theory with evolutionary tenets, he might have realized that apes (along with all other animals) were not created with the ability to use the spoken language in such a way. Animals do not lie because they were not created with the ability to do so!

The coup de grace of this pitiable story came when Keenan observed: “Morally, lying is wrong.” Excuse me?! He just spent valuable time and energy explaining to readers how lying was “genetically programmed,” gave us an “advantage,” and was a product of “evolution.” Now he wants to claim that lying is morally wrong? By whose standard? It cannot be man’s, because according to Keenan, man is born with this genetic component. Matter—by itself—is completely impotent to “evolve” any sense of moral consciousness. If there is no purpose in the Universe, as evolutionists assert, then there is no purpose to morality or ethics. But the concept of a “purposeless morality,” or a “purposeless ethic,” is irrational.

When George Gaylord Simpson commented that “morals arise only in man” (1967, p. 346), he acknowledged (whether or not he intended to) the fact that morality is something unique to humankind. No two apes ever sat down and said, “Hey, I’ve got a good idea. Today let’s talk about morals and ethics.” On the same page of his book, Simpson thus was forced to admit that “the workings of the universe cannot provide any automatic, universal, eternal, or absolute ethical criteria of right and wrong” (1967, p. 346). True morality is based on the fact of the unchanging nature of Almighty God. He is eternal (Psalm 90:2; 1 Timothy 1:17), holy (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8), just and righteous (Psalm 89:14), and forever consistent (Malachi 3:6). This is the same God Who formed man with the ability to communicate freely—but Who abhors lying (Psalm 5:6). In fact, Satan is called the father of lies (John 8:44). Yes, lying is wrong. But the reason is because our Creator deems it as such.

When Martin Gardner wrote on “The Relevance of Belief Systems” in his book, The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher, and observed that what a person believes profoundly influences how a person acts, he could not have been more right (1988, pp. 57-64). Consider the profound influence that Keenan’s teachings will have on college students. Evolution cannot explain lies, just as it cannot explain communication and morals. Students (and adults!) need to realize that lying will separate them from God, and is not advantageous. The Proverbs writer noted: “A true witness delivers souls, but a deceitful witness speaks lies” (14:25). How true.


D’Aurizio, Elaine (2004), “Truth Is, Everyone Lies,” Atlanta Journal Constitution, [On-line], URL:

Gardner, Martin (1988), The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus).

Simpson, George Gaylord (1967), The Meaning of Evolution (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press), revised edition.

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