Evolutionary Psychology

Loren Haarsma (lhaarsma@retina.anatomy.upenn.edu)
Sun, 6 Sep 1998 15:00:21 -0400 (EDT)

Regarding his article on evolutionary psychology in "Perspectives
on Science and Christian Faith," Ray Zimmer wrote:

> Please feel free to post your ideas on EP and my article or
> the response!

I was glad to see the articles on EP. At its present stage, EP has
difficulty getting beyond telling "just so" stories, but I expect
that EP will make more contributions as we learn more about the
neurobiology of behavior and the genetic factors which influence it.

I thought the box on page 192 of "Perspectives," in Bufford and
Garrison's article, gave a good summary of the current status of
EP --- its strengths, weaknesses, and points of agreement and tension
with Christianity. I was wondering if you have any disagreements or
caveats to that list.

One interesting point of compatibility between EP and Christianity is
the idea that both "selfish" and "altruistic" behavior patterns emerged
from hominid evolution. It appears that evolution produced competing
behavior strategies (selfishness vs. altruism, short-term pleasure-
seeking vs. long-term-preparation, monogamy vs. polygamy, etc.) which,
it could be argued, form the "raw materials" for Moral Choice in
intelligent beings. EP seems to suggest that as hominids became
increasingly intelligent and increasingly dependent upon complex social
arrangements for survival and child-rearing, "unselfish" behavior
patterns were increasingly selected.

I was a bit concerned, however, about your attachment of the term
"natural" to the more basic, self-oriented, "lower" animal behaviors and
psychological mechanisms, and your attachment of the terms "super
(above) nature" and "transcendent" to the more complex,
inter-relational and altruistic behaviors and psychological mechanisms.
To a philosophical naturalist, using those terms in that way would sound
like a rhetorical trick, since you have just argued in the preceding
paragraphs that these "transcendent" behaviors and mechanisms are, in
fact, "natural." You may be able to make the case that they *point to*
something truly beyond nature, but I think it is mostly confusing
(rather than persuasive) to give the label "transcendent" to these
"natural" behaviors.

A related point of compatibility is EP's suggestion that hominid
evolution produced selective advantages in recognizing "personhood"
in oneself and in others. It *could* be argued that this development
also points to an awareness of something "beyond nature," namely, the
Person who created it all. But again, some caution is in order. Our
brains are very good at pattern recognition, and particularly at
recognizing other persons and other person's behaviors. Our
brains are so attuned to this task that we anthropomorphize animals and
inanimate objects, seeing "personal" traits in their impersonal actions.
It could be argued that humans applying this skill to all of nature would
tend to produce the fiction of pantheism rather than a real awareness of
the personal Creator. In my experience, most advocates of EP, in the
words of Bufford and Garrison, "reject the ontological reality of God
and view religion as only an evolved pattern of behavior."

It looks to me like evolutionary mechanisms were used to create
creatures with the ability to have personal relationships and the ability
to make moral choices. I expect that EP, as it matures, will support
this. I believe God designed the system that way in order to make
creatures to reflect His personhood and moral nature, in preparation
for personal (special) revelation, to establish a personal and moral
relationship between Creator and creatures.

For myself, I wouldn't try to make the argument, as I think you did in
your article, that evolutionary mechanisms produced in humans an
awareness of something transcendent, beyond nature. I would instead argue
for a closely related point: that evolutionary mechanisms produced in
humans a *readiness* to personally encounter a personal Creator, and to
make the moral choices which would result from such an encounter.
I suspect that the actual awareness came to humans through special
revelation and the work of the Holy Spirit.


In a recent post, you asked about the idea of modern scientific
findings pointing to a reality "beyond nature."

It's true that quantum field theory seems unlike anything "natural"
that we're used to encountering. String theory points to the possibility
of more than three spatial dimensions at extremely tiny distance scales.
But it could be argued that these things *really are real* --- they really
are the *true* nature --- and that we simply can't perceive them with
unaided senses. In that sense, they are not at all super-natural. However,
I think we can make the point that modern scientific findings demonstrate
that there are some fundamental elements of Reality which we cannot
directly perceive, but which we *can* comprehend if they are revealed to us.
In this, I also see compatibility with Christianity.

Thanks again for your article and your request for discussion.

Loren Haarsma