The story of Adam and Eve is critical to Christian thought. For many Christians, the story tells us how and why we fell from God’s grace and moved away from Him. Some Christians are Biblical literalists—they believe that the events in the Bible truly happened as described. Other Christians attempt to combine Christianity with ‘science’ in an attempt to explain the natural world. In the book Doing Without Adam and Eve: Sociobiology and Original Sin, Williams (2000) argues that Adam and Eve are symbolic figures and that they did not exist.
But suppose, as many Christians now do, that Adam and Eve are simply symbolic figures in an imaginary garden rather than the cause of all our woe. Suppose further that the idea od “the fall” from grace is not in Scripture? Does this destroy Christian theology? This book says no. This book says that doing without Adam and Eve while drawing on sociobiology improves Christian theology and helps us understand the origin and persistance of our own sinfulness. (Williams, 2000: 10)
How ironic is it for just-so storytellers to combine their doctrine with another doctrine of just-so stories? The Christian Bible is chock-full of just-so stories purporting to show the origin of how and why we do certain things. Stories such as those in the Christian Bible do serve a purpose—which explain why they are still told and why there are still so many believers today. In any case, Williams (2000) is replacing one way of storytelling with another: the combination of the doctrine of Christianity along with Sociobiology (SB), attempting to use ‘science’ to lend an air of respectability to Christian thought.
How ironic that Christian storytelling would be combined with another form of storytelling—one masquerading as science? SB was the precursor to what is now known as ‘Evolutionary Psychology’ (EP) (see Buller, 2005; Wallace, 2010). There, we see that what amounts to just-so stories today has its beginnings in E. O. Wilson’s (1975) book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Sociobiology is premised on the claim that both social and individual behaviors can become objects of selection which then become fixated as species-typical behaviors. SB, then, was crafted to explain human nature and how and why we behave the way we do today. If certain genes cause or influence certain behaviors and these behaviors increase group fitness, then the behavior in question will persist since it increases group fitness.
I have no qualms with the group selection claim (I think it is underappreciated, see Sterelny and Griffiths, 1999). But note that SB, like its cousin EP, attempts to explain the evolution of human behavior through Darwinian natural selection. But the problems with the assumption that traits persist because they are selected-for their contribution to fitness has already been shown to be highly flawed and wanting by Fodor (2008) and Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini (2010; 2011). In a nutshell, if a behavior is correlated (coextensive) with another behavior (or a gene that causes/influences a behavior is coextensive with another that causes/influences a different behavior) that is not fitness-enhancing then selection has no way of knowing which of the correlated traits influences fitness and so, since both traits are selected, there is no fact of the matter (when it comes to evolution) about why a trait was selected-for. There can be to us humans, as we can attempt to find out which trait is fitness-enhancing and which takes a free-ride—but for our conception of ‘natural selection’, it cannot distinguish between the cause and the correlate since there is no mind doing the selecting nor laws of selection for trait fixation which hold in all ecologies.
In any case, even if we assume that natural selection is an explanatory mechanism, the Sociobiologist/Evolutionary Psychologist would still have a hard time explaining how and why humans behave the way they do (note that behavior is distinct from action in that behavior is dispositional and actions are intentional) as Hull (1986) notes. In fact, Hull has a very simple argument showing that if one believes in evolution, then they should not believe in a ‘human nature’:
If species are the things that evolve at least in large part through the action of natural selection, then both genetic and phenotypic variability are essential to biological species. If all species are variable, then Homo sapiens must be variable. Hence, it is very unlikely that the human species as a biological species can be characterized by a set of invariable traits.
This does not stop Sociobiologists/Evolutionary Psychologists, though, from attempting to carry out their framework premised under untenable assumptions (that traits can be ‘selected-for’ and that natural selection can explain trait fixation). This shows, though, that even accepting the Darwinian claims, they do not lead to the conclusion that Darwinists would like.
To explain human nature through scientific principles is the aim of SB/EP. Indeed, it was what E. O. Wilson wanted to do when he attempted his new synthesis. Though, Dorothy Nelkin—in the book Alas, Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology (Rose and Rose, 2001)—has pointed out that Wilson was a religious man in his early years. This may have influenced his views on everything, from genetics to evolution.
When Harvard University entomologist Edward O. Wilson first learned about evolution, he experienced, in his words, an ‘epiphany’. He describes the experience: ‘Suddenly — that is not too strong a word — I saw the world in a wholly new way … A tumbler fell somewhere in my mind, and a door opened to a new world. I was enthralled, couldn’t stop thinking about the implications evolution has … for just about everything.’
Wilson, who was raised as a southern Baptist, believes in the power of revelation. Though he drifted away from the church, he maintained his religious feeling. ‘Perhaps science is a continuation on new and better tested ground to attain the same end. If so, then, in that sense science is religion liberated and writ large.’ (Nelkin, 2001)
The Sociobiological enterprise, though, was further kicked-off by Richard Dawkins’ publication of The Selfish Gene just one year after Wilson published Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. This is when such storytelling truly got its start—and it has plagued us ever since. How ironic that the start of what I would call ‘the disciplines of storytelling’ would be started by a religious man and an atheist? The just-so storytellers are no better than any other just-so storytellers—Christians included. They have a ‘religious bent’ to their thinking, though the may vehemently deny it (in the case of Dawkins). Nelkin claims that, though Dawkins rejects a religious kind of purpose in life, “Dawkins does [find] ultimate purpose in human existence — the propagation of genes.”
Nelkin goes on to argue that Dawkins is “an extreme reductionist” and that our bodies don’t matter but what really matters is our DNA sequences—what supposedly makes us who we are. Nelkin puts Dawkins’ view simply: our bodies don’t matter (the material doesn’t matter), but our genes are immortal and what explains behavior is our selfish genes attempting to propagate by causing/influencing certain behaviors. These kinds of metaphors are pushed by geneticists, too, with their claims that DNA is ‘the book of life’. Nelkin also quotes Wilson stating that “‘you get a sense of immortality’ as genes move on to future generations. Like the sacred texts of revealed religion, the ‘evolutionary epic’ explains our place in the world, our relationships, behaviour, morality and fate. It is indeed of truly epic proportions.”
Nelkin then claims that Evolutionary Psychologists are like missionaries attempting to proselytize people from one ‘religion’ to another. They have the answer to the meaning of life—and the meaning is in your genes and to propagate your genes.
[Evolutionary Psychologists] are convinced they have insights into the human condition that must be accepted as truth. And their insights often come through revelations. Describing his conversion experience, Wilson notes that his biggest ideas happened ‘within minutes … Those moments don’t happen very often in a career, but they’re climactic and exhilarating.’ He believes he is privy to ‘new revelations of great moral importance’, that from science ‘new intimations of immortality can be drawn and a new mythos evolved’. Convinced that evolutionary explanations should prevail over all other beliefs, he seeks conversions. (Nelkin, 2001)
It is ironic that Williams (2000) is attempting to reconcile Christian theology with Sociobiology. The parallels between the two are strikingly evident. Christian theology is based on faith just like SB/EP just-so stories are (since there can be no independent verification for the hypothesis). Christians have missionaries who attempt to proselytize new converts and so do those who push the doctrine of SB/EP. Anyone who agrees with my doctrine is wrong; I am right. ‘Natural selection’ cannot explain the propagation of behavior today. The attempt to explain human nature through evolution and by extension natural selection was inevitable ever since Darwin formulated the theory of natural selection in the 19th century. However, if one believes in evolution then it is illogical to believe that there IS a human nature; if one is a good evolutionist then they believe that human nature is fairy tale and that our species cannot be characterized by a set of invariable traits (Hull, 1986).
How ironic it is for theists and scientists to have similar kinds of beliefs and convictions about the beliefs they hold near and dear to their hearts. The attempted synthesis of Christian theology and Sociobiology (an attempted synthesis itself) is very telling: it shows that the two groups who propagate such explanations are, in actuality, cut from the same cloth with the same kinds of beliefs—though they use different language than the other.