Evolutionary Psychology vs. The Fall
Lead us, Evolution, lead us up the future's endless stair. C.S. Lewis
One of the most iconic cable TV advertisements is the one where an elderly lady has fallen to the floor. As she lay helpless and alone, she did the only thing she could- she yelled somewhat pathetically, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” The suggestion is that no one hears her, and we are left to imagine the sad, horrendous results.
If we were listening to the stories our mothers and aunts were telling us, good chance we heard stories of grandma living with them while growing up. That was how families navigated the infirmities of growing old. My mother didn’t always appreciate sharing the sole bathroom in the house with her sweet old granny, who wasn’t always sweet.
Throughout all of history and across most cultures, the family structure saw to it that the elderly members were cared for. Some cultures exalted the aged and put them on metaphorical pedestals. Some put them to use training the youngsters how to navigate life. Falling while living alone was not a very likely scenario.
But I offer this ‘I’ve fallen and can’t get up’ story as a metaphor to a question I have, and perhaps you do as well- considering our culture’s headlong dive into secular humanism, is the Biblical account of ‘the fall’ still relevant?
Much is written, discussed, and argued today regarding the origin of life. The beginning of things. I suspect that we’ve been arguing passionately about this topic since we began to think critically. The Enlightenment encouraged folks to think beyond old rigid orthodoxies and did so somewhat tolerantly. Today, these ideas are debated, sometimes with great passion, in the echo chambers of social media, often informed or misinformed by heavily curated and biased search results. Chatrooms can become loud with various takes on ‘God is dead’ morphing into ‘God is evil.’ Some go beyond, blaming God and God sympathizers for most of the ills of the world- an ironic admission that humanity has fallen and God is the cause.
Fortunately, one can still find high-quality debates between atheists and Christian apologists. One side attempts to persuade the other of a belief in various scientific theories such as the Big Bang or Evolutionary theory as articulated by Darwin. Their arguments require a belief that life exists in biological terms only.
The other side’s argument typically rests on at least two major points. First, a purely physical understanding of our existence doesn’t begin to explain our lived experiences. History contains far too many examples of events that transcend a mere physical explanation. Perhaps that is why every significant culture throughout all of history has deeply planted spiritual roots.
They further argue that if the physical elements necessary to support and promote life were a primordial stew, the ingredients, and their proportions would have to be conjoined with such precision that it defies the laws of probabilities. The happenstance required for the design, for example, of the putamen and insula, that part of the brain that contributes to our capacity to both love and hate, should challenge anyone who wishes to place their faith in the orthodoxy of evolutionary theory.
In the end, each side, if honest, comes to at least one point of agreement. No explanation can be presented as the one and only explanation. That each position, and all of them in the middle, require a significant element of faith.
Humans are more than kinetic physical beasts animated with muscles clinging to a skeletal system and kept alive by a pulsating heart. There is this nodule atop our shoulders that we must contend with- the brain. In the case of humans, it contains a unique and complex attribute we call consciousness. Our consciousness, our complex mind, is what makes us unique from all other life forms. It animates our personality, supports our capacity towards intentions, and gives us freedom of will. That there exists an ethereal sphere that transcends mere physical understandings.
Human psychology is perhaps the most complex system humanity contemplates. More complex, I’d argue, than global climate systems, neurological systems, and even that of the galaxy, which we are but a speck with powerful electronic telescopes yet to find its end or its beginnings. Our speck of earth with eight billion individuals, each possessing a unique mental fingerprint, making us each unique with endless hues of aberrations.
Behavior sciences have many disciplines. A relatively new one is called Evolutionary Psychology. It is the study of human behavior thru the lens of evolutionary biology. Evolutionary psychologists believe that we have behavior dispositions that have evolved, allowing humanity to survive and reproduce. As adherents to evolutionary theory, they attempt to understand why people do what they do and how that has changed throughout human history.
If humanity is to dismiss the possibility of intelligent design or creation in all its possible iterations and settle on Dawinism as the one and true explanation of our physical existence, then we also have to confront the origin and evolution of our advanced state of consciousness. How did our mental capacities and the limitless number of variations we call human behavior evolve? How does evolutionary theory explain the myriad of human behaviors that range from great compassion, love, and empathy to the other end of our emotional continuum- hate, loathing, and envy? I predict evolutionary psychologists will be kept busy looking for a physical explanation for a very long time.
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Naturally, if life only manifests itself in purely biological terms, then ‘the fall’ as told in Genesis is nonsense. Indeed, it is difficult to believe that the eating of a forbidden fruit in a beautiful garden could so dramatically alter the course of all humanity. Snakes would forevermore slither and our nakedness could cause us embarrassment. Humanity now possessed the capacity to think ill of one another, to covet, to tell untruths, to hold biases, and to have a tendency towards arrogance and pride. Read on and read the story of how one harbored so much envy causing him to murder his own brother.
It is not hard to lament the fall but try to imagine a life of perfection. It is nearly unbearable. The sheer boredom of it all. If there was nothing but love and peace and tranquility, what stories would we tell? What gossip might we pass on? Without lust turning to passion, where would the children come from, and would they cry when hungry or dirty their diapers? Perfection would require a single personality type- any differences would lead to conflicts. Our grandmas would never die or fall down, unable to get up. We’d all look up to the heavens and plead, “Please, my Lord, save us from this hell of perfection!”
Nearly every evolutionary psychologist I’ve read will have nothing to do with ‘the fall.’ But they are having a devilish time explaining the evolutionary benefits of humanity’s various pathologies. They would love to take the seven deadly sins, for example, and offer up an explanation of the benefits they offer mankind.
The fall was critical to the future of our earthly human existence. It ordained a system of physical and emotional imperfections allowing for the individual. If perfect, we’d have no stories to tell or a future to look forward to.
Have a great weekend!
If you live for the next world, you get this one in the deal; but if you live only for this world, you lose them both.
“Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future's endless stair;
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.
Wrong or justice, joy or sorrow,
In the present what are they
while there's always jam-tomorrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we're going,
We can never go astray.
To whatever variation
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
Bulbous-eyed or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,
Towards that unknown god we yearn.
Ask not if it's god or devil,
Brethren, lest your words imply
Static norms of good and evil
(As in Plato) throned on high;
Such scholastic, inelastic,
Abstract yardsticks we deny.
Far too long have sages vainly
Glossed great Nature's simple text;
He who runs can read it plainly,
'Goodness = what comes next.'
By evolving, Life is solving
All the questions we perplexed.
Oh then! Value means survival-
Value. If our progeny
Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
That will prove its deity
(Far from pleasant, by our present,
Standards, though it may well be).”
by C.S. Lewis