Evolutionary Explanations

I’ve made the point in an earlier post about why it’s flawed as a full explanation of human behaviourEvolution is often the Atheists go to scientific ideology when it comes to explaining almost everything, I’ve made the point in an earlier post about why it’s flawed as a full explanation of human behaviour, but given the commonplace nature of the evolutionary explanation to dismiss Christian anthropology, I think the point needs to be made further. The argument often goes something like this:

The Christian points to some aspect of human experience that points one towards God, be it Consciousness, agency, free will, morality, love, self-sacrifice, beauty, desire for transcendence, transcendence itself or whatever.

The Atheist responds: Well, that can easily be explained, we love because we evolved to love, and we evolved to love because feelings of attachment to one another keeps children safe which allows more of them to grow and reproduce, it allows a species to reproduce and be drawn to one another, and so on and so forth.

Or when it comes to morality, they’ll say something like: We have morality because we evolved morality, and we evolved morality because societies that have no morality collapse through discord and those with morality stay together and thus survive better.

The first thing to point out is that these “explanations,” at best, are no more than plausible narratives, and these narratives may or may not be true. Even if these narratives are true, what is it that they actually explain? Given the way the explanation is generally given it often seems as though evolution fully explains what the purpose of things like love, free will, transcendence and so are, and generally, they all reduce to reproduction and survival.

However, this is completely backwards, this is not how the theory of evolution works. It’s not the case that a species loves because, it evolved to love, nor is it the case that the purpose of love is survival and reproduction. All the theory of evolution can say is whether a certain trait aids or hinders survival and reproduction. These traits in themselves may have absolutely nothing to do with survival and reproduction, but evolution is not interested in what the telos of those traits are in and of themselves, only in whether they aid survival and reproduction.

Nor is it the case that Humans evolved to love or to have morality in the theory of evolution. The mutations and changes that survive and reproduce are not the ends of evolution, rather they either survive or they don’t. It’s not the case that humans evolve to love and thus survived and thus we love, it’s rather the case that humans who did love survived and reproduced, whatever the purpose or origin of that love was or is. This is assuming the evolutionary narrative applies to human behaviour.

So let’s take an example, why do people play basketball? Well there are many evolutionary stories one can tell about Sports. It displays physical fitness in order to attract the opposite sex, it builds social cohesion and comradery which aid survival, it allows for competitive activities which preserve a societies competitive qualities which often come in handy but it allows these activities to take place in a peaceful way or perhaps it weeds out the weak from the reproduction pool through embarrassment (through being bad at sports). None of these narratives actually explains why most people play sports; most people play sports because they enjoy it, because they like to compete with their friends, because they want to stay in shape and so on.

Let’s go back to something like “love” as being something that points toward the divine. It might very well be the case unconditional and total love plays a positive role in the survival and reproduction of human beings and human societies. However, whether it does or not says absolutely nothing about the origin of the concept of “love,” the validity of “love” or the purpose of “love” in human experience. If it is the case that “love” plays a role in survival and reproduction, the most one can say is that love has a place within the evolutionary narrative.

Love itself, may come from a genetic mutation, it may come from a divine source, it may be an objective phenomenon in which one participates, or it may be a subjective feeling, all completely separate questions to whether or not it has a place within the evolutionary narrative. So when a theologically inclined person states that the existence of love points to the divine, what he is not saying is that love has no place in an evolutionary narrative or that prevalence of love is not at least partially exchanged by the idea that it helped in survival and reproduction. Do not let atheists get away with cheap and fallacious arguments, they often do, and they should not.

Evolutionary Explanations

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