Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Peter Augustine Lawler, 1951-2017: On the Evolutionary Psychology of Individual Liberty and Social Virtue

I was saddened to hear of the sudden death of Peter Augustine Lawler at his home in Rome, Georgia, where he was the Dana Professor of Government at Berry College.

Peter and I were friendly debating partners.  The importance of that debate for my thinking is indicated by the many blog posts that I wrote in response to Peter: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Peter combined commitments to an Augustinian Catholic faith, a Heideggerian existentialist philosophy, and a Kirkean conservative politics.  He expressed those commitments in a witty and poetic style of improvisational speaking and writing, often with references to the popular culture of television shows, movies, and novels.  Much of his speaking and writing was done under the sponsorship of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

The one author who most influenced Peter's thinking was Walker Percy.  And of Percy's writings, Lost in the Cosmos was the most important.  Peter's themes of human beings as "aliens" in the universe, wondering wanderers, haunted by love and death were all from Percy, and originally from Heidegger.

Peter and I debated about the adequacy of Darwinian science for supporting traditionalist conservatism or classical liberalism.  Ultimately, our debate turned on the question of whether that science can fully explain human nature.  I generally argued that it can.  Peter generally argued that Darwinian science provides at best only a partial explanation: it goes a long way in explaining our nature as social animals, but it fails to explain our nature as individual persons who want to be the center of the universe.  As he often said, it's all about ME!  (In all of this, Peter was restating themes from Percy's Lost in the Cosmos.)

As often happens with friendly debaters, we began to find more and more common ground.  I now see that common ground as a Darwinian account of human nature that supports a fusion of traditionalist conservatism and classical liberalism. 

I use the word "fusion" here to evoke the memory of Frank Meyer, who argued that the debate between American libertarians and conservatives was misconceived, because what was needed was a "fusion" of both positions.  If we properly distinguish state and society, he claimed, we can see that the libertarians (or classical liberals) are right in asserting that the purpose of the state is to secure individual liberty, while the conservatives are also right in asserting that the purpose of society is to promote social virtue.

Of course, this works only if the conservatives are liberal conservatives (like Russell Kirk, for example) rather than illiberal conservatives (like Joseph de Maistre, for example).  Illiberal conservatives want to use the state to coercively enforce moral and religious orthodoxy, which they regard as the necessary condition for any healthy social order.  Liberal conservatives think that the enforcement of moral and religious orthodoxy is properly done through the natural and voluntary associations of society, while the state is limited to securing individual liberty.  To use the language of Richard John Neuhaus in his article on "The Liberalism of John Paul II," illiberal conservatives want a "confessional state," while liberal conservatives want a "confessional society."

Peter and I moved towards a fusion of classical liberalism and liberal conservatism founded on a Darwinian science of human nature.

I saw hints of this in Peter's chapter in Stephen Dilley's book Darwinian Evolution and Classical Liberalism.  But I saw it even more clearly in one of Peter's articles in The New Atlantis--"Moderately Socially Conservative Darwinians".  The editorial note above this article captured the theme of Peter's article in one sentence: "Peter Augustine Lawler argues that evolutionary psychology, rightly understood, reinforces the conservative lesson that we are not merely autonomous  individuals but also social and relational beings."

I have identified evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt as a Darwinian conservative., who shows how classical liberalism is rooted in our evolved moral psychology.  In his New Atlantis article, Peter came close to the same conclusion: "To be effective, social cooperation cannot simply be the product of calculation or self-interest rightly understood (as the Lockeans would have it); but it also cannot be imposed in a way that would abolish individual choice or responsibility (as in the Republic).  For all his sympathy with social conservatism and understanding of the importance of relationships for morality, politically speaking Haidt is more of a libertarian.  He's the increasingly rare kind of libertarian that idealizes not the liberated individual who chooses to design himself from an ever-expanding menu of choice, but rather the intelligently eusocial animal who takes responsibility for his own relationships." 

Peter added: "On his moderately socially conservative view, both 'libertarians (who sacralize liberty)' and 'social conservatives (who sacralize certain institutions and traditions)' reliably espouse partly correct views of who we are."  This is what I see as the fusion of libertarianism and conservatism founded on a Darwinian science of human nature.

Turning to E. O. Wilson's The Social Conquest of Earth, Peter was impressed by what Wilson said about evolved human nature as showing the tension between individual selection and group selection, which Peter saw as a Darwinian intimation of the tense dualism of human nature as both relational and personal that is captured in Christian theology:
"An unexpected way to unite the Darwinian and Cartesian perspectives can be found in Christian theology, as expressed in the thought of the lately abdicated philosopher-pope Benedict XVI.  The Darwinians are right that we are relational beings, the Lockeans are right that we are personal beings.  We can only be personal through being relational.  And that is the point of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  We don't lose ourselves in God, just as we don't lose ourselves in our relationships with persons made in His image.  We retain our personal identity; being personal is hardwired, so to speak, in the very structure of being itself.  And we are made to be in relationships without becoming mere parts; each of us is a relational whole by nature.  It is a mistake to believe, as the Cartesians do, that we have to win our personal freedom against an impersonal nature, because we are, in fact, free persons by nature."
And yet Peter still held to his often repeated claim that Darwinian science cannot account for the human sense of individual personal dignity: "Although evolutionary psychologists try to reach the same political conclusions as people devoted to the human rights of individuals liberated from nature, evolutionary science offers no real evidence that could ground our sense of personal significance apart from the requirements of the group and ultimately the species." 

This leads to Peter's complaint, in his chapter in Dilley's book, that "Darwin, from a Lockean view, turns individuals into species fodder" (59).

But doesn't the Darwinian account in Wilson's book of the evolved tension between individual selection and group selection convey the human dualism of personal individuality and relational sociality?  Locke captures this tension by affirming both individual freedom based in self-ownership and social bonding based in social instincts.  (Strangely, Peter chose to ignore Locke's emphasis on the social bonding of human biological nature, because Peter was unduly influenced by Leo Strauss's distorted reading of Locke as teaching an asocial individualism in a "joyless quest for joy.")  Evolutionary neuroscience now supports this Lockean psychology: we can see that our mammalian neuroanatomy has evolved so that we naturally care for the survival and well-being both of ourselves and of our families and social partners.

In our debates, I argued that Darwinian science could explain all this about human beings as a product of our evolutionary history.  Peter agreed with Pope John Paul II that Darwinian evolution accounts for everything about human beings except their immortal souls, which requires an "ontological leap"--a miraculous intervention by God that separates human beings from the other animals.

Unlike the other animals, human beings really do insist: it's all about ME!  That means, according to Peter, that none of us can imagine or accept that we must die, that our personal existence can endure only for one human lifetime.  We all fear death and long for immortality, because we all want to be known and loved forever.

By contrast, I have suggested that fearing death and longing for immortality shows a foolish refusal to see the goodness in the enduring but temporary life that we enjoy for as long as we live.  If we could exist as ageless bodies, we would actually be dead.  As I have said in another post, Wallace Stevens was right: Death is the mother of beauty.

This question--whether the goodness of our human lives depends on immortality--is one of those deep questions that we wrestle with in the natural and voluntary associations of our society--in our families, friendships, schools, and religious organizations.  A liberal state secures the peace and liberty that allow us to ponder those questions with one another, but without any coercive enforcement of any particular answers to those questions.

Now that he has died, Peter finally knows--or doesn't know--that he will live forever.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Is Chimpanzee Politics Machiavelli's Politics?

                             The Picture on the Book Cover of Machiavellian Intelligence II

In 1967, Antony Jay published Management and Machiavelli: An Inquiry into the Politics of Corporate Life.  He argued that the pursuit of power in a modern corporation was just like the Renaissance politics described by Niccolo Machiavelli in The Prince, and that Machiavelli's principles for gaining and holding political power were also the best principles for successfully advancing one's position in a corporation.  His book is considered a classic of management science that was followed by dozens of other books on "Machiavellian management." 

Jay was also interested in how human behavior in organizations was like a lot of animal behavior.  In a 2005 interview, he said: "During my own experiences, I saw how an awful lot of animal behavior, particularly primate behavior, comes up in the modern corporation."  He also wrote the popular BBC television series "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" that were comic depictions of British civil servants and government ministers fighting for dominance.

In 1970, Richard Christie and Florence Geis published Studies in Machiavellianism, in which they developed a procedure for identifying  the "Machiavellian personality" of people who unscrupulously pursue their selfish interests by manipulating and deceiving others.  They developed a "Mach Scale" based on whether people agree with a series of statements that are identified with Machiavelli.  In its most extreme form, the purest Machiavellian personality might be a psychopath, who manipulates and exploits other human beings unrestrained by any moral emotions of shame, guilt, or love.  The "Mach Scale" has been used extensively by social psychologists.

In 1982, Frans de Waal published Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes.  The book was based on de Waal's study of the chimpanzees in the Burgers' Zoo in Arnhem, the Netherlands.  At that time, this was the largest group of chimpanzees in a zoo (23 individuals).  During the warmer half of the year, they were free to move over a two-acre outdoor island area surrounded by a moat, which allowed for careful observations of their social behavior by de Waal and his students.

De Waal says that he couldn't understand what these chimpanzees were doing until he read Machiavelli: "The biological literature proved to be of no help understanding the social maneuvering that I observed, so I turned to Niccolo Machiavelli. During quiet moments of observation, I read from a book that had been published more than four centuries earlier.  The Prince put me in the right frame of mind to interpret what I was seeing on the chimpanzees' forested island, though I'm pretty sure the Florentine philosopher never envisioned this particular application" (de Waal 2016, 168).  He found that "whole passages of Machiavelli seem to be directly applicable to chimpanzee behavior" in explaining "the struggle for power and the resultant opportunism" (1982, 19).

In 1988, Richard Byrne and Andrew Whiten published their edited book Machiavellian Intelligence: The Evolution of Intellect in Monkeys, Apes, and Humans, which explored the "Machiavellian Intelligence Hypothesis"--the idea that the evolutionary growth in the size of primate and human brains could be explained as an adaptation for the cognitive challenges of navigating through the social complexity of primate communities in which individuals must figure out how best to both compete and cooperate with other members of their species.  This has been a popular topic of research for primatologists and for cognitive scientists generally, although the term "Machiavellian intelligence" is sometimes replaced by "social intelligence" or "social brain" by people like Robin Dunbar.

Michael Jackson and Damian Grace--social science scholars at the University of Sydney (Australia)--have complained that all of these applications of "Machiavellian" thinking to management, social psychology, and primatology show a crude distortion of what Machiavelli actually taught, and that those historians and political theorists who have studied Machiavelli should feel obligated to correct these false views of Machiavelli and his teaching (Jackson and Grace 2012, 2015).

They say that when they examined many of the textbooks on the history of political thought, "we found in them not one single reference to Machiavelli's afterlife in management, social psychology, or primatology" (2015, 68).  They did not look at my textbook on the history of political philosophy--Political Questions: Political Philosophy from Plato to Pinker.  If they had, they would have seen that my chapter on Machiavelli has passages on de Waal's Chimpanzee Politics, Byrne and Whiten's Machiavellian Intelligence, and Christie and Geis's Studies in Machiavellianism (see Arnhart 2015, 145-46, 151).  I also refer to Edward O. Wilson and Jane Goodall as biologists who study the power-seeking personality among chimpanzees and other animals.  I bring all of this up as I ask the question, Was Machiavelli a Machiavellian?  In other words, does Machiavelli's teaching correspond to the popular use of the term "Machiavellian" as denoting the ruthless pursuit of power over others through immoral force and fraud?  Jackson and Grace answer no to this question.

I am particularly interested in raising this question as it bears on primatology.  Is chimpanzee politics Machiavellian?  If it is, does this Machiavellian chimpanzee politics conform to what Machiavelli himself taught?  Or does this chimpanzee Machiavellianism depart from Machiavelli's teaching about politics?  Although Jackson and Grace are a little obscure on these points, they seem to say that while chimpanzee politics might be "Machiavellian" in the popular sense of that term, this contradicts what Machiavelli himself taught.

I will survey some of what de Waal says about chimpanzee politics.  Then I will consider the arguments of Jackson and Grace for denying that chimpanzee politics conforms to what Machiavelli teaches. Finally, I will suggest some ways in which the political life of chimpanzees really does manifest some of what Machiavelli teaches about politics.

When de Waal arrived at the Arnhem zoo in 1975 to study the chimpanzees, Yeroen was the alpha male.  Yeroen was dominant over three other adult males--Luit, Nikkie, and Dandy.  The social hierarchy is indicated by a special form of greeting.  Chimpanzees show a submissive greeting that is a sequence of short panting grunts by the subordinate individual as he looks up at the superior individual, which is usually accompanied by a series of deep bobbing bows by the subordinate.  Sometimes the subordinate will stretch out a hand to the superior or kiss the superior's feet, neck, or chest.  The superior reacts to this by rising up and making his hair stand on end, so that he looks very large in contrast to the groveling subordinate.  The alpha male is the male who is "greeted" by the other males.  Generally, the alpha male is also "greeted" by the females and the children in a group.

The male on the left is dominant.  The male on the right is subordinate.  Although they are actually the same size, the dominant male makes himself look bigger.

People often assume that among animals the dominance hierarchy must be determined by fighting in which the biggest and strongest animal wins and becomes the alpha.  But de Waal insists that this is false.  Among chimpanzees and other animals, physical strength is only one of many traits required for becoming the dominant alpha leader.  To become the alpha, one needs supporters.  So one must form coalitions with partners, and to win the support of the females and the children, one needs to act as a mediator in intervening in disputes to enforce peace and unity either through impartial intervention or by supporting the weaker party against the stronger.  One must know how to reconcile after disputes.  And one must know how to achieve mutual cooperation through reciprocity by returning favors and by punishing those who are not cooperative.  So a chimpanzee community is not governed by "the law of the jungle" or the "rule of the stronger."

There is a female hierarchy as well as a male hierarchy.  In fact, before de Waal arrived at the Arnhem Zoo, the alpha female--Mama--was the dominant chimp over the whole group beginning in 1972.  Then, on November 5th of 1973, three adult males--Yeroen, Luit, and Nikkie--were added to the group.  Mama refused to accept them.  With her friend, Gorilla, she attacked the males--biting their feet and pulling their hair.  Their fear of her was expressed in their screaming, diarrhea, and vomiting.  After two weeks of this, the zoo managers decided to remove Mama and Gorilla from the group, because these females were inflicting too many injuries through their uncontrolled aggression.  Males seem to be better at controlling their aggression.  And since it is known that in the wild adult males are dominant, it was thought that they should have a chance to become dominant without the interference of Mama.

After three months, Yeroen was dominant over the group.  Mama and Gorilla were brought back.  Mama attacked the three adult males.  But she had no support from the other females, not even Gorilla.  Without the solidarity of the females, Mama could not alone intimidate the males.  Within a few weeks, Yeroen was dominant again, and he remained dominant from the spring of 1974 to the spring of 1976.

In 1976, de Waal saw the first of two power take-overs, which he understood with the help of Machiavelli, and this is what became the central focus of his book Chimpanzee Politics.  In the spring of 1976, Luit stopped "greeting" Yeroen, which initiated months of tense conflict between them as they fought over which would be dominant.  Luit formed a coalition with Nikkie, so that Nikkie would help Luit against Yeroen. On June 21st, Yeroen bared his teeth for the first time, which is a sign of fear in chimps.  On September 1, Yeroen "greeted" Luit for the first time.  Luit began to take on the control role of the alpha male in mediating fights to restore peace in the group.  On October 31, Yeroen "greeted" Nikkie for the first time.  So, now, Luit was the alpha male, Nikkie was second in command, and Yeroen was ranked third.

But then, in the spring of 1977, Nikkie formed a coalition with Yeroen to challenge Luit, and by December of 1977, Luit was "greeting" Nikkie as his superior. Nikkie had become the alpha male, with Yeroen second in command.  The chimpanzees' keeper at the zoo worried, however, that Nikkie was too young and immature to properly control his aggression.  De Waal responded by arguing that Nikkie was so dependent on the support of Yeroen, the oldest male, that there was no need to fear "an absolute dictatorship by a snotty-nosed upstart" (1982, 136).

But now that winter had come, and the chimps were confined to their indoor housing, Nikkie's violence did become excessive.  Whenever Luit and Yeroen were sitting together, Nikkie fought to separate them and to be close to Yeroen.  Nikkie became so violent that de Waal and the keeper agreed that he needed to be removed from the group for the rest of the winter.  Once Nikkie was gone, Luit resumed his dominant position.  In the spring of 1978, the chimps were released to their outdoor island, Nikkie was reintroduced, and Nikkie soon reclaimed his dominance.

De Waal noticed something strange about Nikkie's alpha male dominance.  When Yeroen was the alpha male, he was "greeted" by the other adult males, and he also received almost all of the "greetings" from the females and children.  When Luit was the alpha male, he was "greeted" by the other adult males, and he also received over 50% of the "greetings" from the females and children.  But when Nikkie was the alpha male, he was "greeted" by the other alpha males, but he received a lower proportion of the "greetings" from the females and children than did Yeroen.  Moreover, Yeroen exercised the control role--mediating disputes and restoring peace--that would normally be exercised by the alpha male, and this increased the popular respect for Yeroen as opposed to Nikkie.  Echoing Machiavelli's famous remark that "it is better to be feared than loved," de Waal observed that Nikkie was "feared rather than respected" (1982, 149).  But de Waal suggests that this lack of popularity made Nikkie weak.

There was another strange feature of Nikkie's alpha male status. Generally, alpha male chimps have the highest number of sexual matings with the females, and they actively disrupt the attempted matings of other males.  This makes sense in evolutionary terms, because we assume that the drive for male dominance evolved as an adaptive trait because alpha males have higher reproductive fitness.  But during the period of Nikkie's dominance, Yeroen had the highest proportion of matings, and Nikkie was forced to tolerate this in order to keep Yeroen's support.

To explain this, de Waal quotes a passage from Chapter 9 of The Prince entitled "Of the Civil Principate."  A civil principate, Machiavelli explains, is when "a private citizen neither by wickedness nor other intolerable violence, but with the favor of his fellow citizens, becomes prince of his fatherland." 
"One ascends to this principate either with the favor of the people [populo] or with that of the great [grandi].  For in every city, these two different humors are to be found. Thus it is that the people desire not to be commanded or oppressed by the great, and the great desire to command and to oppress the people. . . ."
 "The principate is established either by the people or by the great, according to whether one of the other of these parties has the occasion.  For the great, when they see they are not able to resist the people, begin turning to the reputation of one of their own, making him prince, so they may, under his shadow, give vent to their appetite.  The people also, when they see that they are not able to resist the great, turn to the reputation of one, and make him a prince, so that he may with authority be their defense.  He who comes to the principate with the aid of the great maintains himself with more difficulty than the one who attains to it with the aid of the people--for he finds himself prince with many around him who opine themselves his equals, and because of this he cannot command or manage them in his own mode."
De Waal quotes the last sentence above, and he explains:
"Nikkie's position was not an easy one.  Compared to him Yeroen and Luit were almost all-powerful, thanks to the collaboration of the females.  The important difference between Nikkie's leadership and the old order was that Nikkie stood on the shoulders of someone who was himself very ambitious.  The ensuing problems are familiar enough in the human world.  Machiavelli wrote about the relative powerlessness of this kind of leader.  In in the following quotation from The Prince, we translate 'nobility' [the 'great'] by 'males of high rank' and 'common people' by 'females and children,' then we see that Nikkie's 'principality' is indeed very different from the 'principality' of his two predecessors" (1982, 153).
De Waal observes:
"Sometimes it seemed that Nikkie was being used as a figurehead, and that Yeroen--experienced as he was and extremely cunning--had him in the palm of his hand.  The broad basis for leadership rested not under Nikkie but under Yeroen.  The older male had a coalition with the females to pressurize Nikkie and a coalition with Nikkie to keep Luit in check.  Seen in these terms the situation appeared to represent a comeback for Yeroen.  Luit had deprived him of the support and respect he had hitherto enjoyed, but by pushing a youngster forward, Yeroen seemed to have succeeded in reacquiring both" (1982, 152).
But then, from 1978 to 1980, the proportion of the "greetings" directed from the females and the children towards Nikkie increased until he had the level of respect that normally goes to the alpha male.

In Chimpanzee Politics, de Waal ended the story here. But years later, he admitted that he had left out a brutal act in 1980 of what he called "political murder," because he didn't want to end his book on a "dark note" (de Waal 1986; 1998, 211).  In the summer of 1980, Nikkie refused to tolerate Yeroen's copulations with estrus females, and consequently Yeroen withdrew his support of Nikkie.  Without the coalition with Yeroen, Nikkie lost his dominance, and Luit became alpha male again for ten weeks.

But then Nikkie and Yeroen renewed their coalition and challenged Luit.  One night, while the chimps were in their night cages, Nikkie and Yeroen jointly attacked Luit--bitting off fingers and toes and then ripping out Luit's testicles.  Luit died from loss of blood.

The powerful jaws and teeth of adult males are deadly weapons.  Their incisors are like knives that can easily kill their victims.  But male chimps almost never use these weapons in lethal attacks.  There seems to be a rule against lethal fighting.  And yet the underlying threat of fighting to kill always creates tension in any severe conflict.  On rare occasions, killing does occur.  It's more likely to occur in war--in conflicts between chimpanzee groups rather than within a group.  Jane Goodall has seen this in Gombe.  De Waal could not see this because he was observing only one group.

De Waal's silence about the killing of Luit in the first edition of Chimpanzee Politics was not just to avoid ending the book on a "dark note," I suspect, but to avoid confirming the fears of those who had warned that establishing such a large community of chimps, including adult males, in a zoo without separating them in cages would lead to explosive and even lethal violence.  Since it was known that feeding chimps together created violence in fighting over the food, the Arnhem chimps were fed every morning and evening in separate cages so as to eliminate fighting over food.  But then being enclosed indoors every night during the warm months and throughout the day in the cold months created tension, because chimps in conflict could not separate.  Mama had to be removed in the winter of 1973, and Nikkie was removed in the winter of 1977, because their aggression was leading to serious injuries.  The killing of Luit in 1980 was during a night when Luit, Yeroen, and Nikkie were all caged together, and so Luit had no room to escape the attack.

The longest chapter in Machiavelli's The Prince--Chapter 19 on "Of Avoiding Contempt and Hatred"--is about how princes who become hated open themselves up to conspiracies leading to their assassination.  The killing of Luit seems to show that political assassination is also part of the Machiavellian politics of chimpanzees.

So why exactly do Jackson and Grace object to identifying chimpanzee politics as Machiavellian?  They suggest at least five arguments.  First, they object that what is called "Machiavellian" is based on "the more flamboyant passages" in The Prince--such as "it is better to be feared than loved"--without seeing how less flamboyant passages in The Prince moderate what Machiavelli is saying.  They write: "The Prince, like his other books, also offers moral judgments, recommendations of caution, emphasis on the importance of stability, advice on treating the populace with respect, and much else that surprises those whose stereotype of Machiavellianism is transposed to Niccolo Machiavelli" (Jackson and Grace 2012).

Second, they object that primatologists like de Waal have read only The Prince, and so they don't see Machiavelli's support for republicanism in The Discourses and other writings.

Third, they object that the popular view of Machiavellianism fails to see how Machiavelli was simply responding to his historical circumstances in Renaissance Italy in which political life was disrupted by domestic violence, warfare, brutality, and deceit.  The apparent cynicism of what Machiavelli says is a response to those harsh conditions.  They write: "The best analogy for the circumstances in which Machiavelli lived are to be found today in Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico, or the remoter regions of Pakistan, where power does grow out of the barrel of a gun" (Jackson and Grace 2012).

Fourth, they argue that much of Machiavelli's writing is a factual description of what princes and politically ambitious people do without any endorsement of that behavior.

Fifth, they argue that Machiavelli is clear that the political class of people who strive for dominance over others is very small, and that most human beings do not have such a dominance drive, and they wish only to live their private lives in peace without being exploited by those who wish to dominate them.  In a republic, Machiavelli indicates, the desire to be free is for most people a desire to be free to live a secure life; and it is only for a few people--perhaps no more than 40 or 50--that the desire to be free is a desire to be free so as to command others `(Discourses, I, ch. 16).

Oddly, however, Jackson and Grace don't reflect on the fact that much of what de Waal says about Machiavelli and the chimps agrees with some of their arguments.  De Waal indicates that he does not like the term "Machiavellian intelligence" insofar as it assumes the crudely distorted popular meaning of "Machiavellian":
"The term Machiavellian implies a cynical, the-ends-justify-the-means exploitation of others.  Social cognition covers much more than this.  A mother resolving a weaning conflict by cleverly distracting her offspring, or an adult male waiting for the right moment to reconcile with his rival, both intelligently use their experience but are not exactly acting 'Machiavellian' in the usual sense.  Sensitivity to others, conflict resolution, and reciprocal exchange all demand a great deal of intelligence but are left out if our terminology one-sidedly emphasizes one-upmanship" (1998, 218).
Thus, de Waal agrees with Jackson and Grace in rejecting the popular sense of "Machiavellian."  He also agrees that this Machiavellian idea of "a cynical, the-ends-justify-the-means exploitation of others" cannot explain chimpanzee social life, which requires "sensitivity to others, conflict resolution, and reciprocal exchange."  In Chimpanzee Politics, De Waal sees in chimpanzee life the evolutionary roots of morality--a "sense of moral rightness and justice" (1982, 105, 111-12, 176, 200, 204-205, 207, 212-13).

In his writing published after Chimpanzee Politics, which Jackson and Grace ignore, de Waal argues that chimpanzees show the evolutionary foundations of morality--including reciprocity, fairness, empathy, and social cooperation.  De Waal has summarized some of the evidence for this in a TED talk:

And while Jackson and Grace accuse the Machiavellian primatologists of ignoring Machiavelli's teaching about the importance of a republican politics that respects the needs of the populace, De Waal sees in chimpanzee politics a democratic or republican structure like that recommended by Machiavelli with a balance of three orders--the one, the few, and the many.

Machiavelli analyzed politics as competition for power and glory organized around three orders of human beings--the "prince," who is number one; the "great ones," who are high-ranking individuals with ambition to rule; and the "people," who are the great majority of individuals in a society with no ambition to rule, but who do not want to be oppressed by the "prince" or the "great ones," because they want to live their private lives in security and peace.  A stable and peaceful regime would have to balance these three orders in a manner that would satisfy the ambitions and appetites of all three without anyone having the power to tyrannize over others (The Prince, ch. 9, 57-60; The Discourses, I.2, 10-14).

De Waal saw a similar social structure among the chimpanzees: the alpha male chimp is the "prince"; the high-ranking males are the "great ones"; and the females and children are the "people."  The similarities between chimpanzee politics and human politics were so close that Newt Gingrich, when he was Speaker of the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress, recommended de Waal's book to all freshmen congressmen who might want to understand Washington politics.

Just as Machiavelli saw the balance of three orders in a republic as the fundamental mechanism for maintaining a stable and free political regime that would not be despotic, de Waal saw the same mechanism at work among chimps.  Noticing how the alpha male often had to rely on the support of an ally to keep challengers down, de Waal explained this as a "balance of power: the superiority of one party over another depends on the support of a third, so that each party affects the position of the others."  De Waal observed that the leader "cannot impose his leadership on the group single-handed. His position is granted him, in part, by the other chimpanzees.  The leader, or alpha male, is just as much ensnared in the web as the rest" (1982, 23).  So, among chimps, there is something like government by the consent of the governed. 

De Waal sees here what some political scientists have called government by the "minimal winning coalition" (de Waal 1982, 187; Bueno de Mesquita and Smith 2011). No one individual can rule without supporters, and so there must always be a ruling coalition supporting the leader, who must satisfy his supporters.  A dictatorship is rule by a small coalition.  Democracy is rule by a large coalition.  The leader must serve the interests of his coalition, and so the larger the coalition, the closer this approximates to serving the common interests of society.

Consequently, there was something like a "democratic structure" in this order of chimpanzee society:
"All parties search for social significance and continue to do so until a temporary balance is achieved.  This balance determines the new hierarchical positions. Changing relationships reach a point where they become 'frozen' in more or less fixed ranks.  When we see how this formalization takes place during reconciliations, we understand that the hierarchy is a cohesive factor, which puts limits on competition and conflict. Child care, playing, sex and cooperation depend on the resultant stability.  But underneath the surface, the situation is constantly in a state of flux. The balance of power is tested daily, and if it proves too weak, it is challenged, and a new balance is established" (1982, 176, 212-13; 1998, 172, 208-209).
Although every human society shows an order of dominance like that of a chimpanzee society, a well-balanced society can achieve egalitarian dominance rather than despotic dominance.  De Waal has observed that rhesus monkeys manifest despotic dominance, because a dominant rhesus monkey instills unremitting fear in subordinates.  But among chimpanzees, the dominant chimp often acts to protect subordinates, and if he becomes a bully, he can provoke an alliance of subordinates to throw him out of power (de Waal 1996, 125-32).

This seems to be what happens in egalitarian human communities.  Among hunter-gatherers, leaders who become too proud are attacked with social ridicule, and in extreme cases, leaders can be deposed or even executed by their followers.  With the establishment of centralized, bureaucratic states, it became possible for despots to concentrate their power.  And yet the natural human desire to be free from despotic exploitation has provoked alliances among subordinates to check the power of dominants, which has promoted political systems for balancing power.  In their style of political dominance, human beings are more like chimpanzees than rhesus monkeys (Boehm 1999, 2012; Rubin 2002; Turner and Maryanski 2008).

John Adams agreed with Machiavelli that every society shows three social orders rooted in human nature--the one, the few, and the many--and that a stable and free republic requires a balance of these three orders.  Adams saw this balance in the American and British constitutions (Arnhart 2009, 73-84; Ryerson 2016).

Adams believed that human nature is such that every human society must decide the question, Who is the first man?  "It is a question that must be decided, in every species of gregarious animals, as well as men."  In a savage state, this question is decided by physical combat between contenders.  But even in the most civilized societies, "the same nature remains," and the contest for first rank must be decided, whether by peaceful or by violent rivalry.  The balance of powers answers this question by providing for a supreme executive office to be filled by one with sufficient ambition to strive for it, while still checking the power of this executive officer with the powers of other offices.

At the top of every society, Adams thought, there will be competition among the "first men" for the highest rank.  The people of a society will fix their attention on these men at the top.  And if there is division over who should fill the dominant position, the society will be thrown into turmoil and eventually civil war.  For this reason, societies should select a single person with executive authority separated from the rest of society and from the legislative body.  This chief executive unifies a society and directs its management.  This executive can then mediate between the passions of the ambitious few who want to rule and the passions of the deferential many who want to be free from oppression by the ambitious few.

Machiavelli and Adams saw this balance of three orders as a republican form of government best designed in conformity to human nature.  De Waal and other primatologists can see the evolutionary precursors of this human nature in the political life of chimpanzees.

And, after all, as de Waal has observed, can't we see a lot of chimpanzee politics in Donald Trump?  Trump once told People magazine: "Man is the most vicious of all animals, and life is a series of battles ending in victory or defeat.  You just can't let people make a sucker out of you."


Arnhart, Larry. 2009. Darwinian Conservatism: A Disputed Question. Ed. Kenneth Blanchard. Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic.

Arnhart, Larry. 2015. Political Questions: Political Philosophy from Plato to Pinker. 4th edition. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Boehm, Christopher. 1999. Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Boehm, Christopher. 2012. Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame. New York: Basic Books.

Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, and Alastair Smith. 2011. The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics. New York: Public Affairs.

Byrne, Richard, and Andrew Whiten, eds. 1988. Machiavellian Intelligence: Social Expertise and the Evolution of Intellect in Monkeys, Apes, and Humans. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jackson, Michael, and Damian Grace. 2012. "Machiavellian Monkey Business: Machiavellian Intelligence in Primates and Machiavelli." The Montreal Review, December. Available online.

Jackson, Michael, and Damian Grace. 2015. "Machiavelli's Shadows in Management, Social Psychology, and Primatology." Theoria 62: 67-84. Available online.

Jay, Antony. 1967. Management and Machiavelli: An Inquiry into the Politics of Corporate Life. New York: Bantam Books.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. 1989. The Prince. Trans. Leo Paul de Alvarez. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. 1996. Discourses on Livy. Trans. Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Rubin, Paul H. 2002. Darwinian Politics: The Evolutionary Origins of Freedom. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Ryerson, Richard Alan. 2016. John Adams's Republic: The One, the Few, and the Many. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Turner, Jonathan H., and Alexandra Maryanski. 2008. On the Origin of Societies by Natural Selection. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

de Waal, Frans. 1982. Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes. New York: Harper & Row.

de Waal, Frans. 1986. "The Brutal Elimination of a Rival Among Captive Male Chimpanzees." Ethology and Sociobiology 7: 89104.

de Waal, Frans. 1996. Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

de Waal, Frans. 1998. Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes. Revised edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

de Waal, Frans. 2016. Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Some of my other posts on these themes can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here., here., here, and here.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Biological Roots of Monogamy and Parental Care as Natural Desires

My list of 20 natural desires includes monogamous mating and parental care.  If the good is the desirable, then a good life for most human beings will include monogamous marriage and parental care.

I have argued that the biological roots of these two natural desires arise from the complex interaction of genetic causes, neuroendrocrine circuitry, individual personality, and social life history.  That complex interaction creates such individual and social variability that different individuals will rank those two natural desires in different ways.  In societies that show the "demographic transition," most couples will choose to have only a few children, while investing heavily in each child, because social success requires advanced training and education.  A few individuals will choose--perhaps rightly--never to enter a monogamous marriage and never to care for children.

I have elaborated some of my reasoning for this in Darwinian Natural Right and in various blog posts (here, here, here, here, and here).  In Darwinian Natural Right (113-115), I surveyed some of the research on the neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin--produced in the hypothalamus of the brain and found only in mammals--as supporting parental care among mammals.

Now, some recent research has identified for the first time some of the genetic basis for parental care among mammals.  This new research has been published in Nature (Bendesky et al. 2017; Phelps 2017; Zimmer 2017).

Parental care is essential for the survival and reproductive fitness of mammals.  And yet among most mammals (about 95% of species), parental care comes mostly or entirely from the mother, while the father mates promiscuously with other females and provides no paternal care for his offspring. 

The oldfield mouse (Peromyscus polionotus) is one of the rare exceptions to this mammalian pattern.  Fathers and mothers are monogamously bonded to one another, and they cooperate in digging burrows and building nests for their pups.  Fathers help in caring for the pups by licking them, keeping them warm, and retrieving them when they fall out of the nest.

                                    Oldfield Mice Share Parenting Duties between the Sexes

This is very different from their closest living relatives--deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus)--who are sexually promiscuous rather than monogamous, and among whom fathers provide little or no paternal care of their offspring.

We might wonder whether this difference is nurture rather than nature: perhaps deer mice parents are uncaring because they were reared by uncaring parents themselves.  But if deer mice pups are moved into oldfield nests, and if oldfield pups are moved into deer mice nests, this does not change the typical pattern when they grow up: deer mice parents are still less caring of their offspring, and oldfield parents are still attentive parents.

In the wild, deer mice and oldfield mice never interbreed.  But in a laboratory, they will interbreed if a single male and female are put together in a cage, and their hybrid offspring are healthy and fertile.

Hopi Hoekstra (an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University) and her colleagues realized that they could study these hybrid mice to find the genetic causes for the differences in mating and parenting.  They paired five mice from each species to produce 30 hybrids, which then produced 769 pups.  They then measured the parental behaviors of these second-generation of hybrids raising a third-generation of pups.  Some of the second-generation parents showed almost no parental care, like purebred deer mice.  Others showed as much parental care as purebred oldfield mice.

By scanning the DNA of the hybrids, Hoekstra and her colleagues identified twelve stretches of DNA (loci) that were linked to parenting behavior.  Some of these loci influence only a single parenting behavior, such as nest-building.  Others influenced several parenting behaviors at once.  Moreover, some loci were important in fathers but not mothers.

The researchers decided to concentrate on the one locus associated with nest building, which contains 498 genes.  They focused on the one gene that codes for the hormone vasopressin, because this hormone as produced in the hypothalamus of the brain has been previously identified as linked to paternal care.  They discovered that deer mice make three times as much vasopressin in the hypothalamus as do oldfield mice.  So elevated levels of vasopressin seem to suppress paternal behavior.  They confirmed this by injecting vasopressin into the brains of oldfield mice, and as a result of this, the oldfield mice fathers made simple nests more like that of deer mice.

This is a strange result, however, because in previous research with prairie voles, another socially monogamous rodent, it has been shown that higher levels of vasopressin in males increases parental care, which is what I reported in Darwinian Natural Right.  As Steven Phelps suggests in his analysis in Nature, previous studies have examined the release of vasopressin in the medial preoptic area of the hypothalamus, while this new study analyses the release of vasopressin in the paraventricular neurons of the hypothalamus.  Furthermore, as Phelps points out, genetic variation in nest-building is dissociated from the genetic variation in pup-directed behaviors like retrieving and grooming pups.

We should also remember that the effects of male parenting often depend on social life history.  If the father in a biparental species (like California mice) is removed during offspring development, this paternal deprivation impairs the normal development of the cognitive, emotional, and reproductive behavior of the offspring (Bales and Saltzman 2016; Storey and Ziegler 2016).  We also know from Harry Harlow's famous experiments that this is true for monkeys who have been deprived of maternal care (Blum 2002).

We might wonder whether something similar happens with human beings, so that children reared by both parents are generally better off in their development than those deprived of either paternal or maternal care.  We might also wonder whether there is any harm generally to the children raised by same-sex couples, because the children are deprived of either paternal or material care.


Arnhart, Larry. 1998. Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Bales, Karen L., and Wendy Saltzman. 2016. "Fathering in Rodents: Neurobiological Substrates and Consequences for Offspring." Hormones and Behavior 77: 249-259.

Bendesky, Andres, et al. 2017. "The Genetic Basis of Parental Care Evolution in Monogamous Mice." Nature 544: 434-439.

Blum, Deborah. 2002. Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection. New York: Basic Books.

Phelps, Steven M. 2017. "How to Build a Better Dad." Nature 544: 418-19.

Storey, Anne E., and Toni E. Ziegler. 2016. "Primate Paternal Care: Interactions between Biology and Social Experience." Hormones and Behavior 77: 260-271.

Zimmer, Carl. 2017. "Why Are Some Mice (and People) Monogamous? A Study Points to Genes." New York Times, April 19.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Slaves Did Not Abolish Slavery

This is the seal of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, founded in 1787 by the English abolitionist Thomas Clarkson.  It was widely replicated as a medallion in different forms.  Many historians today criticize this image as insulting to black slaves by presenting them as supplicants begging for the help of abolitionists rather than as active, self-assertive people who could emancipate themselves through their aggressive resistance to slavery.

Toussaint Louverture, the "Black Spartacus" who led the Haitian slave rebellion, is the best image for slaves emancipating themselves.

In my chapter on slavery in Darwinian Natural Right, I compared human slavery and ant slavery.  The similarities suggest that both for human beings and for ants, slavery is a form of social parasitism in which slavemakers exploit their slaves through coercion and manipulation.  The differences suggest that human beings resist the exploitation of slavery because it violates their natural moral sense.  Unlike slave ants, human slaves will resist exploitation and demand social cooperation based on kinship and reciprocity.  Actually, as I have indicated in some blog posts (here and here), some slave ants have been observed rebelling by killing the offspring of the slavemaking ants.

In a series of blog posts (here, here, here, here, and here), I have argued that the natural resistance of slaves to their enslavement illustrates the general principle that might makes rights--that natural rights emerge in human history as those conditions for human right that cannot be denied without eventually provoking a natural human tendency to violent resistance against exploitation.

Recently, however, I have been reconsidering that line of thought after studying Joao Pedro Marques's argument that the abolition of slavery in the 19th century was not generally caused by slave revolts, with the one possible exception being the Haitian Revolution, which seems to be the one and only case in all of human history of a large-scale slave rebellion that led to the abolition of slavery.  Marques's book has been published in Who Abolished Slavery?, edited by Seymour Drescher and Pieter Emmer (New York: Berghahn Books, 2010), which includes commentaries by other scholars and Marques's response.

For a long time, many historians of slavery have attributed the abolition of slavery to the success of white abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and white politicians like Abraham Lincoln.  But in recent decades, some historians have argued that the abolition of slavery was caused by the slaves themselves who actively resisted their enslavement, and that the legal abolition of slavery was the consequence of that slave rebellion.

Marques's argues that slaves did not in fact abolish slavery through their rebellion, and that the abolition of slavery was the result of the ideology of abolitionism that appeared for the first time at the end of the 19th century.  He makes two kinds of arguments for this conclusion--a logical argument and an empirical argument.  His logical argument is that a constant cannot explain a variable: slaves have resisted their enslavement for thousands of years--through escape or rebellion--but this slave resistance never led to the abolition of the system of slavery, as occurred in the 19th century.  So there must be something new to explain this, and that something new is the moral and political idea of abolishing slavery that arose in the European Enlightenment sometime after 1750.  Throughout the history of slavery, slaves have shown that they don't want to be enslaved, and so they have looked for ways to emancipate themselves and others close to them.  But prior to 1750, this desire of individuals for their own emancipation was never a desire for the total emancipation of all human beings.  Slaves who act to liberate themselves but otherwise accept the slavery of others are not showing themselves to be anti-slavery or abolitionist.  In fact, emancipated slaves have often become slave masters themselves, thus showing that they accept the system of slavery, although they prefer not to be enslaved themselves.

Marques's empirical argument is that the history of the abolition of slavery does not generally show that this abolition was caused by slave rebellions.  The Haitian Revolution in the French Caribbean colony of Saint Domingue in the 1790s is the only clear case of a large-scale slave insurrection leading to the abolition of slavery.  In all of the other cases of the abolition of slavery, slave rebellion was neither the necessary nor sufficient cause of the abolition.

Many historians find this to be a disturbing conclusion, because it denies the heroic image of slaves as emancipating themselves and all humanity from slavery by their courageous struggle.  For example, Ira Berlin, one of the leading historians of American slavery, claims, in his recent book The Long Emancipation: The Demise of Slavery in the United States (Harvard University Press, 2015), that Marques is completely wrong, because American black slaves really were their own emancipators in abolishing slavery.  Oddly, however, while Berlin quickly rejects Marques's position in the Introduction to The Long Emancipation, Berlin does not, in the rest of his book, respond to Marques's arguments, and thus Berlin leaves his readers wondering whether he can refute Marques.

Berlin is silent about Marques's logical argument that since slave resistance has occurred throughout the history of slavery for thousands of years without causing slavery to be abolished, slave resistance cannot be a sufficient cause for the abolition of slavery in the 19th century.  Berlin says that American slavery proved to be a "leaky vessel," because slaves wanted out of slavery, and they found many ways to escape--by running away, by buying their freedom, by persuading their owners to liberate them, and by legal emancipation.  But then Berlin admits that "leaks did not destroy slavery" (13-15).  And he does not observe that slavery has always been a "leaky vessel," and that this never led to complete abolition until the 19th century.

Berlin notes that many slaves "sought freedom for themselves and cared little or nothing for their fellows still in bondage," and that some of the freed slaves even became black slaveowners (35).  But he does not notice that this was one of Marques's arguments for why slave resistance could not be the cause of abolition.

Berlin insists that slave rebellions in the United States were crucial for the movement to abolition.  But he says nothing about Marques's observation that slave rebellions were too rare to explain abolition.  From 1800 to 1831, there were only two medium-sized slave rebellions that failed.  In New Orleans in 1811, 200 slave rebels were killed by an armed force.  In Virginia in 1831, Nat Turner's Rebellion was suppressed in a few hours.  From 1832 to 1865, there were no slave revolts at all.  Most amazingly, even during the Civil War, when the turbulence of the war created a great opportunity for slaves in the South to launch an insurrection, they failed to do so.  Individual slaves did run away, seeking the protection of Union troops, and many became Union soldiers, but most of the four million slaves in the South did nothing to initiate a general uprising, although many people North and South expected a slave insurrection.  Marques concludes that "the level of rebelliousness was generally low" (46).

Not only does Berlin fail to refute Marques's arguments, Berlin even restates Marques's assessment of slave psychology without admitting that he has do so.  In one long passage, Berlin writes:
"Collaborators were the least of the many problems stemming from black indifference to black freedom struggles.  The very circumstances that stoked black opposition to slavery often impeded the ability of black people to work in support of abolition.  Acting from the same bedrock opposition to slavery, slave and free black protestors might well settle for less, as they confronted the brutal on-the-ground realities of the slave masters' power.  While malingering, tool breaking, flight, arson, sabotage, poisonings, and rebellion spoke of the desire to smash the chains of bondage, most slaves grudgingly accepted--and sometimes welcomed--improvements in their lives in lieu of the risks entailed in reaching for complete freedom. . . . Faced with unpleasant choices, the vast majority--judging rebellion to be futile and perhaps suicidal--found an accommodation that would ameliorate slavery's harsh conditions and open a more certain path to a better life, at least in the short run.  Why risk all, when a small gain could be safely achieved?"
"Enslaved men and women hated their confinement and sought every opportunity to break the shackles that bound them, but opposition to their own enslavement--or even the enslavement of others--did not automatically make them abolitionists.  For much of their history--indeed, for much of human history--the notion of a world purged of slavery was simply unimaginable.  Abolition, like any other social movement, was rooted in history and confined in time and space.  Prior to the American Revolution and its ideology of universal equality, there were few movements to contemplate, let alone join."
"Even as the notion of a slaveless world slowly emerged at the end of the eighteenth century, not all slaves embraced it, either because they judged it--as did most Americans--theoretically unlikely or because, practically, they could not fit it into their understanding of how the world worked.  Many slaves, carefully calculating how they might best improve their own condition, stood at their master's side and, in some cases, gained their freedom by informing on slave conspirators, assisting in the capture of slave fugitives, and serving as their owner's ears in the slave quarters." (35-37).
Through most of our evolutionary history as hunter-gatherers, in which our human nature was shaped, slavery did not exist, and human adults lived as free and equal individuals.  But then with the establishment of agrarian societies and formal bureaucratic governments, slavery arose and became so deeply established that a "slaveless world" seemed so unimaginable that even while slaves sought every opportunity to liberate themselves, they could not conceive of a world without some being enslaved to others.  It was not until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that the Liberal Enlightenment--from John Locke to Adam Smith--introduced the rhetoric of bourgeois equality and liberty that was expressed in the Declaration of Independence, which gradually, in the nineteenth century, led to the abolition of slavery, which was a return to the equality and liberty of the evolutionary state of nature. 

That evolutionary anthropology supports this Lockean and Smithian history has been the theme of some previous posts (here and here).

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Genetic Evolution of Adam and Eve

On June 26, 2000, in Washington, D.C., in the East Room of the White House, "the language of God was revealed." 

That's the way Francis Collins describes his experience that day as he stood next to President Bill Clinton for the public announcement that the Human Genome Project had produced a first draft of the human genome. "Today," President Clinton said, "we are learning the language in which God created life.  We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, and the wonder of God's most divine and sacred gift."  This phrasing in Clinton's speech--describing the human genome as the "language of God"--was suggested by Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, who is an evangelical Christian and a theistic evolutionist who sees a fundamental compatibility between science and faith.

In 2006, Collins published a best-selling book--The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief--defending theistic evolution, or what he has called "BioLogos," as the best way to reconcile science and faith.  In 2007, he established the BioLogos Foundation to promote this position.  In 2009, he was appointed by Barack Obama as the Director of the National Institutes of Health.  This was controversial for some scientists at the time who worried that his management of federally funded scientific research might be distorted by his religious beliefs.

Collins has also created a controversy among some evangelical Christians who worry that his theistic evolution denies the truth of the Bible, particularly the teaching in Genesis about the creation of Adam and Eve.  This controversy was highlighted in a cover story in the June, 2011, issue of Christianity Today entitled "The Search for the Historical Adam." 

Collins and other evangelical Christians who have adopted his position have argued that the story of Adam and Eve cannot be historically true, because it contradicts the scientific evidence for the evolution of human beings from ancestral species.  Now that we have complete drafts of the genomes not only of human beings but also of chimpanzees and other animals closely related to human beings, Collins and his colleagues argue, we can identify the genetic similarity of these species, and we can reconstruct the genetic history of human evolution from other primate species.  We can also see evidence in the human genome that the human species descended from a common set of founders, approximately 10,000 in number, who lived about 100,000 to 150,00 years ago.

If this is true, then it cannot be true that all human beings are descended from two individuals--Adam and Eve--who were separately created by God in His image.  Here it seems that the Book of Nature contradicts the Book of Revelation.  To overcome this apparent contradiction, we must decide either that we have misread the Book of Nature or that we have misread the Book of Revelation.  The theistic evolutionists like Collins argue that the genetic evidence for human evolution is convincing, but that the Genesis creation story needs to be read as an allegorical story that teaches a moral or spiritual lesson and not as a literal history that teaches anything about the science of human origins.  Thus, the debate here is both a scientific debate over the genetic evidence and a theological debate over the biblical evidence.  Both the scientific and the theological arguments for Collins' theistic evolution have recently been elaborated by Dennis Venema and Scot McKnight in Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (2017).

This debate has serious consequences for professors who teach at evangelical Christian colleges--like Wheaton College and Calvin College, for example--where the faculty must sign a statement of faith that affirms (at Wheaton College) that "God directly created Adam and Eve, the historical parents of the entire human race."  Professors who publicly endorse theistic evolution can be fired for violating their college's statement of faith.  And, indeed, a few professors have lost their jobs for this reason.

But what I find most remarkable is that in recent years many of these colleges have allowed their professors to embrace theistic evolution, and this seems to show a general movement in the American evangelical community towards accepting the sort of theistic evolution advanced by Collins and others connected to the BioLogos organization. 

There seem to be two reasons for this.  First, the recent advances in genetic science have produced overwhelming evidence in favor of the evolutionary theory of human origins.  So, for example, the genetic evidence for human evolution from primate ancestors is so compelling that even a young-earth creationist like Todd Wood must admit that this is a "problem" for his reading of the Genesis creation story as literal history, and even the anti-evolutionist intelligent design proponent Michael Behe admits that the genetic evidence for the evolution of humans from primate ancestors is convincing.

The second reason why American evangelicals are becoming receptive to theistic evolution is that in recent years they have been moving away from their fundamentalist literal reading of the Bible and towards a reading of the Bible as shaped by cultural traditions of poetic story-telling that were never intended to be a scientific history.  One indication of this is the publication last year of the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible by Zondervan, one of the leading publishers of Bibles for evangelical Christians.  This Bible has been edited by John Walton, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, and Craig Keener, Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Seminary, Wilmore, KY.  As the title of this Bible indicates, Walton and Keener provide notes on the ancient cultural traditions that shaped the lives of those who first wrote and read the books of the Bible. So, for example, the Genesis story of creation is compared with other creation stories in the ancient Near East, which suggests that creation story-telling was more about symbolic meaning than about physical existence.

But if we believe the Bible to be truly a revelation of God's eternal truth, then the Bible cannot be entirely a work of poetic fiction, because we must believe that at least some of what it says is a literally true history of God as the Creator of the universe and of ourselves, who cares for us, who gives us a moral law, and who redeems us when we fail to live up to that moral law.  And that history must include supernatural miracles that are beyond the comprehension of natural science.

So we must wonder whether theistic evolution can really reconcile the supernatural faith in the Bible and the natural science of evolution.  Collins claims this can be done if theistic evolution is based on six premises (The Language of God, 200):

1. The universe came into being out of nothingness, approximately 14 billion years ago.

2. Despite massive improbabilities, the properties of the universe appear to have been precisely tuned for life.

3. While the precise mechanism of the origin of life on earth remains unknown, once life arose, the process of evolution and natural selection permitted the development of biological diversity and complexity over very long periods of time.

4. Once evolution got under way, no special supernatural intervention was required.

5. Humans are part of this process, sharing a common ancestor with the great apes.

6. But humans are also unique in ways that defy evolutionary explanation and point to our spiritual nature.  This includes the existence of the Moral Law (the knowledge of right and wrong) and the search for God that characterizes all human cultures throughout history.

In formulating these premises, Collins indicates that he continues the tradition of theistic evolution that stretches from Asa Gray to Theodosius Dobzhansky to Pope John Paul II.  But the primary influence on Collins' thinking is C. S. Lewis.  Collins' conversion to Christianity from atheism began when he read Lewis' Mere Christianity.  And Collins attributes most of his arguments in defense of Christianity to Lewis's writings.

Notice that while "no supernatural intervention was required" in the unfolding history of evolution, according to premise 4, supernatural intervention does seem to be required in premises 1, 2, and 6.

For premise 1, the initial creation of everything out of nothing was a miraculous act by the Creator.  "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).  For Collins, that is not just figurative language.  That is a factual statement of God's creative activity at the beginning.

For premise 2, God's initial creation of the laws of nature provided the "fine tuning" of the universe--the precise setting of certain mathematical constants in nature--so that the conditions necessary for the eventual evolution of intelligent life on Earth could be satisfied.

Here the appeal to the miraculous creative power of God is the only way, Collins argues, to answer questions that science cannot answer--questions about why the universe came into being, about what came before the Big Bang, and why the universe seems to be so finely designed for us to be here (6, 81).  These are not scientific questions because they are questions about what is outside of Nature--outside of space and time.

After all, even Darwin, as an agnostic, had to confess that "the mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us" (Autobiography, 94).

But then I don't understand the need for supernatural intervention that is implied in premise 6.  If the spiritual nature of human beings is unique to them in ways that "defy evolutionary explanation," that seems to imply that while natural evolution could explain the physical body of human beings, divine intervention was required to create the spiritual soul.  This is what John Paul II said in 1996.  It is also what C. S. Lewis suggested in a passage in The Problem of Pain quoted by Collins.  Lewis identified the story of Adam and Eve as a "Hebrew folk tale" that conveyed a moral lesson rather than a scientific history.  Lewis offered this interpretation:
"For long centuries, God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself.  He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated.  The creature may have existed in this state for ages before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity.  But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends.  Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say 'I' and 'me,' which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty, and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past. . . . We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell.  Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods."
Notice how much Lewis concedes to the Darwinian account of human evolution.  The human species evolved from ancestral species over long periods of time.  Then, at some point, "God caused to descend upon this organism" a new kind of consciousness that is unique to human beings and that constitutes the "image of God."  This looks like the same idea that William Tearle suggested in a letter to Darwin (in April 1880).

This seems to require a supernatural intervention for God to create the uniquely human soul, and this seems to be what Pope John Paul II suggested in 1996: natural evolution created the human body, but the creation of the human soul required direct divine intervention.  But why couldn't this have been a natural process of evolution through which "a brain sufficiently complex" for uniquely human consciousness evolved by natural selection?  Why couldn't the human soul arise from the emergent evolution of the primate brain passing over a critical threshold of size and complexity?

That the human mind arose from the emergent evolution of the primate brain is perhaps suggested by Michelangelo's famous Creation of Adam fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  In an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Frank Meshberger has pointed out that the image surrounding God and the angels has the shape of a brain, with God's right arm extending through the prefrontal cortex.  Since Michelangelo was known to have performed dissections of the human body, he could have learned enough about neuroanatomy to convey the message that God's gift of human ensoulment was actually the gift of a human brain that could have arisen by natural processes.

Collins would seem to agree with this in so far as he says that "once evolution got under way, no special supernatural intervention was required."  He writes:
"But how could God take such chances? If evolution is random, how could He really be in charge, and how could He be certain of an outcome that included intelligent beings at all?"
"The solution is actually readily at hand, once one ceases to apply human limitations to God.  If God is outside of nature, then He is outside of space and time. In that context, God could in the moment of creation of the universe also know every detail of the future. That could include the formation of the stars, planets, and galaxies, all of the chemistry, physics, geology, and biology that led to the formation of life on earth, and the evolution of humans. . . . In that context, evolution could appear to us to be driven by chance, but from God's perspective the outcome would be entirely specified.  Thus, God could be completely and intimately involved in the creation of all species, while from our perspective, limited as it is by the tyranny of linear time, this would appear a random and undirected process" (205).
Asa Gray thought he saw a similar conception of theistic evolution in Darwin's Origin of Species. For example, he saw this in Darwin's explanation of how the eye could have evolved by natural selection, and then Darwin asked: "Let this process go on for millions of years; and during each year on millions of individuals of many kinds [under variation proceeding long enough, generation multiplying the better variations times enough, and natural selection securing the improvements]; and may we not believe that a living optical instrument might thus be formed as superior to one of glass, as the works of the Creator are to those of man?"

Thus, we can see the eye as intelligently designed by the Creator allowing the eye to emerge from a natural process of evolution, without any need for miraculous intervention into nature beyond the original miracle of God's creation of the laws of nature.

But even if theistic evolutionists like Gray and Collins do not need to believe in the historicity of the Bible's six days of creation, including the creation of Adam and Eve as the first two human individuals, they must believe in the historicity of Jesus Christ's miraculous birth, life, crucifixion, and resurrection as God incarnated as a human being.

The apostle Paul seems to teach, however, that the historical reality of Jesus depends on the historical reality of Adam, because the whole story of salvation depends on understanding the obedience of Jesus as the Second Adam overcoming the fallen condition of humanity from the disobedience of Adam (Romans 5:12-17, 1 Corinthians 15:49).  If so, then this seems to demand belief in Adam and Eve as the first human couple.

And yet the first chapters of Genesis do suggest that Adam and Eve were part of a larger human population.  Whom did Cain marry?  Whom did God protect Cain from after he killed Abel?  We might say that Adam and Eve were the leaders of an original population, and then we could recognize both a prehistoric couple and a prehistoric population.

Monday, April 17, 2017

"I Do Not Believe in the Bible": Darwin's Correspondence on Biblical Religion

In September of 2015, this one-sentence letter by Charles Darwin was sold in an auction in New York City for $197,000.  This brief letter could command such a high price because scholars were unaware of its existence for over a hundred years, and it seemed to finally answer one of the most urgent questions that people have had about Darwin--Was he a Christian?  It did not answer, however, a different, although related, question--Does his theory of evolution require atheism?

Written on November 24, 1880, this letter was in response to a letter that Darwin had received the day before from Frederick McDermott, who was a stranger to Darwin.  Darwin was near the end of his life.  He would die a year and a half later at age 73.  (Darwin's correspondence is conveniently available online at the Darwin Correspondence Project at the University of Cambridge.)

McDermott said he desired to read Darwin's books, particularly after he had learned that Charles Kingsley had recommended them.  Kingsley had been a prominent clergyman, university professor, novelist, and chaplain to Queen Victoria; he was also a friend of Darwin's, who was one of the first people to endorse the argument of Darwin's Origin of Species.

McDermott wanted reassurance, however, that he could read Darwin's books without losing his faith in the New Testament.  "I fear my brain is not fine enough to argue out doubts which might be suggested by your works," he wrote to Darwin.  "My reason in writing to you therefore is to ask you to give me a Yes or No to the question Do you believe in the New Testament."  He promised that if he received an answer, he would not send it to "the theological papers" for publication.

Here's Darwin's letter in reply:
Nov. 24th 1880
Dear Sir
I am sorry to have to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as a Divine revelation, & therefore not in Jesus Christ as the son of God.
 Yours faithfully  Ch. Darwin
Darwin was reluctant to speak publicly about his religious beliefs, but he often spoke openly about this in letters that were marked "private."  Among his published writings, the most candid statement about his religious beliefs is the section on "Religious Belief" in his Autobiography, which he wrote in the summer of 1876, for publication after his death.   After his death in 1882, the Autobiography was published in 1887.  But, as I indicated in the previous post, his wife Emma had some passages about religion cut out because they were too disturbing.

If you go to the Darwin Correspondence Project, and search for the letters that mention religion or the Bible, you will find hundreds of letters, many of them addressed to Darwin from strangers like McDermott who want Darwin to tell them about his religious beliefs.  Some of these strangers were concerned about the eternal salvation of Darwin's soul.  A Joseph Plimsoll wrote six letters to Darwin--five in 1867-1868 and one in 1881--that were sermons filled with biblical quotations and pleading with Darwin to accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior. Plimsoll identified Darwin's "development theory" as atheism, and warned him that he would go to Hell for this if he did not ask for redemption.

But one should notice that neither in the letter to McDermott nor in any published writing or private correspondence does Darwin ever identify himself as an atheist or identify his scientific theory as atheistic.  On the contrary, he always insisted that his theory of evolution was compatible with theistic religion, although it was incompatible with a literal interpretation of the Bible as a divinely revealed history of the world.

Darwin's best brief statement of his religious views that is consistent with everything else he wrote about this is a letter to John Fordyce in May 7, 1879:
"It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.--You are right about Kingsley. Asa Gray, the eminent botanist, is another case in point-- What my own views may be is a question of no consequence to any one except myself.--But as you ask, I may state that my judgment often fluctuates. Moreover whether a man deserves to be called a theist depends on the definition of the term: which is much too large a subject for a note.  In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.--I think that generally (& more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind."
There are five points here that Darwin repeated in his Autobiography and in his correspondence. 

(1) It is possible to affirm both theism and evolution--to be a theistic evolutionist--and people like Charles Kingsley and Asa Gray show this. 

(2) Darwin thinks his views of this issue should be of no special concern for others, because each person must make up his own mind based on his personal weighing of the pertinent arguments and evidence.

(3) Darwin finds this issue so mentally challenging that he fluctuates in his thinking, and he cannot come to any final conclusion.

(4) In all of that fluctuation, Darwin has never seen any good reasons to be an atheist, in the sense of denying the existence of God.

(5) And yet, Darwin has seen good reasons, especially in his later years of life, to be an agnostic, in the sense of being in such a state of ignorance that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify either the belief that God exists or the belief that God does not exist.

Prior to its official publication date of November 24, 1859, Darwin sent advance copies of The Origin of Species to a few people, including Charles Kingsley.  Kingsley wrote a letter to Darwin on November 18, 1859, which included this remark:
"I have gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of Deity, to believe that he created primal forms capable of self development into all forms needful pro tempore & pro loco, as to believe that He required a fresh act of intervention to supply the lacunas which he himself had made."
A few days later (December 2), Darwin wrote to John Murray, his publisher, that Kingsley's "capital sentence" should be inserted in the second edition of Origin, "in answer to anyone who may, as many will, say that my Book is irreligious."  This sentence was introduced into the concluding section of Origin as showing that there is "no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of any one."

Kingsley's "capital sentence" is the first clear statement of the basic idea that is today called theistic evolution or evolutionary creation.  For example, theistic evolutionist Dennis Venema echoes Kingsley's sentence in his new book--Adam and the Genome (coauthored with Scot McKnight)--when he writes: "Evolution . . . may be God's chosen design to bring about biodiversity on earth. . . . Indeed, making an object that can self-assemble would require a design far superior to that of an object that requires manual assembly. . . . I view evolution as God's grand design for creating life" (89).

The best proponent of theistic evolution among Darwin's correspondents was Asa Gray, a professor of botany at Harvard University, who was the greatest American botanist of the 19th century, who was a devout orthodox Christian, and who exchanged hundreds of letters with Darwin from 1843 until Darwin's death in 1882.  The number of these letters peaked in the period of 1860 to 1864, when Gray was the leading American scientist defending both Darwin's science and the compatibility of his science with theistic religion.

In a letter to Gray on May 22, 1860, Darwin said: "Certainly I agree with you that my views are not at all necessarily atheistical."  Darwin and Gray agreed that God did not have to miraculously intervene throughout history to specially create every species and form of life.  But they also agreed that God could have originally created the laws of nature so that natural evolution could spontaneously unfold within those laws.  Darwin thought that the human mind generally, including his own mind, was "instinctively" by an "inward conviction" inclined to see divinely intelligent design at the origin of matter, life, and the human mind; but it was hard for him to see how some divine design at the beginning of everything could be manifest in the seemingly random contingencies of the natural world.   

In his many letters to Asa Gray where he takes up the theological arguments, Darwin repeatedly expresses the frustration of reaching the limits of human reason in trying to resolve fundamental mysteries: "I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect.  A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton.-- Let each man hope & believe what he can.--" (May 22, 1860).

There are some fundamental mysteries in the universe, Darwin suggests, and science might never be able to fully resolve these mysteries because of the limitations of human experience and human reasoning.  But it does not follow from this fact of human ignorance that there is no natural explanation for such mysteries, and that we must invoke God acting outside of nature.  To invoke God as the explanation is what Rebecca Goldstein calls the Fallacy of Using One Mystery to Explain Another.  Why is there something rather than nothing?  There is no good scientific or philosophic answer to that question, which points to the problem of ultimate explanation: we can keep passing the buck, but the buck must stop somewhere.  To say that God is the First Cause--the Uncaused Cause of everything--doesn't resolve the mystery because then we have the even greater mystery of how to explain God.  If we can say that God is uncaused or self-caused, then why not say that Nature is uncaused or self-caused?  (I have elaborated these points here and here.)

Darwin wondered whether the instinctive tendency of the human mind to see intelligent design in the universe could be trusted, or whether it reflected an unreasonable propensity of evolved human nature to anthropomorphic analogy.  He wrote about this in The Descent of Man, in explaining the evolution of religious belief.  The "belief in unseen or spiritual agencies" seems to be universal.  The simplest hypothesis to explain this, Darwin suggested, is that as human beings are aware of how their minds prompt them to act, and as they imagine that other human beings have the same mental agency in their actions, they are inclined to explain natural forces in plants, animals, and physical things as showing mental agency analogous to human minds; and this can lead to belief in supernatural minds that exercise intelligent agency in the world (Penguin Books, 2004, 116-118).

Recently, evolutionary psychologists have elaborated a Darwinian theory of religious belief as arising from a "hyperactive agency detection device"--that just as we believe in the existence of other human minds that we cannot directly observe, so we believe in the divine mind from projecting our mental experience onto the world.  As I have observed in other posts (here and here),  some of these Darwinian psychologists (such as Justin Barrett) see this as showing that Darwinian science is compatible with the truth of believing in God, others (such as Jesse Bering) see this as exposing belief in God as a fictional construction of the evolved human mind. For those like Barrett, religious belief is an adaptive truth. For those like Bering, religious belief is an adaptive illusion.  So, as Darwin indicates, it's not clear as to whether we are warranted in trusting our evolved propensity to religious belief.

Thus, as Asa Gray observed, "Darwinism may bear an atheistic as well as a theistic interpretation" (in his review of Charles Hodge's What Is Darwinism?).  So, if you're an atheist like Richard Dawkins, you can see Darwin's theory of evolution as making it possible for you to be "an intellectually fulfilled atheist" (The Blind Watchmaker).  But if you're a theist like Gray or Francis Collins, you can see Darwin's theory of evolution as showing the beautiful natural order that arises through laws of nature originally designed by God.

If you are a theistic evolutionist, however, your theism cannot be based on a literal interpretation of the Bible as a history of the world that was created in six 24-hour days, including the miraculous creation of Adam and Eve as the two individuals from whom all human beings descended.  While Darwin is open to the thought that the general laws of nature were originally created by God, he cannot take seriously the stories in the Bible about God's miracles as being literally true.

For example, Darwin received letters from people who were looking for ways to make his theory of human evolution from animal ancestors compatible with the story in Genesis about God creating Adam and Eve in His image, and thus set apart from the other animals.  But Darwin saw no need for this, because he did not see the Genesis account of creation as a divine revelation of a literally true history.

Leonard Jenyns was one of the people to whom Darwin had sent early copies of The Origin of Species.  Jenyns was an Anglican vicar and a naturalist, and he was one of the few naturalists to whom Darwin sent a letter in 1844 revealing Darwin's views on the transmutation of species.  Jenyns wrote to Darwin on January 4, 1860.  He indicated that he partly agreed with Darwin's theory of how species evolved from ancestral species.  But he was not convinced by Darwin's claim that "all organic beings that have ever lived on the earth, had descended from some one primordial form."

He was also worried that Darwin's theory as applied to human evolution would contradict the Genesis creation story:
"One great difficulty to my mind in the way of your theory is the fact of the existence of Man. I was beginning to think you had entirely passed over this question, till almost in the last page I find you saying that 'light will be thrown on the origin of man & his history.' By this I suppose is meant that he is to be considered a modified & no doubt greatly improved orang! I doubt if t his will find acceptance with the generality of readers--I am not one of those in the habit of mixing up questions of science & scripture, but I can hardly see what sense or meaning is to be attached to Gen: 2.7. & yet more to vv. 21, 22, of the same chapter, giving an account of the creation of woman,--if the human species at least has not been created independently of other animals, but merely come into the world by ordinary descent from previously existing races--whatever these races may be supposed to have been.  Neither can I easily bring myself to the idea that man's reasoning faculties & above all his moral sense, could ever have been obtained from irrational progenitors, by mere natural selection--acting however gradually & for whatever length of time that may be required.  This seems to be doing away altogether with the Divine Image which forms the insurmountable distinction between man & brutes."
In Darwin's letter of reply (on January 7), he passes over the question of the Divine Image quickly: "With respect to man, I am very far from wishing to obtrude my belief; but I thought it dishonest to quite conceal my opinion.-- Of course it is open to everyone to believe that man appeared by separate miracle, though I do not myself see the necessity or probability.--" 

In 1871, in The Descent of Man, Darwin did provide an evolutionary account of human reason and the moral sense as uniquely human, and yet derived from mental capacities shared with other animals, and without any reference to the Creation of Adam and Eve in God's Image.  If one agrees that "man is descended from some less highly organized form," and that "man is the co-descendant with other mammals of a common progenitor," Darwin concluded, then one "cannot any longer believe that man is the work of a separate act of creation" (Descent, Penguin edition, 2004, 676).

Twenty years after his exchange of letters with Jenyns, Darwin received a letter from William Tearle (in April 1880), who was worried that Darwin's theory was "antagonistic to the strict reading of the Bible."  He suggested to Darwin a new way to interpret the Bible's "Let us make man in our image": "May man not have been previously created, as an animal of a superior order, and God seeing that all living creatures required a head, and earthly master, he marked man as the most suitable, and then fashioned him after his own image."  (A similar interpretation of the Genesis creation story was advanced by C. S. Lewis in his book The Problem of Pain.)

Darwin's letter of reply (April 16, 1880) was brief and dismissive:
"I am sorry to say that I can be of no assistance to you.--Any remarks which I might make on your letter would as far as they had any influence, add to your doubts on subjects which you consider sacred."
 "In my opinion every man ought to weigh for himself impartially & anxiously al the arguments for & against any revelation ever having been made to man.--"
In an earlier letter (to Bartholomew James Sullivan, May 24, 1861), Darwin was dismissive about an article attempting to reconcile Genesis and science: "I am weary of all these various attempts to reconcile, what I believe to be irreconcilable."

But even if a literal reading of Genesis as natural history is irreconcilable with Darwinian natural history, the contradiction might be overcome by reading Genesis as telling stories with theological meaning that were never intended to be read as literal natural history.  Recently, some evangelical Christians who are theistic evolutionists have taken this position, which denies the historical reality of Adam and Eve. 

But many evangelical Christians now worry that this would deny the core doctrines of orthodox Christianity, while also denying the importance of the idea of humans created in God's image in supporting the moral dignity of human beings as endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.  I will say more about this in future posts.