Evolutionary Theories of Human Nature:
Maginot Line or Armistice Site for Theism/Naturalism Conflict?

Jeffrey P. Schloss
Professor of Biology
Westmont College

The vituperative ad hominems that characterize many of the most recent exchanges in the "creation/evolution" conflict, may reflect a conflated understanding of strong and weak programs for relating theistic or metaphysical presuppositions to scientific theorizing. The strong program begins with the conviction that there is (or is not) a God, infers that particular propositions about the natural world must necessarily follow, and attempts to selectively build an evidentiary case for the truth of these propositions. Such metaphysical advocacy, legitimately viewed as a prostitution of scientific integrity for the purposes of religious apologetics, is apparent in young earth creation science and flood geology. However, many within and outside the religious community point out similar ideological dynamics in various triumphalist extrapolations of evolutionary theory, especially in recent attempts to comprehensively explain human moral behavior in reductive, ultra-adaptationist terms.

A weak program, on the other hand, simply considers ones entire world-view, undivested of metaphysical components, as an appropriate reservoir of propositions about the natural world to be explained and tested, though not with any assurance of corroboration, by scientific methodology. If the propositions are sufficiently "risky", i.e., if they entail assertions with enough empirical substance to be potentially falsifiable, then they are appropriate foci of scientific inquiry: "is the earth less than 10,000 years old?", "is there evidence of fundamental discontinuity in the origins of humans and other primates?", etc. In such cases it is not an ascription of supernatural causation that is being examined, but the postulation of a natural order consistent with (though not necessarily indicative of) certain notions of theistic design or divine (though not necessarily supernatural) agency. To argue these propositions are intrinsically unscientific, merely on the basis of an ostensible connection with notions of divine agency, is to commit the genetic fallacy.

An area of recent and provocative evolutionary theorizing, which may have both the most at stake ideologically and the greatest potential tractability to attempts at empirical resolution, entails Darwinian theories of human moral behavior. "Risky" propositions that directly relate both to such theories and to various traditions of understanding imago deo include questions of whether there is an innately universal human rationality, whether there are intrinsic constraints and/or influences on the development of morality in general and certain moralities in particular, whether specific moral behaviors attend observable differences in organismal viability, and whether theistic belief itself shows evidence of being rooted in human nature via ultimate natural causation or proximate function. In addition to surveying the extent to which empirical evidence tends to confirm or disconfirm such propositions, this paper will compare the implications for theism of four attempts to explain human morality in naturalistic terms, as represented by Michael Ruse, Richard Alexander, Frances deWaal, and Daniel Dennet. While the explanatory perspectives reflected by all four theorists are explicitly atheistic, none successfully rules out theistic design. Ruse's thinking in particular, by virtue of its more rigorous demarcation of empirical science and philosophical inference, is most consistent with both the available observational data and, ironically, ascriptions of divine design.

Copyright © Jeffrey P. Schloss