Chapter 5

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Chapter 5. Theology and the evolution of the human brain

BrainWithElectrodesIn this chapter Adrian builds heavily upon his assumption that Man is the product of evolution. In believing that he has made the case for the reliability of Darwin’s theory, he has by now abandoned any notion that mankind was created in God’s image. His alternative explanation is that we have all been shaped by repeated generations of creatures trampling upon one another to survive. Adrian is a true materialist, assuming that our characters are formed by the function of our minds which themselves are completely contained within the biology of our brains. This conviction leads him to the false assumption that the human spirit is an illusion.

Again I do not intend to answer every point he makes, for his ideas are built upon arguments he has put forward in previous chapters, and I believe I have challenged these sufficiently in my earlier responses. Instead I will highlight just a few points to illuminate the reasoning which has shaped Adrian’s unique theology. Having begun the chapter with the view that our brains are nothing more than the product of a “successful survival strategy”, Adrian describes his belief that animal brains are pre-programmed with “instincts” to survive. Assuming that Man is merely a successful animal rather than a separate created kind, he considers the behaviour of our animal ancestors to have shaped our characters today. As I have explained, the Bible states the opposite, recording that it was human behaviour which corrupted that of the animals.

I will mention one matter on which Adrian and I superficially agree. Adrian describes what he believes were the first steps of early human development with these words; “Early humans probably had no conception of whether their actions were good or evil.” (p.36) I can be more confident than this, and state clearly that the first humans started life with no knowledge of good or of evil. It is in Genesis 3 where we read that Adam and Eve’s “eyes were opened” after Adam had eaten the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (3:7). This was not their physical eyes but the eyes of their understanding, and from then on they instantaneously developed the ability to recognise both good and bad. We need only to stop and think for a short while in order to realise that it is impossible to know what is good if we are incapable of identifying what is bad. The rest of this chapter seeks to excuse bad behaviour as being the product of the evolutionary path which Adrian believes mankind has followed and to deny the Biblical view that having been made in The LORD’s likeness, human rebellion has left us with a daily choice between doing good or doing evil.

The Blank Slate – Harvard University

In footnote 57 on page 36 Adrian seeks to justify his assertion that our brains, and therefore our minds and characters, are shaped by our genes. He cites Steven Pinker in his book The Blank Slate, as demonstrating “the idea of a ‘ghost in the machine’ as an illusion.” A summary of Pinker’s book from his section of the Department of Psychology, Harvard University website explains his terminology. ‘The Ghost in the Machine’ is the belief that “each of us has a soul that makes choices free from biology”. Freedom of choice, or “free will”, is one way of summarising the Biblical teaching that man was made from a body formed by God from dust, into which The LORD breathed the breath, or spirit of life, and so created us in His own likeness. Part of that likeness is the responsibility to choose what we do; essentially we can elect to obey Him or to excuse ourselves from doing so. When The LORD created Adam, he became a living being or as some translations of the Bible put it, a living soul. Biblically, life (or soul) is the result of a body and the spirit (breath of life) being united (Gen 2:7). Tipping his hat as he does to secular thought such as the views expressed by Pinker strengthens the impression that whilst Adrian knows that men get things wrong and that scientific theories change frequently as new discoveries and ideas come to prominence, he prefers to trust the words of men and women over and above the testimony of the God who does not lie. But this should not surprise anyone, for as I have already pointed out, Adrian considers the Bible to be an unreliable means of obtaining truth.

Adrian’s world view offers no agreement with the Scriptures. This is emphasised by this statement, “But, ultimately, natural selection decides what behaviours lead to survival and success as opposed to failure and death. In this sense, natural selection is the ultimate arbiter.” An arbiter is a judge. Abraham, a key figure in the Bible, by contrast was confident that His God was “the Judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:25). Which of these two contenders then has the final say in matters of survival? Is it a materialistic process with no real thoughts of its own, or is it a God who cares for His creation? In Luke 12, we find a parable which Jesus told about a rich man who sought to bolster his chances of survival and comfort by building bigger barns for his crops. Jesus described how His Father responded to this plan with the words, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” Was Jesus lying when He portrayed His Father as the one who decided whether or not this rich fool would survive to see his plans fulfilled, or was He telling the truth? It is important to note that the Greek word ‘psuche’ [Strong’s No. 5590] translated above as ‘soul’ is most commonly translated as ‘life’ in the Authorised Version, and it is derived from a root word meaning breath/spirit. (It is interesting to note in passing that even the language of a pagan nation such as ancient Greece continued to reflect the Genesis connection between breath, spirit and life.) Was it natural selection or God the Father who, Jesus said, demanded his spirit back from this materialist? We should all remember with awe that our life, the union of body and spirit, has been given to us by The LORD and that it is He, the ultimate Judge, who decides those who will live another day in this post-Fall, corrupted world. Neither biology nor natural selection has any authority of their own.

Flag_of_IsraelThose who doubt that the God of heaven rules over affairs on the earth in this way should take time to meditate on the history of the Jewish people. Though they consistently failed to keep The LORD’s commandments and were consequently evicted from the land He gave them not once, but twice, He has kept His promise to Abraham to make of his descendants a great nation. If Adrian is right and it is their genes rather than the faithfulness of God which have arbitrated over their survival, then for the Jews to have survived centuries of conquest and persecution (the latter both ancient and modern) means that they have some of the most successful genes of all human races. Was Israel reborn as a nation in 1948 because natural selection ensured their survival as the fittest or because The LORD kept His promise to bring forth an exiled nation in a single day? (Isaiah 66:8) Questions such as these need to be answered by those who deny that The LORD is King.

Adrian’s justification of sin as an important part of our evolutionary development causes him to consider the benefits of behaviour which today is thought of as bad, as having been important to our ancestors in ensuring their survival. An example of this is adultery. About women he says, “A woman has to decide whether a man is the best bet to help her genes to be propagated into the next generation.” (p.38) I am sure that Adrian is not implying that young women carry around with them a biological testing kit and check list when they are looking for a future husband, but it sounds as if he thinks they do this subconsciously. I cannot corroborate this from my own experience, but I do think it unlikely that the most popular internet dating agencies include genetic information in their subscribers’ profiles. One has only to observe real life to see that sexual attraction is far more complex than merely a biological drive to survive. Adultery, Adrian argues, is simply a response which is triggered when a more genetically beneficial individual is encountered. Considering adultery to have been beneficial in the past in the way that he does, Adrian therefore allows space for it to be acceptable today.

Jesus’ teaching on adultery contrasts sharply with Adrian’s. In Mat. 5:27-32 He made it clear that allowing lustful thoughts to occupy our minds was as sinful as committing the act of adultery. What most people miss is that he follows up this comment with some practical advice on how to avoid adultery. He adds, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” (v.29-30) In another footnote Adrian asserts, “The Bible sanctions a barbaric trial by ordeal for husbands who suspect their wives of adultery (Numbers 5:11-31).” (p.38 #60) It is surprising therefore that he did not criticise Jesus for encouraging self-mutilation, for most liberal Christians fail to take Christ seriously with regard to His teaching in this part of the Sermon on the Mount. Did He mean it? Firstly we need to recognise that men in particular are normally tempted into sexual sin along a path which first involves their eyes, looking at what they should not. Then, given the opportunity, they will touch a woman in ways they should not. Today this is sometimes described as ‘groping’ – a extremely negative term. It was for this reason that Jesus spoke about eyes and hands leading people into sin. However, He knew that they knew that sin does not originate in any part of our physical bodies, but in what the Bible calls the heart, meaning our inner self, the real us. (As I have already noted though, Adrian denies the existence of the human spirit or as we might call it the emotional self, claiming that it is physical biology alone which determines our actions.)

RightHandThe challenge which Jesus puts before us all is this; if it really is your eye, your hand or any other part of your body which causes you to sin sexually, then get rid of it! But if we are honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge that the drive for sexual transgression originates (as with every sin) from much deeper within each of us than our eyes or hands. Though Jesus did not spell it out on this occasion, His message was, “Stop making excuses for yourselves, face up to the truth, and repent of the sin which is lodged deep within your lives.” He put it this way on another occasion: “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” (Mark 7:20-23) In that list there are at least three specifically sexual sins; adultery (unfaithful sex where at least one person is married), fornication (sex between unmarried people), and lewdness (obscene or indecent words or actions), which Jesus identifies as coming from our inner being, not from parts of our body. By contrast, Adrian believes that our bodies have been programmed to behave like this by millions of years of “survival” strategies. As for his comment about the barbaric nature of the Law of Moses, how many women would it find it preferable to drink a glass of dusty water than to live with an unjustly jealous husband for the rest of their lives? Sin is not the inevitable result of a mythical evolutionary journey from microbe to man, but it is testimony to the fallen nature which we all inherit from our parents.

Worry is another survival strategy which Adrian believes we have inherited from our ancestors, as is violence. He writes, “Worry may be tormenting, but for most of human history it has made for a successful survival strategy.” (p.39) Later he continues, “Two of the Ten Commandments which most people, including non-Christians and even atheists, would usually agree are worth keeping are: ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ and ‘Thou shalt not murder’. But for 99% of human history unless our ancestors had committed adultery and murder, we wouldn’t be here today. In primitive hunter-gatherer communities the best survival characteristics dictate that you sometimes must. Genes that impelled men to ambush and kill men-folk of a rival tribe would be likely to be selected.” (p.40) He goes on to explain that in his view, it was only after the development of farming and non-nomadic communities, “that adultery and murder ceased to be the best survival strategy.” (p.40) This is a profoundly sad view of humanity. Stepping on others, oppression, strife, extreme violence – he believes all these to have been essential for the progress of the human race. We still struggle now to be the fittest, but where we are at in history is what constrains us from employing the aforementioned strategies and encourages us instead to develop new schemes to become ‘top dog’. It takes an incredible amount of faith to believe such a myth, but I for one am very glad that a much better human history and hope is put forward in the record of Old and New Testament Scriptures.

At the close of this chapter Adrian forewarns his readers that all this has implications for our moral standards today, and says he will consider these in a later chapter. He is correct that his evolutionary and materialistic convictions do have implications, but his love affair with Darwinism also seems to have given him a false understanding of modern society as well as of ancient man. His view that farming and settled communities changed the type of survival strategies we needed to employ is far from supported by modern trends. Starting with the Renaissance and moving forward through the Enlightenment, secularism has become the moral compass of most Western societies at the start of the 21st century. In these, “sin” has become a thing of the past and the old moral foundations which strengthened communities have been dug away at with fervent zeal. For instance, contraception in its many forms has broken any possible link between sexual activity and the survival of one’s own genes. If biological continuation ever was the drive behind human intercourse, it isn’t so today! Even marriage has been redefined so that it includes those whose choices mean that they will never by natural methods promote the survival of their own genes. Adrian is correct to see the doctrine of evolution as changing our moral standards, but his summary of how and why it is doing this is sketchy and ill-informed, since large amounts of important and relevant evidence are omitted from his world view.