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4.8.03

In the car this morning, Jocelyn had a Christian radio station on. They did a news segment about a recent study claiming to show that men are genetically programmed to be more promiscuous than women. The segment consisted mostly of clips from conservative theologians denouncing the study and its implications, and ended with a general claim about how belief in evolution necessarily leads to a different (and by implication worse) worldview than creationism.

The theologians' basic point -- that saying something is genetic can encourage people to view it as acceptable -- has some validity, and is raised secularly in the article I linked. But what was interesting to me is the theologians' frequent references to the Fall (of Adam and Eve), which leads to some thoughts on the intersection of natural/unnatural and good/bad.

What the theologians fear is a simple equation of "natural" with "good" (though I wonder how many of them would use that same tactic to condemn homosexuality). They fear that people would be inclined to simply surrender to "nature." But within Christianity, nature comes in two varieties. There's pure nature, which was created by God and declared to be good during the first six days. But there's also corrupted nature, created by Adam and Eve, and bequeathed to all subsequent people, by their original sin. Corrupted nature is natural in the sense that it's programmed in to us, so to speak -- a stain of inclination to immorality (and by some accounts other afflictions like disease) that people have to struggle against as surely as the struggle against gravity. The theologians seem to fear that secular worldviews, lacking the concept of corrupted nature, would thus see all nature as pure nature (indeed, many conservative Christians would say that Adam was not genetically predisposed to want partners other than Eve, and that if later men are genetically promiscuous, the genes that cause that are the biochemical manifestation of Adam's sin).

It's important to point out, however, that the secular "natural/evolved=good" equation that the theologians fear secular people will make is a misunderstanding of evolution. Evolution seems a more tempting place to invoke this mistaken equation because of its association with the idea of progress. If we evolved the characteristic of male promiscuity somewhere along the line, then it must make us "fitter" than those genetically monogamous males who are no longer around. But there is no such thing as absolute fitness. Fitness is always contextual -- more or less fit for a particular environment. A craving for fats was a useful adaptation in hunter-gatherer times, but it doesn't work so well in a food-rich society. Since an organism's environment is made up, in a large part, by other evolving organisms, evolution is more a balancing act than an upward motion. Certainly there are some adaptations that are useful in almost any scenario. But there are no grounds for assuming that is the case with any particular adaptation.

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