Features, Politics

Creationism By Another Name

Creationism is the belief that a superior being, unbound by the laws of nature, created the universe. Unsurprisingly, this belief is adopted by all sorts of religious cults; if you believe in the existence of one or more gods, the most parsimonious way to face the mystery of the origin of the universe is to attribute it to this extraordinary being. Creationism is obviously opposed to the theory of evolution, although, by virtue of the undoubted prestige of the evolutionary paradigm, and science in general, some religions are attempting to combine the two positions. They now claim, instead, that God simply created the basic conditions of the universe and life on Earth (which is usually the focus of attention).

In academic environments it is very difficult to find someone who will openly and explicitly deny the principles of evolutionary theory. Professors and researchers from any scientific discipline will endorse, more or less accurately, the principles of natural selection, and everyone has a rough idea about what genes, chromosomes, and DNA are. Certainly, nobody will deny that we walk on two legs or have a hand with an opposable thumb because evolutionary pressures have shaped our anatomy in this way. And very few academics refuse to acknowledge that human brains underwent a unique frontal development, which clearly distinguishes them from those of other primates, and even those of our closest relatives, the great apes. This is accepted as an obvious consequence of the evolutionary process that has shaped life on Earth today.

But the situation is very different when we apply the same principles to the study of human behaviour. In this area, there are scientists prepared to deny any genetic influence whatsoever. Some will say instead that behaviour is wholly the product of social and environmental variables. Others will try to consistently minimize the explanatory power of genetics. But how can a species rid itself of the laws that govern the rest of life on the planet?

Only a few minutes of thought reveals all this to be extraordinarily unscientific. Are we to believe that evolutionary pressures, which have configured the anatomy of the body and the brain, cannot also be used to explain and understand the whys and wherefores of human behaviour? Everyone agrees that we have opposable thumbs because those of our ancestors born with this mutation possessed certain reproductive advantages and left more living descendants on Earth. As this trait continued to provide benefits to subsequent generations, it became so dominant it is now the norm for the vast majority of humans. The same can be applied to the standing position, and to the size and the particular anatomical configuration of the human brain. This is all uncontroversial.

Why should the same logic not apply to human behaviour? Let’s take physical aggression, for example—the tendency to impose on others through coercion. Didn’t aggressive individuals enjoy (some) reproductive advantages? Didn’t the most aggressive males climb the hierarchy of social groups thereby enhancing their ability to attract resources and mates? Didn’t that privilege the transmission of aggressive genes to the next generation? The statistics on violent crime reveal a very clear over-representation of the male sex. Without needing to study the numbers, anyone with eyes in their head can conclude that human males are generally considerably more physically aggressive than females.

However, unlike the shape of our hands, the standing position, or the anatomy of the brain, this trait is not a universally accepted product of evolution. Instead, it is a response to social conditioning, such as patriarchal education, the nefarious influence of the media, or the excessive availability of violent video games. In this scenario, miraculously, evolutionary pressures have no part to play, and the socio-environmental, psychosocial, or psycho-socio-environmental variables (we can keep on juxtaposing terms until we find a sufficiently abstruse formulation) are the sole determinants of behaviour.

Because the people defending these statements don’t or won’t explicitly deny the theory of evolution, we must understand that they accept it, but only up to a point; a point at which a deity arbitrarily decided that, from this moment onwards, humans would be exempt from this process. Henceforth, the method that led us to understand what shaped the brain cannot be applied to explain how it produces behaviour.

Curious. Generally, sciences apply discovered laws to increasingly complex phenomena, thereby advancing and improving their explanatory power. But when psychologists deal with one of the most complex phenomena we know about, human behaviour, they must discard the methods that have proved useful, and the knowledge derived from them, and embrace a new faith; one that says that the cause of behaviour are to be found only in social and environmental variables. This is unscientific and intellectually dishonest—it is creationism by another name. Only it is “hidden,” because its advocates will not openly resile from evolutionist positions and, instead, drape their irrational beliefs in the prestigious robes of science.

Ferran Suay

Ferran Suay

Ferran Suay is a Professor in the Department of Psychobiology at the University of València. You can follow him on twitter @FerranSuay ‏
Ferran Suay

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Ferran Suay is a Professor in the Department of Psychobiology at the University of València. You can follow him on twitter @FerranSuay ‏


  1. Nicolas says

    Inversely, “mental health” experts minimize nurture.

    • kn83 says

      Mental health “experts” actually exaggerate the role of nurture, even though the vast majority of mental disorders (such as schizophrenia) show little to no shared environment influences as proven by decades of twin studies.

  2. Evolutionary theorists are opposed to Creationism, not the other way around. Moments of creationist activities are perfectly feasible within an evolutionary path.

    The fact that evolution as a theory today, taken to extremes never imagined or wished by Darwin, has holes in it a mile wide, means that it hardly stands as the only answer any more than Creationism did – just a part of the answer.

    Science-medicine is a long way from understanding the human mind, brain, psyche because its belief system of materialist reductionism makes such understanding impossible.

    • Rosross, I don’t quite understand how you are able to simple regard creationism and evolution as alternative ‘theories’. Evolution is a theory (or a group of theories) which you are entitled to try and disprove by rational reasoning, but creationism is a belief dependant on the belief that something does or has done the creating. It is, in my opinion, not possible for a rational human being to ever understand the nature of this creator.

      • Creationism, as in something conscious performing a creative act, is rational in light of the many holes in evolutionary theory.

        Where people get it wrong is thinking of this creative consciousness as depicted in religions.

        Although at times there is more belief and faith in science and there is more rationality and reason in religions. So there you go.

    • Barry Lyons says

      Two things.

      First, you seem to think that the theory of evolution is an opinion about evolution or a hunch about evolution. In the world of science, a theory does not mean a hunch or opinion but is instead an explanation of a body of facts. The germ theory of disease is not an opinion about how germs cause disease.

      Second, “moments of creationist activities” makes no sense in light of “blind” evolution. Let Greta Christian explain: http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-you-cant-reconcile-god-and-evolution

      • The germ theory is an opinion. The opinion is that germs cause disease. If the theory were true then everyone exposed to a germ would succumb to the disease. They do not.

        Even Pasteur admitted before he died it was the terrain, not the pathogen which mattered.

        I am not interested in the sort of religious God who relates to conventional Creationism.

        In the world of science a theory can be a proven theory or an unproven theory or a partially proven theory.

        Clearly proving theories with machines and bits of metal is easier than doing it with the natural world.

        • The germ theory is an opinion. The opinion is that germs cause disease. If the theory were true then everyone exposed to a germ would succumb to the disease. They do not.

          By that logic, the fact that most people can safely cross the road refutes the hypothesis that being hit by a vehicle causes roadkill.

          • Disease and accidents are two entirely different things. One does not have an immune response against accidents, beyond perhaps intuition, instinct or even psychic ability.

            Germ theory says germs make us sick but, if that were the case then everytime someone came in contact with a particular pathogen they would get sick. They do not.

            Ergo, germs make some people sick but not others and kill some but not others, so, the key is the terrain, the individual body, not the pathogen.

            Germ theory is an opinion and one which underpins modern medicine, but it is an incorrect theory, albeit a very profitable one.

    • nicky says

      “‘has holes in it a mile wide” pray, mr rosross, which holes are ”a mile wide’? Could you elaborate?
      “Moments of creationist activities are perfectly feasible within an evolutionary path”, does that even mean anything? And if so, what? At any rate, ‘moments of creationist activity’ , whatever that means, appear definitely incompatible with evolutionary theory.

      • There is not a shred of evidence for a consistent evolutionary path on so many counts that the theory itself is questionable in so many ways.

        Evolution is no doubt a part of the answer but it is not the complete answer.

        Darwin’s Tree of Evolutionary life has many missing branches, let alone twigs.

        • LukeReeshus says

          rossross, your line of reasoning is classic God-of-the-gaps. It is an old and boring non-argument. “Evolutionary history is incomplete… therefore, magic!.” Yawn.

          • Sorry, where did magic come in? And what is magic except that which people cannot explain.

            Evolution as a theory does not offer proof that it is a complete theory. It looks like a solid part of the story, but part is the operative word.

            I don’t have an issue if it is proven to be the complete theory but I doubt that can happen and so far, it has not happened.

          • Quote: The actual evidence shows that major features of the fossil record are an embarrassment to Darwinian evolution; that early development in vertebrate embryos is more consistent with separate origins than with common ancestry; that non-coding DNA is fully functional, contrary to neo-Darwinian predictions; and that natural selection can accomplish nothing more than artificial selection—which is to say, minor changes within existing species.

            Faced with such evidence, any other scientific theory would probably have been abandoned long ago. Judged by the normal criteria of empirical science, Darwinism is false. Its persists in spite of the evidence, and the eagerness of Darwin and his followers to defend it with theological arguments about creation and design suggests that its persistence has nothing to do with science at all.


        • nicky says

          Are you referring to some gaps in the fossil record?
          There are 2 answers to that. First that a lot more fossils are being discovered, from early whales, birdlike dino’s, turtles to Tiktaalik: gaps are being filled (of course, if a gap is filled you have two smaller gaps).
          More importantly, the evidence for evolution is not from just fossils: the evidence comes from genetics, biochemistry, comparative anatomy, biogeography, nuclear physics, etc etc, you name it.
          Even if we had not a single fossil, the evidence for evolution is so overwhelming that we would have to accept it.

          • No-one is disputing evolution as a part of the process. However, there is not a shred of proof to date, of any kind, that evolution is the only answer.

            Evolution is a theory. It was a theory when mooted by Darwin which appears to offer some answers but even Darwin did not believe it was the only answer.

            Genetics is largely theory, so is biochemistry and nuclear physics.

            I have no problem with evolution being a complete theory but we are a long way from that.

          • We only have to accept that evolution plays a part. There is not a shred of evidence that it is the sole answer.

    • kn83 says

      Materialist reductionism has done a better job of discovering facts about the world and human nature than any other method. Attributing any mental function to an unfalsifiable “soul” is committing the God in the gaps fallacy.

      • Materialist reductionism has been very useful for that which can be reduced to the material.

        Material reductionist science knows nothing about human nature – it knows about nuts and bolts and the material. Ditto for the natural world.

        This is what has made it so often destructive.

        One does not need to take up extreme beliefs from religion, or in fact any beliefs from religion, to relegate modern science to where it belongs – a world where what can be reduced to the material and mechanistic, can largely be understood.

        Science pretends, such hubris, that it can apply the same beliefs to that which is not man-made, to that which is man-made. Delusional and often deadly.

    • Barry Lyons says

      Two things.

      1. There are no “mile-wide holes” in the theory of evolution by natural selection. In fact, the evidence for evolution has only increased as the years and decades have gone on since 1859.

      2. The idea that evolution might be guided by some “creationist activities” makes no sense. Let Greta Christina explain: http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-you-cant-reconcile-god-and-evolution

      • I did not say evolution is guided by creationist activities. I said, evolution is not the complete answer, if for no other reason than that there are holes a mile wide in the data base and therefore the theory.

  3. Exelent article based on rational reasoning. I particularly like the spirit of your last line. “Drape their irrational beliefs in the prestigious robes of science.

  4. The truly ridiculous thing is that few scientists would make the same argument about the behavior of other animals. Their priors for explaining animal behavior are “it’s all genetic”, and we demand relatively high levels of evidence to believe in social learning; whereas their priors for explaining human behavior are exactly the opposite.

  5. Santoculto says

    ”As this trait continued to provide benefits to subsequent generations”

    Far to be always at this ideal way. A lot of not so ideally advantageous traits persists among vast fraction of human population for example, vulnerability to become partially psychotic via ideology, religion and/or culture. Many human common human traits are advantageous but not for individual itself, namely those who are not the rulers, BUT for that class of rulers. Naivety, social conformity [whatever the quality of culture] and ”passive selfishness” are one of this traits that work well in collective terms but tend to not to be pretty advantageous in individual terms.

    Bear in mind that human history, namely in big societies, has been a history of human exploitation by a minority of powerful, astute and evil minorities.

    In collective species, there is that friction between what is good for individuals and what is good for collective.

    Most of this persistent and predominant traits i exemplify above are ”mark of domestication”, seems good to cooperate as soon the government be reciprocal and based on human history This is far from being the rule.

    This is like to say

    ”majority of domesticated-like traits of dogs are advantageous for them”

    But the simple fact that this traits are by domesticated nature already show that they are not ideally advantageous because they are dependent on others so that they can express themselves in this way.

  6. EK says

    I read EO Wilson’s “Sociobiology” in my senior year in college; the same year “Sociobiology” was published and the year I graduated with a degree in biochemistry.

    That behavior, as well as physical form and intelligence are the products of natural selection stuck me as being obvious. I haven’t changed my opinion.

    It is obvious that like very many primates, humans evolved from ancestors who lived in tribes, had patterns of social hierarchy and required social interaction for their emotional and physical well-being.

    I just ask Mr. Suay to recall Kurt Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem from mathematics and suggest that the Incompleteness Theorem is generally true and that the idea of God may be taken to be a synonym for the one or more axioms that can never be proven.

  7. Dyz says

    “Some will say instead that behaviour is wholly the product of social and environmental variables.”

    Citations please.

    “Others will try to consistently minimize the explanatory power of genetics.”

    Citations (including refutations) please.

    “The truly ridiculous thing is that few scientists would make the same argument about the behavior of other animals.”

    Citations please.

    I ask for citations because these must be fringe idiots that do not represent the current scientific consensus at all. Without names I call strawman on this.

    • LukeReeshus says

      Agreed that this essay is lacking citations. So here’s one: 18% of American social science professors openly identify as Marxists. Another 45% consider themselves “radicals” or “activists.”

      These are the sorts who are ideologically inclined to downplay the roles of natural and sexual selection in human behavior—mainly because admitting them would render their utopian dreams futile. They are not idiots, and they are certainly not on the fringe.

    • If you want total denial of biological influences on behaviour google PZ Myers. I can’t be bothered doing that for you.

  8. Look, the application of the scientific method breaks down _psychologically_ when the individual attempts to extend it to individuals. For a physicist, every phenomenon is an aggregate of interactions of particles interacting according to laws. Everything a person does is a ripple left over from the big bang, no 2 ways about it, no choice, no agency, no evidence of consciousness in others, one’s own experience of consciousness impossible to integrate into the objective model which includes everything outside itself. The endeavor leads one away from anything which resembles a “study of persons, minds, societies” as we would like to conceive them full of minds, agents, experiences, choices.

  9. Curle says

    Only when the moral/activist/shaming/protest leverage of a charity claim equals that of a restitution claim will the Left concede that any group differentials are due to morally neutral causes as opposed to malignant social forces (platonic shadows). And since restitution is always the more compelling claim, there will never be an end of orchestrated opposition to any theory of group differences that doesn’t involve ‘the strong’ victimizing ‘the weak’. Truth has never been and never will be valued as highly as leverage by redistributionists. And, there’s a certain perverse logic to their position.

  10. Jimmy Bobbins says

    Ni l’un, ni l’autre.
    I call strawman as well

  11. p m says

    Why did Albert say “God doesn’t play dice with the universe?” Why not Steve or Ellen? Belief in a Prime Mover and trust in the physical laws that follow is not a difficult feat. Some people need to recalibrate their thinking that all religious people make moonshine, handle snakes and watch Beverly Hillbillies re-runs. So annoying.

  12. Bill Haywood says

    The author believes there are scientists who do not think evolution affects behavior.


    I suppose there might be some, but these articles keep flailing at unnamed villains and never demonstrate that the misconception is common enough to be worth discrediting.

    Next up — geologist debunks abiogenic petroleum.

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