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.

Filed under: Features, Politics


Ferran Suay is a Professor in the Department of Psychobiology at the University of València.