Evolution in modern humans

Hi. Are there other evolutionary psychologists besides Jordan Peterson and Justin Barrett who call themselves religious? I would be interested to know about them. Thanks!


Part of the problem may be how you define that, because when I googled famous evolutionary psychologists before, it came up with names like William James and William McDougal.

This time I see a list on Wikipedia which doesn’t include those two names (let alone Jordan Peterson). So I guess the other article was trying to explain the origin of evolutionary psychology from before such a field was recognized as such.

With that list on Wikipedia, it can hardly be surprising that few say anything about what their religious affiliation is. So that may be hard to discover what portion of these are religious. I can certainly see why atheists would be particularly interested in such a field, but I see no reason to accept Gregory’s claim without evidence. Christians might be interested also for a variety of reasons and people change as well. They might even become Christian afterwards.

I have been reading about those on the list and I now suspect Justin Barret (third on the list) is religious because of an argument it describes. Ah yeah, that is the one Gregory has mentioned as “the only one,” but that already puts it below 99%. Fourth on the list, Paul Bloom declares himself atheist. Pascal Boyer is very interesting – showing how religion has precisely kind of thing that make societies work. Because of this he says atheism will always be a harder sell than religion – but a search reveals he is an atheist.

Seventh in the list is David Buller who Gregory would like because he has written a critique of evolutionary psychology. Clearly he is not an atheist and Gregory’s claim is now a solid failure… so maybe Gregory was just exaggerating.

We can count Dawkins (13) and Darwin (12) as atheists. I find Terrence Deacon, 14 in the list, to be interesting because of his work on the role of chaotic dynamics in the emergence of the mind. But I can find no information on whether he is religious or atheist. Fifteenth in the list, Daniel Dennet is a declared atheist. Sixteenth in the list, Robin Dunbar, is a supporter of humanism. 20th on the list Diana Fleishman is an atheist I think. Jonathan Haidt (22) is a jewish atheist who speaks against the new atheists for their failure to recognize the psychological wisdom found in religion. W. D. Hamilton was an atheist. Do we care in the case of Marc Hauser since he is in trouble for fabricating data? Nicholas Humphrey was an atheist.

I could continue, but it particularly bothers me at this point that the list includes Darwin but does not include William James and William McDougal, which looks biased to me. If we stretch to include Darwin in that list from before evolutionary psychology was recognized as a field of study, then William James and William McDougal should also be included.

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What is an evolutionary psychologist? As opposed to a psychologist, clinical in Peterson’s case, ‘Peterson’s views on religion reflect a preoccupation with what Tillich calls the vertical or transcendent dimension of religious experience but demonstrate little or no familiarity with (or sympathy for) what Tillich termed the horizontal dimension of faith, which demands social justice in the tradition of the Biblical Prophets’ wiki - the man’s a Fascist. At least Barrett, an experimental psychologist, is an Oxford man.

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Many people claim Jesus is a fascist.

Why in the world would anyone say that Jordan Peterson is a fascist? Because he praises Nietzsche and the Nazis found things said by Nietzsche useful? Was there anything actually fascist about Nietzsche? Could it be the scathing criticisms Nietzsche leveled at the Nazis and anti-Semitism perhaps? I take this as showing how liberals can be just as scary crazy as the conservatives.

No, I think Klax is a fascist and so is Paul Tillich.

That is what you do right? Pay no attention whatsoever to the meaning of the word fascism. If anybody disagrees with you, just call him a fascist. Unless you are a fascist, in that case if anybody disagrees with you, then you call him a communist, right?

I don’t mind discussions with you @Klax but I have to say that often I find it difficult to get a handle on what you may mean or imply. Thus, ‘Christ as transcendent icing’ is, I must admit, goble-de-gook.


An interesting list. Dostoevsky is the most interesting as he gets to the fundamental issues with Christianity and the many social problems and the resulting doubts and controversies. Kierkegard is fascinating (esp in Fear and Trembling) as he explores the human condition (what I think @mitchellmckain refers as subjective) and the knight of faith. I read some of Nietzche many years ago, so I am rusty, but I remember laughing at his ‘uberman’ and thus spoke etc., especially after I read something of his life, a man who fainted at the site of blood, yet spoke a lot about the superior man and so on. However, his writings are interesting. Kafka, from what I remember, was scary.

I would not be as critical of BioLogos, as it was set up by Collins mainly for US evangelicals and their culture wars re EC/TE, ID, creationists. Collins has stated he seeks harmony between faith and science, and in placing Darwinian evolution central to this, has undertaken a very difficult task IMHO.


Returning to the original question, there are a variety of ways in which human gene frequencies and phenotypes continue to change. However, technological and social changes mean that there is often very little selective pressure on those genes. Biological evolution is decreasing in its influence on societal change.

“Evolution” can refer to all sorts of change over time, generally implying non-cyclicity but otherwise pretty vague. So a reference to cultural or societal evolution is grammatically legitimate. But the connection between the types of changes that we see in society and culture and biological evolution is relatively weak. In principle, one could change without the other changing. The causes have significant differences. Thus, I think that one could make a reasonable argument that development is the better term for societies, to avoid confusion.

What is evolutionary psychology? Our brains are physically produced by evolution, so it is not unreasonable to think that evolution could give some insight into their workings. But evolution is highly contingent (as is societal development), so many of the predictions will end up rather vague. In part due to the role of societal development, we have extreme psychological complexity. Ironically, Freud’s “complexes” are excellent examples of oversimplification to the point of serious error. Evolutionary psychology seems well-suited for understanding things like “why do reflex actions work the way they do” and extremely ill-suited for understanding things like “why did Melville write Moby Dick”, for example.

If evolutionary psychology is “let’s see if we can get any insights into psychology from evolution”, well, sure, you can give it a try if you like. Fossil shells and mollusk DNA generally do not show many psychological features, so I’ve got other things to do, myself. The problem lies in the assumption that “evolution explains all psychology as merely the product of biological evolution.” As Gould pointed out, some psychology could be a spandrel - incidental side effects, not directly due to selection. Even a purely materialistic scenario could envision intelligence being an emergent property that enables action not constrained by genetics; certainly a theistic scenario would hold that evolution doesn’t give an exhaustive picture. To appeal to Gould again, many evolutionary psychological explanations are “just so stories”, rooted in the circular reasoning of “the physical is all that there is, therefore if I have a physical explanation I have explained everything”. Of course, testing ideas about how something could evolve is difficult, but that’s not a good excuse for claiming ideas are correct without testing.


Hey man, I was just, like, this weekend hippy you know? Hair, beard even beads at one point. Well two points. I ask you! Short back and sides now. Again. I even lost the second generation family heirloom handlebar moustache for love, despite ein kuss ohne schnurrbart ist wie suppe ohne salz - a kiss without a moustache is like soup without salt. A special forces buddy said I looked like a rat looking over a broom.

If Jesus was only human, He was still the greatest man of His time and for His time for all time. If He was God incarnate then that is the greatest possible good news. It means that all will be well for all for ever.

How’s that?

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Haha - this is hilarious. :laughing: :stuck_out_tongue: :innocent:

Ok that is fine.


Just as an aside, it’s more than a bit curious that people never ask the question: when did the first church “evolve” into existence? Maybe this is because it sounds counter-intuitive to most people. Everyone knows that “church planting” is not a “random”, “unguided” or “purposeless” (or purpose-lacking) process. So, it’s rather difficult to use the term “evolution of church” without getting very heavy pushback. No doubt some liberal protestants might embrace their “evolving religion” as “progressive Christianity”, while the rest of us can safely put that kind of thinking aside.

We are two participants on this forum who agree that the term ‘evolution’ is used in a sloppy and incorrect manner. To speak of the ‘Church evolving’ is nonsense, as it is to continue with ‘evolution of communities’, and many other examples. It puzzles me why intelligent people would do this?

We are all subject to the passage of time, and movement, change, all the way to life and death cycles, are obvious, self-evident. We look to history, both personal and with communities, to understand ourselves and the way we live on this plant. In this context, natural sciences are simply one portion of a large range of human activities, and these are better understood as contributing to the well-being of this planet and its inhabitants, or the destruction and suffering that may occur. It is here that we may discuss faith and choices of good and evil. Science has a part to play, but many other activities are very important.

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Can we speak of how, through social media, like-minded people gravitate to each other? Or must we choose words that aren’t also used by science?

It seems like “evolving” is a useful category for describing gradual change of a group that is not self-chosen. It provides a good contrast to “development” for gradual change where the group intentionally participates, often with a clear goal. That’s not to limit these words to those meanings or to deny that they can be misused, but not every use is misuse or devoid of meaning.

Please expand on this. Could you give an example of what you mean? The unchosen groups?

Groups (cf. communities) have leaders and followers. Groups form and disband. They have founding moments and (sometimes) great or slow breakups. These things are only trivially “natural” compared with how they are social, cultural, political, linguistic, psychological, religious, etc.

Are we in agreement that a “group” is not a “self”, Marshall? Iow, “groups” don’t actually have “selves” (let’s not get started about how “businesses” are not actually “persons”). This question for you is now in philosophy of sociology and psychology territory.

As for me, trained in sociology to the PhD level, I don’t find “evolving” a useful term to use for communities. Why not? Because I can instead be MUCH more accurate and precise by throwing “evolving” language to the curb and using better terms. Can I not do that faithfully, Marshall, if that’s what my training and experience have taught me to do? Must I capitulate always to “hard” when a natural scientist tells me I must biologize my language about humanity, societies and people?

Sure. But those not trained in sociology are allowed to use language too.

Ok, then let’s try again.

“those not trained in sociology are allowed to use language too.”

Of course they are, Marshall. Everyone in every field and no field of study nevertheless uses language. Whoever said they were “not allowed to use language”?

You’re also aware of “disciplined” and “disciplinary” language, are you not, Marshall? Should people you make recommendations to listen to the language that sociologists use when addressing sociological questions? I would suggest to you that when seeking answers to sociological questions one should go to sociologists, not to biologists discussing “evolution in modern societies”. But hey, others here might disagree.

Again, Marshall, are we in agreement that a “group” is not a “self”? If you don’t know or refuse to say, then please at least let those who have explored and discussed this at length the fair and proper space to safely explore “human development” without promoting “theistic naturalism” or “evolutionism” as a requirement.

Sure. A community is a good synonym for a group in this context. If you’re asking whether a group can ever be personified in order to explore it, I do think those kind of metaphors can be illuminating. People have been doing that since before biblical times.

I don’t have the interest or training to comment on how sociologists should speak. But the rest of us don’t need to adopt the jargon of any field.

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“the rest of us don’t need to adopt the jargon of any field.”

Right, without at the same time dismissing any field. So you’re not dismissing sociology either. That’s a positive sign, Marshall.

“I don’t have the interest or training to comment on how sociologists should speak.”

Good. Then you’ll let me express qualms about the phraseology “evolution of modern societies”. Yes?

If so, you might even be curious about how I learned these qualms have been expressed by no less than 3 recent presidents of the International Sociological Association? There really is good reason not to trust biologists, biological anthropologists or pop historians (Harari’s’ Sapiens comes to mind) talking about (human) societies anymore. Do you see that good reason too, Marshall?

Interdisciplinary research is one way to find new ideas or weaknesses in previous research. You don’t necessarily have to adopt the thinking of the other discipline to get benefits. For example, methods that have been used in research on evolution have given a new way to approach particular questions within other disciplines.

There is a research project in our department that studies ‘development’ (evolution) within a language group using methods that are commonly used in evolutionary biology. Old-style linguists remain sceptic about the use of the methods but at least, the results point to details where the new and the traditional methods give different answers. This is useful as further research can focus on these differences and try to find out why the methods give different answers.

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We normally understand the meaning of a word by using other words, and in our example of the term ‘evolution’, we may consult a dictionary, where we find about five meanings.

Nowadays, I would assert that if we ask five people from different backgrounds and professions what they understand by the term, all would initially respond with the biological use of the term.

I understand that on further discussion and argument, we may show that the context would clarrify the meaning, and so there are ways to guard against the misuse of words. I think with “evolving” it is becoming increasingly difficult to prevent misuse, particularly within group/community usage.

Hi David,

You wrote:

“technological and social changes mean that there is often very little selective pressure on those genes. Biological evolution is decreasing in its influence on societal change.”


the connection between the types of changes that we see in society and culture and biological evolution is relatively weak.”

Yes. Goodness, did I wish that could be posted somewhere on BioLogos’ public acknowledgment. It would be fair and faithful of them to do that, imho. I sincerely have NO IDEA why it is so difficult for BioLogos management to accept this. Do you have any ideas about it?

“I think that one could make a reasonable argument that development is the better term for societies, to avoid confusion.”

Thank you for saying this. We are agreed about this. I really do not see why it seems to be so excruciatingly hard for some at BioLogos to accept this too.

“Fossil shells and mollusk DNA generally do not show many psychological features, so I’ve got other things to do, myself.”

Yeah, me too :yum:

“many evolutionary psychological explanations are ‘just so stories’”

Again, we are agreed

“certainly a theistic scenario would hold that evolution doesn’t give an exhaustive picture.”

Aha, there’s the rub. “Theistic evolution” / “Evolutionary creation” / “BioLogos” seems to be held up as indeed actually giving “an exhaustive picture” according to the followers of Francis Collins, if not by Collins himself. This is a worldview conversation that is waiting to be held. Do you disagree that there is a “worldview” called “theistic evolution” or “evolutionary creation” that a small percentage of mainly protestants hold, which they got from Asa Gray, Ronald Fisher … evangelical ASA, Francis Collins & BioLogos, Lamoureux, et al.?

If not, when does BioLogos “not exhaust” and thereby at the same time “put a limit on evolution” as a concept and theory, in a single natural science, biology, or across a small or wide range of either just natural-physical sciences, or also, depending on one’s philosophy and ideology, across the human-social sciences as well? I would be very thankful to see where they’ve done this in case I’ve missed it. Have you seen anything like this at BioLogos stated, David?

If they can’t put a limit of ANY kind on “evolutionary theory”, then it’s reasonable and of no surprise that their position comes across to their opponents as “limitless [theistic] evolution” (which really means [theistic] ideological evolutionism), right David? It should be very easy to put a limit, draw a line, make a boundary, and stop the exaggerating … in the name of “science & faith”. But somehow, BioLogos is not helping with this area of the conversation. I wonder if you have any suggestions of why that is or if I’m misinterpreting what appears to be willful inaction.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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