Justin Barrett | A Psychology of Human Thriving

Hi Marta,

You’re welcome for the links.

No, Smith isn’t calling for a “massive general reckoning against eVopsych”, but her article signals a death knell for the sub-field. Fields with such an obvious “matching problem” should be discarded much sooner than later. eVopsych is rife with “just-so stories” any attempt such as Barrett’s to try to “Christianize” eVopsych would eventually have to address.

“my main area of interest a few months ago was evolutionary origin of religion, something Justin Barrett has a lot to say about.”

Could you please share and quote a bit from what Justin Barrett says about “evolutionary origin of religion”? I didn’t realise that Barrett believes “Christianity”, for example, “evolved into existence” naturally. It may of interest to see what he says on that topic.

Hi Gregory

Any specific examples? I have some examples of my own, where I rolled my eyes, but I’m not sure whether they came under the “matching problem” besides my examples have nothing to do with Christianity and I don’t want to stray to far away from topic.

Ok, I don’t collect quotes (or internet history from 4 months ago) and I have limited time to reply so here’s 2 short articles by Justin, where he expresses some of his views

Ok, they’re not strictly on the subject, but they’re short and I think some things are relevant

And this from his Wikipedia page
“Christian theology teaches that people were crafted by God to be in a loving relationship with him and other people, Why wouldn’t God, then, design us in such a way as to find belief in divinity quite natural?” Having a scientific explanation for mental phenomena does not mean we should stop believing in them. “Suppose science produces a convincing account for why I think my wife loves me — should I then stop believing that she does?”

"In his book Why Would Anyone Believe in God? he suggests that “belief in God is an almost inevitable consequence of the kind of minds we have. Most of what we believe comes from mental tools working below our conscious awareness. And what we believe consciously is in large part driven by these unconscious beliefs.” and “that beliefs in gods match up well with these automatic assumptions; beliefs in an all-knowing, all-powerful God match up even better.”

Ohh and this from BL article

“Belief in gods and God particularly arises through the natural, ordinary operation of human minds in natural ordinary environments.” This discovery echoes the claim made four hundred plus years earlier by John Calvin that “There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity.”

My impression is that he believes in evolutionary origin of religion, but if your interpretation is different than I’m happy to hear it.

I forgot to actually ask in my previous reply why are you actually so against evolutionary psychology? Don’t get me wrong, I’m no advocate for it, I just don’t see it as some kind of threat, if it can even be confirmed as solid science.

Regards
Marta

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For my part I think it is reasonable to assume our psychology has evolved over the eons right alongside our bodies. Of course that doesn’t mean it should be easy to track that back. Probably a fairly speculative endeavor but fortunately there aren’t any important life decisions which hang in the balance - unless one has already decided that belief in God depends on maintaining a gulf between our species and the rest of the biosphere - which is not a problem for Christians who accept common descent.

I don’t know Justin Barrett’s work and don’t have any sense of how specific his findings are or what he thinks we know for sure. But another book I first learned of here, The Righteous Mind by Jonathon Haidt is an example of an attempt to makes sense of our moral life which I think succeeds in bringing a lot of clarity to a murky topic. It makes me curious to know more about Barrett’s work.

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Hi Marta,

“I forgot to actually ask in my previous reply why are you actually so against evolutionary psychology?”

It’s simply bad science, often filled with loose speculation, and largely anti-religious, given the quite nearly 100% atheism or agnosticism worldview of its originators, as well as those who work in that psychology “subfield” today. Now, if only a sociologist could get answers to a properly blind and neutral survey of evolutionary psychologists, we’d have some data on that.

There’s a LOT of literature critiquing eVopsych. Not hard to find. A decent place to start, a book:

Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology. Edited by Steven Rose and Hilary Rose. London, UK: Random House, 2001.

One of my favorite anti- or better post-eVopsych psychologists in Nova Scotia:

There’s even a wiki page against eVopsych: Criticism of evolutionary psychology - Wikipedia

“Ok, they’re not strictly on the subject”

You’re right; they’re not on the subject. I’d read both of those around the time they came out. His work on children doesn’t necessarily sink into eVopsych, from what I’ve seen, though he’s revealing the sink hole. If you find anywhere that Barrett actually endorses evolutionary religious studies (ERS) openly and directly, please start a thread on it, so that it can be discussed, as that would be important to consider.

This may also assist you: Evolutionary Religious Studies and Evolutionism: Should BioLogos be neutral? - #3 by Gregory

“My impression is that he believes in evolutionary origin of religion”

Could you please clarify this? Is the impression of yours from his writings (or videos) that Barrett believes “religion” (incl. Christianity) arose “strictly naturally”, i.e. without God? Is that what you mean by saying “he believes in evolutionary origin of religion”? Thanks.

Would you mind explaining or pointing to specifically Christian complaints about evolutionary psychology?

(Just wanting to learn. As a new Christian I have endless questions. I started to lay out some of my own thoughts in the light of your discussion with @marta about Barrett, but I just ended up confusing myself!)

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Yet again very wise words from you Mark, and I couldn’t agree more. It would be totally unreasonable to think our minds just “popped into existence” and have nothing to do with behaviours of our distant ancestors. But at the same time we don’t need 15 minutes of “evolutionary explanation” on why you would rather have cheesecake than salad (not making this up, actually heard that on telly a while ago lol). So perhaps it’s fair to say that some advocates of evolutionary psychology are taking things too far and if we could find some middle ground, everyone could be happy?
And as interesting as the subject may be(both when intersecting with theology and secular endeavours) I also agree that opinion either way probably isn’t life changing and I’m not going to develop hard views either way.

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Who said anything about flourishing as our attempts to free ourselves from sin?

I think 2 Pet 1:5 and 1 Cor 9:24-27 disagree pointedly with your claims (and lots of other passages that say what we should do). As Dallas Willard used to say, grace is opposed to our earning, it is not opposed to our effort.

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I’m not saying that you’re not right, but the opposite side is using exactly same argument when Christian scientists are saying pro religion stuff. So if both sides say the same thing, does the argument cancel itself out? Are both sides equally right? Or wrong?

What do you mean blind and neutral? As in neutral about religion? I can’t see how anyone in reality can be that… Those who claim they are, are usually agnostics leaning towards atheism, how is this neutral?

Another quote from Wikipedia
"Why wouldn’t God, then, design us in such a way as to find belief in divinity quite natural?” Having a scientific explanation for mental phenomena does not mean we should stop believing in them. “Suppose science produces a convincing account for why I think my wife loves me — should I then stop believing that she does?”

My interpretation of this is very clear, although you and me may see the “without God” differently. I’m not saying Justin is 100% correct as I’m not qualified to say so, in fact I can’t see how can it ever be confirmed, but surely the Idea that we are evolutionary likely to believe in God can’t be this bad?

Ok, gotta go now, I will definitely look at the link and read through your thread on this subject, and will let you know my thoughts (if I’ll have any worth sharing)

Regards
Marta

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No, of course not. That’s like saying if we understand how babies are made from biology, that God must not have knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Justin has been a (the?) leading Christian voice in the Cognitive Science of Religion, which explores how we are hard wired to be religious creatures. As Christians, wouldn’t we expect that God would create us to be open to the divine? And as science-minded people, wouldn’t we expect there to be a natural history to our development into these kinds of creatures? The only problem here is if you claim that either theology or science tells the whole story.

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I don’t remember what all was stated in the transcript, but if the Father and the Son are not central and the motivating reason for each persons existence, then this temporary existence here is vanity. If a persons talks about mankind thriving and does not associate that with mankind doing what they do because of faith in and love for God, then that person misses the point of life. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t think the things that were stated had the Father and Son as their focus, it was just mankind in general.

The above scripture references are to those who trust in and lean on the Father. They do not speak of mankind in general. 2 Peter: 1:5 “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness ect. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
He is speaking to those that love and trust Jesus.

Mankind without love for God are called children of wrath. They are enemies of God. The whole world is under the power of the wicked one. They are slaves to sin, boastful, arrogant, lovers of self, lovers of pleasure, idolaters, sexually immoral, haters of God ect. Mankind without the love for God, are lost.

So, the Word of God has renewed my mind to see mankind for who they are without love for God. The greatest command is, Love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your mind and all your strength and from that foundation we are enabled to love our neighbor. Jesus died to free us from our slavery to sin and to make us New Creations in Him. Whatever mankind does outside of love for the Father will be of no benefit to them, only those things done in faith in, love for and obedience to the Father have any righteous value. Mankind can “thrive” all he wants, but it is vanity and works of the flesh as long as it is done outside of the great commandment, for it is outside of God.

Mankind’s only hope is union with Jesus and being filled with and following the Holy Spirit.
Therefor, the love of God constrains and compels me to seek out the lost and to proclaim to them the Good News.
YOU CAN BE FREE FROM SIN IF YOU WANT. IN JESUS IS FORGIVENESS AND FREEDOM.

One of the purposes, results of our union with Jesus in His death and resurrection is to be the light of the world. To live our lives in such a way that the world would see our good works and glorify the Father. Some will see and repent and believe, others will not repent but at the judgement all will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. Because they will see Him for who He truly is, but it will be too late for repentance and faith.
Even the nice little old lady that lives down the street who doesnt love God will stand condemned.

Hello again Marta,

Nice to see your curious questions, expressing willingness to hear a different viewpoint than Barrett’s about the subfield of “evolutionary psychology” (eVopsych).

“I’m not saying that you’re not right, but the opposite side is using exactly same argument when Christian scientists are saying pro religion stuff. So if both sides say the same thing, does the argument cancel itself out? Are both sides equally right? Or wrong?”

Could you please clarify, which are the “sides” involved here, and which do you consider yourself on? We’ve only had a couple of exchanges, and I don’t read here much these days. I don’t think “the argument cancels itself out”, though not exactly sure what you’re asking or “from where are you coming” with your ideas.

“What do you mean blind and neutral? As in neutral about religion? I can’t see how anyone in reality can be that… Those who claim they are, are usually agnostics leaning towards atheism, how is this neutral?”

No, not neutral about religion. I agree with you about “usually agnostics” or “leaning towards atheism”, and more likely already atheists, are the VAST majority, almost the exclusive realm of people working in eVopsych. Barrett is an outlier here, quite clearly, though it’s not obvious to me that anyone here knows why that is. I’d be pleased to hear someone linked to BioLogos explain why they think that is, i.e. address the “sociology of eVopsych” as a subfield within psychology. While I’m not a psychologist myself, I’ve done research on eVopsych and have published a few texts, including sections from one of my two books, which directly addressed eVopsych in one chapter. Justin Barrett was not on my radar then, though I doubt I’d have used his “curious” work anyway.

Regarding the quote you found re: “to find belief in divinity quite natural”, let us confirm that “strictly natural” differs from “quite natural”. Do you agree?

To say, “It’s quite natural to be religious” isn’t all that controversial. Yet, “religion” isn’t a “strictly natural” phenomenon. Do you disagree?

“the Idea that we are evolutionary likely to believe in God can’t be this bad”

This is a fine line, and depends on the person’s worldview. Not knowing yours, it’s hard to say. There are many people who distort theology with “evolutionary” thinking, as you may be aware, including not a few well-meaning theists. To think that theology cannot be distorted by evolutionary thinking is not a position I accept, since there are examples available.

For myself, speaking generally here as an Abrahamic monotheist, the subfield of eVopsych appears to add little to nothing of value. Instead, it distracts from theology with biology and highly over-rationalized psychology. The subfield of eVopsych tries to explain religion as a “strictly natural” phenomeonon, despite what Barrett may suggest otherwise, with “hardwiring”, etc.

Trying to redefine “eVopsych” as a “potentially theistic approach to human history” seems self-defeating. Kinda like trying to create “Christian atheism” as a course of study, or even thinking that might be a good idea. As for me, I’ve never believed that trying to make a subfield whose intent on promoting atheism and disbelief in God was the initial motivation for creating the subfield, would turn out to be a good or helpful idea, but rather one destined for destruction.

Glad for your further response re: eVopsych after reading other critiques. It would most likely help if you found time in parallel to at least briefly address “sociobiology” as well, since that’s the precursor to “eVopsych”. Some people speak of it in the past tense now, for which I am not the only one who is thankful! :pray: Sociobiology (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Might try Lewontin’s work on this: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.2190/7826-DPXC-KA90-3MPR

This one written by an impressive group, including Gould and Lewontin, provides a powerful message in rejecting sociobiology:

“Thus, we are presented with yet another defense of the status quo as an inevitable consequence of ‘human nature’.”

I happen to agree with the authors that,

“We must take “Sociobiology” seriously, then, not because we feel that it provides a scientific basis for its discussion of human behavior, but because it appears to signal a new wave of biological determinist theories.” Against "Sociobiology" | by Elizabeth Allen | The New York Review of Books

The same holds true of the successor “eVopsych”.

Also see here for @paleomalacologist’s view of sociobiology: Evolutionary origin of religion - #64 by paleomalacologist

Welcome your insights, thoughts and preliminary conclusions after this additional material, which feeds into the topic.

Hello again!

To clarify, this was in answer to your claim that since most of proponents of evolutionary psychology are atheists, they’re biased against religion, which shows in their findings, hence they’re not reliable. Now, you must have come across similar claims made by non believers about Christian scientists, I won’t believe you if you say you didn’t. Sure, doesn’t mean it’s not true, but also doesn’t mean the science is incorrect (but very likely that conclusion are taken way too far)
Now, since you asked which side am I on, perhaps I should clarify my position on certain matters.
Most importantly, I identify as Christian.
Since views on evolution are important to this conversation, I have never doubted it, and I have never seen problems between religion and ToE.
It’s important to note here however, that I do not attach any ideology, nor do I think evolution “explains everything”. To me “it’s just biology”. Since seeing your posts on other threads, regarding “evolutionism”, I assume your views must be very similar.

This sounds like it’s basically “impossible” for a Christian to work in this particular field (in your opinion). Can you elaborate? Don’t you think it’s a bit extreme? It reminds me of YECs claiming it’s impossible to be evolutionary biologist AND a Christian.

No, I don’t. When I say “quite natural”,all I mean is that something is “likely”, not half physical and half miraculous.

Term “strictly natural” can be understood differently by different people in different circumstances. My guess is that you consider religion to not be “strictly natural” because miracles were involved in order to make humanity believe. I suppose that as a Christian I agree with this by default…

As a Christian I find this to be positive, even though I’m aware there may be atheists using this as their argument. Worth noting, there are also atheists who say the opposite, that we’re not “likely to believe in God”, but “simply gullible and lacking in judgement”. So views can vary even on the same side.

Can you name one or two?

Yes, I had a look at the links. If sociobiology is that which was being used to justify things like racism, misogyny etc. then obviously I’m not a big fan of it. I wouldn’t be so sure it’s completely gone though, I have come across “evolutionary” justifications for things like high rates of obesity and debt. So nothing to do with brain washing (also known as marketing), poor education, greed of the ruling caste, regulations letting down the vulnerable and benefiting the rich…

I have in fact, read the whole thread (funnily enough I was reading it before you gave me the link). So are you actually a sociologist? Is my conclusion from it correct?

Kind regards
Marta

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Hi Marta,

This will be my last post in this thread. No time for this right now.

I’m thankful to have been allowed to post here about Sabrina Smith articulating the “matching problem” with eVopsych, as I believe it is a devastating critique of the subfield, which most people haven’t caught up with yet. Afaik, Justin Barrett has not yet addressed it in any of his work. Only one person opened that link to Smith’s article, so it doesn’t seem there’s much of an appetite for exploring this topic here.

“Now, you must have come across similar claims made by non believers about Christian scientists, I won’t believe you if you say you didn’t.”

Sure, of course. E.g. Intelligent Design movement or Answers in Genesis, Creation Ministries International, the Hovind family, etc. Don’t forget, though, that “Christian Scientist” is a protestant sect / denomination too (Church of Christ, Scientist - Wikipedia).

It’s a basic sociological question: Do you believe, as I do, that 99+% of people promoting evolutionary psychology are atheists or agnostics? Or do you simply not have enough information to personally draw that conclusion?

“It’s important to note here however, that I do not attach any ideology, nor do I think evolution “explains everything”. To me “it’s just biology”. Since seeing your posts on other threads, regarding “evolutionism”, I assume your views must be very similar.”

Yes, respected at BioLogos, Sy Garte is on our “it’s just biology” (& other natural sciences, like ecology, geology, etc.) side here too. I believe Kathryn Applegate agrees with us too. This goes in contrast with people like Barrett who promote “evolutionary” (or “evolutionist”) thinking “outside of biology”. Unless I’ve missed it, BioLogos does not seem to have anywhere a clear statement about “what evolves?”, but more importantly, “what doesn’t evolve?”, though that would provide much-needed balance and help with semantics.

“I have never seen problems between religion and ToE.”

Good for you. I wonder though if you’ve found anything (at all) problematic in the field called “evolutionary religious studies” (ERS)? Personally, I don’t see how a self-identifying Christian, or for that matter, any devout and sincere Abrahamic monotheist, could accept ERS with any sense of coherency or consistency in their worldview.

If you see how it is possible to believe that both 1) religion “evolved” (read: arose, emerged, etc.) “strictly naturally” through humanity “inventing” gods, and 2) God created the heavens and the earth, beyond “strictly naturally”, then please do your best in a follow-up post to untangle that, if you believe you can. I believe it’s a lost cause from the start, which is why Barrett’s work is so peculiarly problematic. But I won’t press the issue here now.

“it’s basically “impossible” for a Christian to work in this particular field (in your opinion). Can you elaborate? Don’t you think it’s a bit extreme? It reminds me of YECs claiming it’s impossible to be evolutionary biologist AND a Christian.”

Apples and oranges with that example. Biology & psychology are quite different fields, and “positive psychology” is not the only type available. My position is surely far from “extreme”. People like Jung, Rogers, and more recently Marsha Linehan, Kenneth Pargament, or Eric L. Johnson, do not easily fall into the “biologistic” (ideologically biased favouring biology above other fields that likewise impinge on psychology, like the humanities) camp, trying to insist psychology is meant to be primarily “scientific” rather than “therapeutic”. Much “modern western psychology” deals with the “self”, instead of the “soul” or “spirit” of humanity, as you may be aware. Barrett’s eVopsych seems to be feeding out of that.

“My guess is that you consider religion to not be “strictly natural” because miracles were involved in order to make humanity believe. I suppose that as a Christian I agree with this by default…”

If you agree, then it should be possible for you to reject all attempts at “naturalising” faith in God.

“Can you name one or two?”

Well, I could name a LOT more than that. [content removed] It wouldn’t be polite to go further here at this location, as it is not my intention to harm BioLogos, just to tell the truth about the sociology of eVopsych involved, as much as it is available to the public.

Notice that my question above went unanswered, other than the co-author of Barrett’s book:
Other than Justin Barrett, can you please point to another (perhaps evangelical) Christian psychologist who is currently “working in” and promoting “evolutionary psychology”?

“If sociobiology is that which was being used to justify things like racism, misogyny etc. then obviously I’m not a big fan of it.”

In addition, it might behoove you to consider that both sociobiology and eVopsych were initiated in the first place, and then constructed thereafter, on faulty premises. That’s what I meant by saying, “Barrett & King’s entire premise for trying to marry eVopsych with evangelical Christianity is flawed.” Going that route eliminates the “I like it or I don’t” category, when it’s instead, I’m trying to understand what it’s saying and if it’s compatible or not with my worldview. Most of what is printed and called “eVopsych” is misleading and irrelevant outside of a naturalistic worldview.

“I wouldn’t be so sure it’s completely gone though, I have come across ‘evolutionary’ justifications for…”

Yes, that’s fair to say, unfortunately. Nowadays, we see so many “evolutionary justifications” for things, even when it makes little sense! The term “evolution” is one of the most misused and abused concepts in “science, philosophy, theology” (SPT) discourse nowadays.

“So are you actually a sociologist? Is my conclusion from it correct?”

Well, I was trained in 3 fields: sociology, philosophy, and economics. The PhD is in “sociological science” (translated from another language than English). And yes, I’ve studied the subfield of eVopsych as a sociologist, though I’m not a “practising sociologist” currently, lol.

In short, I believe trying to “Christianize eVopsych” using Protestant theology is destined for the trash heap of history. Simply saying “views can vary” and “can be understood differently”, forgive me for saying, doesn’t really help the conversation much. It’s rather obvious that semantics plays a HUGE role in communications here and at all “science & faith” sites like BIoLogos, and that relativism is quite a slippery slope. You are of course nevertheless welcome to hold a “views can vary” view about eVopsych, however your faith and vocation requires. Just please don’t cross the line and find yourself trying to “evangelically Christianize eVopsych”, as I’ll be there to lovingly and graciously grapple with if you do. :blush:

Peaceful and good wishes,

Gregory

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