And yet, the creates a suite of issues, particularly for those of us who want to include the bodies and sexualities outside of the heterosexual and cisgendered box, the bodies and sexualities of LGBTQ persons.
The reason for this is that biological evolution, for the most part, is focused on sexual reproduction. And for millions of years of human evolution that has involved the fertilization a woman's ovum by a man's sperm. Consequently, much of the discussion involving human evolution focuses on heterosexual activity.
And this can produce a couple of sloppy inferences.
First, the focus on biological reproduction in evolution can suggest to some that heterosexual activity is "natural" and that other sexualities are "unnatural." However, homosexual, bisexual, and autosexual activity is observed throughout the animal kingdom. Sexual diversity comfortably fits under the label "natural."
Second, a closely related assumption is that if something has evolved it's therefore natural and therefore good. But just because something is natural doesn't make it good. David Hume has a famous rule associated with his name: You can't get an ought from an is. You can't extrapolate ethics from facts. Again, just because something is "natural" doesn't make it good. In fact, more often than not, natural things are bad things. A lot of right, ethical action is about overcoming natural biases and inclinations.
I'm going into all this because in last week's post I focused on evolution and heterosexuality. That focus left a lot of sexualities out of the conversation leading to the implicit judgments I described above. So in this post I wanted to revisit evolution to create a different sort of perspective on heterosexuality.
Again, for better or worse, heterosexuality is the engine of evolution.
But there is more to be said about this.
A key observation to make is this: While heterosexuality is the main engine of evolution this is also what makes heterosexuality selfish and, thus, a very poor (or very limited) model of what God's love should look like.
Theologically, love is love because it is altruistic, it is self-giving and sacrificial. Love does not seek its own benefit. Love dies to give life to others.
Heterosexual sex in evolutionary models struggles to fit that definition. Reproductive success is inherently a selfish process. This is why Richard Dawkins entitled his seminal book The Selfish Gene. A lot of what passes for "loving" behavior is actually an expression of genetic selfishness. Love of family, for example, is an expression of kin selection. We make "sacrifices" for our children and family members and that looks like altruism. But from an evolutionary perspective that behavior isn't altruistic. It's selfish, genetically selfish. From a Darwinian perspective children and relatives carry our genetic material forward in time. In sacrificing for our children we are serving ourselves, specifically our own genetic representation in the next generation.
That's the shadow side of heterosexual activity from an evolutionary perspective. Our love is 1) directed inward toward our kin-group and 2) is genetically self-interested.
Thus I find it very interesting, from an evolutionary psychological perspective, that Jesus has such a dim view of biological relations. What benefit is there, Jesus says, if you greet only your brothers and sisters? Even the pagans do that. And why is that? Why do we greet only our brothers and sisters? Because it is the natural, the evolved thing to do.
Jesus wants Kingdom expressions of love to transcend our evolved, inward and natural focus on kinship bonds. Who, Jesus asks, are his brothers and sisters? Not his biological relations but those, he says, who do the will of his Father.
In evolutionary theory, altruism is described as costly actions which enhance the reproductive success of others at the expense of our own.
Which makes adoption, from an evolutionary perspective, the quintessential act of altruism.
The most altruistic act you can see in the world today, from an evolutionary perspective, is the step-parent, gay couple, or heterosexual couple raising an adopted child. All that love, all that care and all that sacrifice for the child. And none of it conferring any adaptive, genetic or evolutionary advantage. From a Darwinian perspective, that is pure gratuitous love.
So I think it's interesting to note here how the bible privileges the care of orphans and widows. As it says in James 1.27: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress."
Isn't it interesting how the ultimate expressions of Christian love are poured into two evolutionary dead-ends? Infertile women and children from other unions. Any love or care poured into these two groups is a complete and utter waste in the eyes of evolution. Any sacrifice here is total and complete loss, genetically speaking.
Which is what makes it love. Which is what makes it grace. Which is why this sort of love is the best window we have into the heart of God.
This is why incarnatonal theology cannot be reduced to reproductive success and evolutionary processes.
Because from a Christian perspective let's pause to note the obvious: this is evolution we are taking about. Evolution. Survival of the fittest. Nature red in tooth and claw. This is a blind mechanism rewarding the selfish and the strong.
Thus, while this might be a process that can, for example, explain why a visual bias in male sexual arousal could have promoted reproductive success, this isn't a process that's going to produce or illustrate the Christian ideal of love, a love that transcends kinship bonds and reproductive success.
And the focus on adoption also helps illuminate what it is in the marital bond that best symbolizes God's love for us.
Specifically, God's marriage to Israel was an experience of election. God choosing Israel from among the nations to be God's particular delight and joy. Further, the inclusion of the Gentiles into Israel was an act of adoption, a union that is described in Romans 11.24 as being "contrary to nature."
Consequently, the marital covenant reflects God's love in being an experience of grace. In this marital love symbolizes the same sort of love seen in the care of orphans and widows, a love rooted in election and adoption rather than evolutionary success.
This is the notion of grace at work in Rowan Williams's famous essay "The Body's Grace." What does it mean to be elected, chosen by God? What is this experience of grace? Williams offers this description:
Grace, for the Christian believer, is a transformation that depends in large part on knowing yourself to be seen in a certain way: as significant, as wanted.The experience of love--all love, from marital love to the care of orphans and widows--is rooted in this experience of grace. Experiencing yourself as wanted, as desired, as significant. Finding yourself to be "an occasion of joy." To feel chosen.
The whole story of creation, incarnation, and our incorporation into the fellowship of Christ's body tells us that God desires us, as if we were God, as if we were that unconditional response to God's giving that God's self makes in the life of the Trinity. We are created so that we may be caught up in this, so that we may grow into the wholehearted love of God by learning that God loves us as God loves God.
The life of the Christian community has as its rationale--if not invariably its practical reality--the task of teaching us to so order our relations that human beings may see themselves as desired, as the occasion of joy.
This is a love that transcends biology and reproduction. Which brings us back to evolution.
As I said at the start, incarnational theology must take evolutionary history into account if it wants to describe and explain the statistical trends and variations observed among human bodies and sexualities. I, personally, find the biological sciences to be fascinating, illuminating and theologically stimulating. I felt my post last week was a good example of this.
And yet, the biological sciences, as informative as they are for incarnational theology, are poorly equipped to capture the experience of grace at the heart of Christian conceptions of love.
And this isn't simply due to the common fallacies noted at the start. This isn't merely about the fact that you can't get an ought from an is. Though that is true and should be ever kept in mind.
No, the main problem is that evolution, given its focus on genetic fitness, cannot account for the altruistic, gracious, adoptive, and elective aspects of love manifest in God's grace toward us.
And, thus, evolution cannot account for all the ways bodies, marriages, and communities incarnate the altruistic, gracious, adoptive, and elective aspects of God's love, all the places where we find ourselves to be wanted, desired, and significant.
All the places--from churches, to friendships, to marriages, to families--where we find ourselves to be loved, and chosen and an occasion of joy.