Widows and Orphans: On Evolution, Election and Love

Last week I wrote a post (and a follow-up post) where I argued that incarnational theology needs to attend to evolutionary science if it wants to truly embrace the notion of embodiment. You can't claim to speak about bodies, in any comprehensive or coherent manner, without attending to the forces that produced and shaped those bodies over millions of years.

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 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.
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.

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.

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45 thoughts on “Widows and Orphans: On Evolution, Election and Love”

  1. Excellent post! The transcendence of love is the very power that creates the spiritual in the LGBTQ community as it does all others. This is what much of the evangelical world refuses to acknowledge. Their mind's eye sees only the sexual act. However, love elevates a Gay relationship above the physical the same as it should a heterosexual one. This love of God is what is going to give the Gay individuals and couples the courage to walk into houses of worship with a true desire to be with other children of God. Churches every few generations have to go through a "graduate course" of what love should embrace, and the spiritual embrace we receive from the LGBTQ community will be the next one.

  2. A truly wonderful post. Today's church, in my view, has a sadly impoverished view of life and living; it seems to want to insist that all human beings fit into the "married with kids" mold.

    How sad, really - and how completely contrary to Christian history, in which non-reproductive people have played such a central role, in its monasteries and convents and parish churches. To me, the medieval church had it much more together on this account, and was much more faithful; it took everybody in, and found a place for them.

    Again, really beautiful. One interesting thing about gay love, I think, is that it can be viewed as love for love's sake alone. It has no other end but love. So it does have iconic value just by itself - as does, of course, heterosexual love. As do adoption, and the love of the wider community; all say something about God.

    Thank you very much for this.

  3. I like this quite a lot. One crucial hinge-point: I think your concept of nature is basically modernist/deist/Protestant, and I would contest it. Essentially, by 'nature' you seem to mean 'whatever we observe in the cosmos [full stop]'. That is an appealing, simple and worthwhile concept of nature, but it isn't the concept that would be used by the strongest critics of your argument here. Their concept would be that nature is unavoidably bound up with the telos of a thing. The nature of a hammer is to pound nails. And this teleological concept is bound up with the notion of the good. A good hammer is a hammer that is good at pounding nails, since nail-pounding is its telos. It is possible to maintain a Humean fact/norm distinction in the face of teleology of this sort, but it can be tricky to do...and questions arise like 'Is this fact/norm distinction just a practical posture that we take to help us sort out what is meant, or does it run all the way through things?'

    I would suggest that there are riches to be mined from the teleological concept of nature, and that it shouldn't be abandoned. At the same time, I would suggest that your argument can basically be reframed within a teleological conception as well. You simply point out that the full telos of sexual reproduction, at least within Christian theology, is not what it appears to be from an evolutionary standpoint. Riffing on Paul's allegorical approach in Galatians (ie: Mosaic law:Ishmael:Mt Sinai:historic Jerusalem::law of love:Isaac:Mt Zion:heavenly Jerusalem), you could add 'evolutionary telos' to the left side of the analogy, and 'mimetic Christian social reproduction' (or any number of other things) to the right side. If you do this, though, I would advise you to notice that God provides for Ishmael as well :)

    At any rate, I think your concept of nature gives up too much to modernity, but that a teleological conception of nature need not be hidebound, Medieval and scholastic. And once you realize that there is at least as much room to play within a teleological conception of the world, the efforts of people to say "But Richard...what about the TELEOLOGY of nature and sex" lose a lot of their force of argument.

  4. This is such a beautiful post. My parents adopted my sisters when they were 12 and 14. They were given the free choice whether to go or not, and they both said yes...to this day, it's one of the most powerful examples of love and election I've ever seen.

    Thank you so much for this post.

  5. "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."

    When my oldest daughter came home and told us she was pregnant and on drugs I did everything in my power to show her the love of Jesus by inviting her back home and spending thousands of dollars to fix my basement so that her and my coming grandchild could be properly cared for.............and no I discover that to do so was selfish. If I had done the same for a stranger it would have been different all together. Richard I actually struggled with that, but there's no way I could have or would have told her that I had to wait and give that space to a stranger. I readily agree that I am selfish.

  6. Your struggle isn't any different from my struggle in thinking about my own love and sacrifice for my sons.

    The key is to focus on the definition of selfishness within evolutionary models rather than selfishness as you and I experience it with our affections. The definition of selfishness being used in the post is technical and mathematical. If you shift away from that definition then the point gets distorted.

    And there is a real point to be made. We have a bias toward kin. And that bias is, I'd argue, a location of creational goodness. A real manifestation of love and sacrifice. And yet, if that impulse isn't chastened and made cruciform, our communities become introverted ethic and kin-based enclaves.

    So, in my opinion, we need to praise both sorts of love and sacrifice as love is incarnated in the intimate space of family but also needs to be inclusive and welcoming to those outside the family/ethic group.

  7. I can relate to this thinking. When a woman is pregnant, she is sometimes lauded for the "sacrifices" she makes for her unborn child. Eating extra healthy, no alcohol, no pain killers, doing whatever the doctor orders... But I believe (and I have 4 kids, including a set of twins) if I'm honest, I'm doing all this for myself. It is in my best interest to give birth to healthy babies. Life will be much harder and more work for me in the long run if I give birth to a child who who has birth defects or any other deficiencies that I can help prevent. I've always felt there is something selfish about going to church and being all about one's own marriage and/or children. It never felt quite right to me and you just put all my feelings about this in proper theological perspective. Thank you.

  8. I personally don't have a problem with your bringing up evolution in terms of incarnation. I have a problem with you bringing in "evolutionary psychology," which is basically a place for modern day sexism to get justified by imaginary just-so stories about our ancestors. I usually find this blog so interesting and insightful, and seeing your trot out the old "men want sex, women what relationships" line was incredibly disappointing.

    I accept evolution. I do not accept that our western 21st-century conception of gender roles is ingrained in our DNA from hunter-gatherer times.

  9. I get that you are trying make a distinction between the mathematical models and everyday language. However when you say

    "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."

    you seem to be connecting the mathematical concept with the ethical one.

  10. In the sense that the ethical issue is that love should transcend kinship based altruism, yes, I'm making that connection.

  11. Fair criticism. To clarify a bit, in my post last week I was speaking about visual bias in sexual arousal. The post did not make that claim "men want sex, women what relationships." Both genders want sex.

  12. This is a fantastic post, and I found it very helpful.

    I have only one quibble. I don't think it is fair to say...

    "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."

    This implies that this love can ONLY be self-interested or self-serving. Just because it comes naturally to us, just because it is easy, does that make it any less beautiful or worthwhile.

    It also reminds me of something G. K. Chesterton said in "Heretics"

    "We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbour. Hence he comes to us clad in all the careless terrors of nature; he is as strange as the stars, as reckless and indifferent as the rain. He is Man, the most terrible of the beasts. That is why the old religions and the old scriptural language showed so sharp a wisdom when they spoke, not of one's duty towards humanity, but one's duty towards one's neighbour. The duty towards humanity may often take the form of some choice which is personal or even pleasurable. . . . We may be so made as to be particularly fond of lunatics or specially interested in leprosy. We may love negroes because they are black or German Socialists because they are pedantic. But we have to love our neighbour because he is there—a much more alarming reason for a much more serious operation. He is the sample of humanity which is actually given to us. Precisely because he may be anybody he is everybody. He is a symbol because he is an accident."

  13. Thank you for this post. I grew up in a highly conservative, legalistic church focused only on following the commands precisely to avoid God's wrath. Grace was such an abstraction that it was rarely mentioned except as another thing to feel guilty about. it's a daily struggle for me to visualize, and then accept, the concept of God's grace and love that reflects being chosen, wanted or significant in the ways you just described. The embraces, looks, neck rubs, or arms around the shoulder from friends and spouses seem more tangible (to me) than the much richer love I acknowledge God extends. I keep working on it every day and posts like this truly help to remind me that I am an occasion of joy (wow...what a line from Rowan Williams!!!). Thank you again.

  14. Ok. You just seemed to be saying that anything that is genetically selfish is a poor model for God's love. Since pretty much anything occurring in the animal kingdom can be construed as genetically selfish that is hopefully not the case.

  15. I was there myself, Brian. If we were to take inventory of all the tract racks in the conservative, legalistic churches that we are familiar with, I'm betting the word "COMPASSION" would be found in only a scattered few, if any at all.

  16. An interesting extension of this is that there are evolutionary arguments for homosexuality. The most convincing I've seen has to do with kin selection and resource competition between mothers and children. It is in the genetic interest of the mother to have as many children as possible increasing the likelihood for one to survive while it is in the interest of the child to minimize the number of siblings maximizing the resources available to them. In this model homosexual aunts and uncles can provide additional labor and care strengthening the chances for the survival of as many children as possible (who still share 1/4 or more of a genome with them) while freeing up the reproducers to have as many children as possible.

  17. A few comments on the science:

    1. The metaphorical selfish motives of a gene can't be simply identified with selfish motives in the individual. Metaphorically selfish genes can and do produce genuinely altruistic motives in the individual. (Steven Pinker is good on this in The Blank Slate, p. 191 and onwards.)
    2. All forms of altruism, including love for the other, arise out of the “selfish” gene process, and are there because they have helped us survive and reproduce. You aren't transcending anything by focusing on love for people beyond your kin. For example, signalling your co-operativeness and benevolence is a great way to gain allies from beyond your kin group, which increases your chances of surviving and reproducing. And one of the best ways to signal your co-operativeness and benevolence is to actually be co-operative and benevolent. Furthermore, a sort of “love babies” module is not in the slightest bit incompatible with an origin in “selfish” genes.

    On Jesus and the family:

    1. Jesus does not really have a dim view of family relations. In fact, he gets very upset at people who try to wiggle out of their obligations to their parents.
    2. The very metaphors Jesus uses to describe himself and God (son, father) indicate a positive attitude toward family.
    3. However, God definitely comes first.

    On the theology:

    1. It does seem by the end of all this, you have managed to disincarnate your theology despite your attempts to do otherwise. Biology seems to be something we have to get beyond.
    2. Assuming life is good, what brings life into existence has to be seen as a good.
    3. The fact-value distinction is highly contested.
    4. It matters an awful lot what God was incarnated into. Was he dumped into a hunk of "stuff," or was he woven in to a rich tapestry of forms, essences, purposes and meanings?

  18. It's hard to argue, though, I think, that the specifically-demanded "care for widows and orphans" - this phrase is repeated over and over again throughout the Old Testament and the New - would increase anybody's chances of survival by gaining allies. These people are by definition without allies of any kind.

  19. More examples, which go even further:

    "When you give to the poor, give in secret. Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing."

    "Love your enemies."

    "Pray for those who persecute you. Do good to those who harm you."

    None of these things comes naturally to us; some people reject Christianity for exactly that reason, in fact.

    As I always think of it, and as Kate said to Bogie in The African Queen: "Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we were put on earth to rise above." (I think that might be equivalent to "You can't get an 'ought' from an 'is', actually.)

  20. I think we have to begin with definitions we can agree on. Is it possible for us to ever act altruistically? Most of my graduate school professors did not believe we could - that we always had some selfish intent. That was so contrary to my spiritual socialization that I questioned that assumption. I was reminded that as a Christian I believed that good works (helping others) would eventually offer a reward in heaven. Therefore, there was some personal benefit in acting altruistically toward others. My response: If I drove upon a car wreck and someone was lying on the ground obviously in need of assistance, I don't think I would do all these calculations in my mind: If I stop and help maybe I'll get the Good Samaritan of the Month award. Or maybe they're rich and will reward me greatly with money. Or what a great opportunity for me to help someone because God will reward me at the judgment. I think I would just stop and help without all those considerations. What I've found is that the research usually defines altruism as any act that benefits another regardless of the motive, which is virtually impossible to determine. Again I don't think parents calculate that by having children, they will be maintaining their genetic legacy. When I was growing up, the birth of children was more or less an "accident." No discussion, no planning, etc. I don't know that it can be proven empirically, but I want to believe that we can act truly altruistically, though I do think it is rare without any selfish intent.

  21. First of all, you can't be aquainted with the many extravagent, paradoxical characterististics produced by natural selection.

    Second, I've been reading the work of Michael McCullough. The literature is clear: there are tremendous benefits to forgiveness, benefits that wouldn't be there if they were not part of a nature. The problem isn't that even forgiveness, even extravagent forgiveness, is somehow unnatural, but that the desire for revenge is also natural.

  22. Thankyou so much for this. As a trans person myself who is childless, and whose loving relationships (even if celibate) are frowned on by many Christians or at least treated with suspicion, I found this post wonderfully affirming.

  23. These are not "characteristics"; that's the whole point. They are "learned behaviors and ways of life" - and they have to be learned precisely because they don't come naturally to us. They are hard - which means they are overcoming some contrary tendency.

    You haven't answered the question, either: who do you know that loves his neighbor as himself? It's not even close to being reality, even among those who attempt it; it's really more prescriptive than descriptive, and probably always will be.

    It's very interesting, actually, that everything, but everything, has now been re-defined as "natural"; it appears to me to be nothing less than a wholesale denial of reality. I mean, for millennia people have known that many things are difficult for human beings. At this point, though, it seems that prudence, fortitude, temperance and justice - not to mention faith, hope, and love - are no longer "Cardinal Virtues" requiring a lifetime of attention and effort; they are now "extravagent, paradoxical characterististics produced by natural selection." All we need do, perhaps, is to get in touch with our inner genome.

    It does explain a lot, though; I'd thought politics was the new totalizing worldview, taking over for religion in that regard - but it seems science is performing this function as well. The problem is that neither politics nor science has anything of value to say about the spiritual life and practices or about virtue - or even about morality. Politics is about power and science is about measurement; neither can help people explain themselves to themselves, or what life is actually for.

    This all explains, too, why religious and spiritual practices have totally atrophied in the West; nobody's aware they are needed anymore. While we're at it, it explains why we have all moved into Red or Blue enclaves surrounded by friendlies - and why each side views the other as "the enemy."

    We're re-tribalizing. The sacrifice of the spiritual life has a high cost, I'd say....

  24. The discussion about altruism and evolution reminds me a bit of some other studies I've come across recently. Have you had a look at the collected volume Evolution, Games and God: The Principle of Cooperation (eds. Martin Novak and Sarah Coakley) or Sarah Coakley's Gifford lectures, 'Sacrifice Regained: Evolution, Cooperation and God'? (http://www.abdn.ac.uk/gifford/about/)

  25. That's still hooey. There are plenty of rather indiscriminate women and picky men. A few hundred years ago, women were seen as the ones who were always horny and would sleep with anyone. All it is is stereotypes.

  26. And women aren't aroused by visual stimuli? Really? 'Cause half the teenage girls I knew back in high school had their walls plastered with pictures of cute guys -- and my understanding is that Twilight owes a lot of its popularity to Jacob taking his shirt off constantly.

    I genuinely do not believe that men and women are as different as we are convinced they are. Have you read the book "Delusions of Gender"? We find differences between men and women because we go looking for them because we already believe they are there. We are projecting our social beliefs about gender onto inconclusive data.

  27. Why would you jump from "a visual bias" to thinking that I ever said women "aren't aroused by visual stimuli"? Of course women are visually stimulated. And some woman more than men.

    I don't mind being disagreed with, but you're not disagreeing with any thing I ever said. You seem to be uncritically putting what I said into boxes they don't fit.

    Regarding the data, I've looked at the psychological and neuroscience studies and this is a pretty clear statistical tread.

    For example: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jsm.12096/full.

    I'm looking at studies like these, as a psychologist, and trying to make sense of them. Now, to be clear, it's totally possible that this trend is produced by culture and not evolution. (I tend to think both are in play.) But the trend is there. This isn't, merely, a cultural stereotype. There's data out there to wrestle with.

    Here's the deal. We can disagree on the weight of the empirical evidence. That's fine. People disagree about data. But let's admit that there is a body of scientific data out there. My post was an attempt to take the data and think about it theologically. That's what I do a lot on this blog. Think about the psychological literature in theological ways.

  28. I'm going to ask again, have you read "Delusions of Gender"? Most neuroscientific studies regarding sex difference are deeply flawed.

    I will admit I am perhaps overreacting; but your first post basically said "men are visually stimulated, look at their partners to be physically attractive, while women want relationships and commitment and their gaze is looking at men being responsible and good providers, and these are the result of evolution that evolved together and we have to live harmoniously." I'm used to hearing this "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" line from MRA people or bad pop science, I didn't expect to hear those kind of gender absolutes from you.

  29. I haven't read Delusions of Gender, but I will. Thank you for the recommendation.

    I did make that argument, while admitting it was speculative, but I'll forcefully deny I wrote anything about "gender absolutes." I think this is where you and I may be talking past each other. And my apologies for my mistakes in this. But if the descriptive point is granted (that there is a statistical difference between the genders), and I grant that you have some objects about conceding that point, but if the point is, tentatively granting, than going into a explanatory account for that trend just can't be taken as a defense of gender absolutes. Because the trend being explained in the first place isn't an absolute. It's a statistical trend.

    I'll admit that I wasn't careful enough in the post and that I should have added more nuance and clarification and circumspection. But nothing I wrote, even the evolutionary stuff, can be read as a defense of gender absolutes. I do see how my post has a surface-level resemblance to a lot of bad thinking in this area and I shouldn't have ventured so close to that.

    PS-I do make mistakes. And I might have made quite a few here. But really I do want to be friends.

  30. As do I. The only reason I'm upset is because 99.9% of the time I love this blog. You're usually one of my favorite writers!
    One of the main argument in "Delusions of Gender" is that the conclusions do not follow from the data. Yes, maybe men, on average, are more visually stimulated than women, on average, are. But how from that can you get almost all the other things you talked about in your initial post? The other argument is that the data often is flawed to begin with, especially in studies where the participants know that gender is one of the things being studied. Our brains respond differently when we're thinking of ourselves primarily in our gender or primarily in other terms.

    This tends to be a very emotional issue for me. I hope you can understand how, as a woman who has never wanted children of her own that being told I am still determined by evolution to be looking for a good father or breadwinner in my sexual partners might be a little insulting? Or infuriating? Or kinda sexist?

    I know that may not be the way you intended it to come across, but that's sure how it felt reading it. I felt it got in the way of your general point that "being sexy" for your partner isn't a bad thing to be ashamed of. I think that's very true. But why drag supposed male/female distinctions into that?

  31. Does this mean that I can't be a liberal and progressive Christian unless I accept evolution into my heart?

  32. I think you're exactly right. My clarifications aside, that was the effect of my post. Which meant I messed it up. But thanks for this. It helps me be a better writer and thinker. Your friend, Richard

  33. These are not "characteristics"

    At this point you're just making bald assertions because it's what you want to be true.

  34. Nope. Sleeping with a succession of unreliable but very sexy men is still being picky. Women are very horny, but only for a subset of particularly sexy men.

  35. Fine takes the usual tack: find shoddy studies and premature speculations in this area (of which there are more than a few) and then use that to dismiss the better studies and more informed speculations. Sheesh.

    So, while Fine is useful to some degree, make sure you read some of the more critical reviews of her book, as well as books from other perspectives. For example:

  36. But really I do want to be friends.

    This is where a more robust willingness to make enemies would be to the benefit of both you and your work. It's fine to criticize particular studies and speculations in this area, but we're getting to the point here where denial of different innate tendencies, often strong innate tendencies, between the sexes is just not a reasonable position to take. The kind of thing Diana Anderson and friendly reader, ironic name, have been trying to pull here is, in fact, extreme aggression, and should be recognized as such. They aren't playing nice and we shouldn't pretend they are.

  37. I guess we're even, then, since I think you're mostly doing a lot of "natural selection" hand-waving here; I'm just too polite to say so. To me, the problem with breathless pronouncements about science is that we all know by now that most of what's said at any particular moment is going to turn out to be wrong. It's just not very exciting - or convincing - any longer.

    I do find baffling the claim that I'm making assertions about things that have been known and discussed for thousands of years, though.

    I think, BTW, that we're probably using the word "natural" in a number of different ways - but of course, you've used it yourself in a completely non-technical way, so I'm not sure why you're now shocked about it. Whatever.

  38. Ah, tá... porque alguns animais tem casos, raros - de bissexualidade, homossexualidade - vamos considerar que a prática é tão natural quanto a entre macho e fêmea? Isso validaria a homossexualidade dos seres humanos como natural? Ora, entre os animais há estupro individual e coletivo... vamos considerar o estupro algo natural para o ser humano? No reino animal algumas fêmeas devoram os machos... deveriam a fêmea humana após o ato assassinar o seu parceiro? Ah, poupe-me, meu amigo. Homossexualidade é pecado, não é uma relação natural projetada por Deus. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RA5FS7j6JvM

  39. Somente aqueles que concordam contigo é que podem comentar? Eu não concordo, exercendo a minha liberdade de expressão, posto novamente: Ah, tá... porque
    alguns animais tem casos, raros - de bissexualidade, homossexualidade - vamos
    considerar que a prática é tão natural quanto a entre macho e fêmea? Isso
    validaria a homossexualidade dos seres humanos como natural? Ora, entre os
    animais há estupro individual e coletivo... vamos considerar o estupro algo
    natural para o ser humano? No reino animal algumas fêmeas devoram os machos...
    deveriam a fêmea humana após o ato assassinar o seu parceiro? Ah, poupe-me, meu
    amigo. Homossexualidade é pecado, não é uma relação natural projetada por Deus.

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