The Explanatory Power of Monkeys who Cheat

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For several years now, I’ve been tracking a certain line of thinking.

It goes like this: men and women commit adultery because they are genetically predisposed to do so.  As one news magazine cover article proclaimed:

“Adultery, it’s all in our Jeans Genes.”

The argument says that men, in particular, are driven to have sex with as many partners as possible — that way they increase the odds of survival for their seed. Evolutionary competition for survival has hard wired this behavior into our genetic disposition. That’s our story.  More recent “research” has “indicated” that women may be equally driven to have multiple sex partners.

Meghan Laslocky , author of “The Little Book of Heartbreak: Love Gone Wrong Through the Ages,” was recently featured in a special article for CNN.  She made the point in plain English: “Face it, monogamy is unnatural.”

The article goes on to inform us that:

Bonobo monkeys do not conform to a mating system and regularly engage in frequent sex with multiple partners.

Well, there you have it – love, marriage and sex explained.

Still skeptical? Meghan points us to the avian kingdom to bolster her case:

Biologically, we humans are animals. So it makes sense to look to the animal kingdom for clues as to what we are built for. Let’s start with birds. For some time, bird species such as lovebirds and penguins were celebrated among humans for their seemingly monogamous ways. About 90% of birds were thought to be strictly monogamous.

But DNA fingerprinting knocked birds off the monogamy perch. Analysis of avian DNA indicates that many nestlings’ fathers are not their biological fathers.

This led experts to distinguish between unions that are sexually exclusive and those that are socially monogamous — meaning a pair that raises a family together but indulges in what are called “extra pair copulations.”

Extra pair copulations? Sounds like an episode of Desperate Housewives.

The CNN article goes on to discuss the contribution of Prairie Voles to our understanding of human sexuality and informs us that only 3% to 5% of all mammals on earth practice any form of monogamy and no mammal species has ever proven to be truly monogamous.

You can tell from my tone that I don’t subscribe to Ms. Laslocky’s point of view.  But plenty of people do. That’s why CNN carried the article. Laslocky has simply taken a school of thought known as “evolutionary psychology” and brought it to the popular level.  But evolutionary psychology is a serious academic study and a major force in our culture. There are two reasons why: 1)  It appears to carry the authority of a scientific discipline, and  2) It has explanatory power.

Evolutionary Psychology operates on one simple premise: human beings are nothing more than highly developed animals. That means the best way to make sense of our lives is to look to the animal kingdom. We do what we do because we are genetically predisposed to do so.  It’s written in our genes.

It’s amazing how prevalent this assumption is in our culture. I’ve heard it delivered as an unquestioned premise in countless presentations —  from business seminars to relationship advice columns.

But I’m not buying it.

I’m clinging to a higher perspective. There is something extraordinary that separates us from the animal kingdom – we are human beings created in the image of God. That means we have both the capacity and the calling to live on a higher moral plain.

Take the Ten Commandments for instance. God calls us to live a life of love and he tells us what that looks like. He sets out boundaries for us, not to make us miserable, but that we might know life to the full. He says, “You shall not commit adultery.”

But evolutionary psychology tells us that this is unreasonable, ridiculous, and even impossible. More than that, it tells us that this is “unscientific” – the ultimate dismissive label.

So what shall we believe? How shall we live? What does it mean to be human? Is mankind created in the image of God? What does that really mean? How do you see yourself? What is your identity? Are you responsible for your actions, or are you the victim of a genetic predisposition that controls your every behavior? Can people change?

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My son Trevor drew a picture of a monkey and added a favorite quote by G. K. Chesterton. Chesterton’s theme isn’t about evolutionary psychology, a discipline he could never have imagined. But in his day, his culture wrestled with the same questions we do. What is unique about mankind? What does it mean to be human? In a culture dominated by naturalistic paradigms, can we still see ourselves as human beings created in the image of God?

It is the simple truth that man does differ from the brutes in kind and not in degree; and the truth of it is here; it sounds like a truism to say that the most primitive man drew a picture of a monkey and that it sounds like a joke to say that the most intelligent monkey drew a picture of a man. Something of division and disproportion has appeared; and it is unique. Art is the signature of man. – G. K. Chesterton