Evolution, Eliot Spitzer, And World View

By now everyone is very familiar with Eliot Spitzer’s adulterous relationship with “Kristen” from the high priced Emperor’s Club and his subsequent resignation from the New York Governor’s office. What you might have missed is an opinion piece in the L. A. Times by David P. Barash, an evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology at the University of Washington.

I invite you to follow along as Mr. Barash explains how evolution affected Mr. Spitzer’s choices.

One of the most startling discoveries of the last 15 years has been the extent of sexual infidelity (scientists call it “extra-pair copulations” or EPCs) among animals long thought to be monogamous. It’s clear that social monogamy — physical association and child rearing between a male and a female — and sexual monogamy are very different things. The former is common; the latter is rare….

One of the most important insights of modern evolutionary biology has been an enhanced understanding of male-female differences, deriving especially from the production of sperm versus eggs. Because sperm are produced in vast numbers, with little if any required parental follow-through, males of most species are aggressive sexual adventurers, inclined to engage in sex with multiple partners when they can. Males who succeed in doing so leave more descendants.

If I follow the line of reasoning correctly, the author is arguing that evolution has led to men having multiple sexual partners because this gives them a greater chance of leaving more descendants. So according to this view, Mr. Spitzer (or any other man) is neither personally responsible nor morally accountable for his actions. But wait! Read the article’s second to last paragraph.

Some readers may bridle at this characterization of Homo sapiens as EPC-inclined, but the evidence is overwhelming. That doesn’t justify adultery, by either sex, especially because human beings — even those burdened by a Y chromosome and suffering from testosterone poisoning — are presumed capable of exercising control over their impulses. Especially if, via wedding vows, they have promised to do so. After all, “doing what comes naturally” is what nonhuman animals do. People, most of us like to think, have the unique capacity to act contrary to their biologically given inclinations. Maybe, in fact, it is what makes us human.

Now I’ve read this entire article several times and I can’t figure out how this paragraph makes any sense in relation to what Mr. Barash has already written and the intellectual commitments of evolutionary biology. First he makes the case that all males are biologically inclined to infidelity and then he denies that that inclination justifies infidelity. One wonders if there is a Mrs. Barash who has let it be known that she’ll never go for the “my genes made me do it” excuse.

But also notice this sentence: “People, most of us like to think, have the capacity to act contrary to their biologically given inclinations” (emphasis added). In this sentence the author reveals that his view of human beings and their relationships is unlivable. To show this let me paraphrase what he’s written: “Evolution tells us that males in all species, including human beings, are genetically inclined to multiple sexual partners. But most people don’t like the implications of that for marriage and society. Therefore, contrary to the scientific ‘evidence,’ I choose to declare that human males are unlike other animals and are capable of acting against their biology.”

This is a great example of what Francis Schaeffer was referring to when he wrote about non-Christians having to borrow from the Christian world view. Because evolutionary biology can’t make sense out of life, Mr. Barash is forced to borrow from the Christian view that human beings are made in the image of God, specifically that there is a distinction between humans and animals and that unlike animals, humans have the ability to act contrary to natural impulse.

Mr. Barash again borrows from the Christian world view when he implies that infidelity inside a marriage covenant is morally wrong. On what basis is it wrong? According to his view there is no God and human beings are the product of their evolved genetic impulses. But C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity makes a persuasive case that moral rights and wrongs are only consistent within a world created by God, the eternal law-giver. And yet Mr. Barash can’t live inside of this morally neutral, godless universe that he’s created in his own mind. His own conscience reveals that breaking marriage vows is wrong.

Comparing the Darwinian and Christian world views makes me think of another great observation by C.S. Lewis: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Only the Christian world view, properly understood, makes sense out of the world we live in. That is one of the strongest evidences that it is indeed True.

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