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Evolutionary Psychology and Christian Views on Human Thriving

Project Co-leads: Dr. Pamela Ebstyne King, Dr. Justin Barrett, Dr. Jim Furrow

Consultants: Dr. Sarah Schnitker, Social Science; Dr. Oliver Crisp, Theology; Dr. William Whitney, Theological and Psychological Integration

Doctoral Student Researchers: Tyler Greenway, M.Div.

Protect dates: May 1, 2013 – August 31, 2015

Project Amount: $151,099

Funded by: The BioLogos Foundation

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Even for Christians open to evolutionary creation, evolutionary psychology is still regarded with anything from suspicion to outright hostility. With its emphasis on humans as gene-vehicles or reproductive machines, surely the underlying teleology of evolutionary psychology is antithetical to Christianity, right?  Perhaps not. Because Christian psychologists have largely stayed away from evolutionary psychology, the metaphysical and ethical assumptions of its non-theist practitioners have tended to become passively accepted and conflated with the genuine scientific insights of this area of science.  Evolutionary psychology need not be practiced in a way hostile to theism or Christianity, but holds intellectual and methodological resources that may invigorate Christian psychology around some of humanity’s biggest questions.  We will demonstrate the fruitfulness of placing evolutionary psychology and Christian theological anthropology into direct conversation by considering the question: What is human thriving?

In DreamWorks’ animated film How to Train Your Dragon, the plot revolves around a Viking community that is at perpetual war with various species of dragons.  The standard approach to dragons is that they must be killed on sight. The hero of the film, Hiccup, discovers that “Everything we know about dragons is wrong,” and that the Vikings and dragons can live and flourish together if the Vikings stop fearing and attacking the dragons and start learning what they really are. Collaboratively some of the dragons and some Vikings liberate both communities from a collective curse. The dragons had been attacking the Vikings because they had been forced into service of one enormous monster. Free of that monster, Vikings and humans could work and live together, enhancing each others’ lives.

For many Christians different scientific schools or orientations are their dragons: these monsters are too dangerous to their way of life and must be destroyed. The evolutionary sciences are among these dragons. But also as in the film, it isn’t the evolutionary sciences themselves that are the problems—they may actually be assets to Christians—but the unhealthy relationship is spawned by the evolutionary sciences being conscripted exclusively into the service of genuinely antithetical worldviews and agendas and the resulting fear and suspicion. In the film, the enmity is diffused when one Viking gets to know intimately one specific dragon. We propose to do something similar: take one topic of great importance to Christianity (human thriving) and examine how Christian theology and evolutionary psychology working together can be more productive and fruitful than either working independently, or worse, working against each other. The result will be progress (or increased understanding) toward human thriving but also an example for other Christianity-evolutionary psychology engagements.