Monday, July 27, 2015

Does Biblical Liberalism Support LGBT Rights?

Ten years from now, I predict, the movement for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights will be largely successful, and Biblical religious believers will claim that this success was due to the cultural influence of Biblical religion.  Just as it is commonly argued today that the abolition of slavery and the general idea of universal human rights manifest the influence of the Biblical teaching that all human beings have equal dignity as created in the image of God, so too it will be argued that equal rights for LGBT people shows the influence of the same Biblical teaching.  What this shows is how easily the Bible--or at least the New Testament--can be interpreted as supporting classical liberal thought, as early modern classical liberals like Locke and Spinoza saw.

Right now, the debate over LGBT rights is commonly said to be a debate between secularist libertarians and religious believers.  But one can see the beginnings of the shift among Biblical religious believers towards recognizing LGBT rights.  What's most interesting about this is that the shift is beginning to occur even among some leading evangelical theologians who embrace the idea that the Bible is the divinely inspired and inerrant word of God, and who therefore must question the traditional interpretation of the Bible as condemning LGBT people.

This development has recently been covered in an article in The New York Times.  One of the leaders in this movement is the Rev. David P. Gushee, an evangelical theologian at Mercer University.  He has explained his position in a recent lecture.

Gushee draws an analogy between Christian anti-Semitism and the Christian persecution of LGBT people.  In both cases, there have been thousands of years of Christian tradition interpreting the Bible as condemning these two groups of people.  But, then, sometime around 1965, there was a shift against the tradition of Christian anti-Semitism and towards the view that the Christian teaching of universal love or the Golden Rule applies to Jews, and that the interpretation of the Bible as identifying Jews as Satanic Christ-killers is mistaken.

Now, a similar shift is beginning to emerge in the Christian view of LGBT people.  The Biblical verses that appear to condemn LGBT people are being reexamined in the light of the Christian teaching of universal love or the Golden Rule, so that Biblical believers can see that these verses have been misinterpreted, and that the Bible actually requires Christians to love LGBT people as having the same human dignity as all human beings created in God's image.

In his gay marriage decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy emphasized the word "dignity."  Rev. Gushee has said: "Dignity language is a widely used cognate for the idea that every person is made in God's image and is sacred for that reason.  So what I think Judge Kennedy did was reach to one of the core concepts of our civilization."  So for Gushee, the argument for LGBT people having equal human "dignity" that must be recognized by law rests on a secularization of a Biblical religious teaching.

My prediction is that within ten years almost all Christians will be saying this, and they will be puzzled as to why it took 2,000 years for Christians to see that this is the correct reading of the Bible's teaching.

Many Christians today cannot accept this, because they think it's obvious that giving equal rights to LGBT people violates the sexual ethics of Christianity.  But Gushee argues that LGBT people can be held to the same standard of sexual ethics that applies to all Christians--"celibacy outside of lifetime covenantal marriage, monogamous fidelity within lifetime covenantal marriage."  The Christian opponents of LGBT rights will have to dispute this.

Some of my posts on the classical liberalism inherent in the Bible can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Evolution of Indirect Reciprocity in Locke's Law of Reputation

In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke argued that our ideas of moral good and evil were derived mostly from "the law of opinion or reputation," because most human beings identified virtue as whatever was praised in their society and vice as whatever was blamed, and most human beings want to gain the reward of having a good reputation and avoid the punishment of having a bad reputation (II.28.5-12).  This has been one of the most controversial teachings in the Essay, because Locke's critics have identified it as endorsing a crude cultural relativism that denies that there is any natural or rational standard of moral good and evil.

The modern evolutionary account of morality supports this Lockean law of reputation understood as "indirect reciprocity," in which people are motivated to do good deeds for others as long as these good deeds win them a good reputation.  Some evolutionary anthropologists have shown that the sort of hunter-gatherer bands in which human beings have lived for most of their evolutionary history most likely developed a moral order based primarily on such reputational selection favoring conformity to the customary moral rules of society.

Good and evil are nothing but pleasure and pain, Locke believes.  Moral good and evil can then be understood as "the conformity or disagreement of our voluntary actions to some law, whereby good or evil is drawn upon us, from the will and power of the lawmaker" (II.28.5). 

There are three kinds of laws corresponding to three kinds of lawmakers with different kinds of rewards and punishments for enforcing their laws.  Divine law is God's law enforced with His eternal rewards and punishments.  Civil law is the law made by human legislators exercising the force of government to enforce their laws.  The law of opinion or reputation is the law established through social praise and blame in which people in every social group by a "tacit consent" determine what is virtue and vice, rewarding the praiseworthy with a good reputation and punishing the blameworthy with a  bad reputation.

Locke also calls the law of reputation the philosophical law, not because philosophers make it, but because this is the law most studied by pagan philosophers when they inquire into the character of virtue and vice, because they generally assume that virtue is what is thought praiseworthy.

Locke believes that studying the "history of mankind," which includes the anthropological history of societies around the world and the American Indians, will show that most human beings have been governed mostly, if not entirely, by the law of reputation, because while people might think they can evade the laws of God or the government, they can rarely escape the punishment of censure when they offend those with whom they associate.

When Locke was accused of moral relativism, because he seemed to say that virtue and vice had no fixed meaning in being determined by the arbitrary movements of social praise and blame, he responded in two ways.  First, he said that he was reporting as a matter of fact how most human beings determine virtue and vice as what is generally praised or blamed by those around them, and surely one could hardly deny this as a factual truth.

His second response was to point out that he had indicated that despite the variability and fallibility of social praise and blame as a standard of moral goodness, what people generally regard as praiseworthy or blameworthy are "as to the main" the same everywhere, and "in a great measure," they correspond to "the unchangeable rule of right and wrong," and they do not stray very far from "the Law of Nature," which is "that standing and unalterable rule by which they ought to judge of the moral rectitude and gravity of their actions" (p. 19, II.28.11).

This might seem to contradict what Locke says in denying that there are any innate practical principles, and in citing as evidence for this that some societies have practiced moral outrages like infanticide, patricide, and cannibalism.  Locke observes:
"He that will carefully peruse the history of mankind, and look abroad into the several tribes of men, and with indifferency survey their actions, will be able to satisfy himself, that there is scarce that principle of morality to be named, or rule of virtue to be thought on, (those only excepted that are absolutely necessary to hold society together, which commonly too are neglected betwixt distinct societies,) which is not, somewhere or other, slighted and condemned by the general fashion of whole societies of men, governed by practical opinions and rules of living quite opposite to others" (I.2.10).
Notice, however, the parenthetical remark--there are some rules that are absolutely necessary for the social order of any group, and so these rules are likely to be universally recognized, although even these rules might not be observed in conflicts with outside groups.  In fact, Locke notes, there is a connection between virtue and "public happiness," in that some virtues are necessary for preserving society, and consequently most people will see that it's in their self-interest to promote those social virtues (I.2.6).

"Justice and truth are the common ties of society; and therefore even outlaws and robbers, who break with all the world besides, must keep faith and rules of equity amongst themselves; or else they cannot hold together" (I.2.2).  Indeed, as Peter Leeson (The Invisible Hook, 2009) has shown in his history of pirate societies, pirate crews had to consent to the captain's code of good behavior before sailing.  They were obliged to swear upon a hatchet (rather than a Bible) that they would obey the captain's articles of agreement, which had arisen as a spontaneous self-organized order to prevent these societies of outlaws from collapsing into disorder.  So there really is honor among thieves.

Locke's law of reputation was reaffirmed by David Hume and Adam Smith, who stressed the extent to which morality was rooted in the natural human concern for how one appears to others and the desire, as Smith put it, for a mutual sympathy of sentiments.  Charles Darwin thought this human moral sensitivity to social approbation and disapprobation could have evolved by natural and cultural selection.

In 1987, in The Biology of Moral Systems, Richard Alexander brought this line of reasoning under the term "indirect reciprocity."  Kin selection theory could explain the evolution of morality among genetic kin.  But it was hard to see how this could be extended to non-kin.  Robert Trivers argued that the theory of reciprocal altruism could explain the moral cooperation of genetically unrelated individuals engaged in reciprocal relationships based on the idea that "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine."  Beyond such direct reciprocity, Alexander saw the possibility of indirect reciprocity--"I'll scratch your back if you have the reputation for scratching the backs of others."

This evolved morality as based on kin selection and reciprocity (both direct and indirect) does not require a morality of self-sacrifice, Alexander argues.  This morality requires a conscience that can  be described as "the still, small voice that tells us how far we can go without incurring intolerable risks or costs to our own interests" (107).

There are various ways in which a natural concern for one's reputation could evolve as serving one's reproductive interests.  Those with good reputations might be identified as the best sexual mates, and they might elicit cooperation and generosity from others in one's society.  Those with bad reputations could expect social punishments that could lessen their reproductive fitness.

Studies of foraging societies have provided some evidence that this is true.  Foraging bands tend to have around 25-30 members.  Of these, only about 10% to 20% are genetically related.  About half are affinal relatives (in-laws).  The rest are not related at all.  So kin selection cannot fully explain their social cooperation (Hill et al. 2011).  Direct reciprocity might explain some cooperation where two partners are directly benefiting one another.  But much of the cooperation seems to depend on indirect reciprocity, where people cooperate or not based on good or bad reputation.

Christopher Boehm (2012) has gathered clear evidence for this evolution of morality through the effects of reputation.  He has studied the ethnographic records for 339 hunter-gatherer societies.  He has eliminated those groups with characteristics that would not have been typical for foragers in the Late Pleistocene.  For example, he eliminated those groups that were dependent on missions, those that traded food with horticulturalists, those involved in the European fur trade, and those who were sedentary and began to store food.   This left him with 150 groups that he could identify as "Late Pleistocene appropriate" (LPA).  He then developed a system for coding the data with 232 social coding categories--such as "sharing with kin" and "aid to nonrelatives favored."  So far, he has fully coded 50 out of the 150.

From that data, he can see that the most common forms of social deviance that are punished in all or almost all foraging societies are murder, sorcery or witchcraft, stealing, beating of someone, failing to share, bullying, and lying.  The most common forms of punishment are gossip, ridicule, direct criticism, social distancing, group ostracism, nonlethal physical punishment, and temporary expulsion from the group.  The most severe forms of punishment (particularly for murder) are the entire group killing the culprit, a group member selected to kill the culprit, and permanent expulsion from the group.  When a murderer kills one person, it's assumed that someone in the victim's family will take vengeance against the murderer.  When a murderer kills two or more people, he is punished by the whole group.  Often the group will ask one of the murderer's relatives to kill him.  And in most cases, it is a "him," because most of the deviant violence is perpetrated by men.

These groups have no formal legal systems or governments, and so these social rules are all customary norms.  The enforcement of these norms through punishment is through what Locke calls "the executive power of the state of nature," or the natural right of all individuals to punish those who attack them, steal from them, cheat them, bully them, or otherwise disrupt the customary social order.

Reputation is crucial in all of this, because those reputed to be social deviants are punished, and those reputed to be cooperative and generous are rewarded.  As Locke indicated, the group recognizes as virtuous those traits that conform to the customary norms of the group and as vicious those traits that violate those norms.

Boehm argues that since punishment for violating these norms lessens the reproductive fitness of the violator, then we can imagine that evolution would favor the emergence of a moral capacity for conscience, so that people would develop the ability to suppress their antisocial tendencies and to feel guilt and shame when they express those tendencies.  We can confirm this by considering the evidence from neuroscience that the human brain is wired for moral judgment and moral emotions, and those few who lack this wiring (psychopaths) do not have the moral sense typical of normal people.


Alexander, Richard. 1987. The Biology of Moral Systems.  New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

Boehm, Christopher. 2012. Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame. New York: Basic Books.

Hill, Kim R., et al. 2011. "Co-Residence Patterns in Hunter-Gatherer Societies Show Unique Human Social Structure." Science 331: 1286-1289.

Leeson, Peter. 2009. The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Locke, John. 1959. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. 2 vols. New York: Dover Books.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Monogamous Pair-Bonding in the Lockean State of Nature

Unlike Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke believed that our human ancestors in the state of nature were social animals, because the "first society" was the conjugal society of husband and wife and the familial society of parents and children.  Modern evolutionary anthropology supports Locke over Rousseau by providing evidence that the evolution of monogamous pair-bonding among our prehistoric foraging ancestors gave birth to the unique structure of human society.

In the Two Treatises, Locke gives both religious and natural explanations for human familial bonding.  It shows the "wisdom of the great Creator" that He has created human beings with inclinations for monogamous marrying and for mothers and fathers caring jointly for their children (FT, 86-89; ST, 77-80).  This can also be explained through the natural history of animal reproduction.  For some animals, whose offspring can survive on their own without much parental care shortly after birth, Locke explains, mothers care for the offspring with no need for fathers to provide any care, and consequently there is no need for any enduring bond between the sexual mates.  But for those animals whose offspring cannot survive without extensive and prolonged care from both parents, there is a natural need for an enduring pair-bonding of the sexual mates to provide biparental care.  If mothers cannot feed themselves and their offspring without the help of males, because they need the meat provided by male hunting, or if birth-spacing is so short that mothers can often have multiple dependent offspring requiring prolonged care from both parents, then these animals will have a more enduring conjugal bond; and this is true for human beings.  As compared with other animals, human offspring are dependent on adult care for a long period during which the offspring must not only be nourished but also educated, because complex human social life requires a prolonged period of social learning.

In contrast to Locke, Rousseau argued that human beings in the "pure state of nature" were asocial and almost completely solitary animals.  Men and women encountered one another by accident and engaged in sexual intercourse whenever the desire moved them, but they immediately left each other and felt no tie to one another.  Mothers nursed their children for a short period.  But as soon as the children could feed themselves, they left their mother, and they soon would no longer recognize one another.  So while the maternal attachment to children was the one social bond in the state of nature, it was only a momentary bond that created no enduring social recognition (SD, 108, 112, 120-21, 130-31, 137, 142, 147, 216, 219).

In one of the longest notes in the Second Discourse (213-20)--note l--Rousseau quotes the entirety of sections 79-80 of Locke's Second Treatise, where Locke lays out his reasoning for monogamous pair-bonding and biparental care in the state of nature.  Rousseau denies the factual truth of Locke's claims about animal reproduction and parental care, and accuses him of making the same mistake that Hobbes made in projecting what we see in human beings today back into the state of nature.  Today, human beings develop romantic attachments so that they prefer one sexual mate over another, and this can develop into a conjugal bond.  When children are conceived, parents become attached to them and care for them.  But there is no reason to believe that people in the state of nature felt this, Rousseau insists.  In the state of nature, once a man and a woman had satisfied their sexual appetite, they would have separated, with no enduring passion of love.  If the woman conceived a child, there would be no reason for the father to see this as his child.  Thus, in the state of nature, sexual mating was so indiscriminately promiscuous that fathers never recognized their children, and mothers recognized their children only for a short time.  Marriage and family life did not appear until the second stage of human evolution, which Rousseau calls the "nascent society" of the "sociable savage" (SD, 146-52).

Claiming that savage human beings began with "purely animal functions," Rousseau adds a note (note j)--the longest note in the Second Discourse--on the reports of European travelers about the strange variety in the animals and human beings that they have seen around the world (115, 203-13).  They have seen "anthropomorphic animals" that are called orangutans, pongos, or mandrills.  Although these animals have many human traits, most travelers identify them as beasts, but Rousseau suspects that more precise research might conclude that they are remnants of the earliest savage humans.  He thus implies the idea of human evolution from nonhuman animals.  He was the first thinker in the eighteenth century to suggest that humans evolved from apes, and thus he anticipating modern evolutionary theory (Wokler 1976, 1978; Frayling and Wokler 1982).

Travelers have described the characters and customs of the foreign peoples they have seen, but Rousseau suspects that they have not accurately reported how different these foreign cultures are from European culture.  Rousseau complains that these travel reports are coming mostly from sailors, soldiers, merchants, and missionaries, who are not motivated by the intellectual curiosity that would produce precise studies of these foreign animals and human beings.  Rousseau hopes that soon some rich philanthropists will provide the money to support some philosophic scientists who could devote at least ten years of their lives to voyaging around the world and studying the animals and humans they find, and then they could return to write "the natural, moral, and political history" of the animal and human world.

Beginning in the first half of the nineteenth century, scientific travelers like Alexander von Humboldt, Alfred Russel Wallace, and Charles Darwin began the world-wide scientific research that Rousseau had hoped to see (Carroll 2009).  Now, after two centuries of anthropological research and almost a century of primatological research, we now have, for the first time, the scientific knowledge required for clarifying and perhaps resolving the debate between Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau over what human ancestors looked like in the state of nature.  Through the comparative study of behavioral primatology and social anthropology grounded in evolutionary biology, we can reconstruct the natural evolutionary history of human social life from our nonhuman primate ancestors to our prehistoric hunter-gatherer ancestors.

The conclusion that emerges from that study, I argue, is that in their accounts of the state of nature, Locke was mostly right, Rousseau was mostly wrong, and Hobbes was partly right and partly wrong.

Here I will concentrate on the question of whether and how monogamous pair-bonding evolved in the human state of nature as the fundamental element in the universal deep structure of human sociality.  The best single survey of the evidence and argumentation for answering this question is in the work of Bernard Chapais (2008, 2011a, 2011b, 2013), who has shown how the primate evolution of reciprocal exogamy--the exchange of women for marriage between kin groups--made human societies unique among primate societies by integrating local groups through bonds of biological kinship and affinal kinship (the kinship of in-laws).

Despite the diversity of marital arrangements in different human cultures, there is an underlying unity in that all types of marital unions are cultural offshoots of the same biologically natural stem pattern--enduring pair-bonds.  Monogamous, polygynous, polyandrous, and even homosexual marriages are all based on enduring pair-bonds.  In a polygynous marriage, a single man maintains pair-bonds with two or more women.  In a polyandrous marriage, a single woman maintains pair-bonds with two or more men.  Homosexual marriage is same-sex pair-bonding.  In most human societies (over 80%), polygynous marriage has been permitted, although most marriages (over 90%) are monogamous even in societies that permit polygyny.  Thus, most human marriages have been monogamous.

Of course, sexual promiscuity and adultery has been common in all human societies.  But in no human society has promiscuity been the only or the main form of sexual mating.  This separates us from the primate species most closely related to us by evolutionary descent--chimpanzees and bonobos--because they are totally promiscuous, with no enduring pair-bonding.  Other primate species do show enduring pair-bonding--in single monogamous pairs, single polygynous units, single polyandrous units, or multiharem groups of several polygynous units assembled together.  But human pair-bonding mating systems are unique in their bilateral kin recognition (recognizing kin on both the mother's and the father's side) and bilateral affinity (both spouses recognizing their respective in-laws).

Rousseau was wrong in asserting that in the state of nature, savage human beings were solitary animals who mated promiscuously with no enduring social bonds.  Locke was right in recognizing that the earliest human beings were hunter-gatherers who lived in bands of families based on pair-bonded  monogamous or polygynous mating and extensive parental care of children by both mothers and fathers.

Archaeologist anthropologists Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus argue that the evidence generally supports Rousseau's history of human social evolution.  But in making this argument, they silently throw out Rousseau's first stage of human evolution--living as solitary animals--because they begin with what Rousseau saw as the second stage that arose with the establishment of families (Flannery and Marcus 2012, 19-39).

One defense of Rousseau would be to point to his intimation that the savages in the "pure state of nature" were actually orangutans or chimpanzees, from which human hunter-gatherers evolved.  The hunter-gatherer bands studied by anthropologists are organized around families with conjugal love and parental love, but these belong to the second phase of human evolution, according to Rousseau, which he calls "nascent society" (SD, 146-52).

And yet, Rousseau's account of the original state of nature is not even true for chimpanzees or orangutans.  These primates are sexually promiscuous, with no enduring pair-bonding of sexual mates.  But they are not solitary animals, because they show enduring mother-child bonding and other social bonds.  Rousseau is wrong in claiming that when offspring leave their mothers, they no longer recognize one another.  Maternal care and bonding extends beyond weaning.  In most primate species, females stay in their natal group, and males migrate to another group when they reach puberty.  In these species, mother-daughter bonds can extend throughout the lifespan.  With chimpanzees and bonobos, most females leave their natal group at puberty, and males stay.  Here the bond between mothers and their resident sons extend for long periods beyond weaning.

Of all the apes, orangutans are the most solitary, in the sense that most individuals spend most of their time alone.  So they might be the one primate species that most resembles the solitary savage of Rousseau's pure state of nature.  But even they show a social organization.  Mothers care for their offspring, even after weaning.  Orangutans live in loose communities organized around a dominant male.  Mature females tend to settle close to their mothers and sisters.  This social life allows for social learning, which creates cultural traditions that distinguish one orangutan community from another.  Various skills (such as tool use and nest building) and communication signals seem to be passed from generation to generation through social learning.

But while apes are social animals, they do not show the complexity and flexibility of human social structure because they lack the enduring pair-bonding that makes human society possible.  Locke rightly saw the importance of pair-bonding in human hunter-gatherer societies, and he also rightly saw that a major adaptive function of human pair-bonding is the collaboration of mothers and fathers in the parental care of children.  Among hunter-gatherers, pair-bonds are parental partnerships.

Locke recognized the high costs of maternity--in pregnancy, lactation, post-weaning care, and the short birth intervals that make it necessary for mothers to feed more than one child at a time--and that these costs were higher for human beings than other species.  He also recognized that fathers could reduce these costs by helping mothers in caring for their children, particularly through male hunting and sharing of meat with mothers.  Modern anthropological studies of hunter-gatherer bands have confirmed the importance of parental cooperation, which suggests that this was the original evolutionary function of human pair-bonding, as it evolved in the earliest hominid ancestors, such as Australopithecus afarensis (Fisher 1992, 2006; Lovejoy 1981).  High sexual dimorphism (males being much larger than females) is correlated with polygynous mating systems in which males fight with other males in the attempt to monopolize access to females.  Low sexual dimorphism, as is shown by human beings,  is correlated with monogamous mating.  Some paleoanthropologists see evidence that the fossil skeletons of Australopithecus afarensis show low sexual dimorphism comparable to that of human beings, which they interpret as evidence that the earliest hominid ancestors of human beings had turned to monogamous pair-bonding and parental care (Reno et al. 2003; Reno et al. 2010).  This would support Locke's claim that humans in the original state of nature were organized in families of pair-bonded mates cooperating in caring for their children.

Other anthropologists, however, offer a different evolutionary scenario.  They argue that there is growing evidence and argumentation for an evolutionary history of pair-bonding in which stable breeding bonds did not originally evolve for parental care, although that is their present-day adaptive function (Chapais 2008, 157-84).  They assume that our earliest common ancestor with chimpanzees had a chimpanzee-like social structure--the promiscuous multimale-multifemale group.  The question then is what were the evolutionary steps required to reach the present human social structure--the multifamily human group in which most families are monogamous, and a few are polygynous.  Comparison with primate species suggests that there must have been an intermediate stage--the multiharem group in which all families are polygynous, and some males have no mates, which is the social structure of hamadryas and gelada baboons.  This evolutionary history requires two steps.  The first step is from sexual promiscuity to the multiharem group.  The second step is from the multiharem group to the multimonogamous family group (Chapais 2008, 171-84).

The general consensus among paleoanthropologists is that the fossil evidence of Australopithecus afarensis shows high sexual dimorphism, which suggests a polygynous mating system like that of hamadryas and gelada baboons (Gordon et al. 2008; Lockwood et al. 1996; Plavcan et al. 2005).  But in polygynous primate systems, fathers do not help the mothers care for their children.  For males, the benefit of polygynous mating is in guarding their mates from other males.  In fact, for most mammals and primates, both monogamous and polygynous, pair-bonding is primarily a mating arrangement rather than a parental partnership.  In most monogamous species that show cooperative parenting, paternal care has evolved after monogamy was already established (Brotherton and Komers 2003).  Among monogamous primate species, some show direct paternal care (in callitrichids, siamangs, and titi monkeys); but paternal care is not shown in other species (such as gibbons, tarsiers, and lemurs) (van Schaik and Kappeler 2003).

If our hominid ancestors lived in multiharem societies like hamadryas baboons, then we would have to wonder why and how our ancestors eventually moved to the mating system of human hunter-gatherers, with mostly monogamous mating and cooperative parenting.  Chapais points out that hamadryas males differ in their competitive abilities, so that some have big harems, others have smaller harems, and many have none.  If they had roughly the same fighting abilities, fighting would be so costly for them that they would have to give up their harem system.  Chapais (2008, 176-79) suggests that that is what happened when hominid males began to make tools that could be used as weapons.  If all males can use weapons, and perhaps form coalitions, for fighting, this would have a leveling effect that would favor the egalitarianism of monogamy.  This would not completely eliminate polygynous inclinations, but it would constrain those inclinations.  And, indeed, that is what we see in human mating systems.  Many men will seek polygynous mating when they have the power and resources to do this successfully, but most men will have to settle for monogamy.

But why should these hominid males care for their children?  Chapais's answer is that pair-bonding was a preadaptation for the evolution of paternal care.  Once males were monogamously pair-bonded with their mates, then they would probably share food with the family; and as the feeding and caring for the children exceeded the abilities of the mothers, fathers could specialize in hunting large animals, while mothers could gather plants and small animals.

As a consequence of that deep evolutionary history, we can now see the biochemistry of monogamy and parental cooperation in the human brain and endocrine system (Fisher 2006; Brizendine 2006, 2010).

If the human state of nature is identified as the life of the earliest members of Homo sapiens, then all of this research in evolutionary anthropology confirms Locke's account of humans in the state of nature as egalitarian hunter-gatherers living in pair-bonded monogamous families where mothers and fathers cooperated in caring for their children.  But if the human state of nature is identified as the life of  hominids who evolved prior to the emergence of Homo sapiens, then there is disagreement about whether the human pattern of pair-bonded families with parental cooperation can be found in those earliest hominid species.  The crucial debate over whether the hominid fossil record shows a human-like pattern of sexual dimorphism in hominid species, which would suggest monogamous pair-bonding and parental cooperation, cannot be resolved because the fossil record is too fragmentary and sparse.  Another problem is that the causes and functions of sexual dimorphism are so complex that they are hard to interpret.  For example, sexual dimorphism depends on both male traits and female traits, and so it's hard to know whether dimorphism has arisen from male traits, from female traits, or from both (Plavcan 2011, 2012).


Brizendine, Louann. 2006. The Female Brain. New York: Morgan Road Books.

Brizendine, Louann. 2010. The Male Brain. New York: Harmony Books.

Brotherton, Peter, and Komers, Petr. 2003. "Mate Guarding and the Evolution of Social Monogamy in Mammals," in Ulrich Reichard and Christophe Boesch, eds., Monogamy: Mating Strategies and Partnerships in Birds, Humans, and Other Mammals (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 42-58.

Carroll, Sean B. 2009. Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species (Boston: Houghten Mifflin Harcourt).

Chapais, Bernard. 2008. Primeval Kinship: How Pair-Bonding Gave Birth to Human Society (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Chapais, Bernard. 2011a. "Understanding Dimorphism as a Function of Changes in Male and Female Traits," Evolutionary Anthropology 20: 143-55.

Chapais, Bernard. 2011b. "The Deep Social Structure of Humankind." Science 331: 1276-1277.

Chapais, Bernard 2012. "Sexual Size Dimorphism, Canine Dimorphism, and Male-Male Competition in Primates: Where Do Humans Fit In?" Human Nature 23: 45-67.

Fisher, Helen. 1992. Anatomy of Love: The Natural History of Monogamy, Adultery, and Divorce. New York: Norton.

Fisher, Helen. 2006. Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. New York: Henry Holt.

Flannery, Kent, and Marcus, Joyce. 2012. The Creation of Inequality: How Our Prehistoric Ancestors Set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery, and Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

Frayling, Christopher, and Wokler, Robert. 1982. "From the Orangutan to the Vampire: Towards an Anthropology of Rousseau," in R. A. Leigh, ed., Rousseau After 200 Years (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 109-29.

Gordon, A. D., Green, D. J., and Richmond, B. G. 2008. "Strong Postcranial Size Dimorphism in Australopithecus afarensis: Results from Two New Resampling Methods for Multivariate Data Sets with Missing Data." American Journal of Physical Anthropology 135: 311-28.

Lockwood, C. A., Richmond, B. G., Jungers, W. L., and Kimbel, W. H. 1996. "Randomization Procedures and Sexual Dimorphism in Australopithecus afarensis." Journal of Human Evolution 31: 537-48.

Lovejoy, C. O. 1981. "The Origin of Man." Science 211: 341-50.

Plavcan, J. Michael. 2011. "Understanding Dimorphism as a Function of Changes in Male and Female Traits." Evolutionary Anthropology 20: 143-55.

Plavcan, J. Michael. 2012. "Sexual Size Dimorphism, Canine Dimorphism, and Male-Male Competition in Primates: Where Do Humans Fit In?" Human Nature 23: 45-67.

Plavcan, J. Michael, Lockwood, C. A., Kimbel, W. H., Lague, M. R., and Harmon, E. H. 2005. "Sexual Dimorphism in Australopithecus afarensis Revisited: How Strong is the Case for a Human-Like Pattern of Dimorphism?" Journal of Human Evolution 48: 313-20.

Reno, P. L., Meindl, R. S., McCollum, M. A., and Lovejoy, C. O. 2003. "Sexual Dimorphism in Australopithecus afarensis Was Similar to that of Modern Humans." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 100: 9404-9409.

Reno, P. L., McCollum, M. A., Meindl, R. S., and Lovejoy, C. O. 2010. "An Enlarged Postcranial Sample Confirms Australopithecus afarensis Dimorphism Was Similar to Modern Humans." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 365: 3355-3363.

van Schaik, Carel P, and Kappeler, Peter M. 2003. "The Evolution of Social Monogamy in Primates." In Ulrich H. Reichard and Christophe Boesch, eds., Monogamy: Mating Strategies and Partnerships in Birds, Humans, and Other Mammals, 59-80. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wokler, Robert. 1976. "Tyson and Buffon on the Orangutan."  Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 155: 2301-2319.

Wokler, Robert. 1978. "Perfectible Apes in Decadent Cultures: Rousseau's Anthropology Revisited." Daedalus 107: 111-17.

Some of these points have been developed in other posts here, here, here, here, and here.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Did Leo Strauss Think that Liberalism's Success Denied the Need for Esoteric Writing?

I have written a series of posts--here, here, and here-- about Arthur Melzer's book Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing.  Some of the writing in those posts is included in an article--"Does Modern Liberalism's Success Deny the Need for Esoteric Writing and Thus Refute Strauss?"--that has just been published in Perspectives on Political Science (July/September, 2015). 

This entire issue of PPS is devoted to a symposium of essays on Melzer's book edited by Peter Minowitz.  The other authors are Francis Fukuyama, Norma Thompson, Catherine Zuckert, Michael Zuckert, Michael Frazer, Adrian Blau, Douglas Burnham, Miguel Vatter, Roslyn Weiss, Grant Havers, and Peter Augustine Lawler.  The next issue of PPS will have four or five new articles on the book and Melzer's response to the entire symposium.  (If you have access to any good academic library, you should be able to download PPS.)

My main idea is that Melzer's book points to a contradiction in Leo Strauss's account of esoteric writing.  On the one hand, Strauss seems to agree with the pre-modern view that esoteric writing is necessary and desirable because of the natural conflict between the philosophic life of the few and the moral, religious, or political life of the many.  On the other hand, Strauss seems to agree with the modern view that in a liberal or open society, there is no natural conflict between the philosophic life and the practical life, and therefore esoteric writing is unnecessary and undesirable.

None of the other authors in the PPS symposium explicitly recognize this contradiction.  But some of them do implicitly point to it.  Some of them say that Strauss  agrees with the pre-modern view of the philosophic life as the only naturally good life, as a life for a few human beings that must conflict with the practical life of the many, and therefore esoteric writing is necessary and desirable to keep these opposing lives from harming one another.  And yet some of these authors also say that Strauss endorses modern liberal democracy in establishing open societies in which esoteric writing is no longer necessary or desirable, because complete freedom of thought and speech does not weaken the social order of a liberal society.

So far, I have not seen anyone who can clear up this apparent contradiction in Strauss's writing.  Nor have I seen anyone who can plausibly deny that modern liberalism really has succeeded in creating a largely open society with no need for esoteric writing.  In such a society, the philosophic life is not the only naturally good life restricted to a few, but it is rather one of the natural goods of life that is open to all human beings.  On this point, I agree with Lawler, who writes:
"As St. Augustine says, action and contemplation are for all of us.  Even Socrates should have practiced the virtues of generosity and charity and parental responsibility, and all of us should have some time--because we're all given the inward inclination--to contemplate the truth about who each of us is and what we're born to do.  This line of thinking is the way both to restore the dignity of liberal education and to recover the truthful foundation of the rights we all cherish.  The bottom line: I don't think we should practice esoteric writing, and I don't think it ever faithfully or unambiguously served the truth.  Truths that Melzer presents as once esoteric and now inauthentic commonplaces among sophisticates (e.g., that love is an illusion and suffering is meaningless) turn out not to be true, deep down, after all" (203).

Lawler has responded to this post on his "Postmodern Conservative" blog.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The Evolution of Adam

Can a Christian be a Darwinian?

Yes, I think so, but it all depends on how one interprets Christianity and how one interprets Darwinism.  If you think Christianity requires that one reads the Bible as literally true in everything it says, or if you think that Darwinian science denies the existence of God as the Creator of nature, then you must think that a Christian cannot be a Darwinian.

But I don't think that Christians have to read the Bible as literally true in all that it says.  In fact, no reasonable Christian can do this, because the Bible makes some claims that are contradictory, some claims that are clearly poetic imagery rather than literal assertions, and some claims that are clearly false if interpreted literally.

And I don't think that Darwinian science necessarily denies the existence of the Creator.  It is possible to be a theistic evolutionist.  Darwin left that open as a possibility by embracing the idea of dual causality--the idea that natural science studies the secondary causes that govern the natural universe, but not the primary causes that originate from the Creator.  So while Darwin rejected what he called "the theory of special creation"--the theory that the Creator had to miraculously intervene into nature to create every form of life--Darwin accepted the possibility that the Creator was the First Cause of the laws of nature through which every form of life evolved.

Catholic Christians generally and many Protestant Christians have had no difficulty in embracing theistic evolutionism.  But most fundamentalist or evangelical Protestants have rejected this position because they assume that the Bible must be read as literally true, and that Darwinian science must deny this literal truth of the Bible in its claims about the natural history of the universe and humanity.

I am pleased to see, however, that some evangelical Christians are beginning to accept theistic evolution.  One can see this, for example, in the debate over whether Christians must believe that Adam and Eve were real human beings--the first human beings created by God, who sinned in disobeying God, and who passed on their original sin as an inheritance of all human beings who are descended from them.  The various positions in this debate are well represented in a symposium on the "historical Adam" at the website of Books and Culture, a journal sponsored by Christianity Today, the leading evangelical magazine.

Hans Madueme and William Vandoodewaard speak for the Calvinist Reformed tradition in asserting that orthodox Christianity requires a belief in the literal historical reality of Adam and of original sin as the product of Adam's disobedience, which means that Christians cannot accept Darwinian evolution as a true account of human origins.

The other commentators argue the other side--that no reasonable Christian can believe in the historical reality of Adam.  There are two reasons for this.  First, a reading of the first few chapters of Genesis as compared with other ancient creation stories make it clear that these stories were mythic accounts of the origins of the universe and human beings that are not believable today.  So, for example, the Genesis story assumes a three-tiered vision of the universe with a solid firmament (containing the Sun, the Moon, and the stars) separating Heaven and the waters above from the waters below and the Earth below, and with an underworld under the surface of the Earth.  No reasonable person today believes this to be accurate.  And yet a Christian can affirm the truth of Christian theology without having to affirm the truth of this ancient view of the universe.

Second, evolutionary science shows that human beings evolved from primate ancestors over millions of years, and therefore the belief in the historical Adam as created in the Garden of Eden must be rejected.  The truths of modern natural science can be embraced by Christians as manifestations of God's general revelation through nature as distinguished from His special revelation through the Bible.  Galileo defended this "two books" approach--the book of God's Word and the book of God's works--to show that Christians could affirm the Copernican view of the solar system as superior to the geocentric view of the Bible.

Madueme does make a good point, however, that once we deny the historical truth of Adam, it's hard to see why we shouldn't deny the historical truth of everything else in the Bible, including the historical truth of Jesus and his resurrection.  "We're told that we can't affirm a historical Adam because it's scientifically unbelievable, but why then trust Paul on the resurrection when that, too, is scientifically unbelievable? Or, to flip the script, if we believe the resurrection, then a historical Adam is no biggie."

But surely Madueme would not say that if we believe the resurrection, then a geocentric universe is no biggie.

Other posts on these issues can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The Empirical Falsifiability of Kennedy's Natural Law Reasoning for Gay Marriage

Natural law reasoning is an empirical science insofar as it makes falsifiable predictions about the failure of laws that deny human nature.  So, for example, if one agrees with Robert George and others that the monogamous marriage of a man and a woman is the only kind of marriage that can secure the two natural ends of marriage--conjugal bonding and parental care of children--and that same-sex marriage is not real marriage because it cannot secure these two natural ends, then one can predict that legalizing gay marriage will fail because it cannot satisfy the natural human desires for marital bonding and parental care.  Justice Kennedy agrees that marital arrangements are to be judged by whether they can achieve these two natural ends, but he argues that same-sex marriages can be as successful as opposite-sex marriages in securing these two ends.

Now that Obergefell v. Hodges has established gay marriage as a national constitutional right, we can begin to accumulate the evidence for deciding between these two falsifiable predictions--George's prediction that gay marriage will fail and Kennedy's prediction that it will succeed.  But in the responses to the Obergefell decision that I have seen, I have not seen many people making this point.

Consider the symposium on Kennedy's opinion at the First Things website, which shows the wide range of responses from conservative Christians and Jews.  Many of the writers here insist that they are defending truth against the lie of the LBGT agenda.  The lie, according to Patrick Deneen is "that the conjugal view of marriage has as little basis in reason or nature as denial of basic rights to people based upon the color of their skin.  The analogy's success has relied upon the loud and insistent demand that we not notice, nor regard as relevant or germane, the fact that men and women are different, and most importantly, that their sexual union is oriented toward reproduction."

Here Dineen rightly points to the central constitutional argument in Kennedy's decision.  In Loving v. Virginia (1967), state laws prohibiting biracial marriage were struck down as violating the 14th Amendment's protection of liberty and equality.  It was declared that marriage was "one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men," and that this included the right to marry someone of a different race.  When some homosexuals argued that excluding same-sex couples from marriage was unconstitutional for the same reason that excluding biracial couples from marriage was unconstitutional, the Court rejected this reasoning in Baker v. Nelson (1972).  Kennedy's decision overturns Baker v. Nelson in declaring that same-sex couples have the same right to marry as biracial couples.

The debate over biracial marriage was part of the debate over slavery prior to the Civil War.  Abraham Lincoln's critics argued that his appeal to equality of rights in condemning slavery as morally wrong would dictate an equal right to biracial marriage.  Lincoln responded, particularly in the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, by insisting that he had never argued for the equal right of white men to marry black women.  This is often cited as showing Lincoln's racism, but the careful way in which he spoke suggests that he could not endorse biracial marriage in 1858, because of the racial bigotry of his times, although future changes in cultural attitudes might eventually make it possible to have something like the Loving decision.  This is the sort of moral and constitutional progress over time that Kennedy relies on.

But while conservative Christians today accept the legalization of biracial marriages as moral and constitutional progress, they reject the reasoning by analogy that would extend this to gay marriages, because legalizing biracial marriages in Loving still adhered to the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

Now, at least, we can clarify if not resolve this debate by looking at the evidence.  Now we can look at our experience with one-race heterosexual marriages, two-race heterosexual marriages, and same-sex marriages to see how well they achieve the natural ends of marriage--conjugal bonding and parental care.

My prediction is that same-sex marriages can at least approximate opposite-sex marriages in securing these natural ends.  In the First Things symposium, Wesley Hill points to this idea.  He refers to a book by the gay journalist Jonathan Rauch--Denial: My Twenty-Five Years Without a Soul.  Rauch says that his life as a solitary homosexual was empty until he decided that he had a right to marry.  "They and he have found, at last, a name for his soul.  It is not monster or eunuch.  Nor indeed homosexual.  It is: husband."

Hill says that that last sentence of Rauch's book "left a lump in my throat."  "His portrayal of marriage as the main place to find dignity, belonging, and the end of loneliness sounds eerily similar to the view of marriage promoted in otherwise orthodox, traditional Christian churches.  In countless sermons, songs, Bible studies, and informal pew-side conversations, I heard that message like the peal of a gong: singleness equals alienation, marriage means home."

So is gay marriage "eerily similar" to heterosexual marriage in the natural needs that it satisfies? 

If the writers for this First Things symposium are right, the constitutional right to same-sex marriage will not end Rauch's loneliness and lead him home, because it's impossible for same-sex marriage to fulfill the natural desire for conjugal bonding.  Nor will same-sex marriage fulfill the natural desire for parental care, because it's impossible for a same-sex couple to provide properly for the well-being of children.

And yet, of the 23 writers in this symposium, Mark Regnerus is the only one to explicitly state a falsifiable prediction of gay marriage's failure: "marriage is a conservative institution and ultimately indestructible.  Hence an attempted alteration of the sort we are witnessing won't work."  He predicts that while the rate of gay marriage will rise over the next few years, the rate will decline dramatically over the next 15 years as gays discover that gay marriage doesn't work.

Regnerus is an interesting case, because he's a sociologist at the University of Texas who has published a study claiming to show that young adults reared by gay parents are not as well off as those reared by heterosexual parents. He found those raised by gay parents were more likely to have problems — welfare dependence, less education, marijuana use — than young adults from stable families led by heterosexuals. But he later acknowledged that his study didn't include children raised by same-sex couples in a stable relationship, and that provoked criticisms from people who claimed that this was a flawed and biased study.  He was one of the people offering expert testimony in the Michigan case that was appealed to the Supreme Court and became part of the Obergefell decision.  In his testimony, Regnerus said that there is not enough rigorous research to justify any firm conclusions about the effects of gay parenting on children.  In any case, this points to the possibility that empirical research could settle some of the debate over gay marriage.

Here is his original article.  Here is his response to his critics.  And here is a piece in Slate on the debate over his research.

There is another falsifiable prediction here.  Robert George and others predict that when the governmental licensing of marriage is not restricted to the "real marriage" of a man and a woman open to reproduction and caring for children, this will destroy the traditional institution of marriage.  Oddly, this contradicts George's argument that marriage is created not by government but by nature.