Happiness and Instinct (The Mistake of Man, Part 1)

I said in my previous post that evolution is too simple because it answers the wrong questions. But it is too simple for another reason, and that is evolution is entirely incapable of explaining human behavior. In a thousand ways, the behavior of man contradicts evolutionary ideas. One example of this, one of many, is the societal attitude toward children.

The one thing that evolutionary philosophy and Christianity really agree on is that children are good and desirable. From a Christian perspective, children are the result of loving union between man and wife. They are also a product of obedience to God’s command to be fruitful and multiply. While the Christian philosophy of family is too large to develop here, it is sufficient to say that Christianity views children as a blessing and not a curse.

From an evolutionary perspective, children are valued because the purpose of all life is propagation. If a species survives to another generation, it has succeeded. The point of all adaptation and evolution is to minimize the chances of extinction.

I’ve heard evolutionary psychologists try to explain the mysterious attraction between men and women using this reasoning. Men are attracted to younger women with certain anatomical traits, they say, because it means they are more likely to be fertile and produce more offspring (the obvious irony being that the modern ideal of beauty is that which is least likely to produce many children). Women are attracted to men that are wealthy, handsome, and strong because they will be more likely to provide sustenance for their large families. All the complexities of human attraction and love are explained by the simple evolutionary principles of survival and propagation.

But the problem is, this reasoning is contradicted in every way by experience. Evolutionary philosophy would predict the employment of every means possible to produce larger and larger families. What we see in actuality is every means possible employed to prevent them. The most obvious example of this is the terribly anti-evolutionary practice of abortion. In a philosophical system that places survival and propagation as the highest ideals, the destruction of one’s own offspring is the most atrocious crime. If evolutionary ethics were capable of outlining mortal sins, abortion would certainly be the worst. Abortion rebels against every evolutionary ideal.

Abortion, and contraception, is not without its consequences–consequences that illustrate just how anti-evolutionary it is. Studies show the birth rate in industrialized countries is declining at an alarming rate. In some countries, they are even falling below replacement levels. This trend is ultimately unsustainable. The very thing evolution must prevent at all costs–extinction–is being brought about by the supposed advancement of the human species.

My point here is not to debate the rightness or wrongness of abortion or birth-control. It is simply to point out that human behavior is highly inconsistent with evolutionary principles.  This is because man is not really after survival at all–man is after happiness. If happiness can be attained, through sex or any other means, evolutionary ideals will be sacrificed in an instant. And this is exactly what we see happening. Mankind is chasing after happiness, and not propagation, with reckless and self-destructive abandon. Evolution as a theory remains in vogue simply because it removes the inconvenient moral limitations and responsibilities of theism. These, it is supposed, would interfere with the all consuming quest for happiness. Evolution is not an explanation, it’s an excuse.

Man was made for happiness, and for evolutionary philosophy, this is a real problem. Why would evolution bestow upon its supposed crowning achievement a desire for something that leads it to destroy the evolutionary process?  It wouldn’t. And this leaves us with two options: either man is not an evolutionary animal, or he is evolution’s gravest mistake.

4 thoughts on “Happiness and Instinct (The Mistake of Man, Part 1)

  1. Your confusion about evolution and it’s manifestations in human behavior are, in your case, probably best explained in biblical terms. In my discussions with Christians of all denominations, I have heard on numerous occasions that the laws of God are “written on the human heart”. This means that, according to your beliefs, every human being has a divinely inspired code of ethics “hardwired” in to their soul/mind/heart/whatever. Yet, people commit murder. People steal. People–even those who believe that their heart really does have a legal code written on it–CHOOSE to act contrary to that legal code.

    In the same way, evolution has programmed us all with an innate set of instincts directed toward the goal of reproduction. All human beings feel these instincts in the form of sex drive, the female’s “biological clock”, etc. How we CHOOSE to either observe or NOT observe these instincts, however, is a matter of personal choice. Evolution does not negate free will.

  2. Hi John,
    I understand that evolution doesn’t negate free will. My point is not that humans are unable to choose to contradict evolution; my point is, why would we want to? We would only choose to contradict evolution because we see a greater good than evolution, namely happiness. And happiness, as well as a desire for it, is a thing that evolution cannot explain. This led me to my concluding comment that evolution would not bestow on us a desire for something that would lead us to disobey evolutionary instincts.

    In the animal world, we see that all animal desires obey the laws of nature. No lion has ever exercised its free will to become a vegetarian. Its animal will is completely subject to its evolutionary instincts. It only desires what its supposed to desire, namely to eat animals weaker than itself.

    Human will, however, is apparently subject to higher laws, and higher desires, than the laws of instinct. You could even say human will is super-natural. We desire things that are contrary to nature because we are not purely natural creatures.

    From a Christian perspective, we call disobedience to spiritual laws sin. A fallen nature is the cause. Evolution has no such concept, and therefore cannot explain why we would choose to rebel against our supposed evolutionary instincts.

    Again, I’m saying humans are incapable of choosing. I am saying, from a purely evolutionary perspective, we would never choose to contradict evolution. No other animal exercises its will to do so. Why should man? Which leads me to the point that man operates by different laws than merely evolutionary laws.

    I plan to follow up this post with further examples of how mankind contradicts evolution. Maybe you could respond to that post as well once it’s written.

  3. Even though it has nothing to do with evolution, the issue of human happiness, it’s pursuit, and the way that the pursuit can be the fuel for great achievement or terrible waste was explored by Ayn Rand in “The Virtue of Selfishness” far better than I could hope to accomplish here. I would encourage you to read it if you have the chance (just the first chapter would be sufficient to address your questions if Rand isn’t your thing).

    You’re right that human beings, generally, don’t actively pursue the goals of evolution but, instead, pursue the goals of happiness. You have to understand, however, that in nature, the two are inextricably linked. Pain and Pleasure are the basic barometer by which animals can determine whether an action is good for them or bad for them. This usually means what will cause them to come closer to death or closer to life with the goal of reproduction. In humans, however, our mastery of technology and the ability to reason has led to a curious modern state of affairs. We have the ability to exploit the barometer and shortcut our way to the pleasure reaction without actually committing the beneficial act–or accepting the responsibility of the act. Sex is the perfect example. Sex feels good and we crave it because evolution has programmed us to want to have sex in order to make children. As neanderthalls, this worked great. We boinked our brains out and raised lots of kids. Today, though, we have figured out how to game the system. We use contraception and abortion and the rhythm method and a whole host of other methods to achieve the pleasure of sex without the responsibility of parenthood. Evolution gave us happiness and pleasure as the bait to lure us in IT’S direction of purpose–reproduction. Human beings, however, do not PURSUE evolution. It is the byproduct of our pursuit of pleasure–and we have figured out, to some degree how to circumvent it.

    I look forward to reading your next post on this topic.

  4. It will be a few days before I can get around to writing another post. In the mean time, I would like to give you something to think about. That is simply that pleasure is not synonymous with happiness. That definition is far too simple. Stimulated nerve endings can not produce ultimate happiness.

    There are people who have every pleasure and enjoyment that money can buy, and yet are really quite miserable. Some of the wealthiest people–the people who can buy all the pleasures, and who by your definition should be the happiest–are empty and hollow. An example off the top of my head is Michael Jordan. He has everything, and yet by all accounts he is an empty and miserable man. That is because every pleasure we can enjoy is not ultimately satisfying. It is simply pointing to a higher pleasure, a pleasure that is more fundamental and more human, and a pleasure that cannot be attained through purely physical means.

    Happiness is not pleasure. Happiness is an ultimately spiritual thing, and something evolution cannot explain through chemical reactions and nerve impulses. If happiness were a purely physical phenomenon, life would be much simpler and much easier for the human species. We would simply drug and stimulate ourselves into a state of bliss. But it’s not that simple.

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