Friday, July 31, 2015

How many similarities do you need to link one rights movement with another?


How many similarities do you need to link one rights movement with another?

Freedom for U.S. slaves was a lengthy process and even after they were emancipated, civil rights were not codified in law until a century later. A key word here is law because attitudes are slow to change even when laws set limits on behavior. The battle against racism continues.

Leaders supporting and opposing same-sex marriage and other rights and protections for sexual minorities have referred to the civil rights movement. Some assert similarities. Others point to differences. The statements are often intensified by emotional rhetoric shrunken to bite-sized statements suitable for T-shirts and video clips.

The civil rights arguments are not just academic because the reasons come with powerful emotions attached. One can easily imagine students being asked to write an essay about the subject. And I can imagine some professors having a difficult time grading such work if they have a strong personal opinion.

From a psychological perspective, there are some potent differences and similarities that I do not find in the political debate. I’ll point out one group of issues dealing with identity.


Both groups have been subject to degraded social identities in many world cultures. Whatever dignity each person—African slave or LGBT—may have constructed, it is clear that many if not most members of the majority did not accord them an identity worthy of a human being. Justice Thomas notably commented that government cannot take away dignity and referred to U.S. slavery and internment camps. I'm not sure how Justice Thomas uses the word dignity but it seems to me that at least the government refused to acknowledge the dignity of African slaves and LGBT persons.

Rights for African-Americans 

For U.S. slaves and their descendants, the history of dehumanization is so clear that it is almost impossible to believe some people considered other persons as simply property that can be bought and sold. The social identity accorded slaves was less than human. Markers of social identity were destroyed: names, religious heritage, African heritage, and marriage and family relationships.

Religious factors were mixed through the centuries. For many, religion is a part of one’s identity. The religious beliefs and practices of Africans were not acceptable.  And the religious beliefs of many in the U.S. were interpreted to permit slavery—with the only advice to treat slaves kindly. Following emancipation, segregation within U.S. churches remains the rule. Recently, some churches have apologized.

For African-Americans, the path to equality has been long and filled with obstructions. Prejudice remains. Conflicts with police, gun violence, churches on fire, and hate speech continue.

           How does anyone maintain a semblance of dignity and worth against such odds?

Rights for LGBT persons

Dehumanization for LGBT persons has been different unless they look like the European majority and remain closeted about their sexuality.

So if they look like a European and hide their sexuality, LGBT persons can enjoy the same social identity roles as many of their heterosexual peers through the ages. But if they disclose their sexual orientation; they too are subject to dehumanization. Coming out of the closet exposes LGBT persons to degrading comments, discrimination, and even violence. If they are African-American and identify as LGBT then they take a double hit from the majority (example).

The sexual orientation closet is a metaphorical shackle with real constraints.
Out of the closet, LGBT persons have some human rights but until 2015 only some in the U.S. had the right to marry someone they loved. Some people want nothing to do with LGBT persons even if they do not openly abuse them. Sexuality and relationships are very important to identity.

Religion plays a different role in the lives of LGBT persons than in the lives of African-Americans. News sources document the official positions of religious groups as well as the unofficial opinions of outspoken leaders. Until recently, the majority opinion has been that same-sex activity is sinful. Those who engage in other than heterosexual practices are perverts. And Christians ought to separate themselves from people who practice immorality.

Although some churches are beginning to welcome LGBT persons, many Christian churches, schools, and businesses will not welcome LGBT persons as members of a couple or family. The emerging rule for conservative Christians is, you can be out of the closet about the sexual aspect of your identity but you must be celibate unless you are in a heterosexual marriage. I doubt Christians have given much thought to how this works out for those identifying as bisexual or transgender.

How does anyone maintain a semblance of dignity and worth against such odds?

Both groups have been subject to dehumanization and legal restrictions. Both groups have been subject to actual and threatened violence.

What About People Who...

There are people who have additional struggles to access the benefits in society accorded the majority. Add to the prejudice against African-Americans and LGBT persons, the persistent struggles of women and people with disabilities. And add in those who do not identify as a Christian—or worse, those who identify as an atheist. Life options are pretty limited regardless of what the law says.

Hiding some aspect of one’s identity may be the only safe way to travel through life in many world cultures.

It seems to me arguments about similarities or differences between the pain and suffering experienced by one disenfranchised group and another is a distraction from efforts to ensure that all people have equal access to the protections and benefits afforded other members of a nation.

Everyone moves forward when an injustice is uncovered and delegitimized, and the associated destructive attitudes are held up for scrutiny.

But there are exceptions that justify a special national focus. The Black Lives Matter movement is a matter of life and death at this point in U.S. history.

Discrimination against LGBT persons must end and it deserves its own focus.

Links to related news stories, blogs, and SCOTUS


Friday, July 24, 2015

How Can Christians Integrate Faith & Evolution?

Creation and Evolution:

How Do Christians
Bridge the Gap?

As noted in my previous two posts, the famous Scopes Trial was 90 years ago.

The issues at the heart of the 1925 trial continue to divide U.S. Christians.

My focus in the previous posts was a consideration of how evolution informs an understanding of psychology in general and the psychology of religion in particular.

My focus in this post is to consider why evolution is such a divisive issue for a substantial minority of Christians and what, if anything, may be done to reduce the acrimony and promote peace.

A few days ago, news stories appeared about the resignation of respected evangelical philosophy professor, Jim Stump. Stump is a philosopher of science with a degree from Boston University. His former employer, Bethel College (Indiana), prepared a statement on human origins. The resignation appears to have occurred peacefully. Here’s a quote from the ChristianPost.

"In considering this corporate commitment, I decided to resign from my position at Bethel in order to pursue alternate work, rather than remain under the new statement and bring tension to the Bethel community," noted Stump, who stressed that his resignation was completely his decision.

"While there are recent reports in national media describing the dismissal of faculty at religious institutions over origins, it should be clear that I initiated my own resignation; I was never asked to resign from Bethel College. In fact, many Bethel leaders have been extraordinarily supportive of me throughout this lengthy process of arriving at the statement," he said.

5 Christian Tribal Beliefs

Key beliefs about creation separate Christians into different groups. At least five groups can be identified. The differences are often presented in two major ways. First, each group presents reasons for their belief and second, each group explains why the beliefs of another group are wrong.

1. Young Earth Creationism (YEC). God created the earth about 6,000 years ago. God created life. Humans did not evolve from other life forms. I have heard quite a few U.S. Christians talk about creation in near literal terms. You can learn more about creationism at the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

2. Old Earth Creationism (OEC). Those supporting OEC affirm the scientific evidence that the earth is billions of years old. OEC finds the biblical narrative consistent with scientific evidence when the “days” referred to in Genesis chapter 1 represent lengthy periods of time. Essentially, a day is a metaphor. Creation can take place over long periods of time. Another belief held by some has been called the “Gap Theory.” The idea is that there are two accounts of creation in Genesis. And a lot of unrecorded events happened between the two creation stories. I learned about the gap theory from my dad’s Scofield Bible—I guess I was about 11 or 12 years of age. The gap idea seemed good for a brief time.

3. Intelligent Design. Some view ID as creationism in disguise. People do not need to be a Christian to believe in intelligent design but the idea of God creating people and the universe fits the idea Christians have of God as a master designer. The idea is appealing to many. People tend to focus on the majesty of nature or the incredible details of how humans function. It just seems plausible to believe in a Divine Maker. The science of evolution seems strange. The philosophical problems are probably too abstract for many. The Discovery Institute offers the following statement.

“The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

4. Evolutionary Creationism (EC). The viewpoint of EC can be found on the website. I refer to them below as one perspective offering a bridge. I suspect EC will appeal to many educated Christians.

EC is a “Big Tent” approach.
With EC, Christians get to have
their evangelical cake
without denying the findings of science.

The narratives of the Bible are not dismissed. My take is there are various ideas about how to take a nonliteral view of the Genesis creation narratives. Following is a quote from their website.

At BioLogos, we present the Evolutionary Creationism (EC) viewpoint on origins. Like all Christians, we fully affirm that God is the creator of all life—including human beings in his image. We fully affirm that the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God. We also accept the science of evolution as the best description for how God brought about the diversity of life on earth.

5. Theistic Evolution (TE). There’s some variety of belief but essentially, Christians who accept the TE view believe that God had a role in the origin of the universe, including the origins of life. In my view, TE is like EC without evangelical doctrine. TE can accommodate many religious persons who believe in God and accept scientific explanations about the origins of the universe and life.

5 Factors Influencing
Christian Acceptance of Evolution

1. Life is sacred. The belief that God took time to create an individual human being named Adam imbues Adam and all of mankind with a high level of worth. The idea that all humans evolved from less complex life forms seems so demeaning.

People hate to be “treated like animals.” Some animals are associated with dirt, filth, and disease (pigs, rodents). The psychology of disgust is a well-known motivational force behind the rejection of all things unholy and degrading.

We can expect Christians who believe in evolution to include sacred words and quotes to make the belief in evolution more palatable—less subject to rejection. Sacred phrases like “God’s creation,” “made in God’s image,” and “God as creator” will be crucial to expanding the acceptance of evolution in Christian colleges, organizations, and churches.

2. Guilt by association. Many of the proponents of evolution are atheists—people to be avoided if you want to keep your faith. Some creationists have presented beliefs in creation as a test of faith. The guilt by association problem is psychological rather than philosophical. Evolution is tainted by association with atheists. Christians “touching” evolution will be contaminated. The psychology of disgust is a factor explaining the contamination effect. When this contamination factor is enhanced by the need to defend one’s faith, powerful righteous motives arise. These motives are connected to multiple moral reasons based on protecting kin from harm, respecting authority, being loyal to one’s faith, and protecting that which is holy and sacred.

Biologists like Richard Dawkins intensify the need to keep a safe distance when he attacks not only creation narratives but also beliefs in God and other tenets of Christianity. And it doesn’t matter that Charles Darwin believed in God—his faith isn’t good enough for contemporary evangelicals. The lesson: If you believe in evolution you must also be an atheist.

3. Metaphors make mayhem. From a psychological perspective, the warnings of young earth creationists make sense. Once you open the door to a nonliteral interpretation of Genesis, you open the door to heresy. The proponents of YEC see themselves as defenders of the faith against atheism. The devil comes in different forms from Darwin to Dawkins. I find most Christians are creative in the reasons they give for not taking a particular part of the Bible literally. Some ignore troubling Bible passages. Others explain troublesome texts by creating elaborate explanations that allow for the text to be true in a nonliteral way.

Not surprisingly, the whole debate has an effect on young Christians. Barna reports nearly a quarter of youth are turned off by the creation-evolution debate. Whatever the actual “turn-off” percentages are, Christian churches and colleges that insist evolution does not explain the origins of life are sure to lose many young people interested in the sciences and philosophy.

I recall the story of a bright young man who has invested money in books about creation. He had what sounded to me like a conversion experience—he abruptly turned his back on the whole issue and destroyed his books. I wanted to learn more but he clearly did not want to talk about it.

Most Christians seem unaware of the metaphors they do accept when reading the Bible. A heightened awareness of metaphors might help some integrate science and faith.

4. Fear factor. Some U.S. Christian leaders engender fear that Christianity is under attack. There are enough stories in the news supporting their claims. Christians are being killed because of their faith. Long-held positions of the Christian church about marriage and male-female roles have been upended by new laws and court rulings. In this context, evolution is another attack on faith.

Fear has at least another important role too. Many Christian colleges and universities are strapped for funds. They are dependent on donations from the faithful for their very existence. No faculty member or high ranking employee in such institutions can speak against a conservative view of creation unless they want to risk losing their job. Many are underpaid and have families. Fear of job loss is real. So we’ll never really know how many Christian professors accept evolution—it’s just too risky to be honest unless one’s views are consistent with the official views of the college and the majority of its stakeholders.

5. Sunk-costs. I think it is nearly impossible to persuade a Young or Old Earth Creationist to accept the findings of evolution. Many creationists have invested great quantities of time learning about the details of their viewpoint and the supposed problems with evolution. Many have invested money in the purchase of books and videos. And some have donated funds supporting creationist organizations. Their investment represents evidence of a strong commitment that will not be dislodged by information from nonauthoritative sources—that is, any source that appears to contradict the Bible. Sunk-costs is a psychological principle derived from studies showing how people continue to pursue a course of action after investing so much in a particular endeavor.


I’ve wondered how Christians could bridge the gap—how Christians with different beliefs could come together and share perspectives in an effort to ensure that truth prevails rather than a belief about the truth. Perhaps I’m asking too much. In any event, I wonder if young people who have not formed rigid opinions might benefit from a “virtual big tent” where they feel respected and can explore the pros and cons of different perspectives on origins. If beliefs cannot be bridged, I hope respect can work.

Creating Bridges of Belief

Jim Stump, the retired professor referred to above, works for BioLogos. Their mission statement follows.

BioLogos invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation.

Their mission statement, core commitments, and 11 beliefs offer one way Christians attempt to create bridges of belief. Read more at

Evolutionary Creationism and Theistic Evolution, in one form or another, offer Christians two slightly different ways to bridge the gap between a strictly naturalistic explanation for the origins of the universe, earth, and life in contrast to the literal or near literal views of Genesis represented by the proponents of Young or Old Earth Creationists, or the creation compatible views of ID.

Creating Bridges of Respect

I had not thought a lot about creation and evolution after leaving school. But several events in the past decade captured my attention. Two friends, Mike Tenneson and Steve Badger presented results of a survey of beliefs on the origins of the earth and life. They were cautious as if they were aware that creation vs. evolution was a really big issue for many Christians. Of course, court cases, the Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate of 4 February 2014, and the opening of a Creation Museum helped keep the issue alive. I also began to notice more and more articles on evolutionary psychology. Taken together, many factors revealed the importance of the long-standing U.S. creation-evolution debate—not just to understanding human behavior but also to understanding intertribal conflicts between Christian groups.

After I wrote the foregoing descriptions of the five tribes, I found an article by Mike and Steve, which uses slightly different language than I used. When I read the article, I noticed a conciliatory tone, which reminded me of how Mike presented his lectures.

As a biology professor, Mike teaches young Christians who hold beliefs that fall into YEC, OEC and EC groups. I think Mike’s attitude conveys a lot about creating bridges of respect. He presents information in a low key way. He works at not creating divisions among Christians but instead focuses on bringing people together. Mike and Steve recommend:

“In essentials, unity. In nonessentials, liberty. In all things, love.”

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Is religion a byproduct of evolution?

Evolutionary Psychology of Religion

On July 21, 1925, the Scopes trial ended. 

The Jury found John Scopes violated the law by teaching evolution.

Rhea County Courthouse, TN Photo by Geoff W Sutton 2015 

This is part two of two posts about contributions of evolutionary science to psychology. I am drawing on Lee Kirkpatrick’s 2013 summary of the issues to consider how evolutionary psychology may contribute to an understanding of religion.

I have decided that the best way to consider how evolutionary psychology might be related to religion is to pose a few questions followed by possible answers. But first, a brief explanation of psychological mechanisms as behavioral routines.

Psychological mechanisms as apps

I am using the term app to represent a psychological application. Psychological scientists refer to psychological mechanisms, routines, and systems. Some use the analogy of computer software as having similar properties as a behavior pattern. Hence, I am using app to mean the same thing as a coherent routine that involves cognitive, emotional, biological, and behavioral components and appears to accomplish a specific purpose. For example, parent-child attachment has several subroutines found in humans and other organisms related to the care of infants.

What about religion does evolutionary psychology explain?

Behavioral scientists have not reached a consensus definition of religion. And for more than a decade it has become popular to use the term spirituality, which adds more fuzziness to the problem of what scientists are trying to explain. Elsewhere I have suggested the possibility of looking at religion as a family of features, which is based on my understanding of Wittgenstein’s’ family resemblance concept.

In a 2014 research paper co-authored with Kayla Jordan and Ev Worthington, we relied on the work of Worthington and other colleagues in considering different types of spirituality. In that article, we described religious spirituality as one type of spirituality. I won’t go into more detail here because my focus is on what has to be explained. See the reference for a link to the article.

Kirkpatrick opines that how religion is defined matters if religion is viewed as adaptive. Thus, if religion evolved then it presumably has functional value for survival to reproductive age or mate selection.

I think you could invent scenarios in which religion has survival value for individuals or groups. But the problem is finding empirical justification for such ideas. What sounds plausible may not be supported by evidence or the available evidence may support more than one explanation.

In contrast, if there are a variety of religious and spiritual experiences that occur as evolutionary byproducts, the research focus is different. In this view, prayer is communication with beings other than humans. Love for God is naturally related to the attachment system and so forth.

How might we analyze the components of religion or spirituality?

If we wanted to discover what evolutionary psychology explains, we need to find a constructive way to identify the components of religion to be explained. Kirkpatrick points out that people have different schemes to categorize types of prayer. He argues in favor of a functional perspective on religion using the analogy of an automobile, which has a variety of specific parts designed for different functions.

I cannot help thinking of the Apostle Paul’s view of the church as a human body having different parts suited to different functions. The auto analogy seems a little too neat. The varieties of religious experience are considerable. As with human bodies, some components are less useful than others. And the existence of some components remain a puzzlement.

Kirkpatrick does offer helpful examples of different types of prayer fulfilling different functions akin to other psychological apps. In this view, prayers focused on comfort are linked to human attachment. Prayers for favors and material things are linked to the social-exchange app. Prayers revealing worship, awe and reverence are linked to the human social-dominance app.

How does evolutionary psychology deal with the common nature versus nurture debate when it comes to explaining religion?

Kirkpatrick considers nature versus nurture a false dichotomy. Evolutionary psychology assumes people have a common human nature, which includes a common psychological architecture. In my view, we all have the same apps available but they are customized in response to our environment. Nature interacts with the environment. We change our environment and our environment changes us. I consider Kirkpatrick’s comments on nature vs. nurture helpful but I do not think we are close to identifying the nature of the reciprocal interactions that might account for human activities deemed religious.

How is motivation related to religion?

Many people appear to be motivated to carry out religious or spiritual practices. When asked, peope offer a variety of motives to account for their actions. Are any of the motives derived from religion or are they more basic to human nature? Can prayer for support and comfort in the face of tragedy be explained by the apparent need for assistance and the belief that God would provide the needed comfort or is the prayer primarily a byproduct of the attachment app focused on God as a loving divine parent? Alternatively, is prayer for support part of what it means for religion to be adaptive?

How can we explain the variety of religious experiences?

Pollsters provide information about the variety of beliefs and practices of people who identify with different religions. People who want to categorize activities can group them logically into categories like prayer, worship, rituals of purification and so forth. In any given category, subdivisions are possible as noted previously for different kinds of prayer. Lacking an explanatory theory can lead to classification approaches that seem arbitrary. Kirkpatrick likens the problem of finding the dimensions or categories to the reduction of personality traits to the Big Five.

Kirkpatrick suggests varieties of individual religious expression could be related to differences in the degree to which underlying psychological mechanisms (apps) vary. For example, people with a strong attachment app might be more inclined toward faith in a loving God who cares for them as a parent. For others, social-reciprocity might be more active --leading them to relate to God as a divine trading partner. Kirkpatrick also notes the importance of studying sex differences given different evolutionary roles for men and women.


1. Overall, evolutionary psychology has something to offer in understanding religiosity and spirituality. It seems to me that a functional approach might help clarify the varieties of religious experience; however, the problems linking evolution to religion identified by Kirkpatrick are important. Simplistic explanations can be tempting when it seems but a small logical jump to infer that purposeful behavior must be linked to natural selection or sexual selection.

2. Creation and Evolution don't belong in the same courtroom. The fact that evolutionary psychology may explain various aspects of religious experience does not imply that any religion or religious belief is true or false. Science is limited to explaining that which is observable. Scientific understanding changes as new data become available. The Bible contains poetry, laws, history, and moral teachings among other things. I'm not sure I know exactly what Pope Francis believes but I support the notion that Christianity and science need not be in conflict.

The creation stories in Genesis tell the Hebrews about their origins. The language is not scientific. See other websites for details illustrating the differences between evolution and explanations of creationists and intelligent design. I listed a few at the bottom of my previous post.

An example of integrating psychological science with Christian theology can be found in the evidence supporting the viability of attachment to God as similar to the attachment children have for their parents. Attachment theory makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Understanding attachment from an evolutionary perspective does not negate any essential theological understandings of love for God and others.

3. The jury is still out. An understanding of how evolution can provide a useful metatheory for psychology is not yet clear. And it is less clear how evolutionary psychology can account for the varieties of experience deemed religious or spiritual. Although psychological scientists do not question the basic tenets of biological evolution, many questions remain unanswered when it comes to explaining contemporary human behavior.

Scopes Trial Site, Rhea County Courthouse, TN


Kirkpatrick, L.A. (2013). Evolutionary psychology as a foundation for the psychology of evolution. In R. F. Paloutzian and C.L. Park (eds.) 118-137. Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality, 2nd ed. New York: Guilford.

Myers, D. (2012) Psychology in Everyday Life, 2nd ed. New York: Worth.

Additional resources

A related post: Did the Pope Evolve

Sutton, G. W. (in press). [Review of the book Handbook of The psychology of religion and spirituality (Second Edition) by Raymond F. Paloutzian and Crystal L. Park (Editors). Encounter (Accepted)

Sutton, G. W. (2008). [Review of the book Why Darwin matters: The case against intelligent design by M. Shermer]. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 27, 181.  Academia Link

See also the links on the previous post.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Is the Jury Still Out on the Scopes Trial After 90 Years?

The Scope of Evolution Includes the Psychology of Religion

Earlier this year, I visited the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, TN. This year marks the 90th anniversary of the Scopes “Monkey” Trial. The trial began 10 July 1925 and ended on the 21st. Science teacher John Scopes violated Tennessee law by teaching evolution. Numerous websites tell the tale.

The arguments in the 1925 trial might seem like quaint old stories unless you realize that in the U.S. a substantial minority of Christians reject scientific explanations for the origin of life in favor of a literal or near literal creationist view. In 2014, Gallup found 42% of the U. S. believes God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago. Given the data indicating such low acceptance of biological evolution, the acceptance of an evolutionary basis for psychological functioning seems even more remote. Some readers might be aware that psychological science in general, and psychological interventions in particular, remain suspect by Christian fundamentalists without adding the additional burden of evolution.

In this post I will summarize recent thinking on evolutionary psychology.

In the next post I’ll summarize an evolutionary perspective on the psychology of religion.

An Overview of Evolutionary Psychology

As you might suspect, evolutionary psychology requires an understanding of biological evolution. Early life appeared some 3.8 billion years ago–about a half-billion years after the earth was formed. The slow process of human evolution began some 6 million years ago. Scientists have found evidence for 15 or so different species of humans. Evidence for complex behavior patterns involved in making tools and other aspects of culture appear to have evolved in the past 100,000 years. Read more at the Smithsonian website.

Human evolution occurs when adaptive genetic changes are passed from one generation to the next. Those people who survived long enough to reproduce, transmitted the genes that influenced the body and behavior of future generations. It’s obvious that humans needed food to survive and had sex to reproduce. But people may not think of the behavior patterns that also developed and are linked to routines of obtaining food, mating, fending off predators, and surviving natural disasters. The origins of many current psychological mechanisms are linked to the survival of a human species.

Natural selection is not random. Genetic variations appear to be random. Traits like eye color vary. The variations that are selected are those that support survival and reproduction.

Sexual selection is a specific selection process that drives organisms to copulate with a mate. Some acts look like examples of "Mating Gone Wild:" The peacock's tail and combat rituals are examples.

There are two common ways that sexual selection works. 1. Males compete for access to females. 2. Females choose specific mates. (Role reversals can occur in some species.)

People select plants and animals for certain characteristics. This is artificial selection.

Sex is a source of genetic variation. Genes are combined from parents during reproduction. During the process of combination, shuffling occurs. 

You can think of a psychological mechanism as a complex cognitive-emotional-behavior pattern like an app on your electronic devices.

We have software-like programs —applications—that run as needed to accomplish specific goals. Parent-child attachment, mating, social-group formation, social dominance routines, tool-making routines, and many others co-evolved with changes in anatomical structures, biological processes, and biochemical processes. As psychologist David Myers says, “everything psychological is simultaneously biological (p. 114).”

Evolutionary psychology offers psychological scientists a metatheory. Most scientists accept the principles of biological evolution. Arguments persist over details of mechanisms but not the theory. But when it comes to psychology, scientists have not yet found coherent explanations. Change is on the way.

In the last century, psychological scientists rejected the quasi-biological explanations of behavior linked to supposed instincts and drives in favor of environmental and social factors. The advent of the computer influenced thinking about the mind as a problem-solving device. Many cognitive studies focused on logical and illogical thinking, concept formation, learning and memory. Various models were proposed to account for the processing of information.

More recently, psychologists have conceded that much of our behavior is governed by automatic processes. It takes considerable effort to disengage these routines (I like the metaphor of apps.) in favor of effortful and time-consuming thought. Where do these behavioral routines come from? As you might suspect, evolutionary psychologists think these natural ways of behaving have their origins in our evolutionary past.

Kirkpatrick’s View on Evolutionary Psychology

In his update on “Evolutionary Psychology as a Foundation for the Psychology of Evolution,” Lee Kirkpatrick suggests three ways evolutionary psychology influences psychology.

1. Psychological processes evolved to support selection processes. The widely documented attachment process is an example of a psychological process that enhances the odds of survival for infants to reproductive age. Thus, psychological processes subserve natural selection. Similarly, human mating routines subserve sexual selection in the quest for the fittest mates.

2. Much of human behavior can be linked to by-products of adaptations. Adaptations like language can easily be linked to survival. But complex ways of communicating in writing and art would be by-products in this view. Another kind of by-product is an exaptation.

Exaptations make use of biological adaptations. Adding lenses to enhance vision and perching them on noses are examples of exaptations. Understanding human nature requires an understanding of which adaptation is the result of an evolutionary process and which is a by-product of a more basic process.

Scientists Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin are credited with identifying byproducts of evolution that had little survival value. These are called spandrels or exaptations.

3. Adaptations evolve slowly over long periods of time. Any psychological adaptations evolved in response to environments faced by distant ancestors. Our desire for sweet and fatty foods leads to obesity in modern environments where such products are easily obtained with minimal effort compared to the high calorie expended in ancient times.


Kirkpatrick, L.A. (2013). Evolutionary psychology as a foundation for the psychology of evolution. In R. F. Paloutzian and C.L. Park (eds.) 118-137. Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality, 2nd ed. New York: Guilford.

Myers, D. (2012) Psychology in Everyday Life, 2nd ed. New York: Worth.

Additional resources

A related post: Did the Pope Evolve

Sutton, G. W. (in press). [Review of the book Handbook of The psychology of religion and spirituality (Second Edition) by Raymond F. Paloutzian and Crystal L. Park (Editors). Encounter (Accepted)

Sutton, G. W. (2008). [Review of the book Why Darwin matters: The case against intelligent design by
 M. Shermer]. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 27, 181.  Academia Link

Web sites

Creationist viewpoint can be found at

Darwin online

Intelligent Design viewpoint can be found at

Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne

Ted Talks videos on evolution

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Is Spirituality and Religion Important to Trauma Survivors?


Trauma stories continually make headlines.

African Americans were shot to death at a midweek service in Charleston, SC.

An ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) terrorist murdered and maimed Britons on Holiday in Tunisia.

Boko Haram slaughtered 150 Nigerian Muslims whilst praying during Ramadan.

Two days ago, July 7, Londoners mourned the deaths of 52 bomb victims. Representatives from Christian , Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and other faith groups joined to show their support. The memorial service was held in a Christian church. The victims and their families were linked to many faith traditions.

Many trauma survivors and their families draw on their religious or spiritual faith for support. People pray, consult clergy, and seek help from psychotherapists. In addition to basic survival needs following a tragic event, many survivors are plunged into a spiritual struggle as they wonder why God did not intervene to protect them or their loved ones.

Spiritually Oriented Psychotherapy for Trauma
    is the title of a book I recently read. My academic review has been accepted for publication in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Psychology and Christianity. But I thought some readers of this post might appreciate a few thoughts on the book–in case you are looking for ways to help trauma survivors and their families. Here’s a few things you’ll find.

Clergy and health care providers often encounter victims of trauma–some more than others. I often attended workshops and seminars as part of professional development. But, as the editors of the book point out–spirituality is often missing from assessing the effects of trauma and presentations of effective interventions. This book provides a great start on providing the missing component.

Four authors (chapter 4) collaborated to provide readers with an overview of religious and spiritual assessment. They include a review of specific measures that clinicians will find helpful. I’ve reviewed thousands of clinicians records over the years and I often don’t find much more than a brief reference to a patient's identified religion. And sometimes there’s no clue about their faith--despite the fact that almost everyone on the planet is affiliated with a specific religion or reports spiritual beliefs. Here's a link to a review of a related book by Tom Plante.

Spiritual struggle.
How do you find meaning when your world is turned upside down? Most us us know that trauma effects can be numerous. Survivors of severe trauma often experience long-term negative general health, mental health, social, and economic effects. But few have looked at the damage done to a survivor’s faith or the faith of their loved ones.  Faith is important to making sense of the world–trauma destroys meaning–at least until new meaning can be found. Faith communities often rally around victims and their families–but some do not. Survivors and their families sometimes struggle alone and wonder why they were abandoned. You get the point, many trauma survivors experience spiritual struggle- sometimes its about beliefs and sometimes it centers on the lack of care by members of their faith community.

Specific Applications.
A few chapters focus attention on responding to specific types of trauma. Here are some examples:
Chapter 8 focuses on survivors of sexual abuse.
Chapter 9 provides guidance in helping people following a disaster. You will find a planning guide in this chapter.
Chapter 10 discusses the role of religion in Intimate Partner Violence.
Chapter 11 guides readers in treating members of the military and their families.

Additional Thoughts

This book makes a significant contribution to filling an important need for clinicians who help trauma survivors. I recommend the book to care workers.

Researchers will find many areas that need to be addressed including better assessment strategies and documentation of effective practices.

Additional work is needed to understand assessment and intervention strategies with people of different faiths and cultures--especially those where faith is woven into the fabric of a culture. An accurate assessment and the choice of effective interventions requires cultural competency and that may include spiritual competency. I imagine a multivolume work will be needed in the years to come.

We must not forget the mental health needs of those providing direct care following a traumatic event and those involved in the horrific post-disaster response teams. For example, I have a friend who has performed morgue duty following several disasters. That work is often grueling and takes a physical and mental toll. Trauma team members vary in experience and coping skills. Some may need support services onsite as they try to meet the demand of so many in dire need. And some may need help much later.

I think therapy can be overdone in some cases. Wisdom is needed. Trauma tourists can just get in the way when rescue efforts are primary and survivors are not ready to deal with the psychological aspects of trauma. I visited a Kenyan refugee camp following a massacre. Their primary focus was on burying their dead, medical needs, shelter, and food. I am also influenced by Seeley's book about therapy after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.

I wonder if the many books and workshops aimed at improving trauma services assume that spirituality does not matter or that most people are atheists. In some ways, many clinicians have been prepared for trauma work with atheists and agnostics if spirituality and religion were omitted from the learning experiences. But I also wonder if a different approach might be needed for those who do not identify as religious or spiritual. In other words, most people have a need for purpose and meaning in life; trauma can change one’s purpose and limit or interfere with the pursuit of meaningful life activities.


SPIRITUALLY ORIENTED PSYCHOTHERAPY FOR TRAUMA edited by Donald F. Walker, Christine A. Courtois, and Jamie D. Aten. Washington DC: American Psychological Association, 2015, pp. 292. ISBN: 978-1-4338-1816-5; $59.95

Other related references

McLeland, K. C., Sutton, G. W., & Schumm, W. (2008). Marital Satisfaction before and after deployments associated with the global war on terror. Psychological Reports, 103, 836-844. Academia Link
Sutton, G. W. (2009). Finding God amidst the Greensburg Tornadoscape: Resurrection and restoration, The Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling, 63, Accepted May 24, 2008.  Academia Link
Sutton, G. W. (2012). Refugee center: Kenya. Recorder. 55, 36. (Link to the Recorder Link

Sutton, G. W. (2010). [Review of the book Left to tell: Discovering God amidst the Rwandan holocaust, by I. Ilibagiza.] Encounter, issues/2010summer.html   Academia Link

Sutton, G. W. (2007). [Review of the book One nation under therapy: How the helping culture is eroding self-reliance by C. H. Sommers & S. Satel]. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 26, 276-277.   Academia Link

Sutton, G. W. (2010). Spirituality and health: Considering spirituality and religion when planning strategies for psychological assessment and treatment. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 38, 132-133. Academia Link

Trent, S. K. & Sutton, G.W. (2009). [Review of the book Therapy after terror: 9/11, psychotherapists, and mental health by K. Seeley.] Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 28, 187-188.  Academia Link


I receive no payment related to writing about the book. I know one of the editors, Jamie Aten, because I have seen him at professional meetings. My copy of the book came from the Journal editor and not from the publisher or any of the editors or authors. As far as I know, none of my writings were cited in the book.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Overwhelmed with Questions about Same-Sex Marriage?


I noticed conservative friends posting 40 Questions challenging Christians about their support for same-sex marriage. It did not take long for a counter response. So there are at least 80 questions available for you.

It's no surprise that the authors advance a point of view by asking a question, which assumes a premise that has not been established. I come at the questions from the perspective of a psychological scientist and former university professor--so I love to encourage people to think. And if I were teaching a relevant course, I'd probably ask students to think about the 80-questions. I'll include the links so you can see what the two authors are asking.

Christians come at the same-sex issue from many perspectives as I wrote about last week. I think for those Christians who have a spiritual struggle, the key question is about sin.

There is only one question for fundamentalist Christians to answer about same-sex marriage.

 Is there something about same-sex marriage that is sinful? 

To paraphrase:

Is there something about same-sex marriage that is morally wrong for a Christian?


I'm working with a team of Christians about Christian morality so it's something I've thought a lot about. People of good will have written a lot about morality for thousands of years. Most people have a sense that some things are right and some are wrong. Some things like child abuse, rape, and murder deeply offend most of us. Sadly, we hear news stories about these crimes. We cannot understand why human beings can be so evil.

Christians typically go to the Bible to find answers. So a lot of the 80 questions posed by the two authors take you back to the Bible to find answers. I'm not sure the questions will help you formulate a single Christian moral principle about same-sex marriage.

Christians sometimes refer to Christian morality as biblical morality. The words "biblical morality" or Christian morality" encourage Christians to look beyond their personal beliefs to understand righteousness from God's perspective.

What's wrong? Here's a philosophical question I get from my philosopher friend, Brandon Schmidly (my paraphrase so don't blame Brandon): If the Bible declares something is morally wrong is it wrong because God says so or is it objectively wrong? In other words, is something just plain wrong regardless of whether it is in the Bible or not?

It is hard to find universal moral principles if we just study different cultures. Surely some things are always right and others always wrong. Or perhaps, there are principles that guide moral decisions such that the principles are universal even if people sometimes justify horrible things like killing during time of war.

Can you think of something you would affirm as true for all people for all time? A common Christian answer is to always love your neighbor as you would love yourself (from Mark 12: 30-31).

Christian philosophers and theologians spend a lot of time organizing biblical texts in support of statements that provide moral guidance related to one issue or another. In my view, the best of these thinkers understand the language of the ancient texts, have an above average ability to reason well, and seek divine wisdom. Of course, they sometimes disagree. How do ordinary Christians decide what is right?


The 40-question man is Kevin DeYoung. Read his first few paragraphs and notice the words about feelings and emotions. I'm convinced a lot of the rhetoric we encounter has to do with feelings. Feelings are driving the debate about same sex marriage. And the feelings drive a lot of moral reasons-- about five to six categories worth as you will see in reading my previous posts. Moral reasoning from sound premises is important but reasoning will not lead to a definitive answer. Understanding the moral sentiment--the emotion linked to reasons-- can help us identify the power of persuasive arguments when premises lack a plausible foundation.


So it's time for the links to those 80 questions. I'm interested in your reactions. I may not always respond to every comment or question. But I would like to know if any of the 80 questions are helpful.

Kevin DeYoung
July 1,2015

Matthew Vines
July 3, 2015