Evolution,  Marriage

Monogamy vs Evolution

For the actor, Ethan Hawke, who left his wife to marry the nanny, monogamy is inappropriate to the human species: “People have such a childish view of monogamy and fidelity. “He’s cheated so he’s bad, she’s cheated so she’s bad”, as opposed to a recognition that our species is not monogamous.”

Hawke’s remarks make two points. First, what is morally justifiable is based on what is observed. Lots of people do it, therefore it is morally justifiable. The problem with this is that there are many things we all do that are not morally justifiable. Everyone is prone to lying and, I dare say, everyone has lied at some time. Yet we don’t say lying is okay.

Second, Hawke associates moral judgement with immaturity. To delineate between good and bad is to be immature. It is amazing that Hawke is so confident when most people would say running off with the nanny is the childish thing to do. Maturity should be associated with better moral judgement not no moral judgement.

A quick survey of current culture reveals how little resources there are for making moral judgments. Many are looking to evolution to explain it all yet the theory has little to offer in this regard. For instance, should we ask evolutionists to help us with the question of the moral nature of fidelity and monogamy there is very little help. Apparently, according to evolutionary theory, the reason human beings favor monogamy is that dad protects the young better when he sticks around. The result of this has been that dad gets more food to bring to the young and thereby increases the child’s size leading to a more evolved brain.

Perhaps, then, monogamy is morally right because it produces the right results in evolutionary terms. However, it might be argued that there are other means to further the aims of the species. For example, technological advance, increased agricultural output and government policy might do the job of dad, bringing home more food, better protection and enabling children to develop increased mental capacity in other ways.

Our contemporary drift, when it comes to marriage, appears to be leading to the removal of marriage from a moral status. Marriage would no longer count as being in a moral category. Removal of marriage from a moral category to a pragmatic, evolutionary category makes marriage a means to a end. Does marriage get you and your species what you want? If Ethan Hawke’s wife doesn’t cut it is he free to move on to whomever he pleases to get what he wants?

The problem is that this is so obviously bad. It requires so little intuition to see how selfish this is yet our culture is sitting on the train struggling to find a reason to pull the emergency handle and ask to get off.

Not everyone is pessimistic. Kevin DeYoung reminds us of the faddy nature of our culture, that what is cool today may turn out to be a passing fad. Monogamy was all the rage not so long ago and, given time, it may be that way again.

The Bible, not evolutionary theory, provides the resources we need to make moral judgments. It defines human nature, explains our propensity to sin, helps us understand the purpose for marriage and gives meaning to life lived together in marriage. Children, according to the Bible, are not mere improvements to our species, but gifts from God, a blessing. Marriage is never easy, but it is the most amazing picture of love we have outside the gospel of Christ. Fidelity is what human beings need, what we were made for. Our sin is not to be observed and then used to justify more sin; rather it is to be fought, depending on God to help us. 

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.