The traditional, and most popular, theory of human nature is that the cognitive faculties, psychological qualities, and behavioral traits that characterize humans are animated and controlled by an immaterial soul that inhabits our material bodies. A soul, it is believed, is endowed to each of us by God at conception, and makes humans tick. It gives us consciousness, intelligence, free will, and morality; it reveals mystery, beauty and purpose; it informs us of our intrinsic value and instills a sense of meaning to our lives. Humans, unlike all other animals, have the ability to transcend their biological nature, constrained only by God's eternal laws and the natural laws that emanate from them.
Although this religious, teleological view of human nature -- let's call it Theism -- is held by
the vast majority of humanity, it is now rejected by a tiny, but influential, minority: elite intellectuals who spend their scholarly careers fretting over such matters. Theist beliefs, the intellectuals say, are based on myths, concocted by nomadic prophets to coerce ornery hunter-gathers into tribal unity. There is no proof that a creator exists. Nor is there any truth to the claim that the evolutionary process is divinely inspired or guided. Such theories are risible fantasies. Theists, scoffs evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, "get nowhere by labeling our ignorance 'God'.” If you meet anyone who denies evolution, affirms Richard Dawkins (author of The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, and The God Delusion), then "that person is ignorant, stupid or insane.”
Their thinking on human nature divides intellectuals into two mutually exclusive factions: Sociobiologists (aka Materialists) and Social Constructionists (aka Political Behaviorists). Although both factions are atheistic, if not agnostic, and vehemently antitheist, their differences, which are irreconcilable, arise from their interpretation of Darwinian principles. Materialists believe that genes (nature) shape human nature. Behaviorists believe that social institutions (nurture) shape human nature.
The materialist theory holds that human nature is the product of our genes -- in particular, the genes that encode the cognitive mechanisms, implemented by a vast collection of specialized neural circuits that humans acquired through Darwinian evolution. There is no soul, only circuits etched in brain matter that express our nature.
Evolutionary psychologist, Steven Pinker, for example, notes that "all aspects of mental life -- every emotion, every thought pattern, every memory" can be traced to corresponding neural activity. Therefore, says Pinker, "What we call free will is a product of particular circuits of the brain."
Molecular biologist Francis Crick (who, with James Watson, discovered the structure of DNA, the basis for genetic replication, and the manner in which genes control protein synthesis) believes that human nature is little more than a "pack of neurons." In The Astonishing Hypothesis - The Scientific Search for the Soul, Crick wrote
"You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules."
The materialist view, then, is that evolution shaped our minds in the same way that it shaped our bodies -- doing so with no external assistance (supernatural or otherwise) and with no internal purpose (beyond propagation of the fittest genes). Everything about the human mind is intelligible only through Darwinian theory. The mind emerges from matter. In his 1978 book On Human Nature, Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson, the father of Sociobiology, wrote “the intellect was not constructed to understand atoms or even to understand itself but to promote the survival of human genes." Mindless evolution produced the human mind.
The behaviorist theory holds that human nature is acquired solely from the environment; at some long time ago in the evolutionary past, culture replaced genes as the determinant of human nature. The mind, therefore, emerges from socialization. This theory rests on concepts such as the Blank Slate, the Noble Savage, and genetic uniformity. According to these principles, the human mind -- beyond neural circuits for rudimentary learning abilities and a few primitive drives, senses and urges -- is a blank slate at birth, devoid of inherited instincts. The cognitive circuits that determine human nature are assembled later, by social institutions (e.g., families, schools, churches, community organizations, and, most importantly, government). Behaviorists also tell us that, by nature, humans are a peaceable lot. Our ancient ancestors were not savages with inherently warlike, destructive, and aggressive tendencies. Nor were they racist, misogynist, or classist. They led idyllic lives, in egalitarian societies, where conflicts between tribes were infrequent and deaths from war, slavery, oppression, genocide were few -- until humanity encountered civilization, especially western civilization.
Further, behaviorists claim that modern human groups are genetically identical to one another. Concepts such as race, IQ, and gender roles are social constructs invented by "the ruling class" (no doubt bigoted theist patriarchs who have meted out oppression for the 15,000 years since the time of the first human settlements) -- to maintain "the status quo." Human evolution, they say, had ceased by the time Homo sapiens' dispersed from Africa over 50,000 years ago. Therefore, race classifications (such as the traditional breakdown of African, East Asian, Caucasian, Native American and Australasian, which is based on the five major continental populations) are meaningless. Any differences in cognitive abilities between racial and ethnic groups is the result of discrimination, if not flawed IQ testing. And, as a surprise to mathematicians, music composers, chess masters, and Nobel Prize winners, women are as smart as men, in the same ways.
Indeed, the behaviorist theory had its origins in the early 20th century, in support of the movement against Social Darwinism. Darwinian principles, as applied to human societies, implied that continuing improvements to the fittest cultures benefited humanity, even if inferior cultures were exploited and diminished in the process. Behaviorists, on the other hand, asserted that the underachievement of inferior cultures was due, not to biological forces, but to the malicious practices (which, at the time, included imperialism, eugenics, racial discrimination, and oppression of women) of the fittest cultures, and should be eradicated. Naturally, capitalism and individual freedom -- which, according to Darwinian principles, appear clearly favored by nature -- also had to go.
Behaviorism grew into a Marxist ideology calling for an egalitarian society as the ideal remedy for humanity's problems. The goal of achieving that society (one shared by fellow socialist, globalist, and multiculturalist intellectuals) depends on the notion that society can be reformed by reforming human nature.
If human nature is acquired, then government can establish laws to rid the world of inappropriate behavior (ranging from racism, sexism, and homophobia, to kin preference, religious worship, competitiveness, and self-interest in general) and reconfigure social forces to vanquish the oppressive forces responsible for so-called "inferior" cultures. As Peter Augustine Lawler noted in The Rise and Fall of Sociobiology,
According to the Marxists, we create ourselves through our mode of production. There is no human nature but only historical human types: feudal human beings, capitalist human beings, and socialist human beings. Once we become aware that our prevailing idea of God or nature is just an ideology imposed on us by the ruling class, we can revolt against all historical oppression. We can create a world where we all live freely and equally while doing very little work. We can finally socially construct a world without the socially constructed domination of some human beings by others. This new world will be populated by a “new man” — a new human type — who has never existed before.
The behaviorist thinking is that, absent both supernatural and genetic resistance, humans will welcome the "new society" and accept its egalitarian policies -- although some may require coaxing (through such behavior modification techniques as indoctrination, censorship, public shaming, and imprisonment) in the transformation to proper citizenship.
By the 1950s, behaviorism had become the reigning orthodoxy, where, among social scientists, academics, educators, politicians, and the media, it remains so to this day. But among actual scientists, the behaviorist mountain of ideology began to crumble in 1975, with the publication of Wilson's Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. This seminal work launched Sociobiology as a new discipline, extending classical Darwinism from the physical to the social behavior of organisms and combining biology with a wide range of other fields (human genetics, neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, and even social sciences) to advance the understanding of human nature -- and re-ignite the nature vs nurture controversy.
In contrast to the optimistic behaviorist worldview, materialists offer a constrained assessment human social behavior: while the human mind has seemingly unlimited powers, human behavior is limited by innate traits inherited long ago. The mind is a function of the brain, a fierce, deceitful organ constructed, for the most part, in our dark past.
Evolution, materialists tell us, has no goal beyond the propagation of genes. That is not to say that humans have no goals. We have numerous goals. But such goals are illusions, produced by our brains to trick us into following behavior best suited for propagating the genes that created the brain. And those cognitive mechanisms were "wired in" over geologic time, as humans foraged in small tribal bands through the Pleistocene savanna, when nature was brutally inequitable. Our brains, even the big ones of behaviorists, were wired during the Stone Age.
The assertion that human nature does not exist (that it is acquired through learning and socialization) gives behaviorists the hope that humanity can be saved if social engineers manipulate culture to create a new man suitable for the new global society that they envision. But social engineers cannot manipulate genes (while they no doubt salivate over the possibilities promised by biotechnology), let alone genes laden with behavioral instructions from an oppressive, male dominant, xenophobic past. Said Wilson in Intelligent Evolution,
Human nature exists, and it was self-assembled. It is the commonality of the hereditary responses and propensities that define our species. Having arisen by evolution during the far simpler conditions in which humanity lived during more than 99 percent of its existence, it forms the behavioral part of what, in The Descent of Man, Darwin called the indelible stamp of our lowly origin.
If a self-assembled human nature exists (i.e., if it is genetic, or significantly so), where does that leave the behaviorist plan for a Godless, egalitarian utopia? Even if God does not exist (as both behaviorists and materialists insist), materialists tell us that religious belief is an inherited survival mechanism. And how will social engineers design a world in which no culture will exploit or oppress another? If human nature -- particularly its cognitive dimensions -- is biologically founded, then achievement differences between cultures are likely to persist, if not grow larger. Observed Wilson, “man’s destiny is to know, if only because societies with knowledge culturally dominate societies that lack it.”
As the neo-Darwinist ideas of Wilson, Dawkins, and others burst into the intellectual world, behaviorists were shocked and outraged. Much more than an academic encroachment of biology into sociology, sociobiology threatened the very foundations of the political behaviorist ideology. It was therefore met with what, in the world of social science, passes for intellectual discourse: ad hominem tirades, street demonstrations, vitriolic sniping, and, of course, incessant cries of racism -- without which, no liberal tantrum would be complete. In his book How the Mind Works, Pinker recalls the response:
... Wilson was dosed with a pitcher of ice water at a scientific convention, and students yelled for his dismissal over bullhorns, ... Angry manifestos and book-length denunciations were published by organizations with names like Science for the People and the Campaign Against Racism, IQ, and the Class Society. ... When Scientific American ran an article on behavior genetics (studies of twins, families, and adoptees), they entitled it 'Eugenics Revisited'.
John C. Caiazza (Political Dilemmas of Social Biology) noted a 1982 handbill published by the "Committee Against Racism" announcing a "FORUM: STOP SOCIOBIOLOGY- The Rise of Facism (sic) in Science". The document warned of "a new wave of Hitlerite theories" trickling down academia to the "gutter racists in the KKK" and charged Wilson with speculating about genes for "altruism," "territoriality," "xenophobia (= racism)," and "rape."
Little satisfies leftists more than following up accusations of racism with demands for censorship. As Pinker relates the sentiment of primatologist Sarah Blafer Hrdy: "I question whether sociobiology should be taught at the high school, or even undergraduate level ... The whole message of sociobiology is oriented toward the success of the individual. It's Machiavellian, and unless a student has a moral framework already in place, we could be producing social monsters by teaching this." Social engineering monsters are, apparently, desirable.
The problem with behaviorist arguments, even reasoned analyses that transcend invective, is that they reduce to wishful, but unsubstantiated, assertions. They are little more than statements of what behaviorists would like, or need, human nature to be to support their ideology. For to create the egalitarian society they promise, humans must be noble savages with blank slate minds of equal cognitive ability. Then, human nature can be reformed to finally rid the world of violence, oppression, racism, sexism, and other social maladies. But assertions are not evidence. Alas, the evidence against the behaviorist theory of human nature seems overwhelming.
Perhaps the most obvious example of contradictory evidence is the spectacular failure of Marxism, wherever it has been applied, to create a "new society." The communist regimes of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot devastated their nations, and, in an attempt to create a new version of man, murdered tens of millions of the old version. There is much more than irony behind Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's observation that the atheistic, collectivist social policies of communism were defeated by human nature.
The incessantly stated behaviorist claim that race is a social construct has been invalidated by recent advances in genetic research (particularly, the sequencing of the human genome in the 2003). Says science writer Nicholas Wade (A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History), "there is a genetic component to human social behavior" and its evolution "has necessarily proceeded independently in the five major races and others." Further, there exists dramatic variances in the cognitive abilities of these races. As documented in The Bell Curve, by Herrnstein and Murray and Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability, by Jensen and Rushton, IQ differences, for example, range from an average of 106 for East Asians to 70 for sub-Saharan Africans, and have a significant genetic component.
The genetic forces that materialists say motivate humans to prefer people of their own kind have stymied policies designed to equalize racial and ethnic group achievement differences. But instead of offering policies that confront such forces, behaviorists only offer more assertions, such as "IQ testing is invalid" and "the authors are racists." And rather than modify their hypothesis to better reflect the realities of human nature, they have sought only to further entrench their ideology in the public consciousness. As Wade observed, "the social-science creed has permeated the thinking of most college campuses so deeply that race, in the genetic sense, has become a taboo word."
Of president Obama's proposal to increase public spending for "the health, welfare and education of black and brown and white children," NYT writer Eduardo Porter lamented, "it struggles against self-defeating human behavior: racial and ethnic diversity undermine support for public investment in social welfare." To this reality, behaviorists exclaim, again incessantly, "Diversity makes us stronger." And relying on little more than the nice ring of the slogan, governments, but also schools, businesses, and numerous other organizations, have spent decades in a frantic scramble to increase racial and ethnic diversity among their constituencies. While these efforts have had anecdotal success, the broader evidence indicates otherwise. For example, mass multicultural immigration into Europe and the US has produced more rancor than strength.
Prior to the Immigration Act of 1965, almost 90% of the US population was of European origin. The vast majority of the 59 million immigrants that have since entered America have been from non-European countries, producing a steep decline in America's white population (to 70%), accompanied not by an increase in social harmony, but by an increase in divisive tribalism. Of this explosion in diversity Thomas Sowell wrote, "Ethnic 'leaders' and welfare state goodies guarantee the fragmentation of the population, with never-ending strife among the fragments." To many, the real world of diversity reveals itself not in the image of grateful blank slates inscribed with assimilated American culture, but as a restive diaspora bearing indelible stamps from home. That world "is no idyll," wrote Peter Wood (Diversity: The Invention of a Concept), "Rather, it brims with tribal vanities, assertions of entitlement, sour anti-Americanism, disdain for freedom and equality, and prideful ignorance."
In communities throughout the US, where diversity is greatest, social trust and civic engagement are least, and human nature revolts. This is the conclusion of Harvard University social scientist Robert Putnam in his landmark 2007 study E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community. Putnam, an avid multiculturalist, was no doubt disheartened to discover that
"the inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbours, regardless of the colour of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television."
In Europe, which has been promoting multiculturalism for more than 30 years, the picture is even bleaker. Today, notes Sowell, it is "in the process of paying the price for years of importing millions of people from a culture hostile to the fundamental values of Western culture. And this is by no means the last of the installments of that price, to be paid in blood and lives, for smug elites' Utopian self-indulgences in moral preening and gushing with the magic word 'diversity'." The European Union itself is on the verge of collapse. The reason, according to billionaire, multiculturalism proponent George Soros: multiculturalism.
For these and other reasons, materialists claim that the behaviorist theory of human nature is based on myths -- myths, perhaps, as far-fetched as those of creationists. It is a theory that seems to border on the miraculous, given the effort required of behaviorists to shoe-horn a deliberately fictitious assessment of human nature into a mythical egalitarian mold designed to create a magical society of compliant mediocrity. But the materialist theory is not without its own myths, and materialists are not without their own shoehorn.
Ultimately, say materialists, only matter and energy exist. The entire physical universe was created 13.8 billion years ago, when all matter was compressed into a tiny, hot dense mass that existed for only an immeasurably small fraction of the first second of time, before an immeasurably large expansion (The Big Bang) began. We know this because physicists, using Einstein's equations of General Relativity, traced the current state of the expanding universe back 13.8 billion years when the initial density, temperature and expansion rate of the universe was infinite -- a singularity. Such a singularity, physicists now tell us, is an impossibility, and the concept has been replaced with the concept of a "space-time foam," which, based on a recent experiment involving the arrival times of photons traveling billions of years from a distant gamma ray burst, may not exist at all.
The big bang for sociobiology was the creation of the first living organism -- the first cell capable of both metabolism and replication. From that single cell emerged all life, including, eventually, human life, with every aspect of that life, including human nature, shaped by natural selection. The leading theory of this origin, the so-called Replication-First hypothesis, holds that an RNA molecule, under a number of imminently ticklish pre-biotic conditions, could have spontaneously made the leap from chemistry to biology. It's probability, however, is quite small. So small that Crick admitted "the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle." Fellow Nobelist Christian de Duve called for "a rejection of improbabilities so incommensurably high that they can only be called miracles" and wondered (in the 1988 Nature article "Did God Make RNA?") if God might have had a hand in the process.
To summarize the materialist position: The universe was created by the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago -- for no known cause and for no apparent reason. Life was created 4 billion years ago by a single RNA molecule, initiating a relentless biological odyssey, from which developed, with not a whit of forethought, all life (plant and animal), ever-increasingly complex, particularly Homo sapiens, the winner in a brutal, purposeless, Godless struggle among random genetic mutations that created the human mind -- a soulless pack of neurons capable of producing the Mona Lisa, the Brandenburg concertos, digital computers, space flight, and the theory of evolution. The materialist theory of human nature emanates from this theory of creation -- a grand process enabled by an impossibility, followed 9.8 billion years later, by a miracle. Yikes.
Whose theory demonstrates the best understanding of human nature: that of the theists (with God), that of the materialists (with genes) or that of the behaviorists (with government)? In other words, who has the best myths?