[Paleopsych] Patricia A. Williams: The Fifth R: Jesus as Evolutionary Psychologist

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Wed Sep 14 01:30:44 UTC 2005

Patricia A. Williams: The Fifth R: Jesus as Evolutionary Psychologist Theology 
and Science, Vol. 3, Issue 2 (2005), pp 133-43.
[Responses appended.]

The historical Jesus seems to have known about human nature as described by 
evolutionary psychology. He addresses the dispositions of human nature that 
evolutionary psychology says are central: resources, reproduction, relatedness 
(kinship), and reciprocity. In doing so he answers Aristotle's question, how 
can human beings flourish? His answer opens a window onto the divine.

Patricia A. Williams is a philosopher of biology and philosophical theologian 
who writes full-time on Christianity and science. Her recent books include, 
Doing Without Adam and Eve: Sociobiology and Original Sin (2001) and Where 
Christianity Went Wrong, When, and What you Can do about it (2001). Her mailing 
address is PO Box 69, Covesville, VA 22931. Her e-mail address is 
theologyauthor at aol.com; website www.theologyauthor.com.


I have argued in Doing without Adam and Eve: Sociobiology and Original Sin that 
Christian doctrines of original sin are only partly true and that most 
Christian doctrines of the atonement are flatly false.1 These doctrines depend 
on the historicity of Adam and Eve, and science shows us that Adam and Eve 
cannot be historical figures. In my more recent book, Where Christianity Went 
Wrong, When, and What You Can Do About It,2 a work based on historical Jesus 
scholarship, I argued further that Jesus did not perceive his own death as a 
sacrifice for sin; indeed, he did not consider sacrifices for the forgiveness 
of sin necessary. Since these arguments undermine doctrines previously 
considered central to Christianity, they appear to make Jesus irrelevant. 
However, to draw that conclusion would be wrong. I argue here that Jesus is 
relevant at least in part because he is an astonishingly perceptive 
evolutionary psychologist. As such, he answers Aristotle's famous ethical 
question, "how can human beings flourish?" and offers us a window onto the 

To answer Aristotle's question or, indeed, questions in ethics in general, 
requires a theory of human nature. We need to know who we are before we can 
figure out how to flourish. Now, for the first time in history, we have a 
scientific theory of human nature. It is evolutionary psychology.

Evolutionary psychology emerged in the early 1970s. Now the subject has its own 
textbook,3 a plethora of laborers in its vineyard, and considerable empirical 
support. Moreover, evolutionary psychology is rooted in sociobiology, a 
scientific theory that has had great heuristic value and made successful 
predictions about the social behavior of other animals for almost 40 years. The 
four central concepts of evolutionary psychology derive from sociobiology and 
they are well established. They are the four R's of human nature and much of 
the rest of nature as well: resources, reproduction, relatedness, and 

Human nature's four Rs

People pursue resources. To survive, all organisms must do so. People 
reproduce. To continue the existence of their gene line, all mortal creatures 
must do so. These two Rs, resources and reproduction, are essential to the 
continued existence of the organic world. For sexually reproducing organisms 
like ourselves, sex is also essential (although not for every individual).

Relatedness as such is, of course, essential too. Reproduction produces related 
organisms, by definition. Here, however, relatedness refers to inclusive 
fitness, the concept at the foundation of sociobiology.

In classic evolutionary theory, an organism is fit if it survives to reproduce. 
In sociobiology, fitness moves from the individual organism to include its 
close relatives. In inclusive fitness theory, organisms help close relatives 
survive to reproduce. The classic case is parents helping dependent offspring 
grow to maturity. Biologists from Darwin on knew that organisms also help 
organisms other than offspring, but they did not know why. Sociobiology 
explained why. Organisms help close relatives because close relatives carry 
copies of the helper's genes. It turns out that the most accurate way to view 
evolution is from the point of view of the gene, and the evolutionary goal is 
to get as many copies of one's genes into the next generation as possible. An 
organism does this by reproduction, certainly, but also by helping most those 
relatives most likely to be carrying copies of its genes. Many organisms know 
who their close kin are—by smell, by sight, by sharing a common nest or mother, 
and by chemical cues. Of course, none knows about genes. None needs to. All an 
organism needs to be able to do is to recognize and help its relatives.

Inclusive fitness theory permits helping behavior that is not ultimately 
egocentric or even a hidden form of egocentricity. The helping organism need 
not expect help in return for its aid because its reward is built into the 
situation. In return for helping relatives, the organism gets more copies of 
its genes into the next generation. Of course, it does not know this, so it 
cannot be behaving selfishly.

Finally, for organisms that can recognize individuals and remember them and 
their deeds of help and harm, reciprocity becomes salient. Reciprocity entails 
equal exchange and may occur between organisms that are not kin. Reciprocity is 
egocentric: the helper expects help in return and in an amount equal to the 
help given. Few animals have the memories requisite to engage in reciprocity, 
but we do. We are creatures who reciprocate. Much of our lives are devoted to 
the exchange of goods and favors, and much of our justice system exists to 
enforce reciprocal relationships like contracts and marriages. The sense that 
reciprocity is justice underlies the legalization of the death penalty for 

Few people doubt that the continued existence of the organic world on Earth is 
good and, so, logically the things that make its continuance possible are good. 
This entails that the four R's are good, but suppose we re-label them. If we 
engage in them too vigorously, the pursuit of resources becomes greed; of 
reproduction, lust; of relatedness, nepotism; and of reciprocity, justice for 
me and my group, to the exclusion of justice for you and your group.

As the pursuit of resources is the most basic need of any organism, so greed is 
the simplest excess. It entails hoarding more than a person needs, sometimes to 
the direct detriment of the person, as when we eat to the point of obesity, but 
also to the detriment of society, as when the economic system is such that a 
few become ludicrously rich while the many remain poor.

Lust is more complex, for it involves two sexes, and evolutionary psychology 
demonstrates that, because of their biological roles, male and female differ in 
their sexual desires. By definition, males produce smaller sex cells. This 
means that, with a few interesting but irrelevant exceptions, male organisms 
invest less in their offspring than females. In mammals such as ourselves, 
females make an additional investment, for they carry and nourish their 
offspring internally for a period, and then feed them milk their bodies make. 
With his small investment, the man can walk away from a pregnancy he has caused 
without great loss, even if his child dies, but the woman loses greatly if her 
child dies, for she has invested greatly. Usually her best evolutionary 
strategy is to continue investing until her child is able to take care of 

The result of these differences is that men's best evolutionary strategy is to 
impregnate many women, whereas a woman's best strategy is to be impregnated by 
a healthy, prosperous man who will devote his resources to their children. The 
result after millions of years of evolution is lustful males and sexually 
cautious females, on average.

Marriage complicates the picture further. If a man is to spend his adult years 
investing his resources in his wife's children (there are marriage systems 
where this is not the case, but they are not relevant here), he needs to be 
certain that they are also his children. Therefore, he must guard against his 
wife's adultery. Millions of years of evolution have produced jealous males who 
will punish women vigorously for adultery—sometimes brutally, sometimes 

Thus, evolution has burdened women doubly. On average, women invest more than 
men in offspring and on average men punish women more than they punish each 
other for adultery. Put simply, men lust more; women suffer more.

Nepotism is even more complex, but it is easier to explain. Dependent children 
need their parents' special love and support in order to survive to adulthood, 
so special parental love is necessary and good. However, it does not end when 
the child becomes an adult; indeed parents continue to love their children more 
than they love other people's children—and therefore more than they love other 
people—for the life of the parent. However, special love for adult relatives 
easily becomes nepotism (unfair favoritism). If pursued systematically, it 
becomes tribalism and, reversed, may result in discrimination against or even 
murder of non-relatives or members of other tribes. It can turn into genocide.

Most complex of all is reciprocity. Although Aristotle knew nothing of 
sociobiology, he built much of his ethical theory on giving others their due. 
Being familiar with sociobiology, Richard D. Alexander4 and Matt Ridley5 both 
explicitly developed ethical theories that place reciprocity at the center of 
ethics. Yet reciprocity is a double-edged sword. It may call for justice in the 
abstract and justice for others, but often it cries for justice for myself, for 
my kin, for my group. Reciprocity endorses an eye for an eye. It recommends 
vengeance. It may also give rise to paranoid vigilance that keeps asking 
whether the exchange has really been equal. Was I cheated? Again?

Greed, lust, nepotism, and justice exclusively for oneself and one's group are 
the main vices that spring from the four R's. However, the four R's produce 
virtues too. The virtue that uses resources is generosity, the ability to give 
resources freely to others. From the desire for reproduction, love springs, the 
sort of love that sweeps ego aside and encourages the lover to enhance the 
beloved's welfare. The reproductive desire results in love for people who are 
not close kin. The virtue founded on relatedness is love also, a steady love 
for relatives that we can transfer from relatives to all others by symbolizing 
all people as related. Reciprocity can beget friendships and other 
relationships of equality, a personal caring that does not keep a ledger of 
gain and loss. It, too, might develop into generosity and love.

Thus, evolution has given us enormous potential for both good and evil, and it 
has provided a wide range of choices, from egocentricity that seeks the 
destruction of others to generosity and love that seek to further their 
welfare. We are remarkably flexible and free. That is the primary reason we 
find it so difficult to answer Aristotle's question about how to flourish. If 
we have such a range of desires and can engage in such an enormous number of 
activities, then which are those that best promote our flourishing?

Therefore, to answer Aristotle's question, we need to know about the four Rs, 
which are the central themes of human nature. We need to recognize their 
centrality in our psychological makeup and to know their potential to lead us 
into vice and virtue. Finally, we need to grasp how best to handle them so that 
all people may flourish. Without knowing anything about Aristotle—not to 
mention evolutionary psychology!—these things are precisely what the historical 
Jesus knows, discusses, and enacts.

Jesus and the simplest R's

The figure known as "the historical Jesus" is neither the Jesus of the Gospels, 
who is many contradictory persons, nor the "real" Jesus, whoever that would be. 
Whoever it was, we cannot recover him now. The historical Jesus is a scholarly 
reconstruction that most Jesus scholars base primarily on the synoptic Gospels: 
Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Some scholars also use the Gospel of Thomas, which was 
recovered with the discovery of ancient documents at Nag Hammadi in 1945. All 
Jesus scholars also use other historical materials that inform them about the 
situation in Palestine from about 200 BCE to 100 CE. These materials include 
Greek and Roman archives, the works of Josephus and other ancient scholars, the 
Hebrew Scriptures, Jewish intertestamental literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls, 
and the findings of archaeology. Most scholars exclude the Gospel attributed to 
John because they think it contains very little historical material going back 
to Jesus.

As philosopher of historical methodology Raymond Martin notes in his book on 
the works of outstanding Jesus scholars, the historical Jesus scholars are 
professional historians doing expert work that meets the standards of modern 
scholarship.6 John P. Meier explains their methodology at length,7 and Funk, 
Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar explain it more succinctly while also laying out 
clearly how and why historians view the Gospels as they do.8 The Jesus I refer 
to is the scholars' reconstruction. The main effect of using their 
reconstruction here is to restrict the passages of scripture I discuss to those 
the scholars think go back to the historical Jesus.

The historical Jesus perhaps says more about the use of resources than about 
any other subject. He speaks about resources in short sayings like "Do not 
worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will 
wear" and "Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither 
storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them" and "Consider the lilies, how they 
grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory 
was not clothed like one of these" (Luke 12:22, 24, 27 NRSV). Jesus says God 
takes care of them and will take care of us. He says we spend too much time 
worrying and working over resources.

He tells stories like that of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19 – 26). The 
rich man, who dressed and dined lavishly, ignored poor, sick Lazarus at his 
gate. After both die, the rich man finds himself in hell, staring at Lazarus in 
heaven. Here Jesus emphasizes our common humanity and the skewed distribution 
of resources in the ancient world, where the rich got rich by exploiting the 
poor. Those who neglect their less fortunate neighbors, who consider their own 
wealth a sign of their favor in God's sight and poverty and sickness signs of 
disfavor, are wrong. We live together, and we cannot flourish separately.

Perhaps the most poignant of the stories scholars attribute to Jesus concerns 
an unnamed farmer who is blessed with such abundant harvests he decides to tear 
down his already full barns and build bigger ones to hold his burgeoning 
produce. Jesus calls him a fool, for he will die that night, and he cannot take 
his carefully conserved resources with him (Luke 12:16 – 20). Perhaps he should 
have considered the lilies and ravens or the suffering poor and used his wealth 
rather than hoarding it.

The Gospels tell us little about what Jesus thought about sex. Moreover, Jesus 
scholars think the few sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels that deal 
with sex are not certain to go back to the historical Jesus. The main exception 
is Jesus' prohibition of divorce (Matt. 5:31 – 32).

In Judaism in Jesus' day, women could not divorce their husbands, but husbands 
could divorce their wives, often for trivial reasons. At the same time, women 
depended on men for protection and income. A woman without a husband was in 
trouble, and a divorced woman was tarnished goods. Thus, Jesus' prohibition of 
divorce protected women. In a different culture, he might have offered 
different protection—say, equal pay for equal work or heavy penalties against 
men for spousal abuse. The point of the prohibition is not that divorce is 
wrong but that women need protection from the power men want to exercise over 
them, as evolutionary psychology suggests. From the point of view of legality, 
Jesus' prohibition of divorce is inconsistent with his usual laxness about 
laws; legal consistency would expect him to allow divorce. However, his 
prohibition of divorce is consistent with his tendency to protect the 
disadvantaged, whether the poor, the sick, children, or women. In prohibiting 
divorce, Jesus was protecting women.

His concern for the equality of women appears again in a story about a woman 
caught in adultery, currently recounted in the Gospel according to John (7:53 – 
8:11). Although found in John, the narrative is not thought to be originally 
part of John's Gospel: the style is not John's and the passage is not in some 
of the earliest copies of John that we have. It also floats around in John and 
even shows up in early versions of other Gospels. Yet it is attested by early 
church historians and is consistent with other deeds and sayings known to come 
from the historical Jesus. Scholars think it probably goes back to Jesus.

The narrative tells of some men bringing before Jesus a woman who, they claim, 
they have caught in the act of adultery. They ask whether she should be put to 
death by stoning, as the law required. Jesus replies that the sinless man 
should throw the first stone, and the men slowly depart, leaving the woman to 

This story fits evolutionary psychology perfectly. Evolutionary psychology says 
that men are more lustful than women are but, at the same time, they want to 
stop their women from committing adultery and may be brutal in order to do so. 
The story says the men caught the woman in the act. If so, they necessarily 
caught the man in the act as well, but he is nowhere to be found. The men want 
to punish only the woman, despite the fact that the Torah calls for the deaths 
of both parties (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22). Jesus, knowing men's hearts, says 
okay, stone her if you are sinless, and the men retire, their own lust exposed. 
Again, Jesus is protecting women and making the battle between the sexes more 
equal than the men had wished.

Less certain to go back to the historical Jesus is the story about the 
Samaritan woman with whom Jesus converses at the well in Samaria. The story is 
only in John's Gospel (4:5 – 42). Yet it is consistent with what scholars know 
about Jesus, who behaved in ways his society disapproved. He talks to the woman 
in public, not acceptable behavior for a Jewish man, and she is a Samaritan, 
member of a group that Jews despised. It turns out that she has had several 
"husbands," that is, lovers, but although Jesus knows this, he does not 
withdraw from the conversation. He does not appear to condemn her illicit 
sexual behavior.

The other almost certain item scholars know about Jesus regarding sex is that 
he was celibate. Among Jews, whom the Torah commanded to be fruitful and 
multiply (Gen. 1:28), Jesus' celibacy might seem unlikely. However, many of the 
prophets were celibate, and John the Baptist and those members of the Jewish 
sect of Essenes who lived in the wilderness probably were as well. Yet Jesus 
never praises celibacy, and his leading disciple, Peter, is married (Mark 

Nothing more is known about Jesus' attitude toward reproductive relations 
except that he seems to have liked and protected children, and many women were 
among his followers and were active among the first generation of Christians, 
so he must have welcomed them into the group around him. Considering how 
aroused people get about sexual/reproductive relations the world over, Jesus 
seems amazingly calm and unperturbed. He calls a married man to be his leading 
disciple, yet remains celibate. He cares for children, yet has none of his own. 
He does not get excited about illicit sexual relationships, yet protects women 
from men's brutality toward them in the crucial issues of adultery and divorce.

Indeed, concerning the two least complicated Rs, resources and reproduction, 
Jesus advises us to be at ease. About resources, he suggests we behave more 
like other animals, not worrying so much about the future but enjoying the 
fruits we have today. The prayer attributed to him says, "Give us this day our 
daily bread" (Matt. 6:11 NRSV) rather than asking for a good harvest to store 
away. Yet Jesus is not an ascetic. On the contrary, he parties enough to be 
accused of drunkenness and gluttony (Matt. 11:19). Jesus seems to steer a 
middle course, and this suggests that he is insufficiently attracted to this R 
either to pursue or to reject it. He uses resources without being possessed by 

His attitude toward reproduction is similar, except that he seems to have 
studied this chapter of his evolutionary psychology textbook even more 
carefully. Knowing of men's lust and their desire to control women's 
reproduction, brutally if necessary, he tries to protect and help women, making 
the reproductive relationships equal. Other than that, his attitude seems to be 
"take it or leave it." Again, he is insufficiently attracted to this R either 
to pursue or to reject it.

Jesus and the other R's

To understand Jesus on the other two R's—relatedness and reciprocity—requires 
some knowledge of Judaism in Jesus' day.

The Jews had two ancient beliefs. They believed God had chosen them out of all 
the nations on Earth to be God's special people, and they believed God had 
promised them a particular piece of land, that it was God's holy land, and that 
they were to live on it and to cultivate it as their own. Yet in the first 
century, Jews were scattered across the Roman Empire and beyond, and Rome was 
sovereign over the holy land where Jews thought only God should reign. Most 
Jews who cried for justice wanted to drive Rome out of God's land, their land.

A newer belief about chosenness invaded Judaism about the time of the Exile. 
Some Jews thought God had chosen only a remnant of the Jewish people and had 
doomed all other Jews. This remnant theology often included apocalyptic 
eschatology, the idea that the end of the age was near and that it would 
culminate in holy and devastating war led by God's messiah and fought by his 
angels and the holy remnant against the Romans and the condemned Jews. In the 
end, God would establish justice, that is, God would vindicate the remnant and 
destroy the other Jews and the gentiles who did not convert to worship of the 
Jewish God. Moreover, all twelve Jewish tribes, including the ten that had 
disappeared centuries ago, would assemble in the holy land along with the 
(good) Jews from the Diaspora. These exclusivist and violent beliefs caused 
three centuries of sporadic civil war among the Jews, when Jews murdered other 
Jews and called it God's justice. The civil wars culminated in the Roman 
destruction of the Temple in 70 CE.

Jewish themes, then, were land (resources), kinship (relatedness), and justice 
(reciprocity seen as self-vindication), all under the aegis of the one and only 
God. (Other Jews had apparently been reading evolutionary psychology, too.) 
Given Jewish circumstances, these themes provided a recipe for 
self-destruction. Self-destruction arrived via civil war and Roman 

Jesus stepped into this stew as an itinerant preacher. His career began with 
John the Baptist (Mark 1:1 – 11) who was preaching by the Jordan River, 
announcing the forgiveness of sins through baptism. In this, John was not 
following Torah, which commanded sacrifices in the Temple for the forgiveness 
of sins. Jesus' indifference toward the Temple, symbol of Jewish chosenness, 
relatedness, and covenantal reciprocity with God, implies that he was not 
attracted to these Jewish themes.

Relatedness, in particular, was not high on Jesus' list of sacred subjects. In 
an extremely well attested incident (Mark 3:31 – 35), Jesus was talking with 
his close disciples and friends when his mother and brothers approached and 
asked to see him. When Jesus' disciples told him his family was outside, Jesus 
not only refused to see them but also disowned them. He stated, instead, that 
his friends were his family. In so far as Jesus was unmarried, he also rejected 
the relatedness that comes with children and in-laws. As a good evolutionary 
psychologist, he knew that families are naturally hierarchical and promote 
nepotism. Jesus wanted to emphasize equality and the common kinship of all 

His emphasis on our common kinship stands in stark contrast to the Jewish claim 
that all Jews were related and special in God's sight because all were the 
offspring of one man, Abraham. Abraham, they claimed, was their father. Jesus 
referred to God as father, not Abraham. God, of course, in Jewish theology, is 
creator of all, the father of all people, not merely the Jews.

Jesus tells stories about fathers in which the father represents God. In the 
story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11 – 32), a younger son asks for his 
inheritance before his father dies, then goes off and violates Jewish law, 
finally tending pigs, animals the Torah calls unclean. He even envies the pigs. 
When, broke and hungry, he returns home hoping to become one of his father's 
servants, his father embraces him, forgives him, and throws a feast for him, 
much to the chagrin of the prodigal's elder brother who has faithfully remained 
home and served their father well. If this father represents God, Jesus is 
implying that God loves and saves the unfaithful as well as the faithful. This 
is not remnant theology.

It is not reciprocity, either. Indeed, the father seems generous to a fault. 
Jesus seems well aware of the human desire for reciprocity and its offshoot, 
justice, and he constantly discourages seeking them. Well known are his short 
sayings denigrating the Torah reciprocity of an eye for an eye. The sayings 
suggest, instead, that if people batter one cheek, turn the other; if they sue 
for a coat, give them a cloak also, and if they force a person to go a mile, go 
two (Matt. 5:38 – 41). These statements all reject reciprocity.

Jesus also tells stories that portray reciprocity and justice negatively. The 
prodigal son is one such story. It depicts the elder brother as wanting 
justice. He is angry about his father's embrace of his brother, even after the 
father assures him that all the father has is his (Luke 15:31). He repudiates 
and perhaps envies the father's generosity even after the father tells him that 
he will lose nothing by it.

An even more relevant story is that of the day laborers (Matt. 20:1 – 15). 
Jesus tells of a landowner who hires some laborers early in the morning and 
promises them a day's wage—a fair wage, probably, since they accept it. He 
hires others later, some as late as evening. When time comes to pay the 
laborers, he pays the late-hired a whole day's wage, and those hired earlier 
complain. The landowner wants to know what their complaint is. They received 
the agreed wage. The landowner did not cheat them.

Nevertheless, they feel resentful. They expected reciprocity to be the rule the 
landowner would use to pay his workers. Instead, the landowner displayed 
generosity, and his generosity angered them. First century history tells who 
the angry figures represent. They typify the remnant theologians and their 
followers who expected God to repay their faithfulness with victory and 
vindication and condemn all the unfaithful, which is to say, all the Jews who 
disagreed with them.

Repeatedly, Jesus rejected reciprocity in favor of generosity and forgiveness. 
The rabbis had suggested that a person should be forgiven three times. The 
Gospels report that Jesus recommended seven (Luke 17:4), a symbolic number 
standing for wholeness or completion. The most extreme report has Jesus saying 
to forgive 77 times (Matt. 18:22). A figurative doubling of completion or 
infinity seems to be implied. This is probably Matthew's emendation, but the 
idea of infinite forgiveness apparently goes back to Jesus.

Jesus was wiser than those who want to make ethics center on reciprocity. He 
knew that placing reciprocity at the center of ethics generates ruinous 
results. Reciprocity justifies vengeance. It stifles generosity. It encourages 
self-centeredness, self-righteousness, and paranoia. Borrowing from the Torah, 
Jesus recommends a better way: love your neighbor; love, he says, is the heart 
of the Torah and the prophets (Matt. 22:39 – 40). Love is generous; love 
forgives; love helps others and casts out fear.

In contrast, reciprocity is egocentric. Placing it at the center of ethics 
encourages people to guard their own interests and mistrust other people. In 
doing so, it leaves them lonely and fearful, and therefore they seek groups 
that emphasize conformity, enforce strict rules, and proclaim their own 
self-described goodness while denouncing outsiders' evil. Jesus knew such 
people and such groups—the remnant theologians and their followers. He looked 
around him and saw that a strong emphasis on reciprocity does not lead to a 
flourishing life.

Yet Jesus embraced equality for the poor and powerless. The concept of 
egalitarianism might spring from reciprocity, but they are not the same. Jesus 
seems to think that the rich might give to the poor without asking return, and 
husbands might treat their wives with the same equality they offer to their 
fellow men.

Jesus and the Divine

To say that Jesus was an excellent evolutionary psychologist is not to claim 
that he knew anything about evolution. He was probably a typical Palestinian 
Jew of his time in his knowledge of the world. He would have known the Torah 
said God created the world in six days and created Adam and Eve as the first 
human beings. Jesus probably would not have known much history except as the 
Hebrew Scriptures represent it, and he would have known no science. 
Nonetheless, he had remarkable insights into human nature as evolutionary 
psychology discloses it and profound solutions on how to cope with it, based on 
compassion, especially for the powerless. His slogan might have been "equality, 
not reciprocity," which amounts to generosity by those who have power and 
wealth to those who have neither. Jesus represents God's generosity this way: 
God gives without requiring return.

The Gospels tell us that the divine touched Jesus at his baptism and, after 
that, he exorcised the possessed, healed the sick, and forgave sinners. 
Josephus, too, says Jesus was "a doer of wonderful works." 9 Wonderworkers were 
said to work by divine agency, and there seems little doubt that Jesus was 
close to God, filled with the divine, a "spirit person," to use historian 
Marcus Borg's term. Jesus himself felt he was close to the divine. He prayed 
frequently, sometimes all night, and he called God "father." His insights into 
human nature and his solutions to the problems it poses for human flourishing 
probably came from the divine source. If so, Jesus may be for us a window onto 
the divine. Jesus spoke of love, generosity, and forgiveness. In doing so, he 
spoke of the nature of God.

Christian atonement theology has claimed that Jesus died on the cross as a 
sacrifice for sins. Jesus, it claims, died to satisfy God's need for justice—a 
God, it also claims, who has no needs. An innocent man had to die to pay for 
the sins of the guilty because God required that justice be done. Such is 
atonement theology.

It does not take much insight into the nature of justice to grasp the injustice 
of killing the innocent to forgive the guilty. The God who allegedly commanded 
such a deed ruled by reciprocity and had a stingy soul. This is not Jesus' God.

Jesus says that God is generous, so generous it angers those whose ethics rest 
on reciprocity. God is not a God of reciprocity, of contracts and covenants. 
Nor, according to Jesus, does God demand sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. 
The Gospels never show Jesus sacrificing at the Temple. They introduce him as a 
disciple of John the Baptist, who does not sacrifice at the Temple either. 
Instead, John baptizes for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus, too, forgives sins 
without requiring sacrifice—or even baptism. Jesus did not think God requires 
sacrifices in order to forgive sins.

Indeed, Jesus says God gives us what we need when we ask for it. In one of his 
stories, he tells of an evil judge whom a widow importunes so strenuously he 
decides her case in her favor (Luke 18:1 – 5). The story is about an evil 
judge, not a good one, and yet when asked, he gives what is wanted. How much 
more then, would Jesus' God, a generous, fatherly God, give what we ask, 
including forgiveness?

In summary, the historical Jesus was an evolutionary psychologist who told us 
how to flourish in a world where human beings evolved, yet where divinity 
pervades human life. We flourish, he says, not by egocentricity, with its 
greed, lust, nepotism, and self-seeking justice, but by love, with its 
generosity and forgiveness. Since greed and generosity, egocentricity and love 
arise from the four R's, we have the capacity to choose greed or generosity, 
egocentricity or love. Jesus asks us to choose love, to act like God rather 
than like evolved creatures caught in evolutionary overdrive. Jesus says not to 
be so self-concerned, so harried, and so vigilant. The fifth R, he says, is 


1. Patricia Williams, Doing without Adam and Eve: Sociobiology and Original Sin 
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001).

2. Patricia Williams, Where Christianity Went Wrong, When, and What You Can Do 
About It (Philidelphia: Xlibris, 2001).

3. David M. Buss, Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind (Boston: 
Allyn and Bacon, 1999).

4. Richard D. Alexander, Darwinism and Human Affairs (Seattle: University of 
Washington Press, 1979).

5. Matt Ridley, The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of 
Cooperation (New York: Penguin Books, 1996).

6. Raymond Martin, The Elusive Messiah: A Philosophical Overview of the Quest 
for the Historical Jesus (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1999).

7. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Vol. 1, 
Roots of the Problem and the Person (New York: Doubleday, 1991).

8. Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels: The 
Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 

9. Falvius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, III:3, in The Complete Works of 
Josephus (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1981).


A Response to Patricia A. Williams' "The Fifth R: Jesus as Evolutionary 

Richard F. Carlson and Jason N. Hine

We wish to thank The Rev. Bill Maury-Holmes for his insightful suggestions in 
the preparation of this manuscript.

Richard F. Carlson is Research Professor of Physics at the University of 
Redlands. He is editor of the book, Science and Christianity: Four Views 

Jason N. Hine has worked in the area of science and Christian faith for a 
number of years. Recently he co-led the seminar, "What Can We Teach Our 
Children About Dinosaurs?"

Patricia A. Williams' essay centers on her assertion that the "historical 
Jesus" (as defined by the work of the Jesus Seminar) exhibited personal 
characteristics consistent with an understanding of human nature as described 
by evolutionary psychology. This relatively new enterprise describes human 
characteristics in terms of David Buss' four "R's": Resources, Reproduction, 
Relatedness (kinship), and Reciprocity.1 After showing that each R generally 
contains a spectrum of characteristics, Williams attempts to identify Jesus' 
position along each spectrum by citing incidents and sayings from the Gospels.

We have a few quibbles that we will mention here but not pursue. Williams 
states that she uses the results of the Jesus Seminar in her characterization 
of Jesus.2 Yet over half of her Gospel references have been given gray or black 
classifications by the Seminar (gray or black implying that the sayings in 
question are most likely not Jesus' words). Two other quibbles relate to 
Williams' statement that Jesus did not perceive his own death as a sacrifice 
for sin and her comments on Christian atonement theories. Each of these is 
worthy of a response, but we have chosen to concentrate on Williams' evaluation 
of Jesus' character in terms of Buss' four R's.

We see Williams' essay as a useful, interesting, and fanciful way to view 
Jesus. However, we wish that she had followed her own ideas just a bit further. 
By successfully demonstrating how Jesus' character is consistent with 
evolutionary psychology, Williams places him in a box of dimensions specified 
by the four R's. We feel that Jesus' character surpasses the four R's in a 
number of remarkable ways. While Williams briefly explores intimations 
regarding the divinity of Jesus in the final section of her article, we find 
her presentation to be inadequate.

Our goal is to highlight areas where we would like to have seen Williams take 
her ideas further. We will refer to much of the same evidence as used by 
Williams from the Gospels. In some cases, we provide additional evidence from 
the Gospels, which for the most part falls under Jesus Seminar categories of 
red or pink (most likely the sayings of Jesus) or occasionally gray (probably 
not said by Jesus but close to his ideas).3 As does Williams, we will use black 
references in a very limited way (black, in the opinion of the Jesus Seminar, 
implies that Jesus did not say it, as it represents the perspective or content 
of a later or different tradition).4 In doing so we hope as much as possible to 
compare oranges to oranges (maybe we should say red grapefruit to red 

Our understanding is that, when presented with earthly problems, Jesus 
succeeded in incorporating God's will in his response. Another way of putting 
this is that Jesus' response was both horizontal (human to human) and vertical 
(human to God). As indicated by Williams, Jesus' response to every situation 
was based on "the unmatched quality of God's love, generosity, and 
forgiveness." 5 The problem is we feel that Williams could have done more to 
demonstrate this when considering his responses to people or situations.

In her discussion of Jesus and his attitudes to the issue of Reproduction (one 
of the four R's), Williams cites the account of the adulterous woman.6 The 
religious leaders brought the adulterous woman to Jesus thinking that there 
were only two possible ways he might respond – either uphold the Law and 
condemn the woman to death, or allow her to live and thereby break the Law. 
However, Jesus' response did not come from among this set; rather his action 
was profoundly perceptive, wise, and loving. Williams claims that Jesus' 
intention was to provide protection for women by exposing the lust in the 
woman's accusers. We agree that this is the main thrust of the narrative. 
Clearly, Jesus cared for and forgave the adulterous woman, and one may infer 
from this that Jesus cares for all women. However, more than this, Jesus' 
response also demonstrated care for the woman's accusers—he did not seek to 
humiliate them but rather his response served as an invitation to engage in 
serious self-reflection, and thus the door was left open for any of the 
accusers to come to Jesus later. Further, Jesus' action here would have likely 
had a similar effect on each woman and man in the crowd. Even today, his 
response invites personal reflection, illuminates our shared struggle with sin, 
and demonstrates the love of God through what is termed "grace"—the free and 
divine gift of mercy, acceptance, and favor. Hence, we feel that Jesus' 
approach stretches the scope of what evolutionary psychology considers 

The next R we examine is Relatedness or kinship. Williams, in asserting that 
"Relatedness, in particular, was not high on Jesus' list of sacred subjects," 7 
cites an "extremely well-attested incident (Mark 3:31 – 35)",8 a passage rated 
as gray by the Jesus Seminar scholars. Here Williams sees Jesus as rejecting 
his family. Referring to his family, she states, "Jesus not only refused to see 
them but also disowned them." 9 Yes, it is possible to infer from this that 
Jesus is rejecting his family here. However, our understanding, supported by 
Williams herself several sentences later, is that Jesus was expanding on what 
he considers his true family to be—" Whoever does the will of God is my brother 
and sister and mother" (Mark 3:35—NRSV). Elsewhere in Mark 7:9 – 13 (black by 
the Jesus Seminar) Jesus affirms the command to "honor your father and mother" 
(Matt. 19:19—gray) by condemning the Pharisees' and scribes' use of the Corban 
offering in order to relieve themselves of the obligation to support their 
parents. Like Williams, in the Gospels we too see a consistent theme of Jesus' 
concern for and acceptance of society's rejects, e.g. the blind beggar, the 
Samaritan woman, the prostitute, tax collectors, in short—the "lepers" of that 
society. We conclude that an expanded view of relatedness was very high on 
Jesus' list of sacred subjects, again in line with but stretching the 
conceptual boundaries of evolutionary psychology in a way that provides us a 
glimpse of God's all-inclusive love.

We next turn to Williams' treatment of the story of the prodigal son (Luke 
15:11 – 32—pink by the Jesus Seminar) and to other Gospel examples she cites in 
her discussion of another R—Reciprocity.10 Here we affirm Williams' conclusion 
that, in terms of relationships with others, Jesus rejected reciprocity and 
instead constantly exhibited extreme generosity, forgiveness, friendship, and 
love in his teaching and his relationships with a wide array of people.

In terms of the fourth R, Resources, we disagree with Williams' 
characterization of Jesus as being "at ease" and "not worrying"11 about 
resources. On the contrary, we see Jesus as one who was concerned about the 
wise and generous use of resources (e.g. see Matt. 25:14 – 28—pink- and Mark 
10:17 – 22—gray). We feel that Jesus' command to "not worry" (Luke 12:29—gray) 
about resources is to be understood as an important step in seeking God's 
kingdom (Luke 12:31—black), a proper prioritization of Relatedness vs. 
Resources, not as Williams puts it, a general indifference toward resources on 
the part of Jesus.

In closing, we feel that Patricia Williams is addressing a topic of crucial 
importance: understanding the person of Jesus. This is crucial, because we feel 
that our clearest understanding of God is through the person of Jesus. In 
addition, we feel Williams is moving in a helpful direction as she relates the 
insights of evolutionary psychology to the historical Jesus in a way we see as 
light-hearted, yet full of opportunities for greater insight into the divine. 
Jesus not only goes beyond the horizontal (human to human) categories of the 
four R's, but he also exhibits a vertical (human to God) aspect of his 
character that stretches the boundaries of evolutionary psychology toward the 
positive extremes exhibited by God through Jesus. We hope that Williams and 
others will continue to explore these new ideas further.


1. David M. Buss, Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind (Boston: 
Allyn and Bacon, 1999).

2. Williams' essay above, 136.

3. Robert S. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels, The 
Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (New York: Macmillan, 1993), 36.

4. Ibid.

5. Williams essay, 142.

6. Ibid., 138.

7. Ibid., 140.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid., 139.


Was Jesus an Evolutionary Psychologist?

Joshua M. Moritz

Joshua M. Moritz is a Ph.D. student in Theology and Science at the Graduate 
Theological Union, Berkeley, and Managing Editor of Dialog: A Journal of 
Theology. His undergraduate and professional background is in evolutionary 
biology and paleoanthropology.

In her article "The Fifth R: Jesus as Evolutionary Psychologist," Patricia 
Williams casts Jesus in the role of a bio-psychological counselor and seer 
whose understanding of human nature turns out to be precisely that of the 
modern field of evolutionary psychology. There is no latent anachronism here, 
but rather, Williams is pointing out that the Jesus of history understood what 
makes human beings get up in the morning, what drives us, and what makes us 
tick. According to Williams, evolutionary psychology posits four primary 
factors that motivate and orient the vast majority--if not all--of human 
behaviors: resources, reproduction, relatedness, and reciprocity. The 
historical Jesus, as she understands him, addressed each of these areas of 
human life, and in so doing revealed a remarkable intuition, which parallels 
the findings of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. Such intuition, 
concludes Williams, was indeed a product of Jesus' connection with the Divine, 
and through this connection, he revealed to his followers the egalitarian 
nature of God. His teachings about this God may empower human beings in the 
present to establish egalitarian communities and enable them to flourish.

In this article, I wish to briefly respond to Williams' essay and her use of 
evolutionary psychology and sociobiology as they relate to theological 
anthropology. To begin with, I want to express my appreciation for Williams' 
work in this area. She has consistently pointed out the difficulties which 
modern evolutionary biology poses for many classical Western Christian 
doctrines--such as atonement theology's reliance on "the Fall without the 
Fall," 1 the doctrine of original sin based on the combination of Lamarckian 
inheritance and a historical fall, and the problem of evil.2 These problem 
areas, which Williams develops should be preeminent as constructive theology 
continues to strive to make itself intelligible in a world dominated by 
scientific self-understanding.

I also am grateful for Williams' attempts to integrate constructively the work 
of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology into theological anthropology, and 
her subsequent reformulation of various ancient Christian doctrines in light of 
these disciplines, which pronounce much on human nature. Her theological 
engagement with these bio-psychological fields is refreshing because there has 
been a tendency in the humanities to make light of the findings of evolutionary 
psychology and sociobiology, and to construct their ideas into caricatures and 
straw men that are then easily vanquished.3 This happens even though many 
scholars in the Philosophy of Biology maintain that sociobiology and 
evolutionary psychology are legitimate extensions of the Neo-Darwinian 
theoretical framework.4

That being said, I would like to raise several questions and concerns with 
Williams' essay and her related work. While I agree with Williams in her 
acceptance of the basic guiding principles of evolutionary psychology--that it 
is very likely that certain heritable and adaptive human behaviors have been 
honed by natural selection, and that there are specific cognitive mechanisms 
resulting from evolution by natural selection which underlie such human 
behaviors--I must question Williams' uncritical acceptance of the opinions that 
are championed by these disciplines.

Williams treats evolutionary psychology and sociobiology as though they 'have 
arrived' despite the large number of sympathetic, yet valid critiques of these 
fields.5 Among other things sociobiology and its descendent evolutionary 
psychology have been criticized on account of their genic selectionism, genetic 
reductionism, determinism, and atomism,6 their assumption of massive modularity 
in the brain, their hyper-adaptationism7 and their confusion regarding moral 
categories.8 I have not found any citation of such criticisms in Williams work 
on this subject. She only goes so far as to mention that there is controversy 
surrounding sociobiology "because it applies to us," and "because some 
sociobiologists have been inept with metaphors, sowing considerable 
confusion."9 There is no discussion of the more fundamental criticisms of the 
methodological and biological assumptions of evolutionary psychology and 
sociobiology's practitioners.

Evolutionary psychology and its predecessor sociobiology claim that humans have 
a generic nature and that this nature is rooted in our biology--particularly in 
our genes. Since our genes, as they have evolved to adapt to a specific 
environment, are the foundation and unconscious directors of our behavior, such 
behaviors should be seen in light of the ultimate evolutionary purpose and goal 
of our genes--namely "to get as many copies of one's genes into the next 
generation as possible." 10 Contained in this ambiguous behavioral inheritance 
bequeathed to us by our genes are predispositions in the vast majority of 
humans towards murder, infanticide, child abuse,11 divorce, infidelity,12 
pornography,13 xenophobia,14 treating women as commodities,15 rape,16 and even 
genocide.17 To ensure that each gender gets their maximal fitness reward 
calculated in genes that make it to the succeeding generation, men are by 
nature sexually promiscuous and competitive, and women are by nature "coy" and 
parentally nurturing.18 When our "selfish genes" are in the driver's seat, such 
is to be expected, and while exceptions may exist, they are just 

Cue Jesus. Into such a world of ethically sordid genetic pre-dispositions 
embodied in immoral animals enters the historical Jesus who, in effect, tells 
humans to live contrary to their genetically inherited nature. Jesus calls us 
to "deny ourselves" and in so doing deny to our genes the fitness rewards which 
they so fervently long for. For the sake of the Kingdom of God, we must be 
willing to minimize our inclusive fitness and forsake those who share the 
greatest percentage of our own genes. In fact, our genes are not to be seen as 
more important than the genes of a total stranger--even those of an unrelated 
Samaritan or Gentile. We are to spend our precious resources on those who offer 
us no fitness benefits whatsoever: widows past reproductive age, orphans who 
are not our kin, the poor who cannot benefit us materially, the sick--who may 
even harm our own health and fitness potential, and prisoners--who cannot be 
trusted to reciprocate. Men are called to resist the urge to "diversify their 
genetic portfolio" and women are called to trust in God for their material 
resources rather than in their husbands or mates.19 Humans are, in fact, asked 
to adopt an extremely unstable evolutionary strategy by throwing out 
reciprocity all together--" give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes 
away what is yours, do not demand it back 
 and lend, expecting nothing in 
return." 20 The road of the cross which the life of Jesus paves for those who 
would follow, is a sure evolutionary dead-end--the ultimate self-extinction 

Williams says that such behavior and the wisdom of Jesus "fits evolutionary 
psychology perfectly." 21 but what does she mean by this? If she means that 
Jesus understands human nature as it is perceived at the tail end of our 
evolution and that he calls us to resist the very same dark tendencies 
bequeathed to us by evolution, then she is right. Christian morality demands a 
"revolution or a reversal of those priorities" which are given to us by 
nature.22 Where does such moral courage come from if it is not within human 
nature? Is it pure grace from the realm of the Divine that actually alters our 
evolved nature? Or, is it an effort of the will which is transformed once one 
is encountered by the life and example of Jesus? Either answer poses a dilemma 
for evolutionary psychology because both behavioral scenarios are outside of 
its explanatory purview. If we are altered by super-nature, then the categories 
of nature are no longer adequate. Alternatively, if human nature has enough 
behavioral wiggle room so that humans may act in ways which are not genetically 
predisposed, and even in ways directly contrary to our genetic predispositions, 
then such evolutionary psychological talk of genetic predispositions loses its 
scientific scope and robustness. Evolutionary psychology seeks to explain 
altruistic behavior in terms of inclusive fitness in the context of 
Evolutionarily Stable Strategies, but such explanations lose their relevance 
when the object of investigation thrusts aside the "things of this world" to 
pursue an eschatologically stable strategy instead.

Deeper than this dilemma, though, is evolutionary psychology's foundational 
assumption of the "selfish genes" view of evolved biological reality. This 
"gene's-eye view" of evolution, which Williams presupposes,23 is far from being 
a safe assumption. In fact, this is precisely the area where many biologists 
from various sub-disciplines find the most intractable problems relating to the 
future direction and success of evolutionary research.24 There is a growing 
consensus that there is a variety of levels of selection in evolution.25 The 
notion that "naked genes" are the target or primary level of selection, while 
at first broadly accepted, has since then been "severely criticized, and even 
its original supporters have now moderated their claims." 26 Such genic 
selectionism, which is fundamental to the explanatory framework that 
under-girds evolutionary psychology and its theory of inclusive fitness, is 
also called into question by genetic pleiotropy27 and "the interaction of genes 
controlling polygenic components of the phenotype."28 Furthermore, 
investigations into the roles played by symbiosis,29 self-organization,30 
neutral evolution,31 historical and developmental constraints,32 epigenetics,33 
and generic principles in evolution34 have demonstrated that other forces are 
at work both in the generation of evolutionary novelty, and the way in which 
biological information is inherited. Natural selection and the genocentrism it 
entails is no longer the sole fiddler bowing the tune of evolutionary change, 
but now appears to be joined by a symphony of other evolutionary mechanisms 
each playing at different tempos and in different keys. Conclusion

These developments, when taken together, pose a serious obstacle to the future 
advance of any general theory of evolutionary psychology. While an evolutionary 
psychology is certainly still possible it will have to be a much mediated 
evolutionary psychology which can no longer speak of a generic human nature as 
such, but rather, must aim to describe only elements of human nature that have 
a definite genetic corollary. Occasions of altruism in nature will no longer 
create a research problem for this epistemically humbled and less imperialistic 
evolutionary psychology, and the moral "performance gap"35 between what we are 
and what we ought to be will lose much of its mysterious quality when 
considered within a thoroughly supplemented and expanded Neo-Darwinism. Was the 
Historical Jesus an evolutionary psychologist? He certainly knew enough about 
human nature to know that selfish motives--if not always selfish genes--orient 
much of our behavior. Jesus was also familiar, however, with the nature of the 
Divine, and he knew enough about God's nature to recognize that the One in 
whose image humans have been made is not far from us when we walk by faith.


1. A phrase coined by Robert John Russell. For Russell's discussion of the 
problem of "Fall without the Fall" see Robert J. Russell, "Theology and 
Science: Current Issues and Future Directions," 2000, Part II, Section E, 
Redemption, Evolution and Cosmology, 
http://www.counterbalance.net/rjr/erede-body.html. See also Robert J. Russell, 
"Is Evil Evolving?" Dialog: A Journal of Theology 42:3 (Fall 2003): 311. For 
Williams' discussion see Patricia Williams, Doing without Adam and Eve: 
Sociobiology and Original Sin (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001); and Patricia 
Williams, "Sociobiology and Original Sin" Zygon 35:4 (Dec 2000).

2. Patricia Williams, "Evolution Sociobiology and the Atonement," Zygon 33:4 
(1998); Patricia Williams, "The Problem of Evil: A Solution from Science," 
Zygon 36:3 (2001).

3. Such critiques of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology where the actual 
views of these disciplines are exaggerated or misrepresented are, Richard C. 
Lewontin, Steven P. R. Rose, and Leon J. Kamin, Not in Our Genes: Biology, 
Ideology, and Human Nature (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984); and Hilary Rose 
and Steven P. R. Rose, Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary 
Psychology (New York: Harmony Books, 2000). For a critical review of the latter 
which points out several misreadings of evolutionary psychology see Daniel 
Jones, "Alas Poor Higgs," British Medical Journal, 322 (24 March, 2001), 740ff. 
http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/eletters/322/7288/740#13672 .

4. See, for example, Michael Ruse, "I see sociobiology, the study of animal 
social behavior from an evolutionary perspective, as a natural and an unforced 
growth and development from orthodox and established neo-Darwinian evolutionary 
biology. This being so I suggest that because neo-Darwinian biology is a 
genuine and fruitful branch of science, the respect that it deserves should 
automatically be transferred to sociobiology." Quoted in Peter Saunders, 
"Sociobiology: A House Built on Sand" in Evolutionary Processes and Metaphors, 
Mae-Wan Ho and Sidney W. Fox eds. (New York: Wiley, 1988) 290.

5. See Kim Sterelny and Paul E. Griffiths, Chapter 13 in Sex and Death: An 
Introduction to Philosophy of Biology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 
1999); Philip Kitcher, Vaulting Ambition: Sociobiology and the Quest for Human 
Nature (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985); The Evolution of Minds: 
Psychological and Philosophical Perspective, Paul Davies & Harmon Holcomb, III, 
eds. (Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001); Jaak Panksepp and Jules 
B. Panksepp, "The Seven Sins of Evolutionary Psychology," Evolution and 
Cognition, 6:2, 108 ; Elisabeth A. Lloyd, "Evolutionary Psychology: The Burdens 
of Proof", Biology and Philosophy 14 (1999): 211 – 233; Paul E. Griffiths, 
'Evolutionary Psychology' in The Philosophy of Science: An Encyclopedia, 
Sahotra Sarkar and Jessica Pfeifer eds. (New York: Routledge, 2005). For a 
criticism that aims at some of evolutionary psychology and sociobiology's more 
foundational assumptions see Peter Saunders, "Sociobiology: A House Built on 

6. See David Depew and Bruce Weber, Darwinism Evolving: Systems Dynamics and 
the Genealogy of Natural Selection (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995) 374 – 378.

7. Stephen J. Gould, "More Things in Heaven and Earth" in Alas Poor Darwin.

8. David Sloan Wilson, Eric Dietrich, and Anne B. Clark, "On the Inappropriate 
Use of the Naturalistic Fallacy in Evolutionary Psychology," Biology and 
Philosophy 18 (2003): 669 – 682.

9. Williams, Doing Without Adam and Eve, 124.

10. Williams, this issue, 134.

11. Martin Daly and Margo Wilson, Homicide (New York: Aldine, 1988).

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

13. "Evolution has built into every red-blooded male a desire to find 
'Pornotopia'--the fantasy land where 'sex is sheer lust and physical 
gratification, devoid of more tender feelings and encumbering relationships, in 
which women are always aroused, or at least easily arousable, and ultimately 
are always willing' (Symons, p. 171). The entire cosmetics, fashion, and 
pornography industries are attempts to create Pornotopia here on Earth". Frank 
Miele, "The (Im)moral Animal: A Quick & Dirty Guide to Evolutionary Psychology 
& the Nature of Human Nature," Skeptic 4:1 (1996): 42 – 49. See also David 
Buss, The Evolution of Desire (New York: Basic Books, 1994), 49 – 60. and 
Donald Symons, The Evolution of Human Sexuality (Oxford: Oxford University 
Press, 1979), 187 – 200.

14. Edward O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (New York: Knopf, 
1998), 253 – 54.

15. Daly and Wilson, Homicide 188 – 189; Edward O. Wilson, On Human Nature 
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 126.

16. Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer, The Natural History of Rape: Biological 
Bases of Sexual Coercion (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).

17. John Alcock, The Triumph of Sociobiology (New York: Oxford University 
Press, 2001), 144 – 146.

18. Martin Daly and Margo Wilson, Sex, Evolution and Behavior (Boston: Willard 
Grant, 1983), 78 – 79.; Robert L. Trivers, Social Evolution (Menlo Park, CA: 
Benjamin/Cummings, 1985), 207; Carl-Adam Wachtmeister and Magnus Enquist, "The 
Evolution of the Coy Female – Trading Time for Information," Ethology 105:11 
(November 1999): 983 – 992.

19. Frank Miele, "The (Im)moral Animal," 43; See Jesus' response to "Is it 
lawful to divorce for any reason?" Matt 19:3 – 12, and see Mark 10:2 – 12 and 
John 4.

20. Luke 6:30 – 35.

21. See Williams, this issue, 138.

22. John Hare, "Is There an Evolutionary Foundation for Human Morality?" in 
Evolution and Ethics: Human Morality in Biological and Religious Perspective 
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 190.

23. Williams maintains "that the most accurate way to view evolution is from 
the point of view of the gene" (this issue, 134). She thus appears to adhere to 
the genic selectionism of G. C. Williams, W. D. Hamilton, and Richard Dawkins.

24. See Gertrudis Van de Vijver, Linda Van Speybroeck, and Dani De Waele, 
"Epigenetics: A Challenge for Genetics, Evolution, and Development?" Annals of 
the New York Academy of Sciences 981 (2002): 1 – 6.

25. Stephen Jay Gould and Elisabeth A. Lloyd, "Individuality and Adaptation 
Across Levels of Selection: How Shall We Name and Generalize the Unit of 
Darwinism?" Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 96:21 (October 
1999):11904 – 11909.

26. Ernst Mayr, "The Objects of Selection," Proceedings of the National Academy 
of Sciences USA 94:6 (March 1997): 2091 – 2094.

27. This is where multiple, often seemingly unrelated, phenotypic effects are 
caused by a single altered gene or pair of altered genes. See Jonathan Hodgkin, 
"Seven Types of Pleiotropy" International Journal of Developmental Biology 42 
(1998): 501 – 505.

28. Ernst Mayr, "The Objects of Selection," 2092.

29. Lynn Margulis, "Symbiogenesis and Symbioticism," in Symbiosis as a Source 
of Evolutionary Innovation: Speciation and Morphogenesis, Lynn Margulis and 
René Fester eds (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1991).

30. Stuart A. Kauffman, "Self-Organization, Selective Adaptation and its 
Limits: A New Pattern of Inference in Evolution and Development," in Evolution 
at the Crossroads: The New Biology and the New Philosophy of Science, David J. 
Depew and Bruce H. Weber eds. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985), 184 – 185; and 
David Depew and Bruce Weber, Darwinism Evolving: Systems Dynamics and the 
Genealogy of Natural Selection (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995), 446.

31. Motoo Kimura, "Recent Development of the Neutral theory Viewed from the 
Wrightian Tradition of Theoretical Population Genetics," Proceedings of the 
National Academy of Sciences USA 88:14 (July 1991): 5969 – 5973 ; Motoo Kimura, 
"Evolutionary Rate at the Molecular Level," Nature 17:217 (129) (Feb 1968): 624 
– 626; Motoo Kimura, "The Rate of Molecular Evolution Considered From the 
Standpoint of Population Genetics," Proceedings of the National Academy of 
Sciences USA 63:4 (August 1969): 1181 – 1188.

32. For the historical constraints see Stephen J. Gould and Richard C. 
Lewontin, "The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique 
of the Adaptationist Programme," Proceedings of the Royal Society of London , 
Series B, 205:1161 (1979): 581 – 598. For a discussion of Developmental Systems 
Theory see Susan Oyama, Paul E. Griffiths, and Russell D. Gray, Cycles of 
Contingency: Developmental Systems and Evolution, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 

33. See Van de Vijver, Van Speybroeck, and De Waele "Epigenetics: A Challenge 
for Genetics, Evolution, and Development?" For a critique of the selfish genes 
understanding of evolution from an epigenetic standpoint see especially Richard 
von Sternberg, "On the Roles of Repetitive DNA Elements in the Context of a 
Unified Genomic Epigenetic System," Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 
981 (2002): 154 – 188. See Eva Jablonka and Marion J. Lamb, Epigenetic 
Inheritance and Evolution: The Lamarckian Dimension (Oxford: Oxford University 
Press, 1995).

34. See Ricard Solé and Brian Goodwin, Signs of Life: How Complexity Pervades 
Biology. (New York: Basic Books, 2000); and Simon Conway Morris, Life's 
Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (New York: Cambridge 
University Press, 2003).

35. For a discussion of the gap between what we actually do and what morality 
demands of us see John Hare (cited above).


Jesus and Evolutionary Psychology, Two Agendas

Howard J. van Till

Howard J. Van Till is Emeritus Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Calvin 
College, Michigan, USA. His works include Portraits of Creation: Biblical and 
Scientific Perspectives on the World's Formation (1990) and The Fourth Day: 
What the Bible and the Heavens are Telling us about Creation (1986).

Patricia A. Williams posits the provocative thesis that the historical Jesus' 
knowledge of human nature--as he experienced it and engaged it 2000 years 
ago--closely matches the understanding of human nature now offered by 
evolutionary psychology. This thesis does not entail any frivolous conjectures 
that Jesus was supernaturally informed about biological evolution or about a 
scientific psychology based on evolutionary considerations. Rather, the thesis 
posits that the historical Jesus, a typical Palestinian Jew in his knowledge of 
the world and unaware of anything resembling modern science, nonetheless "had 
remarkable insights into human nature as evolutionary psychology discloses it."

As I see it, this is a reasonable and modest thesis that can be tested by a 
comparison of what we know (or at least have good reason to believe) about 
Jesus' perceptions of human nature and what modern evolutionary psychology 
offers us regarding its scientific understanding of human nature. Williams 
summarizes the four central concepts of evolutionary psychology, as derived 
from sociobiology, in her list of "the four R's of human nature and much of the 
rest of nature as well: resources, reproduction, relatedness, and reciprocity."

Before offering any thoughts regarding a comparison of Jesus' knowledge of 
human nature and "the four R's of human nature" that Williams draws from 
evolutionary psychology, I must express a bit of puzzlement concerning the 
grounds for the similarity thesis that Williams posits. Suppose that Williams 
is correct (and I am content to let evolutionary psychologists judge whether or 
not that is the case) to say that evolutionary psychology's assessment of the 
four major foci of human behavior can be captured in this list of four R's. 
Suppose that Williams is also correct (and I am content to let scholars of the 
historical Jesus judge whether or not that is the case) to characterize Jesus' 
knowledge of human nature as focused on those same four behavioral concerns. 
Would that provide a sufficient basis for concluding that Williams is warranted 
in positing that Jesus' knowledge of human nature closely matches the 
understanding of human nature offered by evolutionary psychology? That is, 
would Williams be warranted in concluding that Jesus is relevant today partly 
"because he is an astonishingly perceptive evolutionary psychologist?" I do not 
see how the case can be settled on the similarities so far granted.

Williams may well be correct in drawing parallels in what the historical Jesus 
saw 2000 years ago and what modern evolutionary psychology now sees as the 
principal concerns of human nature. However, as I understand it, the primary 
concern of evolutionary psychology is not merely to list those basic concerns, 
but rather to posit explanations for those behavioral foci as products of the 
entire evolutionary process. However, if the positing of evolution-based 
explanations constitutes the core of the modern science of evolutionary 
psychology, then the appropriateness of drawing close parallels between Jesus 
and evolutionary psychology must, it seems to me, be called into question. The 
historical Jesus offered no explanations of the sort that would interest 
evolutionary psychology. Jesus, on the contrary, expressed numerous moral and 
ethical judgments on the manner in which humans ought to act in response to 
those basic drives for resources, reproduction, relatedness, and reciprocity.

To summarize what we have observed so far: even if it is the case that Jesus 
and evolutionary psychology agree on their identification of the primary 
concerns that characterize human nature, there is a vast difference in what 
they offer in response. Evolutionary psychology offers scientific explanations 
for the origin and presence of the four R's as products of our evolutionary 
history. Given what cognitive psychology perceives to be core human concerns, 
evolutionary considerations suggest ways to understand how humans came to be 
this way. Jesus, on the other hand, offered moral or ethical principles that 
would encourage humans to choose behavior (whether consistent with evolutionary 
influences or not) that is "good" by the standards of divine intention for our 
living as God-conscious creatures. In other words, while it may well be argued, 
as Williams does, that Jesus and evolutionary psychology proceed because of 
similar views of human nature, they have radically differing agendas driving 
their interests in reflecting on the primary foci of human behavioral concerns.

Evolutionary psychology's concern for explaining the historical roots of the 
four R's cannot easily be equated with Jesus' concern to provide moral or 
ethical guidance in choosing ways to act on those four drives. Evolutionary 
psychology offers a theory about human behavior and its roots in the practical 
need for species survival. Jesus posited no such theory, but instead 
exemplified sound moral and ethical value judgments on behavioral choices, 
judgments rooted in his extraordinary awareness of the divine intention for 
human life.

Perhaps I am being too critical. Perhaps Williams never intended to make the 
strong equation that I have just criticized. Perhaps I need to take more 
seriously Williams' expressed concern to demonstrate that, despite her 
contention that Jesus "did not perceive his own death as a sacrifice for sin," 
and despite the fact that this would seem to "undermine doctrines previously 
considered central to Christianity" and thereby "appear to make Jesus 
irrelevant," Jesus is nonetheless just as relevant today as ever. Why? Because 
his understanding of human nature equipped him to offer relevant answers to 
Aristotle's ethical question, "How can human beings flourish?" True, 
evolutionary psychology focuses on technical aspects of how human behavior 
affects human survival and reproduction, while Jesus focused on matters of 
acting in accord with the divine will for human moral and ethical behavior, but 
both express a concern for identifying the sort of human behavior that improves 
the probability for the flourishing of the species. Perhaps I should be content 
with Williams' case with the continuing relevance of what Jesus said and did. 
In fact, I think Williams' case for the high degree of relevance that the words 
and deeds of Jesus still have was eloquently made.

Am I ready, then, to set my misgivings aside and accept Williams' references to 
Jesus as "an astonishingly perceptive evolutionary psychologist?" I must admit 
that I continue to have reservations about statements worded in this way. One 
way to express my hesitancy is to note that although Williams appears to 
justify this language by noting that Jesus and evolutionary psychology share a 
common agenda in dealing with the question, "How can humans flourish?" I think 
we need to explore whether or not the term "flourish" is being used in the same 
way for both.

From the standpoint of evolutionary biology, what does it mean to flourish ? 
Stated as bluntly and succinctly as possible, for a species (or some higher 
order of categorization) to flourish, means to be reproductively successful 
over an extended time as a member of an ecosystem in some reasonably stable 
environment. It is about numbers, about numerical success, about survival. 
Maintain a stable or growing population, or your category of organisms goes 
extinct. Flourish, or vanish. Life is tough. Adapt or die; a purely pragmatic 

From the standpoint of what Jesus said and did, however, what does it mean to 
flourish ? I would suggest that the species-survival criteria supplied by 
evolutionary psychology might be seen as necessary, but by no means sufficient 
from Jesus' standpoint. To flourish as a God-conscious creature would, I 
believe, sometimes require choosing behavior that conforms to the divine will 
in spite of the fact that it would fail to contribute to reproductive success. 
By the moral and ethical standards exemplified by the life and death of Jesus 
(whether or not these accomplished anything toward atonement for sin), 
flourishing as a human species is not simply a matter of numbers. On the 
contrary, Jesus sometimes exemplified behavioral choices that were radically 
contrarian in nature. In the extreme, Jesus paid the ultimate price of life 
itself by choosing right behavior over the biological goal of flourishing. I 
would not go so far as to say that Jesus advocated a generalized disregard for 
flourishing as a reproductively successful species, but it seems evident that 
Jesus did advocate the recognition of situations in which reproductive success 
was to be given secondary, not primary, status.

Williams rightly recognizes this in noting that each of human nature's four R's 
can be pursued with such excessive vigor as to become a vice. Excessive pursuit 
of resources becomes greed or gluttony. Obsession with reproductive activity 
becomes lust or abuse of power. Unqualified valuation of relatedness becomes 
destructive exclusivism. Compassionless application of reciprocity becomes an 
excuse for vengeance. Jesus spoke and acted in a way that demonstrated such 
excesses to fall outside the divine will for human behavior. Hence, to engage 
in a bit of Williams-style commentary, Jesus "knew when to set evolutionary 
psychology aside and to make behavioral choices on the basis of divine calling 
rather than on the probabilities for reproductive success."

I was especially struck (positively) by Williams' comments on the dangers of 
compassionless reciprocity in which she called attention to the remarkable and 
ironic contrast between the example set by Jesus and the distorted portrait of 
God that has become the display piece of substitutionary atonement theology. 
Williams says it with great eloquence. "Jesus spoke of love, generosity, and 
forgiveness. In doing so, he spoke of the nature of God. Christian atonement 
theology," alternatively, "has claimed that 
 an innocent man had to die to pay 
for the sins of the guilty because God required that justice be done
. It does 
not take much insight into the nature of justice to grasp the injustice of 
killing the innocent to forgive the guilty. The God who allegedly commanded 
such a deed ruled by reciprocity and had a stingy soul. This is not Jesus' 

Would that more contemporary Christians could see what Williams here points 
out. Seeing this demands no knowledge of evolutionary psychology, however. A 
sense of justice that transcends the scientific agenda will do.

What about the fifth R? Recall Jesus' advice for life, "Be not anxious
." Live 
by love. Do not be driven by the egocentrism inherited from our evolutionary 
past. Do not allow yourself to distort any one of the four R's by becoming 
obsessed with its unqualified satisfaction. In a word, Relax.

Great idea. That is the next item on my "to do" list.


Counter-response on "The Fifth R: Jesus as Evolutionary Psychologist"

Patricia A. Williams

Patricia A. Williams is a philosopher of biology and philosophical theologian 
who writes full-time on Christianity and science. Her recent books include, 
Doing Without Adam and Eve: Sociobiology and Original Sin (2001) and Where 
Christianity Went Wrong, When, and What you Can do about it (2001). Her mailing 
address is PO Box 69, Covesville, VA 22931. Her e-mail address is 
theologyauthor at aol.com; website www.theologyauthor.com.

I am grateful to the editors for the privilege of receiving responses to my 
article and the opportunity to reply. I also appreciate the sincerity and 
thoughtfulness characterizing the responses. I might add that evolutionary 
biology is conceptually difficult; it is a field in which experts make 
mistakes, and much sociobiology is conceptually confused, partly because it 
seems a favorite playground for atheists who are ideologically driven. Finally, 
historical Jesus scholarship is broad, deep, and varied, so one needs to dine, 
not snack. Keeping it all straight is difficult. Even I make mistakes.

Therefore, it may be best to begin by explaining the project I pursue in my 
books and essays. I want to integrate science, theology, and spirituality. As I 
come from a Christian background, that generally means I engage some aspect of 
Christianity. My first step is to take the best, most central, most accepted 
scientific findings to establish a firm foundation in the sciences. My second 
is to pursue the best biblical scholarship, especially scholarship on the 
historical Jesus, Christianity's central figure and a prophet in two other 
world religions. Thus, two critical, rational enterprises stand at the center 
of my work. Third, I seek the best in Christian spirituality, which I presently 
think Quakerism represents. (Quaker theology also smoothes some theological and 
scriptural issues.) Then I try to integrate them.

Some examples from my treatment of science may help. When I discuss cosmology, 
I avoid string theory or many-worlds theory. Although they may be cutting-edge 
research subjects, they currently lack mathematical proof and empirical 
evidence. In biology, I center on the theory of evolution by natural selection 
since it is the foundational theory of biology. This is not to deny that other 
mechanisms for evolution exist. Indeed, I consider genetic drift significant in 
speciation.1 In sociobiology, I concentrate on kin selection (inclusive 
fitness), because it lies at the heart of sociobiology and is well established 
theoretically and empirically. For evolutionary psychology, I focus on 
dispositions applicable to as many organisms as possible, (the exception in the 
4Rs being reciprocity, which although not uniquely human, is central to human 
relationships as it is not to those of other animals). I might add, against 
Carlson and Hine's assumption that I borrowed the terminology from David Buss, 
the expression "the four R's" and the arguments for the four R's being 
fundamental originate with me.

To understand where the responders have erred, it will help to return to the 
basics. Van Till discusses evolution in terms of species survival. Evolution 
does not promote species survival. On the contrary, natural selection is a 
negative mechanism, promoting no one's survival, only eliminating the unfit. 
Evolution depends on three things: that more organisms come to be than survive 
to reproduce, some characteristics vary, and some of these are inherited. 
Populations change over time (evolve) because organisms that die before they 
reproduce fail to pass their characteristics on to future generations, and 
these characteristics vanish from the population. Meanwhile, mutations may add 
novel characteristics. Species can be selected (go extinct--contrary to 
Moritz's assumption, I am not a single-level selectionist and certainly not a 
genetic-level one), but natural selection cannot promote their survival. 
Indeed, most have gone extinct, so it fails to promote their survival. On the 
whole, however, the theory of evolution applies to individuals and their kin 
and is always local, that is, characteristics fit in one environment will not 
be so in others. This means evolution cannot promote the flourishing of 
species. I doubt Jesus promotes it, either. I doubt he thinks that broadly. 
Rather, his widest interest seems individual and community flourishing in a 
non-egalitarian but God-suffused world.

Van Till assumes sociobiology has a single focus, the explanation of certain 
behaviors by means of the theory of evolution. In fact, it has three foci. The 
first, begun by W. D. Hamilton in 1964,2 was to explain biologically altruistic 
behavior by means of inclusive fitness theory. The second, prominently promoted 
by Robert Trivers from 1971 and 1972,3 was to predict animal social behavior 
(including human social behavior) from inclusive fitness theory. The third has 
been to gather empirical evidence to support or refute the predictions. The 
third and last has occurred almost since Hamilton published, was famously 
summarized by E. O. Wilson in 1975,4 and has become a project of evolutionary 
psychology in recent years. In calling Jesus an evolutionary psychologist, I 
credit him with understanding by (divine?) intuition and astute observation 
that human nature is disposed (not determined!) to follow the 4Rs that lie at 
the foundations of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. Given Jesus' lack 
of scientific knowledge, he could not have been doing anything more.

Since Moritz fails to find citations in my theological writing to critics of 
sociobiology, and no explicit criticisms of it, he concludes I accept it 
uncritically. My theological works do ignore its critics, for I think engaging 
in intra-scientific squabbles inappropriate in a theological context. However, 
in a lead review in the Quarterly Review of Biology,5 I criticize selfish gene 
theory and the idea that sociobiological explanations of behavior provide total 

However, in my theological works, I do something different. I interpret 
sociobiology in a non-reductionist, non-determinist, non-egocentric way, 
usually without explicitly condemning its reductionist, determinist, and 
selfishness-promoting proponents who, I think, misconstrue the evidence. I am 
especially disturbed that Moritz cloaks me in the determinist mantle when I say 
in summary of human nature's four R's in my article,

Thus, evolution has given us enormous potential for both good and evil, and it 
also has provided a wide range of choices, from egocentricity that seeks the 
destruction of others to generosity and love that seek to further their 
welfare. We are remarkably flexible and free. That is the primary reason we 
find it so difficult to answer Aristotle's question about how to flourish. If 
we have such a range of desires and can engage in such an enormous number of 
activities, then which are those that best promote our flourishing?

I emphasize choice and freedom. There is no taint of determinism here. Indeed, 
I find more tendencies toward the assumption of genetic determinism in the 
responses to my article than I do in my article. Moreover, without citing 
sociobiology's critics, I explicitly argue against determinism for an entire 
section in my Doing without Adam and Eve.6

As for "natural selection and the genocentrism it entails [being] no longer the 
sole fiddler" (Moritz), it never was. Charles Darwin, lord of the theory of 
evolution, invokes the inheritance of acquired characteristics to aid it, then 
sexual selection.7 Ernst Mayr, king of the new synthesis, recognizes sexual 
selection, the Baldwin effect, symbiosis, and genetic drift.8 E. O. Wilson, 
prince of sociobiology, includes morphological and physiological differences 
and environmental contingencies.9 A review of the most thoroughly studied genus 
in the world, Drosophila, adds premating isolation.10 Moreover, we now possess 
empirical proof that environments restructure organisms' brains, including 
adult human brains.11 Many things shape organisms and their behaviors.

Many people shape historical Jesus scholarship. It is not limited to the Jesus 
Seminar. Although I respect the Jesus Seminar and find its two volumes12 handy 
for checking out black, gray, pink, and red sayings and deeds, I nowhere rely 
on it to tell me which sayings go back to Jesus as Carlson and Hine assert. In 
contrast, I say I will "restrict the passages of scripture I discuss to those 
the scholars think go back to the historical Jesus." I have written a book, 
mentioned in the article, on the historical Jesus13 with a bibliography listing 
42 references to works of 35 Jesus scholars and historians of the two first 
centuries. I compiled that list five years ago, and I have continued reading.

In an essay such as "The Fifth R," to summarize such extensive scholarship is 
impossible. However, to offer one example here, most other scholars think the 
passage Carlson and Hine mention that the Jesus Seminar colors gray, Mark 3:31 
– 35, goes back to Jesus. If Carlson and Hine researched further in the 
Seminar's The Five Gospels, they would find even the Seminar colors the 
parallels in Matthew 12:46 – 50 and Thomas 99 pink. The event occurs in two 
sources, Mark and Thomas, so it meets the scholarly criterion of multiple 
attestation. Matthew and Luke (8:19 – 21) retain it from Mark, their source for 
it, so it must have been well known. Moreover, it also fits the strong 
scholarly criterion that events and sayings embarrassing to the Jesus movement 
are likely to go back to Jesus. For a son not to honor his mother breaks one of 
the Ten Commandments, and in the Jesus movement after Jesus' death, some of his 
family members became his followers. Their change of heart must have aroused 
criticism of their earlier unbelief. Why include such an embarrassing incident 
in your narrative unless it is so widely known that excluding it appears 

Carlson and Hine also comment that I am dealing with the person of Jesus and 
putting "him in a box of dimensions specified by the four R's." This is false. 
I am interested in his insights into human nature, God, and ethics. I think he 
was a person of integrity and, so, his insights probably reflect his character, 
but his character is not the subject of "The Fifth R" and certainly not limited 
to the four R's--no one's is. The four R's at most represent some basic human 
dispositions. Carlson and Hine also misquote me. I never use the expression, 
"the unmatched quality of God's love, generosity, and forgiveness." Thus, I am 
unlikely to do "more to demonstrate this."

Moritz seems to think the fifth R is "Rebel"14 and jettison the four R's. On 
the contrary, it is "Relax." In a wonderfully coined phrase, he calls the 
rebellious approach "an eschatologically stable strategy " to distinguish it 
from evolutionarily stable strategies. In contrast, I think "Relax" is probably 
stabilizing for the species. Other species follow evolutionary strategies and 
go extinct, so evolutionary strategies remain stable only temporarily. Based on 
the history of other species, if we follow evolutionary strategies, we will go 
extinct, too. Perhaps there is a better way. Jesus may offer it. Nonetheless, 
"Relax" does not entail rejecting the four R's. As I note in the article, Jesus 
is not an ascetic, but is accused of drunkenness and gluttony, enjoys the 
company of women and children, and calls a leading disciple who is married. 
Pursuing the four R's inordinately through greed, lust, nepotism, and justice 
for oneself to the exclusion of others destabilizes community and, so, 
diminishes human wellbeing. Such pursuits lead to wars that, in the 
contemporary world, may not only result in the extinction of our species but 
also the annihilation of life on Earth. Inordinate rebellion against the four 
R's also promises extinction. Best follow Van Till and make "Relax" the next 
item on the "'to do' list."

Finally, Van Till comments that knowledge of evolutionary psychology is not 
required to understand that God's killing the innocent in order to forgive the 
guilty is unjust. I agree. I think evolutionary psychology sheds light here not 
by explaining justice, but by explaining the attractiveness to many Christians 
of a God who insists divine justice be satisfied. Theirs is an anthropomorphic 
God, built from our basic, evolved dispositions. Relaxed as he was about the 
four R's, Jesus could reflect, instead, a God of generosity and mercy.


1. Patricia A. Williams, Doing without Adam and Eve: Sociobiology and Original 
Sin (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001), 108 – 115.

2. W. D. Hamilton, "The Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour I and II," 
Journal of Theoretical Biology 7 (1964): 1 – 51.

3. Robert L. Trivers, "The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism," The Quarterly 
Review of Biology 46 (1971): 35 – 57 and "Parent-Offspring Conflict," American 
Zoology 14 (1972): 249 – 264.

4. E. O. Wilson, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard 
University Press, 1975).

5. Patricia A. Williams, "Of Replicators and Selectors," The Quarterly Review 
of Biology 77 (2002): 302 – 306.

6. Williams, Doing without Adam and Eve, 143 – 148.

7. Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard 
University Press, [1859] 1964) and The Descent of Man, and Selection in 
Relation to Sex (Princeton: Princeton University Press, [1871] 1981).

8. Ernst Mayr, What Evolution Is (New York: Basic Books, 2001).

9. Wilson, Sociobiology.

10. Jeffrey R. Powell, Progress and Prospects in Evolutionary Biology: The 
Drosophila Model (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

11. Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Sharon Begley, The Mind and the Brain: 
Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force (New York: Regan Books, 2002).

12. Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels: The 
Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 
1993) and Robert W. Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus: The Search 
for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus (San Francisco: Polebridge Press, 1998).

13. Patricia A. Williams, Where Christianity Went Wrong, When, and What You Can 
Do About It (Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2001).

14. As, famously, in Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (New York: Oxford 
University Press, 1976), 215, "We, alone on earth, can rebel against the 
tyranny of the selfish replicators [genes]".

More information about the paleopsych mailing list