New Creationism

The thread regarding the claim that humans are “naturally vegetarian” jogged my memory a bit about a leftish dogma that I always found absurd. I finally figured out why it sounded so familiar. The claim that humans are “naturally vegetarian” is an example of “New Creationism”. The paper by Ehrenreich and McIntosh sums up the New Creationist position fairly well. However, they wrote in 1997. What direction has New Creationism taken since then? I spend my professional life surrounded by other biologists, none of whom are Creationists of new or old stripe. Since it seems that New Creationism seems to be primarily a mental infection within the social sciences, I’ve not had much opportunity to see whether it has spread or been stamped out.

So what is the current state of New Creationism? Is it still a potential problem, gotten worse, or withered away?

Dogface: So what is the current state of New Creationism? Is it still a potential problem, gotten worse, or withered away?

Actually, it’s hard to see any solid evidence in the linked article that it ever existed. The author’s claiming that the biological sciences are somehow under significant attack from academics who for ideological reasons “dismiss the possibility that there are any biologically based commonalities that cut across cultural differences” and believe “that humans have no shared, biologically based ‘nature’”.

:confused: That’s as much as to say that these academics don’t believe that human beings in different cultures are alike in any biologically significant way. That sounds pretty bizarre; I hang with a lot of social science and humanities scholars (including one or two mentioned in the article), many of them leftist and/or feminist, and I have never heard anybody maintain such a position.

Moreover, the supporting evidence for this claim of a wave of “New Creationism” even in the article itself seems rather scanty. By my count, we’ve got:

  • an anecdote about “anti-biological” responses from the audience at a lecture by social psychologist Phoebe Ellsworth;
  • a report that the biological subdivision of the UC Berkeley anthropology department is in a different building from the rest of the department;
  • a quote from Alan Wolfe to the effect that “the biologizing of human beings is not only bad humanism, but also bad science” (no definition of “biologizing” is given);
  • a quote from Marshall Sahlins to the effect that human biology is “a set of natural limits on human functioning”;
  • a quote from John Dupre to the effect that calling human beings a biological species is “essentialist”;
  • a quote from Judith Butler to the effect that “[t]he very category of the universal has begun to be exposed for its own highly ethnocentric biases”.

This sounds to me more like a debate about where the division between culture and biology ought to be drawn in understanding human behavior than an attempt to argue that biology has no effect on human behavior at all.

If anybody has any better evidence that such absolute rejections of human biology as a contributing factor to human nature are really prevalent in academia, I’ll be happy to look at it. Based just on the OP’s article, though, this topic belongs squarely in my “Tempests in Teapots” file.

Dogface: The claim that humans are “naturally vegetarian” is an example of “New Creationism”.

Seems to me that the alleged doctrines of “New Creationism” as defined in your article would claim exactly the opposite.

The advocates of the “naturally vegetarian humans” view, as I understand it, are claiming that all human beings are biologically adapted for vegetarianism as their optimal eating behavior. Whereas these alleged “New Creationists” are said to be claiming that there isn’t any biological basis that underpins human cultural behaviors such as dietary practices.

So the two positions, as far as I can tell, are in complete disagreement with each other.

Dogface, why are you characterizing these ideas as “New Creationism”? Some people believe (or are willing to argue, to advance preconceived agendas) that certain modes of human behavior (such as vegetarianism) are more “natural” than others because they are closer to the way our paleolithic ancestors lived. And they have a point, regardless of the specific contents of their arguments. It is a fact that in our gene-codes, we have not changed very much since the days when our ancestors hunted and gathered on the African plains; but culturally and socially, we have changed a great deal. If some of our learned behaviors are at odds with our inherited nature, is that a trivial thing?

But what does this, or any form of genetic determinism, have to do with “Creationism”? I think it makes a lot more sense in the context of biological evolution; that is, it is a remarkable and unique thing about our species, although we are a product of biological evolution just like every other species, our cultural evolution has far outpaced it.