Monday, August 02, 2010

Is monogamy natural to humans? Just ask a chimp

We have taken another specimen of evolutionary romanticism into captivity and have been conducting some logical experiments on it to see how it holds up. This one comes care of Christopher Ryan, who claims, care of, that there is no reason to believe that monogamy is natural to humans.

His argument could count as evidence that rationality is not natural to humans.
Seismic cultural shifts about 10,000 years ago rendered the true story of human sexuality so subversive and threatening that for centuries, it has been silenced by religious authorities, pathologized by physicians, studiously ignored by scientists and covered up by moralizing therapists.
We're still trying to piece together the succession of Egyptian dynasties, but Ryan knows about specific cultural shifts 10,000 years ago. Hmmm. Apparently, Ryan has never heard the term "prehistoric."

Most "mainstream therapists," he says,
insist that long-term sexual monogamy is "normal," while the curiosity and novelty-seeking inherent in human sexuality are signs of pathology. ... This is a problem because there is no reason to believe monogamy comes naturally to human beings. In fact, for millions of years, evolutionary forces have cultivated human libido to the point where ours is arguably the most sexual species on Earth.
Notice what's going on here: We talk about all the evidence against marriage we can derive from early human society, about which we know little, and ignore all the evidence in favor of it from later human society, about which we know a lot. And the one thing we know about societies for which we do have histories is that marriage in some form is almost omnipresent.

Then, of course, we assume that primitive practices are somehow more representative of what human nature really is than more recent civilized practices:
Research from primatology, anthropology, anatomy and psychology points to the same conclusion: A nonpossessive, gregarious sexuality was the human norm until the rise of agriculture and private property just 10,000 years ago, about 5 percent of anatomically modern humans' existence on Earth.
And if the behavior of early humans is to be considered authoritative in determining what proper human behavior is to be, then going even further back ought to be even more instructive:
The two primate species closest to us lend strong -- if blush-inducing -- support to this vision. Ovulating female chimps have intercourse dozens of times per day, with most or all of the willing males, and bonobos famously enjoy frequent group sex that leaves everyone relaxed and conflict-free.
Well, gee, if chimps and bonobos do it, what are we waiting for?

I suppose we could just continue going back through the evolutionary chronology to see what we were doing when we were doing the bacterial backstroke in the primordial slime and come up with some great dating tips.

But we better not give Ryan any ideas.

Finally there is the appeal to anatomical romanticism, which we will have to forgo including here since this is a nice family blog. Suffice it to say it is not pretty. But the gist of his argument is that, if you look at certain male body organs, they are bigger than these same certain body organs among primates, and this is clearly indicative that men are meant to run around copulating freely with as many females as they desire.

Ryan's argument has all the intellectual sophistication of George Carlin's argument that since the human index finger is the same size as the human nostril, it was obviously designed for nose-picking.

It is also interesting that, whenever you invoke any kind of intrinsic nature or purpose to explain any natural thing, you are told by Darwinists that this thinking is a vestige of the old Aristotelian scholasticism, and that final and formal causes were abandoned during the scientific revolution. But then they import them in the back door to implicitly justify their arguments about what human anatomical features say about our natures.

If Aristotelianism is dead, the why are they talking about the inherent purposes of body parts?

If you want more comic relief at the expense of human nature, you can consult Ryan's book, Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality.


Lee said...

> ...and bonobos famously enjoy frequent group sex that leaves everyone relaxed and conflict-free.

Don't look now, but bonobos are an endangered species.

KyCobb said...

Rather than chimps, I would suggest looking at high-status males throughout human history. From Abraham to Bill Clinton and Newt "marriage is sacred" Gingrich, men who have the opportunity to do so have slept around.

Lee said...

The question isn't whether men sleep around on their wives; the question is whether it is right to do so.

Otherwise, you run into the "if it is, then it must be right" sort of logic.

KyCobb said...


I believe that the topic of the post is not whether or not promiscuity is right, but whether or not it is natural. I think even christian theology says that humans are sinful by nature, and the evidence indicates that when men have the opportunity, they are usually promiscuous. I agree with Martin that the sexual practices of bonobos are not particularly good evidence of what is natural for humans since we have no way of knowing if current bonobo sexual activity is a recent development or not. The behavior of humans is the best evidence of what is natural for humans.