Spirituality: How Evolutionary Psychology Can Enhance Our Understanding
Skinner, Richard Norman Frank
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
I am actively seeking a commercial publisher for a reworked version of the thesis
The biologist E.O. Wilson suggested that spirituality can be understood as “just one more Darwinian enabling device”. In opposing this reductionism, the current enquiry develops a model of a relationship between spirituality and evolutionary theory which offers an understanding of spirituality based on evolutionary theory without reducing the former to the latter. For the purposes of this enquiry, “spirituality” is taken to entail an awareness of and response both to a transcendent dimension to human existence, and to the ethical dimension. Its universality is suggested by the ubiquity of religion in human history and prehistory, although in contemporary Western society spirit¬uality is no longer the prerogative of the specific canonical religions. From a theological perspective, an understanding of the universality of spirituality despite the diversity of religious traditions is provided by the approach of religious pluralism. The model also draws on Alvin Plantinga’s model of our being endowed with a sensus divinitatis, but modifies it in two ways: i) rather than our having an inbuilt sense of the divine as God, the current enquiry proposes that we have an inbuilt sense of the transcendent (termed the sensus transcendentis); ii) this sensus transcendentis is a product of evolutionary processes. The discipline of evolutionary psychology holds that the human mind is best understood as a suite of “mental modules”, psychological adaptations which evolved in response to the challenges posed by the total environment (physical, social and biotic) during the long reaches of human evolution. In the proposed model, the sensus transcendentis is one such module, opening us to meaning, purpose and value which transcend the material environment whilst being embedded within it. Evidence is provided to support the contentions both that we possess a sensus transcendentis, and that it has evolutionary origins. Possible implications for theology and for religious faith arising from the proposed model are discussed. Key words: adaptation, altruism, evolution, evolutionary psychology, Hick, mental module, Plantinga, religious pluralism, sensus divinitatis, sensus transcendentis.
PhD in Theology