God and Social Brains

I love it when I see converging ideas in separate fields. In recent work in theology and evolutionary psychology there has been a new emphasis upon the centrality of relationship. In Elizabeth A. Johnson’s wonderful new book on God, Quest for the Living God, she has a chapter on the Trinity, attention to which has historically been slighted in the Catholic Church of the west. As she says "The subversive Trinitarian notion that God is not an absolute monad but one whose very nature is communion, relation–to-another-who-is-equal, became submerged in waves of theory that justified the domination of some over others." Getting this understanding straight would make a practical difference in the Church of the future. The other new defense of the importance of relationship can be found in an article in the special section on Social Cognition in Science 7 September, 2007. Here the British scientist, R.I.M.Dunbar explicating his Social Brain Hypothesis, claims that researchers have heretofore misread the central importance of primate bonds and emotional relationships. Yet in actually bonded relationships have been the key to the evolution of big brained ultra-social humans. This misinterpretation may occur because invisible dynamic mutual emotional experiences are hard to measure. Ethologists have tended "to prefer observable descriptions of behavior to grappling with what is going on inside the animal." Unfortunately, he says "relationships have been seen as mere epiphenomena spawned by the issues of real biological interest, namely mate choice and parental investment." Hmm. I know of moral theologians who also downplay emotional communion and relationships in favor of real biological factors. Obviously, non dynamic theories of reductionism can take many different forms. Sidney Callahan
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