Evolution and the Freedom to Love

November 7th, 2011 / 70 Comments

Contemporary theories in biology rely heavily upon the role of genetics.  Genetic-oriented theories tend toward describing organisms as programmed or controlled by genes.  If we want to affirm evolution and yet affirm the freedom to love, we must overcome the view our genes control us entirely.

Biologists rarely attribute freedom and spontaneity to the organisms they study. They do not, in large part, because biological theory is thought to be based upon examining external results while ignoring possible internal experiences.  Yet some theories in biology support the view that organisms have the spontaneity or intentionality required for freedom.

Freedom and the Baldwin Effect

An often-overlooked theory in contemporary biology is the Baldwin effect.  Named after James Mark Baldwin and first proposed at the turn of the 20th century, this theory says that the sustained behavior of a species or group in response to its environment is gradually assimilated into the group’s genetic structures. 

Learned behaviors cannot be directly inherited, said Baldwin.  But the initiatives of organisms can be a factor in the establishment of random genetic changes and thereby affect the direction of evolutionary change.  The behavior of thriving organisms can be imitated by others and transmitted socially for a long enough period that random genetic mutations support that beneficial behavior. 

Science-and-religion scholar, Ian Barbour, uses bison and horses to illustrate the Baldwin effect.  The common ancestors of bison and horses may have either charged their enemies or fled them.  The survival of those who charged would have been enhanced by strength, weight, strong skulls, and other bison-like qualities.  Those who survived by fleeing enemies, however, would have benefited by speed, agility, and other abilities we see in horses.  “The divergence of bison and horse,” suggests Barbour, “may have arisen initially from different responses to danger, rather than from genetic mutations related to anatomy.”  Barbour argues, “organisms participate actively in evolutionary history and are not simply passive products of genetic forces from within and environmental forces from without.”

The novelty of Baldwin’s argument is that creaturely agency plays a role in evolution.  The Baldwin effect offers a way to account for the initiatives of organisms to have significant long-term consequences.  Barbour speaks of creaturely “interiority” that evolves “starting from rudimentary memory, sentience, responsiveness, and anticipation in simple organisms, going on to consciousness with the advent of nervous systems, and then self-consciousness in the case of primates and human beings.”

For the sake of metaphysical consistency and generality, Barbour argues that minimal interiority can be postulated even at more basic levels of existence.  “Our categories must also represent the continuity of developmental processes and of evolutionary history,” argues Barbour, “and the impossibility of drawing any sharp lines between stages.” 

While it is not difficult to attribute self-determining agency to complex creatures like humans, chimps, canine, and dolphins, most biologists are reluctant to infer that less complex creatures also possess a measure of self-determining agency.  There are some, however, who believe that such inferences are appropriate. 

Freedom at the Molecular Level

Biochemist Ross Stein suggests that spontaneity arises in the evolutionary history at the molecular level, which is a degree of complexity preceding the emergence of autonomous cell-like structures.  Stein argues that we should not think of molecular entities as mere objects.  Rather, they “possess a subjective nature that allows them to experience and respond to their environment.”  Stein says that “a molecule’s interiority and ability to respond to its environment can account for seemingly diverse chemical phenomena including molecular change, molecular complexification, and, ultimately, the evolution of life.”   

To argue that organisms at varying levels of complexity exhibit self-organization, spontaneity, or self-determination does not require one also to argue that less complex creatures are free to the same degree as more complex creatures.  Nor does it require one to deny the powerful influence of a creature’s genes.  Instead, one can appeal to the possibility that creatures of varying complexity possess varying degrees of freedom, interiority, or self-organization.

The late biologist, Charles Birch, suggests that degrees of creaturely freedom are of great importance.  “Determinism by genes is not an all-or-none affair,” says Birch.  “There can be different degrees of freedom.  There is all the difference in the world between 100 percent determination and 99 percent determination.  One provides no room for choice and purpose.  The other does not.”  The power of the genes may be more determinative for less complex creatures, but it need not be considered all determining.

Speculating that organisms at all levels of complexity possess some measure of spontaneity does not, of course, scientifically demonstrate that freedom is present throughout existence.  “That entities at many levels seem to take account of their environment and to act in appropriately responsive ways,” says Birch, “will never prove that they are not in fact machines.”  But speculation that creatures are robots blindly programmed by their genes is also not scientifically demonstrable. 

Identifying apparently self-organizing activity at various levels of creaturely complexity, however, provides grounds for plausible inferences about self-determination at the biological level.  Identifying apparent self-organizing activity will, as Birch puts it, “make clear that the reason for viewing [organisms] as machines, rather than as agents, is metaphysical, not empirical.”

Freedom and Emergence

It may be that the capacity to act freely as an agent is not a capacity present in nascent form at even the least complex levels of existence, however.  It could be that freedom and self-organization emerged at some point in the evolutionary process.  Relatively simple organisms may not possess self-determination, but self-determination emerged as creatures increased in complexity.  This view, often called “emergence,” is attractive to those who wish to acknowledge the freedom apparent in human experience and apparently present in other complex creatures.  This version of emergence also allows one to resist the claim that the least complex entities of existence, atoms for instance, are to some degree free. 

Theologian and philosophers of science, Philip Clayton, advocates this emergent view of creaturely self-determination.  Clayton speculates that “living systems first display purposive behavior not found in more simple systems, and then gradually manifest higher degrees of self-monitoring and internal (neural) representation of their environment, until the internalized world of symbols and intentions that we associate with consciousness emerges.”  Clayton argues that human freedom should be “understood in terms of a developmental story that includes the role of physical laws, biological drives, and the increasing latitude of behavior in more complex organisms – features both shared with other animals and distinguishing us from them.”

In contrast to Clayton, Ian Barbour argues for an emergent view that posits a minimum of interiority at even the most basic levels.  Barbour’s argument is partly for “the sake of metaphysical consistently and generality.  New phenomena and new properties emerge historically,” says Barbour, “but we should seek fundamental categories that are as universal as possible.”  Barbour says that we ought to generalize from the human experience of freedom.  “We are part of nature,” he argues, and “even though human experience is an extreme case of an event in nature, it offers clues as to the character of other events.”

Which version of emergence – the one Clayton advocates or the one Barbour advocates – best accounts for biology is debatable.  But as creatures increase in organizational and mental complexity through evolution, the importance of self-organization, freedom, and interiority arises. 


If humans share significant continuity with their nonhuman companions, it seems plausible that freedom and intentionality are present in the earlier biological stages of evolutionary history. And it seems plausible that humans are not the only creatures on planet earth capable of love.

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Charlene S.

There is also a related theory in biochemistry that fits here. There is a tendency for people of certain appearances to be attracted to each other (blond hair, blue eyes for example).  This may also apply to folks who not only have certain DNA traits, but also certain DNA mutations.  Most of the time, a mutation is ‘corrected’ in the next generation since the mutation would most likely be the recessive characteristic.  However, if two people who have the mutation are ‘attracted’ to each other, this produces a next generation of the same mutation.  If ‘love’ can be boiled down to biochemistry, then that next generation would be attracted to others with the same mutation.  It is an interesting theory to try to track.


As Arte Johnson used to say … “Verrrrry intewesting …”.

The cause and effect of genetic progression does not seem to be advanced rocket science. In fact, it seems fairly self-evident, though it is of course essential to work on a scientific proof of the self-evident. ‘Self-evident’ is often like ‘eye witness testimony’; that is, highly skewed, and what is ‘self-evident’ can often be a matter of political convenience. A good example is in the ‘self-evident truths’ of the Declaration of Independence, which clearly were not all that self-evident to the southern delegations … but we wander afield here.

The other day I was having a conversation with a Naz pastor, about the ‘issue’ of how the COTN is addressing homosexuality. The Methodists and the Presbyterians, among others, are in a tizzy over it, being as how at least some of them are ordaining gay and lesbian pastors and endorsing gay marriage. “How can they do that?” I asked, if it is biblically an ‘abomination’. If we can agree that the mere fact of ‘being’ is not a biblical ‘abomination’, but the practice of certain behaviors is, then we can see how a church could ordain a gay/lesbian pastor who remains celibate. But if the gay/lesbian acts and behaviors are a biblical ‘abomination’, then how can a church go along with same-sex marriage?

It seems to me that the passages in the bible that deal with the ‘abomination’ lean toward forced homosexual behavior, or homosexual behavior that is not borne of a loving relationship. Some of the passages addressing this seem … ambiguous … so one can cite the bible to support whatever personal prejudices one might have. I am sure we are all shocked by that concept. And, when we get our knickers in a twist over what the Good Book says – or appears to say – about the ‘issue’ … are we being yet once again selectively literal? Isn’t it a real marvel how so many can be so convinced that the bible is the inerrant literal Word of God, and then be so selective over what portions and passages they will become exercised and fanatical?

Look at heterosexual behaviors outside of a loving relationship. Look at what is happening in Africa, where sex/rape is used as a terror weapon, on a wholesale basis. Is that not an ‘abomination’ in the same sense?

Then we moved on to the ‘why’ of it all. If we accept that heterosexual sex is necessary for the continuation of a the species, then homosexuality makes no sense, does it. Or does it?  Take a look at the studies on various species, not the least of which are whales, where homosexual behaviors are well-documented. Why do whales bugger each other, in a manner of speaking. One theory ties directly in to Darwinian evolutionary theory; that is, that the biggest and the strongest and the most aggressive males get all the females, leaving the younger and weaker males to relieve their biological urges where and however they may. This is an environmental ‘issue,’ is it not? Perhaps cultural? Can we accept that whales have ‘cultural issues’? If we accept Baldwin, then over millennium after millennium after millennium (I just had to use the word) could we not reasonably expect a genetic remapping in at least some representatives of a species? And now, though Tab A is not fitting into Slot A, we have what seem to be aberrant sexual behaviors that actually make sense within the context of biological pressures directly associated with propagation of a viable species – it gives the leftovers something to do with all that procreative energy – and are not really all that aberrant when considered in the larger view of propagation of a species.

Can this be applied to humans? Certainly. Human survival as a species has been skewed by our ability to alter our environment. The weak, the stupid, and the inept can now survive very well, thanks to the efforts of those more endowed with the means to create, shape the environment, and survive. This skewing also clouds an empirical evaluation of why some of us may exhibit certain behaviors.

Then there is this as we look at human homosexual behaviors: if for whatever reason a reasoning entity engages in homosexual behaviors, and those behaviors are constrained within a loving relationship with another reasoning entity, I really have a hard time understanding how that could be one of those ‘biblical abominations’. I really don’t understand homosexual attraction, either, but that’s beside the point. The point is, to me at least, is that the position of the Christian right, of Christian fundamentalists, and probably across a wider spectrum of Christianity, toward individuals who are involved in a committed, loving relationship that is also homosexual is completely unreasonable, illogical, and quite possibly based on a culturally biased interpretation of just what constitutes that ‘biblical abomination.’

I’m just kicking a few thoughts around here, not presenting this as Gospel.

How does that dog hunt?

Daniel Fruh

I will admit, that molecular stuff was over my head. But the example of the bison and horses is on that I thought was interesting.I have never heard anything quite like that before. Definitely something to think about in regard to free will and the evolutionary theory. I am not sure how you made the connection to your last statements on love though. However animals think and make choices like that I do not know, but I definitely think there is a capacity for love, loyalty, etc.

Cody Marie Bolton

Up until I read your blog Dr. Oord, I have never heard of the Baldwin Effect. Granted science and I do not mix, but don’t want to think I am completely useless in information when it comes to science.

I think that the Baldwin Effect makes good sense. What really intrigued me was this:

“Learned behaviors cannot be directly inherited, said Baldwin.  But the initiatives of organisms can be a factor in the establishment of random genetic changes and thereby affect the direction of evolutionary change.  The behavior of thriving organisms can be imitated by others and transmitted socially for a long enough period that random genetic mutations support that beneficial behavior.”

I’m not sure I completely agree with everything that Baldwin proposed here, but I think this opens the door to discussions on the topic. I know behavior has a lot to do it, but I’m not ready to give it all the credit that Baldwin does.

Thanks for sharing!

John W. Dally

A controversial view in science is Social-Biology.  It proposes that certain behaviors become genetically stamped in humans. A simple example of this is racism. When humans were hunter-gatherers their survival was dependent upon providing security for their family-clan.  If someone came walking by and they looked different they could be a threat.  They could be after the food stores or they could be scouting out the territory to take over control by killing of any threats to that goal. After thousands of years this defense became part of the makeup of human nature.

The issues is that even if we have a genetic disposition to be suspicious, as thinking reasoning human beings we can fight off such tendencies.  This is the essence of Christianity. We are fraught with dispositions toward self-centerdness (survival), appetites (sex, overeating, addictions), and prejudice (protection of family and clan). However, a Spirit led life gives us the ability to overcome these tendencies and Love our Neighbor.

Ellie Ferguson

I appreciate that for some people it is very important for them to have a theory about where they came from or how exactly humans came to be. I on the other hand do not feel like that it is something that will have any real significance in my life. Regardless of my theory in evolution/creation I will still be the same person, live the same life, and love the same.

Tim Vanderpool

I find it interesting that, under the assumption that evolution is how we came to be, we are now trying to theorize about how love may have developed in the evolutionary system. The paradigm we are put into as we read is that we hold evolution as absolute truth, but then we have these other things called love and the bible, and we aren’t sure how they fit into our world and development. But I wonder… shouldn’t it be the other way around? I agree that science and faith do fit together quite nicely, but where I disagree is that we have all the answers scientifically. I’m not sure why we are so eager to accept the bible as flimsy and subject it to any interpretation that can make it fit with a new, immovable faith in the recently developed theory of evolution.

As for Barbour and Clayton, their ideas are interesting, but that’s all they are: ideas and speculation. They don’t have a lot of relevance to me since I’m still not sold on the foundational assumption of the blog.

Meghan Leis

Though this entry had a lot of ideas, it was the last line about all creatures being able to love that I would like to discuss. There is a movie called “All Dogs Go to Heaven.” It is a simple children’s movie, but the title makes me wonder, do animals really go to Heaven? And with that, are they capable of love? I look at my dogs and I believe that they are indeed capable of love. They know who I am and seem genuinely excited to see me when I come home. But can I say the same for an ant or an icky spider? It is not as easy to say that they love…but if dogs love, then must they also love? It is an interesting question to ponder.

Amanda Preston

This blog has a lot of ideas that I struggle with. I am a science major and believe in evolution. My family however does not. I grew up in a very christian home and evolution is not really accepted. I however do like how this blog correlated with the lecture we attended. I really enjoyed the fact that you can be a christian and believe in God and believe in evolution. One thing I often wonder is can all creatures go to heaven? Can all creatures really love? I am not so sure about this topic and appreciate you bringing it to attenetion.

cecelia pena

I have never thought that molecules could have freedom. Reading this post made me realize that humans are a compilation of molecules and we seem to think that we have freedom. This being said,I agree that freedom must be based on the level of complexity of the organism. When taking about DNA replication, we never talk about the freedom that a holo-enzyme has in replication
This enzyme has one job and it is the only job it is capable of doing. it cannot decide that its job will be different because they weren’t given that much freedom when they were created. So,now after reading this article, I am not sure freedom is a real thing or is it just something we, as humans, created to feel superior to other organsisms.

Preston Ake

I really like the final thought on this blog post. That evolution causes greater complexity, and that greater complexity could create a creature, other than a humans, that have the ability to love. Although I do not think that organisms other than humans have the capability to love. At least for right now.
I have heard about a few instances where chimpanzees cry when their babies die. This is supposed to show that they can love. It is hard to say, but I think that love and attachment are two different things. The chimps are attached to their babies, and are hurt when they are gone, but they do not love them.
I have also heard that human babies can swim when they are born without being taught. This would indicate that our genes program this ability into us. I think that our genes make up, for the most part, who we are. I think that environment has little to do with how we act, learn and feel.
I am not a geneticist, but at the same time, God controls these genes. God can pass the love gene down if he wanted to. I am not one hundred percent sure either way that love is passed down. I will have to think about this one some more.

Sara Butkus

Ah, the age old nature vs. nurture question. I definitely do not think that we are completely controlled by our genes. Where is the free will in that? There are so many times that I look at my past and think, there is no way I would be who I am today without the circumstances that happened to me. I am not who I am entirely because of my genes.

With that said, our biology does affect certain decisions that we make. Certain personality traits do seem to emerge in babies before their environment can mess with them.

This of course does not answer the question whether other creatures can love or not. I do not have that answer.


It would be hard for any biologist to make the claim that we are only controlled by our genes considering that the genes themselves are influenced by the environment and not just the organism as a whole. The example that comes to mind are genes that are altered thanks to cancer-causing habits such as smoking.
I liked the description of the Baldwin effect because that is very true on how behavior and habits can slowly cause an effect on genes and a population and what it does.
I have never thought about freedom at a molecular level and it is hard to think about because we try and categorize and create boundaries on molecules, but if you do think about it, they themselves have a degree of freedom too as you suggest. It is an interesting thought that I have never really pondered but should, especially being a biology teacher myself.

mike jaquess

I enjoyed looking at Barbour’s idea of evolution and how bison and horses may have at one time had an ancestor that determined their biological make up based on how they responded to dangerous situations. It is so amazing that God has everything figured out down to the molecular level. He planned which genes built each one of us and that just us being born is a 1 in a million chance because of all the DNA and chromosome possibilities that could have come from our parents.

Steven Coles

I really appreciate this blog. It is, however, interesting to think that even cells have freedom. I think this blog has given me a few things to quote, “chew on” for a little while.
I think the idea of freedom is just something that most people would give to just people, rather than animals or even cells. I think if we are to talk about freedom for one thing (e.g. humans, animals, cells) we have to allow that freedom in all that things is. Whether that is a human, which is made up of cells and other things, we, logically, would have to give freedom to those things as well, which is an interesting concept for anyone.

April Kerbyson

We become what we practice.  As noted by Barbour, the bison became stronger and the horses became faster, according to how they responded to threats.  Instead of taking a stand on which evolutionary theory I most agree with (or understand for that matter), I see these theories as helpful thoughts to incorporate into devotionals.  For instance, I made a connection between the Baldwin effect and Christians:  Just as the bison became what they practiced, Christians become what they practice.  Therefore, if all Christians practice loving each other, we will get better at it!  smile

Cecelia Pena

I agree with the idea that life and species is not determined by genes. There are a lot more complex processes that are involved in determining the function of an organism and also the physical characteristics that an organism portrays. I feel that saying that genes are the only determining factor in such characteristics is almost like saying that a car can run just fine if it only has an engine attached to it. Of course this analogy is incomplete because a car requires gas, a transmission, wheels and many more parts that are critical to the function and characteristics of an automobile. I feel that while genes are the basis for all living organisms, there are many other functions that have to occur to produce a fully functioning organism.

Christabel Leonce

I think we all have some degree of freedom, even down to the atom, which makes me bend somewhat to the idea that Clayton has about emergence. We are all display purposive behavior he says, but I would also like to include the simple systems as well having this purposive behavior. I like the idea because I think even the atom has a purpose; in its simple form it can work with other atoms to create complex units. It may not be aware of its purpose but it does have a purpose. This is where we are different as a more complex unit. We can “then gradually manifest higher degrees of self-monitoring and internal (neural) representation of their environment, until the internalized world of symbols and intentions that we associate with consciousness emerges”

Benjamin Messmer

Even though we are changing in many ways as years go by there are still some fundamentals that stay the same.  It would seem that humans would realize that war and violence does not promote the good of others and would just “evolve” out of these destructive actions.  Weather we are the only creature that is able to love or not this has not changed.  I would like to think that we are all moving forwards away from our nature to commit violence but this does not seem to be the case.  How does our evolution affect our nature and how we interact?  Are we becoming better or worse?

Natalie Evans

I found the Baldwin effect really intriguing because I can see something like this happening. We do it all the time. Babies for instance, copy their mother’s behaviors and their surroundings to develop part of their personalities as well as their behaviors. I don’t think that our self- consciousness is or has been determined by promotional gene change. I believe that that is shaped culturally. I appreciate the last statement and I fully believe that humans are not the only creature that can love. I have seen so many instances through animals that confirm this.

Kendria Werner

Reading the section on Freedom and the Baldwin effect It made me thinking about how creatures have evolved. I agree with the idea that creatures are free (and possibly even   less complex creatures are free) to act as they will. The idea that a creature can evolve in a way based on its freedom and its actions taken because of that freedom is a fascinating idea.

Cody Bolton

This was a very interesting read for me. Although I had taken biology in high school and college, I have never heard of the Baldwin effect. (Or I guess it’s possible I wasn’t paying any attention the day they discussed it.)

I have always been one who believes that evolution, in terms of the earth being millions of year old (compared to only thousands of years old) and other things an explanation of the Genesis story in ways that we as humans can understand.

I will be doing more research on the Baldwin theory, because this helps me see the changes in animals better than the way evolution explains.

Thanks for sharing this Dr. Oord!


so being a chemistry major i feel like i should have gotten all that the first time i read it but some of it went completely over my head and i had to re read it a few times, I guess that no matter how much you think you now, you never really know enough.
A thought that really stood out to me was your final statement, “And it seems plausible that humans are not the only creatures on planet earth capable of love.” If i was responding to this before watching the movie in class today about animals “befriending” other animals that they should be hunting not being friends with i would have focused more on the “sciency” part of this but watching that movie really opened up my eyes and made me realize that wow it is possible!
It made me realize how wonderful our God is. By some way these animals were able to show love to other animals that were not of their species. Love has definitely evolved into something not just humans are capable of and that is an amazing thing.


1.  The Baldwin Effect is an interesting concept. It seems plausible, although, I would have to take a few more chemistry/biology glasses before accepting it. I found Ian Barbour’s argument more appealing than Claytons. Admittedly though, they both were slightly confusing. I do not believe that we are entirely controlled by our genes. I also do not believe in macro evolution. If I understoond them correctly, the theories listed here seem to be based on the idea that the world is billions of years old. That concept does not line up with my beliefs, so it is hard to align myself with any of the given theories.

Erin Rickart

As a science major, I sometimes find it hard to draw the line where humanness stops and God’s greatness begins. I have a hard time agreeing that animals are like robots, they have instincts and they act upon them. To almost every rule there is an exception, this applies to the animal world as well. While I do agree that animal instincts are their driving force behind their actions, I think that the more complex animals have a sense of emotion and can prevent themselves from acting upon their instincts if they so desired. Same goes for humans, I think that we are naturally selfish people, but because of the freewill that God has blessed us with we can choose to act upon that selfishness or not. Since both human and nonhumans share so many characteristics, I agree with Oord that it makes sense that humans are not the only creatures that are capable of love. Animal love many be different than human love, but it’s love all the same; you should never say that something is what is it because it’s different then the way that you want it to be done.

beth castro

Just like in the movie, “Animal Odd Couples,” we can see how creatures other than humans can exhibit love.  In a lot of different species, they need companionship, they need to belong, and if they are young enough, they will fill the void with whomever or whatever is available.  It cannot be coincidence that it is not just humans that demonstrate some form of affection to others.  The freedom to choose who we love and choose to find friendship with is an attribute that has become more apparent all different situations.  The Key word is “choose.”  God’s grace gives free will.  A gift.

Diane Vander Hulst

The Barbour theory about the evolution of the horse and bison were interesting. I do not think we are completely controlled by our genes. If we are, were is the free will. I have very similar characteristics as a lot of my cousins who came from the same gene line. I see how I am similar to my dad’s side of the family and I can see how I am similar to my moms side of the family. I think it comes down to free will. The way we react to the environment is how we are feeling. I think it is bogus to say we are controlled by our genes.

Kindra Galloway

I disagree with the idea that somehow organisms evolved the ability to direct their own fates. They do not actively participate in their evolutionary history. God specially made humans—above all other creatures. With this, we have the ability to empathize with and love others, just as our Heavenly Father. Animals only know their instincts. They are born with the responses that are required for their survival. They do not know what is best for them, and they cannot predict their future, therefore, they are blind to evolution.

Elora Drake

I think what stands out the most for me from this would be the idea of creatures other than humans being capable of an emotion such as love. The movie we watched in class added to this idea with the concept of different species forming bonds. I had never before given this idea much consideration. I have a difficult time believing we are controlled by all together by our genes. I also struggled with these theories because they seem to rely on scientific theories I do not agree with such as evolution and the age of the universe.

Laura Shacklett

I agree about creatures being free. I am not sure what I think about the Baldwin effect and I would need to read more about it to come to a clear thought process. I definitely think that love is something that not only humans can experience. Animals are capable of loving others in their own way, the way they love may not be the same as we love, but that does not mean that they do not have those same sorts of feelings that humans feel when they are in love such as joy and happiness.

Emily Curty

So… being a nursing major puts me in a unique position from many of the other science related majors. On one hand, I learned all the same biology and microbiology, anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and pathophysiology that others do. Yet, on the other hand, I also study the sociology, psychology, and ethics like the humanities majors do. This puts me in a place where I can see both the genetic and practice side of creatures. Finding the balance between them is the struggle, yet when I look at it from the perspective of love, the struggle becomes easier.

Korri Dobson

The science in this went completely over my head! However, when you said “And it seems plausible that humans are not the only creatures on planet earth capable of love.” I have to agree completely.  I agreed with this even before watching out movie and reading this however, after watching last night I didn’t realize to the extent that animals can love and relate to one another.  This is probably a poor example but I know that my dog has a connection to me and that she loves me.  I travel a lot and when I come home she will not leave my side.  She is very protective of me and will not let anyone come near me in a harmful way.  In the movie last night I was so amazed at the horse and the goat.  The fact that the goat knew that they horse couldn’t see and led him around was amazing.  I believe that animals and humans were made by God and that God did some amazing things giving each human and animal a personality and the ability to love.

Davis Halle

Evolution in the Christian vocabulary seems to have negative connotation. When in reality it is simply the change of something over generations. Humans have obviously evolved to learn how to live in the changing world. We evolved as a whole. It interests me the different opinions on the matters we seem to claim are uncertain. I do believe that genes play a role in who were are and turn out to be but mostly just in character traits not so much in emotional traits. Someone may make the claim that there are always exceptions but in this situation there are so many “exceptions” that it seems to me that those who are similar to their parants in many ways become the exception. I would say the way your parents treat you and act does impact your life but it does not make who you are. There are many other aspects to life, like choices or who you spend your time with really makes who you become. As babies we seem to be selfish but I would claim that kind of act at that age is for survival. Babies have small attitude differences but they are all very similar. We grow up to become an individual person even if we adapt to a group, which many of us do, we are all individuals. I say all this to lead into the claim that our parents and genes do not directly impact who we are but it is who we are with through our growth ages that truly impacts us the most. This is how each person evolves individually

Priscilla Cuevas

I think it’s a little ironic how we have have discussed evolution and now we are trying to discuss the Baldwin effect through evolution. This topic has really interested me and I wanna look at it a little closer before I decide my view on it but thanks for introducing this theory it’s one that could explain alot.

Darci Curtin

This blog post is interesting in light of the fact that Dr. Richard Twiss visited NNU’s campus last month. I thought that Twiss’ beliefs were intriguing- he had a strong belief in mother earth, animals, and nature as all being God’s beloved things, along with humans. This is traditional to Native American belief and I think that it is great that NNU was able to get some exposure to that. Before our class session last night, I don’t know what I would have said about “animal relationships”. My family has a cat, and she definitely has a personality, but I would never compare my relationship with her with my relationship with another human. After watching last night’s movie, although I still would not compare the complexity of human relationships to that of animal relationships, I have a new respect for them. It is incredible the way that animals can connect and communicate with each other. I know that God created everything on this earth, and he has created each with a complex nature. I know that there is a lot that we do not understand about nature and animals, and scientists are making new discoveries every day.

Derek Sepe

As I reflect on my years here at NNU, I notice a theme in each year of my learning – specifically related to my spiritual and social growth – almost as if God as a lesson plan for me to follow as I grow. This past year I have wrestled with the concepts for freedom and what can actually happen within this world that God has created. I have a hard time accepting that a true loving God would purposely put me through such troublesome emotional and mental turmoil, as part of some greater good. It makes sense to me that there is true and genuine free will in all of life – which is why some “good” things happen and some “bad” things happen. We have the power to shape our own life and destiny. While some parts of our makeup might simply be fulfilling a purpose without any knowledge – such as an atom or a cell – I believe it all works together as part of a function. I think true and evident cognition is the key for examining a being with free will. A bacteria might not know that it’s a bacteria, only that it’s programmed to infect, but a dog certainly knows it’s a dog as opposed to a cat.

Tara McClees

I think I may have heard of the Baldwin effect before, but I am not sure. It does raise the question of whether we evolve in response to our own choices, and I am sure that is the case.

Curtis S Mostul

Something that this post causes me to think about is the fact that I greatly enjoy to fish and hunt with my family. If all creatures are capable of love does that means that nothing should be harmed? If a man kills a deer to feed his family it is out of greater love that his hand is forced. However, on the other hand if I shoot a deer for sport and keep the meat and eat it but not out of necessity, is that worse? If evolution has created creatures of love should that evolution of love also be designed to protect all creatures?

Andong Yue

I fully agree with the conclusion that human beings are not the only kind of creature that is capable of love. In fact, I found it pretty unreasonable to assume the opposite like many people do. This world is not all about human beings. I think it is important to realize that we share many of our characteristics with other animals, even plants. For this reason I personally think the whole notion that human is the most unique and “human in charge of all creation” is false.
I am not a history major, but I have learned enough to see that the way human beings love each other evolves over time. Thousands of years ago, when human beings still live in caves, human love is not much different from what we define as “animal love” today. The whole ideas of romance was invented only about two hundreds years ago. I am totally aware of the fact that the notion of love is much broader than “romantic love”, but I think my point is clear here.

Michael Gordon

I don’t think humans are the most unique living thing today. The reason why most humans believe that is because we are human and we believe we are the most intelligent. When it comes to love I feel that we are the most dysfunctional and at the same time I feel animals show better qualities of love than we do. A lot of animals mate for life and that is love to them. They are partnered and they repopulate their species. Humans take more than that into love. We try to match personality types and lifestyles and who can live with or without. Yes, we are more complex and therefore beg the question of whether to be together to procreate or to actually live together and have a good life. Humans idea of love is becoming worse as the generations continue to grow.

Noelle Parton

While reading this I thought of the psychological idea of nature versus nurture. What aspects of an individual human are shaped by their environment, and what aspects are already determined by their genetic makeup? I think question fits in nicely with the ideas presented here about the idea that our cells, at the most basic level, do in fact possess freedom to adapt and change. I also don’t think that one has to believe in evolution in order to agree with this idea. It’s also so interesting to think back to the beginning of time and wonder how different, or the same, creatures from that time are to today, and how our expressions of love and changed or remained the same.

Shantay Perry

Some of this post was difficult for me to understand. I have heard of the Baldwin effect and do not fully get how it works, but the example did help. Although I do not see how all of this post relates and may not agree with all of the ideas proposed; I do think that we (humans) are not the only one capable of love. It may not be the same love that we think of or express, but it is a form of love. I do believe my dog loves me 🙂

Cassidy Ball

“The behavior of thriving organisms can be imitated by others and transmitted socially for a long enough period that random genetic mutations support that beneficial behavior.” This quote definitely stood out the most to me. I think this supports the evolutionary process as a whole. As far as imitation goes, we all do this every day. If we see something we like or want to do, we imitate it. It is then continually transmitted through us into our social lives, where other people may see and imitate it as well, and so on and so forth. However, I am not sure about the whole “genetic mutation” part of it. I honestly don’t know if we are capable of genetically mutating spontaneously to compensate for these imitations. To me that seems a little out there but I am nowhere near knowledgeable in this area at all. But those are just my opinions.

Cali Carpenter

I do not think we are defined by our genes. While the genes we have do impact our lives, we are not constricted by them. There are certain things in life that we have control over, and I think we have the option to overcome a circumstance, even if the odds are against us. With that being said, I think if our genes are leaning more towards one way, going against them will be difficult. Not impossible, but difficult.

With all the different opinions on genes, one thing I think for sure is that creatures other than humans are capable of love. While every gene differs, I think any animal and human is fully capable of love. We are often only concerned about ourselves and the way we love, but we shouldn’t forget that animals can also love.

Connor Magnuson

I have always been intrigued by the question of how much freedom does the human being really have. The question can be taken or interpreted in many different lights, but the one that this blog post took was mostly about how a being is born and how they will act throughout the course of their life. I would not have previously thought that freedom could have come about over the course of the evolutionary process but after reading this post some good arguments have been brought up. It seems that if you are a believer in some form of evolution (as opposed to radical creationism) it would be somewhat fitting to believe in a progressive advance of becoming more free. This made me question how much further the human race could ‘evolve’ into with reference to being free. Who knows what types of things humans could be doing with freedom in 100, 1000, or even 10,000 years from now.

Allie Kroeger

I found each of the different theories to be interesting in unique ways. The topic of freedom and how that plays a role with an evolutionary perspective is intriguing to me. I believe that we are born with the ability to do certain things–we have our abilities and our disabilities. That is true of everyone, whether it be human, animal, insect, etc. But just because we have our abilities and disabilities doesn’t mean we necessarily participate in them. We have freedom in our choices, but we can only go so far. That being said, I think we still have freedom to make our choices and what we want to be with the abilities that we are given with our bodies at birth. This was interesting to think about!

Kara Den Hoed

I don’t know if I am knowledgable enough in this category to even have an opinion. I think that because there is no way to prove just how much affect genes actually have, that the conversation could go on and on. It is interesting to think about, but I have a hunch. I don’t think it is possible to be limited completely by our genes. I think this because of how much education and different influences can change a person. If you were not educated, you would be a different kind of person and would be more limited. If you were raised in a different family, there are things about you that would be different….So because of that, I question how far one can take the genetic argument. But it is definitely something to think about!

Julie Armbruster

I am not sure that I would have anything to offer this thread of thoughts and opinions. As this was the first time I have heard of Baldwin and his theory. What I got from this was also quite confusing and yet some of it was thought provoking.
Do I think that human beings were originally born without the ability to love another? possibly. Do I think that it is possible that evolution allowed for humans to love now? I guess. I also believe that it is life experiences that help to shape people and the way that they express love. If you were to lock a toddler in a room and just slide food to the toddler through a hole in the wall. It would never be able to show or express love in the way that we do either. And it is because that child was never shown how to love, not because of its genes. But who am I to really have an educated guess, I have not studied this or read about it in any way until your class.
I do believe that animals are capable of loving, although it may not be the same kind of love as we express.

John Treyz

Attributing the Baldwin effect to adapting genetic structures is a great possible thought on the subject. But it may or may not be true and anybody with some knowledge on a theory can attribute it somehow to evolution. Barbour’s argument does not seem to even be a theory, just educated speculation. Interesting read nonetheless as the more thoughts about a subject and differing views on something as unknown as the specifics of evolution the better.

James Shepherd

I find this blog to be incredibly interesting. The idea that everything in this universe has some form of freedom is fascinating! The idea of freedom is relatively knew in our day in age, because what does real freedom look like? I think this speaks back to “free will,” and what we are ordained to do. I think this freedom, depending on how free we really are, affects the way we view our relationship with God. Not only this, I think it has a direct impact on the way we love the people around us.

Kevin Field

I fully agree that the ideology behind genetics could use a change of mind. It is easy for humans to get trapped by their own logic when it comes to de-compartmentalizing reality and basing our understanding on logic that is distant from the “human experience”. By building a framework based on an understanding of the molecular world, we harshly overlook the weight of our conscious experience. Although, not quantifiable or easily defined, the basic paradox between our conscious experience and the physical world should draw us back into a more holistic view of reality. I believe that contemplating consciousness and the fundamental nature of relationship would greatly benefit those who are currently isolating their framework of reality to mere molecular nature.

Tyler Mahaffy

Interesting theories that they all had presented, but like many others who have left comments, I don’t know if I could actually give a exact opinion on this subject. I do have to ask though, is the love that we now have, the emotion that we have possessed for so long in our times, is really the results of certain genes? It could be the case, but I prefer to think that love is something more than just genetics. I like to believe that Love is something that can transcends beyond what we can understand. I mean, after all, I a goose can fall in love with a tortoise, that’s got to be something.

melissa verhage

This was a very interesting topic to talk about. I really liked the idea about how even though our genes are passed down from parent to child that does not always mean the child will do what their parents did. It is about the environment one is in and how they are treated and react to it. Just like different animals who never should have been friends became friends (deer and a dog) that shows that love can be felt and given in many ways even when it seems unnatural.

Allison Christy

I wholeheartedly agree that, if we operate under a paradigm that suggests that humans are provided with enough free will to love, than other organisms are equally as able to love as well. It is interesting to think that love has a place in conversations pertaining to the greatest unknowns of existence. In our discussions of the nature of our universe (or universes) and the categories of special relativity and quantum mechanics, I think that we are beginning to understand the nature of ourselves in a fundamentally different way, and further, we are understanding the way we love in a different way as well. Some may narrow down the extent of love as a result of brain biochemistry, while others may argue that love is woven into the fabric of the cosmos and, further, into all of creation. The fact is, whether it is entirely of our free will or simy an expression of the nature of existence, love exists in this universe, and as science moves in directions to greater understand our world and our existence, we might find greater insight into understanding love as well.

Taylor Gould

It is interesting to me to think about whether or not animals go to heaven and whether or not they can experience love. Before this class/post I had never really thought about it in the way that this post does. I have a hard time believe that animals do not experience love almost the same ways we do. Growing up with many animals in my household allowed me to observe how animals behaved around my infant sister verses my parents. We had a bloodhound for 10 years when I was younger and he was easily the size of a miniature horse. When playing with my parents he would jump up on them and put him paws on their shoulders and tackle them to the ground when they would wrestle. But once my little sister was born and brought home, he would never rough house around her. He was always gentle and would curl up next to her on the floor and just sleep there for hours and hours. He loved my parents much differently than he loved my little sister and we saw that in his actions. I choose to believe that animals do experience and do in fact get to experience heaven much like we do.

Randy Kingsmore

Whether all dogs go to Heaven or not, I do not know. Whether an animal can love is an interesting one. It really depends on your definition of love. Clearly, animals can feel love and act in friendly manners but since this Dr. Oord’s blog we will use his definition of love which requires intentionality and reasoning. Does my dog make a decision to act? Does she see me come home and decide to come greet me? I am inclined to say yes. The last section of Dr. Oord’s definition of love is to promote overall well-being which I believe my dog is incapable of doing. That being said I do believe that my dog can love to some lesser extent which of course requires a different definition of love. Can we develop hundreds of different definitions of love to accommodate all the various animals? Possibly our human understanding of love is flawed and we can learn from something of love from animals. Sort of like going back to basics in sports.

Linnea Phillips

After watching “Animal Odd Couples,” I don’t understand how people can say that animals are incapable of exhibiting love. This PBS documentary makes me believe that all God’s creatures, from ants to humans, all have this innate ability to love. To be honest, the chemistry and biology was way over my head; however, I was extremely interested on Baldwin’s thoughts regarding “survival of the fittest.” As I was growing up, I was taught that evolution and creationism were on completely opposite ends of the spectrum, but I believe Baldwin has developed a theory that combines these two beliefs.
Overall, I think it’s important to look at all creatures as loving. As mentioned in the documentary, the way a horse loves may be different from the way a human loves, but that doesn’t make it less deep or sincere. It’s just different.

Toniessa Phelps

-I agree with this blog wholeheartedly that animals are capable of love. For example, the movie we watched yesterday gives evidence that animals and not just humans are capable of love and empathy. The fact that a goat took care of a blind horse and wasn’t receiving anything in return shows to me that they are more than capable of love. Just because they can’t communicate with us doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of loving. I see that in my own pets as well. When I get home my kitten wants to cuddle with me and meows when I don’t give him attention so that proves to me that he loves me. It’s a weird example but to me it seems like an act of love.

Cass Hinton

I think this was really interesting to read. Last night, in class we watched a documentary that PBS had put on a few years ago called , “Animal Odd Couples”. I thought it was really interesting how the most common animal that had been paired up with an “odd” friend seemed to be a dog. More than half of the “couples” were with dogs and other animals. I thought that was really interesting. I definitely agree that animals are capable of love and friendships. I have always thought that, to an extent, an animal can choose to love something or someone. I think that it definitely goes beyond plain genetics and that there is a lot more that goes into relationships and our actions.

Michael Delie

Are animals capable of love? I would say yes. It is a matter of action and how they treat not only humans but other animals. There are many accounts i have witnessed and heard about dogs being able to discern the way to love and how to love humans. For example, a dog rough housing with an adult and being gentle with a baby or toddler. Not only do they know how to show affection, they can obviously discern the different ways to treat people of different ages. I also think a lot of debate comes from the fact that animals cant verbally communicate. Only so much can be picked up on animals intelligence and capacity to love because they cant communicate in that way. From what i can tell almost all animals have the ability to love not only other animals but humans too. They might not be able to verbally express it but it is definitely shown through how they act.


I also the quote that “the behavior of thriving organisms can be imitated by others and transmitted socially for a long enough period that random genetic mutations support that beneficial behavior” to be interesting because we as living organisms do this every day. We see and learn from the mistakes of others and try and imitate the successes of our predecessors. Our genes can change over a long period of time and adapt to make our lives more successful. While I’m not knowledgeable enough to go out and prove that this can occur in one lifetime, I do think that through looking at my family and other people’s families I can give multiple examples of this.

Brianna Kinghorn

All of these biological answers to why humans are capable of love to me all seem way too simple. They do make sense and I’m not going to say that they do not possible have a role in love, but I find it hard to believe that the only reason someone can love is to only carry out their genetics. When they start to get more into a social science side, however, it starts to make a little more sense. It can explain some phenomenons of love, such as self-sacrifice. Even that does not explain love between species or enemies though. All of these give us the freedom to love, but it does not explain everything about it.

Rachel Ball

I can’t help but apply this idea of animals or organisms having agency to the problem of evil. One solution there is is that God cannot do some things. The reasoning or some evidence or a thought behind this had to do with nature being able to choose not to cooperate with God. Even at a cellular level, this solution suggests that a cancer cell must choose to react in order for God to be able to act.

In regards to love, these two ideas go hand in hand for me. In order to truly love, choice must be available. That is why we, as humans, were granted free will: so that we may choose to be in true relationship with God.

These two ideas then go hand in hand to me. Animals can love because they have that choice, and God cannot do some things because the organism or animal chooses to not comply.

Matti Munger

I completely agree that animals can love. Some of the evidence that they provided were a little questionable to me but I do believe that the genetics potentially have something to do with the reason that animals are capable of love. In the movie we watching about odd animal couples, we found that they don’t even have to love based on their genetic ties to their offspring or other members of their “family”, they can love based on a bond that was created out of no resemblance in the animals at all sometimes. I would have never thought that a goat would be helping a blind horse and then almost die of a broken heart when the blind horse dies, but it’s these things that show us that there is something else going on inside animals that make them feel for each other.

Jackson Bevens

Do animals love? I believe they do. If most people have had a dog they would say this as well. However I have heard of many other circumstances where it is evident that animals in fact can love. I watched a documentary called the Bridge. It was about suicides that take place on the golden gate bridge. But an interesting fact about this documentary was that there was one survivor. He realized he did not want to die as he was falling down toward the water, and decided that he would attempt to make it the cleanest landing. He did so but went 40 feet underwater, and broke all of his ribs, and other bones. However he would not have survived if it were not for a Seal. The seal saw him struggling to swim up, and swam in circles underneath him to propel his body up to the surface. Once at the surface the seal continued to do this until a boat came to rescue him. Now if the Seal is only acting in ways that benefit it then it would have not saved this man, and different species. I believe it was an act of Love.

Lexi Sterling

I definitely think it is crucial that we view all creatures as loving, for without this view I feel that the varying opinions (the idea that animals can or can’t love) will always be in opposition. However if we can agree that all creatures do love, then we can simply begin to question how they may love differently, rather than if they do at all. I reatenjoyed this post because I have always been taught that the opinions of creationism vs. evolution to be in opposition (and that one is wrong whereas the other is always right). However, as I Shen grown older I have questioned for myself whether or not I find that to be entirely true… So I especially enjoyed this post! I liked Stein’s viewpoint where he argued that molecular entities were more than simple, mere objects and that they rather posses a subjective nature that allows them to experience AND respond to their environment. I particularly enjoyed that sectiom because it furthered my belief that creation is able to experience their surroundings as well as respond to it.

Rachel Finley

I think the love that humans feel and the love that animals feel is different. Yes I do believe that animals can love, but it’s more of an “I care about you” love. In most situations, human love goes deeper than that. We as humans were made in the image of God and animals were not; therefore, I believe that we are capable of giving and receiving a much greater love than animals. God didn’t let His only begotten Son die an unimaginable death on the cross to cover the sins of animals, but for us.

Caleb Gerdes

Evolution and God, what a combination. There just never seems to be an easy answer because it is all theory. Evolution being the physical evidence theory. God being the spiritual evidence theory. One tends to be more fulfilling than the other. I tend towards a middle ground that God created evolution as his framework of the universe, doesn’t make me happy though. Scripturally then, how do we live in a broken world in the evolution story? Who were Adam and Eve? Why do I live in a broken world if there is nothing but evolution? We evolved into a broken world? I thought God created a good world. Where did all the bad stuff come from? Did God create the brokenness? How is that very loving?

Brenden O’Neill

I feel that whenever I try to justify evolution and God, there seems to be more questions than there are answers. On the one hand, there is evidence of evolutionary tendencies, as well as evidence that there is a creator through all of the complexities that are present in our world. As a scientist, I cannot deny the effects of evolution and therefore do affirm that as a process that is occurring. The problem is how God fits in to this equation. I cannot believe that evolution is the only creative process, but it is also hard to justify the brokenness of the world with an all-loving creator.

Matt Silva

The role that genes play in “determining” behavior is something that should be taken seriously by anyone studying human behavior. Biologists often tend toward reductionist accounts because they operate within a paradigm that cannot easily incorporate matters like choice and freedom. It is one of the central tenants of science that the world is ordered and predictable, so it is not surprising that explanations reached using that methodology will tend to be deterministic. But it is important when speaking philosophically to keep in mind that the descriptive results of biology do not, or at least should not, be entirely reductionistic. It is one thing to say that genes influence behavior, it is another thing entirely to say that genes are the only thing that influence behavior. While it is easy to criticise scientists who make overly strong reductionist claims, it probably more important to make sure that we are actually taking their findings seriously.

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