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ECF > Meet the Grantees > From Monkeys or from Dirt? Cognitive Science and Human Origins


Meet the Grantees

This project is supported by The BioLogos Foundation’s Evolution & Christian Faith program. BioLogos does not necessarily endorse the views expressed by the Project Leader(s) or their institution, nor do the Project Leader(s) or their institution necessarily endorse the views expressed by BioLogos.

From Monkeys or from Dirt? Cognitive Science and Human Origins

Bethel University
Dr. Adam Johnson

Evolution appears to provide the best scientific account for many aspects of human and animal biology. However, evolutionary accounts of human origins – even those consistent with theism – are poorly understood and accepted within many Christian communities. Why? Although this observation is frequently explained in terms of social or theological responses, we hypothesize that the cognitive demands associated with constructing a coherent scientific, philosophical, or theological account ofhuman origins push many people to their natural cognitive limit and, consequently, shape these origins discussions.

Constructing a coherent account of human origins requires vast memory resources and comprehension – more than most people freely have available in our busy world.We hypothesize that the cognitive burden embedded within human origins discussions produce a variety of emotional responses that influence origins discussions. Overly complicated discussions produce negative emotions such as exhaustion, frustration and cognitive dissonance. We tend to avoid ideas and explanations that produce such negative emotions. As a result, it’s often less cognitively and emotionally burdensome to neglect theological commitments – as in atheistic evolutionary accounts – or philosophical and scientific commitments – as in biblically literalist accounts. The cognitive perspective suggests that theistic evolutionary accounts frequently pose a variety of cognitive and emotional burdens that atheistic evolutionary and biblical literalist accounts do not pose.

Our research will examine the cognitive and emotional challenges presented by different human origins accounts, determine whether presenting theistic evolution as a narrative or story can overcome these cognitive and emotional challenges, and lead to broader discussion of human origins.

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