Review: Thriving With Stone Age Minds

Thriving With Stone Age Minds, Justin L. Barrett with Pamela Ebstyne King. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: An examination of the ways evolutionary psychology and Christian faith intersect in understanding what sets us apart as human beings and how human beings may thrive.

Many of us from strong Christian backgrounds grew up with suspicions about anything with the word “evolution” in it. Likewise, those from scientific backgrounds often dismissed Christian faith’s ability to add to our understanding of what it means to be human. The authors of this work contend that the insights of each may enrich and enlarge the other and, together may contribute to the thriving of human beings.

Evolutionary psychology reveals that in addition to our physical distinctives, we are distinguished by exceptional sociality, expertise acquisition, and self-control. Interesting enough, these qualities map onto many theological understandings of what it means to be in the image of God. We are made for relationship with God and others, we have a capacity to acquire knowledge of and modify our world, and we are volitional, acting or refraining from acting toward some end.

Yet we often fail to thrive. Evolutionary psychology distinguishes between nature and niche. What is remarkable about us is how we may modify our niches with our capacities to relate, know, and self-control. Yet we often do so in ways that outstrip the capacities of our “stone age” minds to adapt. It is particularly striking around the question of purpose. At one time, the answer to the question of what do you want to be when you grow up was simple: alive. Now, it is far more complex, and yet answering this question is key to thriving.

The authors go into more depth on each of the three distinguishing makes of human evolutionary psychology. We learn how all of us “mindread” in social relationships, the various biases that shape learning, and how we learn to emotionally regulate. This latter chapter notes the role religion has played in emotional regulation and self control and wonders about the implication of the decline of religion in a society.

The authors draw evolutionary psychology together in a final chapter on telos. They explore what it means to love on a species level–beyond our own tribe, what it means to love God and care for creation, the purposes of family, community, and church, and our own purpose–all part of thriving. Awareness of nature and niche also shapes our thriving toward our telos. We recognize our nature’s strengths and weaknesses without viewing them rigidly. We recognize that our nature can widen the gap between us and our niche, or close it. We neither widen the gaps for those who follow nor close them such that those who follow have no occasion to stretch or grow.

The authors, I felt, made a strong case for why evolutionary psychology and Christian faith need not be in conflict. Each may enrich the other in understanding what it means to be fully human, fully alive–thriving in our world and with each other. They actually explore and flesh out what is often assumed, what it means to be creatures in the image of God, how we are creaturely and yet distinct from all other creatures. In recent years, the “warfare” between science and faith often has seemed its fiercest in the social sciences. A work like this suggests that neither the science nor the faith offer occasion for war but rather enriching commerce with each other. There may be other reasons for warring, but the substance of both science and Christian faith offer grounds for peaceful exchange. Could it be that our fights are unneeded?


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

One thought on “Review: Thriving With Stone Age Minds

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: December 2021 | Bob on Books

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