Tom Bartlett reports at the Chronicle of Higher Education that Dan McAdams, professor of psychology at Northwestern University, is pushing a new explanation for evolution’s lack of success in convincing many to become true believers: It has no story to tell.
McAdams’s research focus is narrative psychology—specifically, the development of a “life-story model of human identity.” As he writes in his book The Redemptive Self,“People create stories to make sense of their lives.” When you think about it, we tell stories to make sense of pretty much everything. The problem is that evolution doesn’t fit neatly into the narrative box. As McAdams puts it: “You can’t really feel anything for this character—natural selection.”
It may well turn out that the most-read story having anything at all to do with evolution isn’t really about evolution–Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, which is much more interesting that On the Origin of Species.
At the very least, though, evolution’s weakness as a story creates a PR opportunity for creationists. For example, one Christian Web site tries to fit evolution into a standard fairy-tale narrative, telling the intentionally absurd tale of an amoeba’s transformation from salamander to monkey to man, all thanks to a character called Mutation who waves a magic wand. It doesn’t read like it was written by someone with a background in biology, but it’s hard to disagree with the conclusion that evolution is a “strange story.”
If you take these thoughts and transfer them over to human lives, you see something similar: who would want to tell the story of how a family came into being, meeting, courtship, marriage, and children, from a purely materialistic, biological point of view? Now unlike some, perhaps, I think I am willing to let the facts convince me of evolution. So far, the facts had their best shot at me a few decades ago, but since then, as I read what scientists are discovering about genetics, DNA, and organisms, the questions about the abilities of something called natural selection to drive amoebas to become novelists only multiply, while answers, such a Tree of Life, once thought solid are slowly fading to black.