Evangelicals and The Problem of Nature

Or, “What George Costanza Can Teach Christians”‪

Evangelical Christians have a problem of recognizing nature. The sky is blue, the grass is green, fire is hot, water is wet, and men want pretty women. Yet, when faced with this last of natural realities of sexual dynamics, for instance in a recent article entitled Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins Without Tattoos, the common response was to deny nature and retreat into a gnostic world where the physical is of no consideration. Not only are men not supposed to want pretty women but there is no “pretty”; or rather, everything is beautiful no matter how ugly. There are no trees, nothing is green, everything is fire, burn it all down.

Thus, when some Christians heard that men have natural preferences, they quickly rejected such materialistic notions and flocked to ideals of value and worth, as exemplified in an article written in response entitled God’s Not Looking for Debt-Free Virgins, or even from White Horse Inn’s Does God Require Women To Be Debt and Tattoo-Free Virgins? Both articles make a common gnostic claim: God has no preference in regards to spiritual salvation, therefore humans should have no preference in natural relations.

This line of gnostic reasoning is similar to that used to defend other abstract ideals such as open borders and unlimited mass immigration: Nation X (say, Poland or Hungary) has a natural preference for its own people. The common response is, “God prefers all peoples equally, therefore so should we,” or worse, “That natural preference is racist and hateful.” In other words, God, the Creator of nature, denies nature, sees its preference as evil, and expects human beings (who are part of nature) likewise to live without respect to it. Evangelicalism is dangerously gnostic.

But does God – the Creator of nature – deny his own work? Did not he call all created things “good”? Do not we his creatures live in nature? Did not Christ take on flesh in the incarnation and raise up the natural body in his resurrection? Surely then, we must acknowledge the natural world not only as it exists but as itself a revelation from God; what theologians call “natural theology” or “natural law.”

As such, there are many truths to learn from empirical observation and study of God’s “second book.” One is the relations of men and women in personal and sexual relationships. It’s true that God isn’t seeking virgins. But he did create them as such and offered one in the first marriage, thereby setting the preferred norm. Further, both men and women have natural preferences that tend toward what is universally and prototypically recognized as naturally better.

This is no mystery. Women don’t want short, fat, bald, unemployed, porn-addicted, mom’s-basement-dwelling guys like George Costanza of Seinfeld. Placing before men this natural standard of manhood is not hurtful but helpful. And zero men reply with abstract platitudes about value and worth and how women should accept them as they are because God does. Rather, they rightly accept natural reality for what it is. They recognize that women generally desire men who are tall, rich, masculine, and powerful. Jane Austen began her famous novel “Pride And Prejudice” recognizing this “universal” truth. A recent study found that women prefer men who are dominantly “sexist.” Popular women’s books and teen-girl movies all bear this out. Endless examples could be marshaled to “prove” what is merely ubiquitous as to be natural law.

Men, too, are looking for certain physical, material qualities in spouses. For instance, far more women than men prefer a college educated partner. This is because women want to “marry up” while men want to “marry down.” A Brookings Institute article reveals that to most men a college education in a woman does not make her more attractive (in fact college debt hurts women). What does make a woman attractive to a man? According to tens of thousands of user preferences, men prefer young, single, thin, debt-free women while women prefer older, richer, powerful men – until the women themselves get older, at which point they prefer anyone who will respond. Young women receive the most attention from men and therefore think they have infinite sexual/relational options. But over time those options shrink quickly and unalterably; thereby sending women into a desperate search for a mate. Meanwhile, young men have few options, but as they grow older the field opens up and they enjoy decades of dating – if they so choose. The point is that women have many relational choices when young and men when older. Yet, what women are told is that they will always enjoy the power of sexual choice they experience when young on into their older years (after college, for instance). They should, therefore, spend their youth not worrying about base things like appearance and pleasing a man; they should not spend their prime-attraction years securing a mate but a degree and a job and life experiences, only to find out their ability to “get” a man afterwards has been mitigated. Whereas men are told to “man up” and marry in their 20s – a time when they are still coming of age – only to find out that their years of peak desirability commence in their 30s.

In short, empirical study of the natural world reveals men’s and women’s dating cycles are not rationalistically, abstractly, gnostically equivalent or free of physical distinctions; both sexes have different time preferences and material preferences in partners. To deny this is to deny nature and to set oneself up for disaster, jading, and loneliness.

There is no reason to deny nature when there exists such a wealth of riches to be found in the empirical world, even extending, yes, to tattoos. A December 2017 paper by business and economic professors at Wilfrid Laurier University entitled Tat Will Tell: Tattoos and Time Preferences, found the following: “We collect numerous measures of time preferences and impulsivity of tattooed and non-tattooed subjects and find broad-ranging and robust evidence that those with tattoos, especially visible ones, are more short-sighted and impulsive than the non-tattooed.” Another study placed images of women with and without tattoos and asked men to described the women: “When men saw the woman with the tattoo, they judged her as less athletic, less motivated, less honest, less generous, less religious, less intelligent and less artistic than when she displayed no tattoo. But Guéguen noticed one curious set of findings in this thin research area: While men see tattooed women as less attractive, they also see them as more promiscuous.” Lest we think the men were being too harsh, the study found that tattooed women were indeed more promiscuous than women without tattoos. Thus, tattoos indicate short time preference and greater impulsivity, which also carries into relationships negatively. And so, men prefer women without tattoos. Controversial or not, this is observable natural reality.

To be clear, one “path” for women – young marriage or long-term career – is not less or more biblical, but there are natural, demonstrable realities that follow each. And depending upon one’s goals, it requires wisdom to know which one to pursue (hopefully beforehand). Women who wish to marry at some point in their lives would do well to have the best chances possible at finding a spouse, which entail knowing and adhering to what naturally tends toward marriage and what hinders it. By rejecting the “way” of men and women, due to overly simplistic spiritualized abstractions, women and men set themselves up for failure in reality.

Another truth to learn from empirical observation of natural reality is the nature order of human relations writ large in civic society. While is true that we are all human, made in God’s image, and that God does not prefer male or female, Jew or Gentile in regards to salvation; yet it is not true that this dissolves social distinctions, duties, loyalties, and allegiances among human beings.

In his De Doctrina Christiana, Augustine noted that, “Since one cannot help everyone, one has to be concerned with those who by reason of place, time, or circumstances, are by some chance more tightly bound to you.” Thus, merely by proximity of place we are bound to prioritize our neighbors’ well-being before others when the two conflict. Aquinas saw social relations similarly: “In what concerns nature we should love our kinsmen most, . . . and we are more closely bound to provide them with the necessities of life.” (Summa Theologica, 2.2, 26) Aquinas does not mean that we should withhold love from others where possible, but that by natural consequence we find ourselves bound together with those around us.

Further to the point, in a sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:2-3, John Calvin affirmed an important distinction between spiritual salvation and natural human social relations: “Regarding our eternal salvation it is true that one must not distinguish between man and woman, or between king and a shepherd, or between a German and a Frenchman. Regarding policy however, we have what St. Paul declares here; for our Lord Jesus Christ did not come to mix up nature, or to abolish what belongs to the preservation of decency and peace among us….Regarding the kingdom of God (which is spiritual) there is no distinction or difference between man and woman, servant and master, poor and rich, great and small. Nevertheless, there does have to be some order among us, and Jesus Christ did not mean to eliminate it, as some flighty and scatterbrained dreamers believe.” Here and elsewhere Calvin shows that what obtains in the spiritual kingdom does not necessarily entail in the civil kingdom. This hits at the Reformed Protestant teaching of Two-Kingdom Theology.

In his Institutes 11.2.19, Francis Turretin upholds the reality and importance of the natural law while demonstrating that natural equality (often heard today in statements such as the responses to the first article: women are valuable regardless of their past, debt, tattoos, etc.) does not annul the reality of external, physical differences: “Afterwards a distinction and ownership of goods was justly introduced with the authority of God, to prevent controversies, to restrain external violence and to afford certainty to inheritances and make a distinction in conditions (without which human society could not exist)….Nor if the law of nature makes all men equal with regard to nature does it follow that they are equal with regard to qualities and external condition.” And with these external differences and conditions come natural preferences and unequal relational and social distinctions as discussed above.

References as these could be quoted at length. Protestants have a rich heritage of affirming and adhering to natural law and a robust theology employing, elaborating, and verifying it. In his Abolition Of Man C.S. Lewis argued strenuously that modern people, no less modern Christians, recognize what he called the Tao (the natural law) – a set of natural truths universally recognized by all humans as inherent to their created natures. Indeed, in his book Mere Christianity, Lewis argued from this standpoint for the existence of God! Thus, Evangelical Christians would do well to recognize natural law and return to all of God’s revealed truths, as they apply both relationally in sexual preferences and socially in civic or national preferences. The two books – scripture and nature – do not contradict. We should not let pure reason derived from idealistic premises annul forthcoming naturally revealed truths.

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