Friday, July 10, 2009

Is the Tide Turning Against Evo Psych?

Last month, Newsweek published a rare anti-materialist article, Why Do We Rape, Kill and Sleep Around? The Fault, Dear Darwin, Lies Not in Our ancestors, But in Ourselves. The piece is a brutal takedown of “evolutionary psychology” (or “evo psycho” for short), which, as the author explains…

"Founded in the late 1980s…[evolutionary psychology] asserts that behaviors that conferred a fitness advantage during the era when modern humans were evolving are the result of hundreds of genetically based cognitive "modules" preprogrammed in the brain. Since they are genetic, these modules and the behaviors they encode are heritable—passed down to future generations—and, together, constitute a universal human nature that describes how people think, feel and act, from the nightclubs of Manhattan to the farms of the Amish, from the huts of New Guinea aborigines to the madrassas of Karachi… We in the 21st century, asserts evo psych, are operating with Stone Age minds.”

For decades, evo psych has been the media’s favorite way to promote Darwinism (see my article, “Sex with Blondes and Darwin” here).

Although, as the article points out, “short of a time machine, the hypothesis was impossible to disprove,” it didn’t matter because no one was there to rebut its claims.

“Game, set and match to evo psych.”

Thankfully – to quote the article again – “that is changing.”

“Evo psych took its first big hit in 2005, when NIU's Buller exposed flaw after fatal flaw in key studies underlying its claims, as he laid out in his book Adapting Minds. Anthropological studies such as Hill's on the Ache, shooting down the programmed-to-rape idea, have been accumulating. And brain scientists have pointed out that there is no evidence our gray matter is organized the way evo psych claims, with hundreds of specialized, preprogrammed modules. Neuroscientist Roger Bingham of the University of California, San Diego, who describes himself as a once devout ‘member of the Church of Evolutionary Psychology’ (in 1996 he created and hosted a multimillion-dollar PBS series praising the field), has come out foursquare against it, accusing some of its adherents of an ‘evangelical" fervor.’

“Evo psych's claims that human behavior is constrained by mental modules that calcified in the Stone Age make sense ‘only if the environmental challenges remain static enough to sculpt an instinct over evolutionary time,’ Pigliucci points out. If the environment, including the social environment, is instead dynamic rather than static—which all evidence suggests—then the only kind of mind that makes humans evolutionarily fit is one that is flexible and responsive, able to figure out a way to make trade-offs, survive, thrive and reproduce in whatever social and physical environment it finds itself in. In some environments it might indeed be adaptive for women to seek sugar daddies. In some, it might be adaptive for stepfathers to kill their stepchildren. In some, it might be adaptive for men to be promiscuous. But not in all. And if that's the case, then there is no universal human nature as evo psych defines it.”

The decline of Evo Psych would be a helpful advance in restoring science to its original function - observing, collecting evidence, and analyzing that evidence in a rational way – NOT pimping for materialism.

As I wrote on May 5:

“The function of science today is to de-rationalize people and thus, to dehumanize them…Whether it’s in a college classroom or on a TV talk show, we are only provided evidence of materialism. We are only subject to evidence that negates free will; that destroys reason. We are barely aware of evidence in support of free will; in support of reason… Imagine a science that actually chose to uplift humanity… Who knows what we would learn once we treated the mind as a real thing? The possibilities are endless.”


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