Why the Hate for Evolutionary Psychology?

Sticking with the feminism theme, at least for this post. I find myself wondering quite what the objection to evolutionary psychology is. After all, evolutionary psychology, just like any other evolutionary theory, doesn’t try to say what’s right or wrong, it tries to describe what is.

It cannot help but feel to me that the objections to it come from a similar root to religious objections to biological evolution. Just as a creationist doesn’t like the idea of ‘coming from a monkey’ or just being another animal so, it feels, that people object to the idea that their behaviours, their psychology, may be influenced (rather than determined) by their evolutionary history.

This becomes particularly contentious when one gets to the matter of differences between the genders. Hopefully, by this point, nobody would disagree that there are – indeed – biological differences between the sexes. Not just the obvious primary and secondary sexual characteristics but in genetics, hormones, brain structure and a host of other things. Hell, human females are (if I remember correctly) the only animal to have evolved an organ purely for pleasure.

Moving away from the sensitive area of talking about humans and all their neuroses for a moment let’s strip it back.

  1. We know evolution takes place.
  2. We know sexual dimorphism exists. Often to remarkable extremes.*
  3. We know behaviour can be affected by selection.
  4. We know behaviour, particularly sexual, even very complex can be split between genders.
  5. What is psychology other than complex behaviour interactions?

The question then becomes what’s so bloody special about human beings? Why would someone think we were different? Strikes me as particularly arrogant, as arrogant as claiming we have ‘souls’ and animals don’t.

I think the problem comes about in that some people see, in evolutionary psychology, justification or support for rather hidebound and traditional views of gender roles. That there are (or probably are) psychological difference between the sexes does not mean those differences conform to stereotype or myth.

At the risk of invoking a reductio ad Hitlerum I would point out that eugenics, while crude, could eliminate many genetic diseases. That doesn’t mean that the crazed racial hatred of the Nazis or their elimination tactics are valid or scientific. Nor does it mean that such methods have not been superseded, nor that they were right or moral.

*And other than, perhaps, gorillas or baboons, we’re particularly sexually dimorphic amongst our close relatives.

One response to “Why the Hate for Evolutionary Psychology?

  1. Ultimately it’s because evolutionary psychology often falls prey to hyper-adaptationalism, assuming all behaviour has some kind of evolved basis. And given that a vast number of things influence behaviour, not just genetics, this seems to be an unfounded assumption.

    When they postulate some behaviour is an adaptation to the savannah, how do they know it isn’t actually a product of nurture or other epigenetic factors? Or that it does have a genetic basis but it wasn’t selected for and merely got associated with a more successful gene and so spread that way?

    There is little doubt some behaviours evolved and so evolutionary psychology does have some merit. The only trouble is I’ve yet to see a convincing way of differentiating between those behaviours that evolved and those which did not, meaning that they’re just going round in circles at this point.

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