The End of Stories: the Evolutionary Psychology of Evolutionary Psychology

Michael Egnor

icon_monkey_mirror.jpgThe journal Nature published an editorial recently in which the editors criticized Senator Sam Brownback’s New York Times essay What I Think About Evolution. Senator Brownback wrote:

Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as atheistic theology posing as science.

In reply to Brownback, the editors at Nature made some stunning assertions:

With all deference to the sensibilities of religious people, the idea that man was created in the image of God can surely be put aside.


…the idea that human minds are the product of evolution is not atheistic theology. It is unassailable fact.

We’ll leave aside for now the truth of the editors’ quite radical assertion that God is, pace Laplace, an unnecessary hypothesis. The editorial’s claim that the human mind can be explained adequately by evolutionary psychology raises an important point, and a question. Evolutionary psychologists have analyzed many aspects of human culture and thought, from altruism, to adultery, autism, rape, jealousy, monogamy, and of course, quite prominently, religion. Traditional views of human nature and culture have been assailed by evolutionary psychologists, who are never at a loss for theories as to how our values and traditions have been caused by Darwinian mechanisms–the struggle for survival of bipedal hominids on the savannah.
The question raised is this: what is the evolutionary psychologists’ explanation for evolutionary psychology? More broadly, what is the evolutionary explanation for athiestic materialism? If, as the editors of Nature claim, our minds are merely the product of materialistic evolution, then the opinion that our minds are merely the product of materialistic evolution is itself just the product of evolution. The influence of atheistic materialism on modern culture and science is enormous, yet there are few if any studies on the evolutionary psychology of materialism as an ideology. Why are evolutionary psychologists so uninterested in the evolutionary origins of their own ideas?
One could certainly construct, in the tradition of evolutionary psychology, fanciful stories to explain the emergence of atheistic materialism in hominids. To put a negative spin on it, perhaps atheistic materialism arose because it allowed humans to compete ruthlessly with their fellows, unencumbered by concerns about supernatural moral codes or eternal accountability. Social Darwinism could be explained in this way. To put a positive spin on it, perhaps atheistic materialism arose because it freed it’s adherents from religious conflict, and allowed them to engage in more survival-enhancing efforts. In evolutionary psychology, there is no end of stories.
But, oddly, the stories do seem to end, right where atheistic materialism begins. Evolutionary psychologists seem loathe to deconstruct their own ideology. Why? If evolutionary psychology is a search for truth about the human mind, as the editors of Nature assert, it would seem that evolutionary psychologists would be falling all over themselves to understand the very idea that has led us to this epochal self-knowledge.
Evolutionary psychologists’ disinterest in the evolutionary origins of their own ideology is remarkable. Why do evolutionary psychologists exempt their own ideology from evolutionary deconstruction? Perhaps we would learn that atheistic materialism is, like belief in God, an evolutionary spandrel, or merely a survival tactic to secure group cohesion.
But atheistic materialism is where the evolutionary stories end. Why are evolutionary psychologists so reluctant to apply their own science to their own beliefs? Perhaps it’s because evolutionary psychology is atheistic theology, posing as science.

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.