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Darwinism and the Sexual Revolution

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In late August the New York Times, the Times of London, and many other media venues were abuzz with yet another “scientific” study claiming that Darwinian processes have given us genetic proclivities toward sexual immorality. The New York Times headline read, “Scientists Say Women Are ‘Genetically Programmed to Have Affairs’ — It’s Like ‘Mate Insurance.'”

This is not a radically new theme, as evolutionary psychologists have been promoting the general idea for years that human sexual immorality has evolved because it gave reproductive advantages to the transgressor. On August 15, 1994, for example, Time magazine had emblazoned on its cover: “Infidelity: It May Be in Our Genes.”

Various evolutionists have devised theories about how just about every form of sexual behavior could be selected for by evolutionary processes, including rape. It took a good deal of mental gymnastics to explain homosexuality as a reproductive advantage for an individual. But scientists can invent some very interesting stories to cover up the fact that they do not have one shred of empirical evidence that these things are really so. (Is this how science is supposed to be done?)

I already critiqued these kinds of explanations in my new book, The Death of Humanity: And the Case for Life, where I devote an entire chapter to biological determinism. Here I will only be able to state the major problems briefly.

If you actually read the study on which the headlines are based (David Buss et al., “The Mate-Switching Hypothesis“), you will find that they do not provide any scientific evidence that any behavior is genetically programmed. They simply assume that human behaviors have been produced by the evolutionary process and thus are biologically determined. On the basis of that assumption, they spin out a theory — or really just a fancy story — that they think will explain such behavior. Far from proving that women are genetically programmed to have affairs, they simply assume that women are genetically programmed to engage in whatever sexual activity they engage in.

The people conducting this study are psychologists, and their essay provides no evidence that they did any empirical studies to determine if the behaviors being studied actually produced more offspring than other behaviors. They simply spin tales about how — possibly, maybe, perhaps — it might be so. Neither did they provide any scientific studies of genes, to see if there actually are genes that produce these behaviors. Thus — except to those who already assume that evolutionary psychology is true — the evidence is profoundly underwhelming.

Another problem is that their claims about women having affairs is based mostly on modern American sexuality, and even on that basis, they don’t provide any conclusive evidence that most women have affairs. Indeed the evidence they do provide suggests the opposite: most married women do not have affairs. Further, they do not provide significant evidence of women’s sexual behavior in bygone eras, when these “genetically programmed” behaviors were supposedly evolving.

Since some evolutionary psychologists tend to be strong with speculation and short on empirical evidence, I would like to offer a speculation of my own: Perhaps these kinds of explanations are convenient ways of justifying the Sexual Revolution and the resultant sexual mores associated with it. It relieves people of personal moral responsibility, because after all: “My Genes Made Me Do It.” Incidentally, that is the title of the chapter on biological determinism in my book, The Death of Humanity: And the Case for Life, where I treat this issue in greater depth.

Richard Weikart is professor history at California State University, Stanislaus, Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, and author of The Death of Humanity: And the Case for Life and Hitler’s Religion.

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