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Why an Evolutionist Disses Evolutionary Psychology

Michael Egnor

psychology

Biologist P.Z. Myers and I finally agree on something! Myers detests evolutionary psychology:

I almost felt pity for evolutionary psychology… I detest evolutionary psychology. I consider it to be bad evolutionary biology, bad psychology, and just plain bad science. But there is something I detest even more, and that’s when evolutionary psychologists try to confidently explain why I dislike evolutionary psychology, and get everything wrong.

Why would a doctrinaire Darwinist reject evolutionary psychology, which, after all, is merely the application of Darwinian science to the evolution of behavior? 

Myers:

I don’t think psychology should just accept the dominion of evolutionary psychology, because EP is wrong — it’s a purely adaptationist paradigm built on flawed preconceptions and lazy methodology. EP can’t possibly test assumptions about the evolution of the human mind over the last 100,000 years by facile observations of Western middle-class college students. Especially not when it’s defenders don’t understand evolution at all, and reduce everything to blind adaptationism.

Satirical Stories

Myers nails it. Evolutionary psychology is “a purely adaptationist paradigm built on flawed preconceptions and lazy methodology.” I couldn’t agree more. Evolutionary psychology even has its own official version of Saturday Night Live — the BAH! (Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses), a series of lectures at MIT on hilarious (and apparently satirical) stories of evolutionary adaptation. One featured evolutionary theory is that human babies are football-shaped so that they could be punted between prehistoric villages (it spreads the genes!). This evolutionary theory also explains why babies’ bones are soft (so they won’t break when you punt ’em) and why babies are hairless (less wind resistance). 

The ease with which evolutionary psychology is satirized explains, I think, some of Myers’s disdain for this venerable branch of the Darwinian tree. It’s not merely that Myers understands that adaptationist fairy tales are worthless to psychology, but perhaps he understands (but is reluctant to admit) that evolutionary biology shares the same garbage methodology. 

Darwinian fairy tales about prehistoric Neanderthal proclivities and modern psychology are obvious junk science. Darwinian fairy tales about prehistoric molecular proclivities and modern biochemistry are less obvious nonsense but no less junk science, because laymen and most scientists aren’t experts on esoterica of biochemistry. Some scientists who are experts, and have the requisite courage, call out Darwinian junk science with great skill. 

Puerile Adaptationist Paradigms 

All Darwinian fairy tales are the same — puerile adaptationist paradigms built on flawed preconceptions and lazy methodology. It’s just that the idiocy of Darwinian biology is opaque to most of us, whereas the idiocy of Darwinian psychology is out front, for all to see.

Evolutionary psychology is a catastrophe for Darwinism because it lays bare the junk science at the heart of Darwinian science. Darwinian evolution is as hilarious as Darwinian psychology, but  most of don’t know as much about biochemistry as we do about psychology, and we don’t get the joke. Myers rightly detests Darwinian psychology, not merely because it’s atrocious science, but because, very likely, on some level he understands that it gives away the Darwinian game — that Darwinism as a whole is “a purely adaptationist paradigm built on flawed preconceptions and lazy methodology… just plain bad science.”

Photo credit: Michael Himbeault, via Flickr (cropped).