Evolutionary psychology has been getting blasted in atheist circles for its unscientific nature and for supporting the status quo. In response, the battle cry of the evolutionary psychologist has been nothing but: “you’re a science denialist!”
This term is derived from “Holocaust denialism”; Holocaust deniers are people who deny that the Holocaust happened despite the historical evidence presented. At least, that was the original use of the term. Nowadays, “denialism” is used more and more widely, to attack “climate change denialism,” “AIDS denialism,” “evolution denialism.”
Granted, these positions can be seen as denying a body of evidence, so the use of “denialism” there is not entirely objectionable. But what body of evidence is being denied by people who object to evolutionary psychology?
Evolution is true, and humans are the product of evolution. That much is beyond the shadow of a doubt and is not being denied. That we have a (human) psychology is not being denied either. But the concept that our concrete behaviors are the result of evolution, which is what evopsych proponents declare as their foundation, is very much under contention. They do not propose any scientific evidence to demonstrate this as a fact; they simply posit that our brain evolved specific behaviors as solutions to Pleistocene problems and assume from there.
What is important to understand here is that evolutionary psychology papers do not provide any evidence of the truth of evolutionary psychology itself. All evopsych “researchers” assume that our behaviors are evolved as the implicit principle behind their research.
As it turns out, it’s easy to falsify evopsych and show it to be pseudo-science. According to evopsych, based on their unproven assertions about behaviors being evolved, there should be individual, separate modules in our brains that regulate specific behaviors. But no such modules have ever been shown to exist. Evolutionary psychology is not a science, it is dangerous, politically-motivated charlatanism poorly dressed up as science.
So when we are told that people who debunk evolutionary psychology are “science denialists,” we must make clear three things:
1. Evolutionary psychology is not science. Its premises are false and its methods are circular. It is based on no measurable observations and contradicts observations of the human brain.
2. Attacking evolutionary psychology is not “science denialism” because, unlike the Holocaust, climate change, evolution and HIV research, there is no body of evidence demonstrating the validity of evolutionary psychology. Neither can evolutionary psychology explain anything in a novel way or shed new light on any problem.
3. Evolutionary psychology is a political position, not a scientific position. Its objective is to support the status quo on issues of gender, sexuality, race, class and power.
Illustrating these three points is the following evopsych explanation for homosexuality:
(and before you accuse me of choosing the most embarassing evopsych position, this is the very first result on Google right now, as I am writing this in September 2013, for “evolutionary psychology explanation for homosexuality”)
Overly simplified, this “tipping-point” model (originally introduced by G. E. Hutchinson in 1959, and then later popularized by Jim McKnight in 1997 and Edward Miller in 2000) posits that genes associated with homosexuality confer fitness benefits in their heterosexual carriers. If only a few of these alleles are inherited, a males’ reproductive success is enhanced via the expression of attractive, albeit feminine traits, such as kindness, sensitivity, empathy, and tenderness. However, if many of these alleles are inherited, a “tipping point” is reached at which even mate preferences become “feminized,” meaning males are attracted to other males.
To go through the three points again:
1. The premise of this “research” is that homosexual behavior has evolved for some reason, and we need to find that reason. No attempt has been made to establish whether any specifically homosexual behavior was in fact evolved or not. It is entirely possible that any given behavior is not an adaptation in itself but rather the by-product of an adaptation (as morality is) or is completely unrelated to any adaptation. The latter is due to genetic drift, and while there is no consensus on how important genetic drift is to evolution as a whole, we know for a fact that genetic drift can have a profound impact on the development of species, especially on small populations.
“The ground rule – or perhaps doctrine would be a better term – is that adaptation is a special and onerous concept that should be used only where it is really necessary.”
As is clear to most evolutionary biologists, and other interested skeptical parties who are less than enamoured by the efforts of Evolutionary Psychologists, the approach described… above is rarely followed and instead these scientists appear to fire off adaptive explanations with reckless abandon, with their work often consisting of nothing more than folk wisdom and a post hoc just-so story explanation.
2. Even if the explanation is true, how does it advance our understanding? It still does not explain what makes one hetereosexual or homosexual (how are these genes transmitted to any specific individual? have any studies confirmed that homosexuals come from “feminine” families?). It also does not acknowledge that there are many more sexual orientations than heterosexual or homosexual, and so does not explain reality as we know it.
3. The association of homosexuality with feminine traits, as well as the association of “kindness, sensitivity, empathy, and tenderness” (that is to say, passivity and slavish support of males) with femininity as opposed to aggression as masculine trait, are Patriarchal constructs which perpetuate sexism and homophobia. There, then, is the real objective of this “research”: to perpetuate gender roles and homophobia. Of course the writers flippantly deny this:
These recent findings are scientifically intriguing and they likely have profound implications for the LGBT community (which we purposefully skirted here as we are donning our science and description hats and not our policy and prescription caps).
Here we see again the myth that science is “value-neutral” and that one can neatly separate fact from value, leaving only cold logic (a “male” trait). This of course is a lie. But by making the dichotomy between “science”/”description” (of facts) and “policy,” the writers are omitting the fact that description itself plays off on the meanings already existing in society. If I describe homosexuality as feminine or women as caring, I am in fact perpetuating already existing hierarchies, even if it’s “description” and not “policy.”
It makes it a lot easier for evopsych proponents to slip their support for hierarchies under the door if they first convince people that their research is “scientific” and “descriptive.” People think that racism or sexism can’t be racist or sexist if it’s “scientific” (see the IQ-race debate for example). So you get into the whole “objectivity” game, as in “I’m being objective and you’re not.” That’s a game for suckers if there ever was one.
Evopsychs may accuse us of being science denialists, but they are behavioral creationists.