Criticisms of Evolutionary Psychology

June 27, 2016

Biological Bases of Behavior

While I agree with Dr. Saad that some of the common criticisms of EP are a bit weak and that EP has some theoretical strengths, I think he overstates things by dismissing Sharon Begley's critique in Newsweek as an "antiquated and perfectly erroneous set of criticisms." After all, it's not easy to be perfectly erroneous, even with lots of practice.

(Begley's article is here, and an interview regarding this material can be found here. David J. Buller's book offering a comprehensive critique of the neo-Darwinian fundamentalism at the heart of much EP is here.)

One of the foundational claims of EP is that "we have stone aged brains in our modern heads." Indeed, EP makes little sense as a science if evolutionary adaptation can take place so rapidly that ancient psychological adaptations have long since been overwritten by more recent changes, as recent research suggests.

The argument over the evolutionary "appropriateness" of rape Begley outlines is important because many self-proclaimed EP realists argue that human nature leads us to wage war on our neighbors, deceive our spouses, and abuse our stepchildren. Rape, they say, is just a reproductive strategy, marriage a no-win struggle of mutually-assured disappointment, and romantic love a chemical reaction luring us into reproductive traps parental love keeps us from escaping. Theirs is an all-encompassing narrative that claims to explain it all.

But evolutionary psychology’s narrative contains many glaring contradictions. Women, for example, are said to be the choosy, reserved sex. Men spend their energies trying to impress women – flaunting expensive watches, driving shiny new sports-cars, clawing their way to positions of fame and status – all in order to convince the coy females to part with their closely-guarded sexual favors. For women, we’re told, sex is all about the security of the relationship, not the physical pleasure. (See Natalie Angier's spirited spanking of EP for gender generalizing here.)


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