I got as far as the first paragraph before I started throwing red flags, and by the second I was ready to call off the whole game on account of dishonesty. Psychology Today (I should have been alerted by the source) defends EP.
The human brain, just like every aspect of every organism on the planet, is the product of evolution. If you accept that evolution is true, you can’t avoid that conclusion. That’s why I often get confused when I hear reasonable people being broadly dismissive of evolutionary psychology (EP).
EP is simply an approach to psychology that explicitly acknowledges evolution as the designer of brains. This approach may sound non-controversial in principle, at least among those who accept evolution. Nevertheless, many non-creationist critics find plenty of reasons to object to EP, or at least to what they consider EP to be. For examples of some such criticisms see Ed Hagen’s Evolutionary Psychology FAQ.
That first paragraph: that’s right, the critics of evolutionary psychology are often well-informed biologists who have zero problems with the idea of evolution. You shouldn’t be confused at all; you should realize immediately that their complaint with the topic can’t be about the idea that brains evolved. Isn’t that obvious?
So why is the whole thing about trying to argue that brains evolved?
That second paragraph doubles down on the bullshit. No, evolutionary psychology is not “simply” about brains having evolved: it includes a whole collection of bogus premises about how evolution works, and that is what we complain about. It’s all that nonsense about
modules, whatever they are — they seem to be inventions by evolutionary psychologists to allow them to pretend that they can reduce behaviors to discrete regions in the genome, or the brain, or something (go ahead, try to pin one down on exactly what a “module” is — there is no clear association with anything physical). It’s about
The Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness, the imaginary Garden of Eden in which our brains evolved 10,000+ years ago, which is the reference by which all adaptations must be explained…despite the fact that evolutionary psychologists know next to nothing about that environment.
I’m not making this up. It comes straight from Ed Hagen’s Evolutionary Psychology FAQ, cited above, which has always been my go-to source for oblivious EP inanity.
It’s about deep methodological problems: researchers who make sweeping claims about human universals by studying just the middle class white American population attending their Psych 101 class. It’s about the focus on the status quo — somehow, every study seems to find that current social attitudes just happen to be a reflection of our evolutionary history on the African savannah tens of thousands of years ago, and endorses a kind of naive biological determinism that imagines that the way people are is the way they must be. Because of genes or brain modules or some such sciencey shit.
It’s about this obnoxious disingenuousness of evolutionary psychologists everywhere: that wide-eyed, condescending
Oh, you do believe in evolution, don’t you? response to everyone who points out the crappy ideas rife in their field. Imagine if other cranks tried that.
Oh, but surely you recognize the importance of water to biology, don’t you? says the homeopath.
Oh, but surely you know that the brain works by transmitting electrical signals, don’t you? says the psychic.
Oh, but surely you know that there are planets and stars in the sky, don’t you? says the astrologer.
That’s what I find really appalling about evolutionary psychologists: their defenses are so deeply dishonest. Look at this parade of false alternatives:
Any critique that broadly dismisses the whole EP enterprise—that is, the whole notion that we can use evolutionary theory to understand the brain—is taking a position that is, intellectually and scientifically, very difficult to defend. What is the explicit alternative to ‘evolutionary’ psychology? Creationist psychology? Non-evolutionary psychology? Anti-evolutionary psychology? And if some such ‘un-EP’ approach is the correct way to do psychology, what are the rules of this approach? Would the cardinal rule be that it’s fine to study the brain (and brain products, like the mind, behaviour, and culture), as long as we never acknowledge or identify the process that designed the brain?
He really doesn’t get it. Evolutionary psychology is already non-evolutionary psychology. It’s biggest problem is that its practitioners rarely seem to have any comprehension of evolutionary biology — they have this grossly oversimplified caricature in their heads of a universe in which natural selection is omnipotent and the only force affecting evolution, where every single feature of behavior or physiology, no matter how trivial, must be an adaptation, and the purpose of their work is to identify an imaginary selective force in their imaginary Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation that generated Western Civilization. Just realizing that brains have a lot of plastic properties that are responsive to the immediate environment ought to snap the knees out from the entire edifice of evolutionary psychology, but no…they will persist in their fallacious explanatory framework that we’re all paleolithic hunter-gatherers who have found themselves in the modern world.
And this guy is just the worst.
If a critic is seriously proposing that knowledge of evolution cannot enhance our understanding of the brain, then he or she needs to be clear about why this proposition would be true. Is the critic proposing that human neural tissue, unlike every other kind of organismal tissue, is immune to the process of natural selection? If so, this is a radical scientific notion. It would be one of the greatest discoveries ever and the most important advance in biology at least since the discovery of DNA. It’s an extraordinary claim that would require extraordinary evidence before it could be taken seriously.
Jesus fuck, dude. The argument isn’t that neural tissue is magic, it’s that you’re a dumbass who doesn’t understand evolution.