It seems to me that while it is good to see Ian acknowledges that "Genes
don't determine outcomes at any level of explanation," I think it is
clear that this does not put these issues to bed, quite the opposite.
"Obviously species-typical outcomes may indicate selection at work"
seems to be a nice way of saying that we can forget about mechanisms
altogether and just allege selection has occurred with no concern about
what mechanisms may be at work. This seems to make it easier to to make
claims and more difficult to falsify results.
I think that even though I and many of us clearly have a great deal of
enthusiasm about developing scientific arguments to demonstrate the
weakness of "classical" reductionism as it is being used to craft
evolutionary explanations of human social behavior, Ian's response
indicates to me that the primary problem is the categorical
inappropriateness of the explanations period. Even as in the
sociobiology debates, the advocates of determinism dressed themselves in
their best white lab coats and complained that the critics has a
political agenda, so it goes today.
I admit to having a political agenda, that is the point. Rather than
trying to trump politics like Thornhill and Palmer, I believe the issue
is that many issues such as whether rape is violence against women or
not are inherently political. The very attempt to find a way out of the
political sphere is a an attempt by an elite group to distort the
political process (be they left as most advocates of ev-psy seem to be
or not). The very idea that science can "explain" how these behaviors
came about reduces individuals to evolutionary machines incapable of
exercising judgment and therefore not fairly subject to the rule of law,
no matter what the original intentions of the authors (apparently which
were to find in irresistible polemic against Susan Brownmiller).
Not that every advocate of ev-psyc is grinding out something this
extreme. The question of to what categories do human behavior belong is
really the question. This question is critical because it has deep
social implications. What is disturbing is that when these are raised,
I have yet to see an advocate of ev-psyc do anything more than genuflect
to this idea and then move on as if nothing of significance was raised.
When we attack this enterprise it is not out of some leftist dogma, it
is out of an appreciation the importance of the political sphere
especially in democratic societies. The implications here mean that the
question of scientific rigor is always important, especially since it
seems that this is the Achilles heel of the discipline. Its strength is
getting its claims into the popular press which help solidify much of
the ignorance already cultivated by media in its sorry state today.
The problem with alternate scientific models is apparent. If genetic
determinism is shown to be wrong, just drop it but keep the rest of the
program intact. The fact that things are complicated means that instead
of having to argue that genes are responsible, what is argued is that
something else unnamed is responsible. If we show that the unnamed is
not responsible, they will retreat to another position still leaving
their positions intact. The other part of the problem here is that
these positions seem invariably to reflect common social biases, which
is why they are picked up so readily in the press. That is why my view
is to raise the whole question of categorical appropriateness and the
actual threat these views can have on a democratic (or what is left of
democratic) society. Hopefully people have not yet given up caring
Ian Pitchford wrote:
>REPLY: From a developmental systems perspective "genetic explanations" are not
>problematic, they are false. Genes don't determine outcomes at any level of
>explanation. However, genes obviously will be involved in outcomes that are
>selected for. Whether specific outcomes in human psychology and behavior are
>selected for is an empirical matter.
>Obviously species-typical outcomes may indicate selection at work and so
>evolutionary psychology is correct to concentrate on these. An emphasis on
>Tinbergen's four questions concerning proximal, developmental, functional and
>evolutionary approaches helps us to formulate specific hypotheses that can be
>assessed on a number of different levels of analysis.
>Of course a stable outcome need not be selected for, biological explanations do
>not reduce to genetic explanations, and adaptations need not necessarily
>be adaptive in the current environment.
>With all due respect this is simple, basic biology that no one in evolutionary
>psychology should require any tutoring on. To be honest I find it difficult to
>believe that any biologist would write the following:
>"It is clear, however, that inheritance of traits almost never means there
>are genes "for" that trait, and differences between individuals with regard
>to a trait, even if the trait breeds true, doesn't necessarily mean that
>there are allelic (gene sequence) differences between those individuals. So
>what are evolutionary psychologist talking about?"
>You aren't seriously offering this as a problem for evolutionary psychology?
>Or is your position that we should simply discount any evolutionary
>hypothesis if there is some other non-evolutionary hypothesis, however
>implausible? Even Gould wouldn't go along with you on this.
>Ian Pitchford PhD CBiol MIBiol
>The Human Nature Review
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