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Evolutionary Psychology: This is a … discipline?

I have been meaning for some time to set down my reasons for thinking that evolutionary psychology is only questionably a discipline. At least seven reasons occur to me (actually more, but these seven are top of mind):

1. There is no actual “subject” for the research. The subject of evolutionary psychology is a hypothetical construct: “early humans,” whose genes are thought to survive in modern humans and govern our behaviour. But these early humans have not existed for at least a hundred thousand years, so their behaviour can never be directly tested. It reminds me of the problem with the biology of extraterrestrial life forms – a discipline without a subject, as Simpson noted.

2. It is pure conjecture that given common types of behaviour are somehow inherited from early humans. In most cases, a simpler, more obvious explanation is readily available. For example, an evolutionary psychologist might argue that a woman doesn’t want her man to cheat because he might produce children with another woman and thus prevent her from passing on her selfish genes. But such an explanation defies Occam’s Razor (the simplest explanation is best). Obviously, she does not want her man to cheat because she does not want attention directed at another woman that could be going to her. Whether she is – or ever will be – infanticipating is irrelevant to her and – for that matter – irrelevant to her genes. She would feel the same way if she were 17 or 70. It is hard to imagine a state of human or proto-human life in which things could have been any different.

3. We have no way of knowing precisely what behaviours – beyond the most obvious, like avoidance of suicide and infanticide – helped early humans survive and procreate. One hundred thousand years ago, was it better to be faithful? Unfaithful? Pious? Impious? Daring? Sneaky? Jealous? Prone to violence? Placid? Well, it takes no very great experience of life to see that almost any type of non-suicidal behaviour may be rewarded under a given circumstance. The critical thing that we do not know is exactly how those specific humans who became our ancestors behaved. We also do not know if their behaviour could be passed it on to us by some sort of irrevocable gene – but it seems unlikely.

4. The actual number of common human ancestors is widely regarded as small. This is a much bigger problem than some sources are willing to admit. If the actual number of human ancestors had been large – the majority of humans who lived 100 000 years ago, let us say – we might make do with a sort of “group psychology.” Sloppy but at least barely possible. That is, we could say that the behaviour of the majority probably helped survival and that it is tracked in the similar behaviour of the majority today. But the actual number is quite small in comparison with the numbers who have ever lived. Our chances of determining how those few individuals came to be ancestors is accordingly reduced.

5. Lack of an obvious mechanism. If there were truly a gene for infidelity, for example, maybe Francis Collins or Craig Venter could find it – and people contemplating marriage might wisely insist that prospective spouses get tested. Then the media would be full of angst about all that. But all we hear is vague talk about behaviour that supposedly spread selfish genes among early humans, and allegedly governs our behaviour today. If there was anything in it, someone would have a patent right now, and governments would be bringing in legislation against it.

6. Oh, and don’t get me started on the meme nonsense. Undeterred by the lack of genetic evidence, the evo psychos began to claim that there was an abstract equivalent of the gene, the “meme” that governs thoughts. No one has ever detected one, and the word meme has simply become a way of referring to ideas that one feels superior to. We used to call them “intellectual fads”, but I admit that “meme” is shorter’.

7. Some human behaviour does seem to stem from specific inherited tendencies, but – significantly – that isn’t the sort of behaviour that tends to interest the evolutionary psychologist. Humans are predominantly right-handed, for example, rather than left-handed. It would be interesting to know why. I am told that chimpanzees, by contrast, show a preference for one hand, but it could be either one. One outcome of the predominant human inheritance of right-handedness is that “right” vs. “left” inevitably acquires a cultural value (essentially good vs. bad). In some cultures, you just cannot be left-handed, period – even if attempts to make you right-handed result in a speech impediment (because they may interfere with speech areas of the brain).

Another probable genetic endowment is the human preference for warm climates. It is common to hear people freak out about overpopulation. As a Canadian, I have long advocated a simple answer: Move the excess human population to northern Canada. We need more people. The only problem is, they won’t GO! There’s lots of space up there, but few people seem to want it. If you want to know why, check a hardiness zone map. The fact is, humans would rather be poor and crowded in a warm place than huddled over a heater with two hundred kilometres of frigid, empty space around them – and ten thousand bucks in a bank somewhere. Of course, the fact that we don’t have a lot of body hair or fat under our skin or antifreeze in our joints probably has something to do with our prejudice against frigid climates …

In other words, there are verifiable human tendencies that can plausibly be traced to our genetic endowments. The problem is that these tendencies tell you only that our obvious, demonstrable genetic endowments have far-reaching consequences. They don’t particularly support theories that show that humans are just animals with big brains, which is the real agenda of Darwinism. So the evolutionary psychologist is generally not interested in this stuff, however significant it might be in interpreting human culture and history. No, the big prize is the nebulous stuff, like why Ned Flanders got religion and Homer Simpson didn’t – postulated as caused by a selfish gene, inherited because it “would have helped an early human ancestor find a mate.” Or maybe it didn’t … maybe it was a rogue gene that just happened to survive! Yeah really.

Recently, I haven’t been blogging much because I am in the home stretch of Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary,  The Spiritual Brain (Harper, March 2007), which will dispose of evo psycho in some detail – as a side issue. We are after bigger and more interesting fish.

But I have not given up blogging. I am slowly working my way through the inbox … So, for some of my comments on recent events in the intelligent design controversy, go here, here, and here.

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39 Responses to Evolutionary Psychology: This is a … discipline?

  1. Francis Collins, leader of the Human Genome Project, is interviewed in the Feb. 2007 issue of National Geographic.
    He is asked; “What do you think of Darwinian explanations of altruism…”

    His answer: “It’s been a little of a just-so story so far….That doesn’t seem like it can be explained by a Darwinian model…”

    In the introduction to the article, National Geographic calls Collins “among the world’s most important scientists.”

    I guess Collins must not really understand science or molecular genetics, though, because he doesn’t believe in Darwinian explanations of this human trait.

  2. This could easily turn into an argument about free will so let’s stay on topic. Of course if you don’t believe that humans evolved then it probably does seem pointless. However if you do then our behaviour has evolved and is worthy of study. Why are you fixated on hindered thousand years, humans even 10,000 years ago lived very different lives to us. Even today we still have hunter gathers and it is worth trying to understand how their mind is different and the same as the rest of us. As for what you believe holds evolutional psychologist attention I dare say you haven’t read much on the subject, perhaps only bit’s and pieces concerning religion. Even a short glance at say http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/ shows they are looking at many things. I’m waiting with shorten breath for your explanation on where our behaviour comes from and how we pass them onto our children. You don’t even have to get it peer reviewed just post it here. Let’s seen how your ideas stack up to observable facts and please not a paper where you spend the whole thing on why Darwinist are wrong I want to here about your ideas not theirs.

  3. Ms. O’Leary, you are a great writer.
    Keep up the good work! :)

  4. From moderator Denyse: Kengee, this is your first warning. You had no business assuming that I did not think that evolution occurs or that I have never read any works by evolutionary psychologists.

    I have no problem with the current timelines for human history; they may be right or wrong but I have no reason to think that different ones would change the current picture.

    The literature on “evolutionary psychology”, all too MUCH of which I have suffered through in recent years, is largely devoid of unique insight into the human condition because it attempts to derive from the genes what should properly be ascribed to the workings of human intelligence. I have no doubt that evolutionary psychologists “are looking into many things”. Indeed. Their insights are of about as much value as those of mediums – in the one case it is “behind the beyond” and in the other, “behind the behind”, I guess. – Denyse O’Leary

    P.S.: The evolutionary psychologists would marginally impress me more if they ever DISCLAIMED any of the nonsense fronted in the name of evolutionary psychology. How about the one about why Canada and the United States do not go to war with each other? – d.

  5. Kengee is no longer with us. Denyse, longsuffering is a virtue, but not with the insufferable.

  6. Well, on a technical note, we are getting somewhere on the genetics of monogamy:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3812483.stm

  7. kengee, and others, always come back to their number one item in their playbook — “ok, don’t waste any more time evaluating or critiquing our theory, just go ahead and explain everything yourself.” So, we are challenged in this blog to explain the source of all human behaviour, in a paragraph or two. Without breaking a sweat. I guess the idea is summed up in one word — design.

    But, taking a step back, clever and highly evolved as their psychology demonstrates, they just want us to spend all of our time on defense, and drop the offense. Now, what is the dominant and official theory? Is it not NDE?? Are they not consuming taxpayer dollars on their theory? Indoctrinating our children? And they do not have a need to defend it?

  8. “Why are you fixated on hindered thousand years, humans even 10,000 years ago lived very different lives to us.” – kengee

    If we supposed such change in 10ky… then wouldn’t this require heretible psychological traits to span and fix entire populations in the very short time period of 10kya?

    How does this work out mathematically?

    Also, such traits would have to be selected over any physical adaptations ‘aspiring’ to be fixed into the population [if I'm not mistaken] … or vice versa … no physchological modifications occur – other than degenertive one’s.

  9. According to Haldane a beneficial mutation in humans takes 300 generations to become fixed. 10K years is only 500 generations or less than the time it takes to fix 2 mutations. Humans are, according to this, essentially the same now as 10K years ago.

    I spent a few hours last night reading about Haldane’s dilemma. I added a recent link on the sidebar to Walter Remine’s webpage on Haldane’s Dilemma. I encourage everyone to read it.

  10. Darwinists always make assumptions of NDT as fact in the premises, then going on to ask dumb questions based on those assumptions.

    Again Darwinian reasoning cripples the mind. And, nothing more qualifies as crippled thinking than evo psychology.

    The underlying assumptions presented by kengee etc. are that a materialist explanation is needed to explain human behaviors. Even things which are clearly and consciously self-known as free choices.

    The idiocy of evo psy. is well demonstrated in “A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion” by Randy Thornhill, Craig T. Palmer. Let’s hope lawyers don’t catch on to this as a reasonable, “scientifically” based defense of rapists. Poor malfunctioning units, if we are to believe Dawkins’ bs.

    These phoney “psychologists”, if we may abuse the term, seek a biological answer to everything in life. Including disgusting criminal acts.

    This, in and of itself, carries an underlying assumption that either free will does not exist or is itself a product of non-rational causes – which is the same in the end.

    This kind of Darwinian logic carries all the intellectual weight of flea dung.

    Evo psy. is not science. It much more resembles CS Lewis’ described scientific witchcraft (“That Hideous Strength”).

    “… humans even 10,000 years ago lived very different lives to us.” Such a display of pure unpardonable ignorance.

  11. The “genetics of monogamy”?

    Unfortunately, in that story they keep referring to volves and jealousy. Voles know nothing of jealousy. They’re hardwired to do what they do. They don’t ponder love, relationships, etc.

    Knowing that- I don’t see any way to translate these findings to people.

    People can ponder ideas- including love and relationships. They aren’t going on instinct when they choose to date, search for that right person with a good mix of physical attraction, ‘chemistry’, common worldviews, common goals and desires, similar interests, and so much more.

    This obsession with so many in science to translate all that we do into terms of biology, genetics, chemistry is absurd. Comparing behavior in voles and trying to make it cover humans is even worse.

    In the study of voles, some gene gives them a “neural reward” and makes them feel “happy”. I doubt voles feel any emotions, let alone “happiness.” This “happy” feeling makes them associate good things with the vole they mate with…making them stick around.

    From the article above on voles:

    He continued: “It makes the voles think, ‘when I’m with this partner I feel good’. And from then on, they want to spend their time with that particular partner.”

    Does anyone believe that volves think anything, let alone sit around and ponder their mates and how they looooveee them?

    Also from the article:

    The implications of this study extend beyond Casanova voles, however. The strings of human behaviour might be pulled by similar hormones and similar pathways.
    “We know that vasopressin is released when humans have sex,” said Professor Young. “Sex is probably involved in maintaining the bond between humans and vasopressin may play a role in that.”

    One problem with people. Millions of us are in relationships without any sex. So, why do people stay together in abstinent rships? There’s obviously no release of this chemical that they suppose gives these feelings.
    Furthermore- this worldview turns marriage into a business deal that is solely about sex. I often wonder if these scientists, who seem to link every emotion, idea, action on our part to a drive for sex are obsessed with sex somehow themselves? They’re trying to link this to reproduction, of course, but as I said in a previous comment- millions of people have sex and are married but do everything they can to NOT have kids. So, there’s no drive for children at all in many couples.

    Can these studies, in general, be used to cover humans? Hardly, I say. Do wives stick with their husbands because their husbands give them a chemical that “rewards” them? I highly doubt it. We stay with the ones we love because we love them. We care about them. I don’t personally stick with someone because of how they make me feel- that’s selfish. It’s not all about me. Humans, who can ponder these things, stay around because they love a person and want to make their lives better.

    Don’t even get me started about the claim in this story that maybe autistic people aren’t getting their vasopressin chemical, this they’re often “aloof” and “don’t want to interact with others.” The story says “It could be that vasopressin plays a role in normal human social interactions”, and it seems they say they mates give these chemicals. I guess this means people who don’t have sex don’t know how to properly and fully interact with others? Who knows…

    I just don’t get why the obsession with linking the behavior in animal A, B, or C to humans and saying- bam, there’s why humans stay together! (Except when they don’t stay together and stray and have dozens of affairs with dozens of other married couples!)

    Sigh…

  12. Borne mentions that book about rape and the claim that rape is a natural adaptation.

    This is what scares me most about the worldview of these people. Rape is natural…doesn’t that ultimately make it okay? Monogamy is just an issue of genetics. Cheat on your spouse, and that’s okay- hey, you have a defect in your genes…you can’t help it! You have an urge to go on a murder rampage- well, your genes made you do it, it’s not your fault, little buddy- you’re “sick.”

    I’ve read many stories from some homsexuals angry over the claim that homosexuality is genetic. They take issue with that, because it portrays them as being genetically different to “normal” people. Or that there’s something defectic in their genes.

    Humans are much more complicated than these particular scientists give us credit for. I assure you, we’re not robots stuck in fleshy bodies.

  13. I know little about evolutionary psychology but by something naming itself “evolutionary” it seems to be a nature vs nurture argument. Namely, is certain behavior in the genes or is it part of socialization. And if some behavior is genetic and some socialization, then what types of behavior tends to universal or genetic and what tends to be socialization? Also if there are behavioral differences due to genes, does this behavior vary across ethnic groups or are all these evolutionary psychology traits fixed in the entire human population?

    If we took newborns from a hunter gather society such as New Guinea and raised the boys or girls in different types of families in other civilizations would we expect behavior similar to the hunter gather society or to the society that adopted the child.

    My guess is that we would mainly see behavior similar to the society in which the child was raised but if not what would the likely differences be.

    There is certainly a large number of Chinese babies that have been adopted by American families in recent years and I would not expect them to behave any different than those born naturally into similar type families other than reactions to being adopted or that one may be a different race. But I could be wrong and it would be intesting to see if such data exists.

    It seems that there may be tons of data available for analyzing behavior differences that may not be due to socialization across ethnic groups.

  14. JasontheGreek:

    “They’re trying to link [sex] to reproduction, of course, but as I said in a previous comment- millions of people have sex and are married but do everything they can to NOT have kids. So, there’s no drive for children at all in many couples.”

    You’re confusing the ultimate reason for desiring sex (reproduction) with the proximate reason (pleasure). You may not agree with the evo-psy explanation, but it’s not illogical within an evolutionary framework.

  15. Natural Selection -or- Paradoxical Seelction?

    Here’s something that has always puzzled me about the theory of evolution. According to the theory, it explains all the deisgned novelties in life. The finest of deatils. How fine are these details? We only need look at the intracate design of the ATP synthase or classic b.flagellum system. Disregard the idea of irreducible comlexity for the moment. Consider how minute the details of the process evolution would have to “see” for pruning or not… Natural Selection must be very picky indeed!!!!

    I’ve brought this argument up on other board, and it usually goes off with a bit of well..humour.. and then dies rapidly; but I want to throw I there to.

    Natural Selection would have had to have done an incredibly fine job to tune in and keep eye lashes at the very edge of eyelids. It seems unlikely to me that they would have evovled there so conveniently – but rather migrate and/or othe locations be selected away. Seems like a lot of gene fixing just to make the eyelashes fit into such a tidy location. If this doesn’t appease you, there are many other features of life that can satisfy what I am using this arguemnt for. Anyway…

    Now, consider the tiviality of how finely tuned your eye lashes are to survival. Certainly, some eyelashes that might have evovled off the mark would not make or break the bank on an organisms survial. Yet – this is evidence, as are other features, that natural slection MUST then have a very sensitive process at picking even the slightest of survival traits to hone in.

    Now, assuming homosexuality – for this argument – is a genetic trait. Then why has natural selection not eliminated this deleterious mutant gene from the gene pool? Wouldn’t this be prima facie evidence that natural selection must have a logical contradition issue? It will see survival traits of the more trivial effects (e.g. only well placed eyelashes), and ignore glaring survival issues such as homosexual behaviour (ie. where the organism does not reproduce). Now, it doesn’t have to be homosexuality.. it could be any other of the many defects we see prevalent in societ today that NS should have eliminanted much more readily than the fine tuning of eyelashes.

    Where am I wrong in this concept in specific AND more importantly in general. Because I think in genreal this contradiction exists in more than one place.

  16. “Recently, I haven’t been blogging much because I am in the home stretch of Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary, The Spiritual Brain (Harper, March 2007)”

    A bit off topic, but I can’t wait to read this book. Can it be pre-ordered anywhere?

  17. 17

    14: The only reason you define sex as the “ultimate reason” is because of the NDE worldview that says we are nothing but baby making machines whose sole purpose is to make babies.

    I don’t see any evidence that reproduction IS the ultimate goal in sex, especially since the vast majority of all sexual encounters among people aren’t for reproduction. As I said- there’s an outright avoidance, at all costs, to make sure that sexual encounters do not result in reproduction.

    Women, after menopause, still have sex- despite the fact that their minds and their bodies know that reproduction is impossible. So, I think that sort of knocks down the idea that living things are merely baby-making machines and that the ultimate reason for sex is reproduction. For some people, that might be the ultimate reason, but for most it’s pleasure…and I think you only get stuck with reproduction being ultimate because of the worldview that goes along with it. It all hinges on that worldview and how that worldview affects which aspect is the ultimate reason.

  18. “I don’t see any evidence that reproduction IS the ultimate goal in sex”.

    By ultimate reason I meant the genes’ “reason”; by proximate, the individual’s reason.

    “Women, after menopause, still have sex- despite the fact that their minds and their bodies know that reproduction is impossible.”

    Yes, they still have sex for pleasure. This does not contradict an adaptive evolutionary model, however. Indeed, if women did NOT still desire sex even once they were no longer able to reproduce, that WOULD be difficult for evolution to explain, for it seems unlikely (as I see it) there would be an adaptive reason that.

  19. JasonTheGreek,

    Whether sexual desire is designed, or evolved, clearly it’s function is to keep people procreating. Without it, a species is done for.

    It’s just like hunger. The pleasure derived from eating functions to keep you alive.

    The pleasure derived from sex functions to keep a species reproducing.

  20. Does anyone know about what guidelines evo. psychs need to follow? I mean although I don’t believe in macroevolution at al, i still see their guidelines as in DNA comparisons, protein assays, etc. These quantitative tests can at the very minimum show us “more than” conjecture.

    Do evo psychs get to just do any topic, any trait, any observations?
    Can they “scientifically” show why Korean’s love Kim Chee and how it helps in mate selection?

  21. Do we not have the beginning of a testable hypothesis deriving from an anti-evpsych position? How about “we predict that heritability studies will never show that purely genetic variation can never be a significant causal factor in human behaviour”. Sounds falsifiable to me…

  22. Not only does it sound falsifiable, it sounds false.

  23. 23

    My point is- you can’t say that THE purpose of sex is reproduction, period. Of course, that’s part of its function- because that is one result of the action. BUT, that doesn’t mean that that is the only purpose of sex. It also doesn’t mean that pleasure is merely a byproduct of the goal of reproduction, because millions have sex and avoid reproduction.

    The main point behind all of that is- we’re not just baby making machines. The point of life isn’t to have sex, have babies, and die. That’s what a NeoDarwinian worldview tells us the point of life is, but it’s absurd. If this was the point of life, post-menopausal women should just die. If reproduction is the purpose, and they no longer serve their purpose- let’s get rid of them.

    Take food, as mentioned…you need food to survive. But, it’s clearly not the sole purpose of eating. Someone can eat, just for the pleasure of it, without their body needing that food. Obesity is near epidemic. Maybe eating, like sex, has a dual function. Maybe the purpose of eating isn’t SOLELY to get nourishment that just happens to be fun. Maybe both are purposes.

    As for the idea that the ULTIMATE reason is the reason our genes take- that presupposes that we’re mindless machines in flesh run by our genes.

    I know one thing- the idea that all of this came about unguided, undirected, without any goal, and by accident isn’t supported by any of these theories.

  24. jasonthegreek
    The main point behind all of that is- we’re not just baby making machines. The point of life isn’t to have sex, have babies, and die. That’s what a NeoDarwinian worldview tells us the point of life is, but it’s absurd.

    The theory of evolution describes the evolution of species and our function as gene-copying machines, just like the theory of gravity describes us as particles with mass. But just because the theory of gravity says that mass bends space this doesn’t mean that the theory of gravity also tells us that our “purpose” in life is to bend space, or that we should avoid flying because it’s somehow un-natural for us to do so. The confusion here is common, and seems to stem from attempting to use a scientific theory that describes how the world works to provide moral guidance in life. As far as I can tell, the theory of evolution no more tells us that the “point” of life is to make babies than the theory of gravity tells us that the point of life is to stay on the ground.

  25. @ Jasonthegreek

    I agree with you completely. How you determine anythings ULTIMATE purpose is from your worldview. And if your worldview says the one who passes his gene’s on is the ultimate reason than laughing at a joke to enjoying nintendo all ultimately stem from that.

  26. I think Ph.D.s in obfuscation and evolutionary psychology are essentially equivalent.

  27. 27

    I’d disagree with that Franky.

    NDE, the way most proponents tell it, is a process that is blind, uncaring, unguided, and the resulint life forms are purely accidental. I constantly hear that EVERY animals (they include humans in this) purpose is to reproduce. That we’re all the accidental byproducts of a mindless process that wants us to carry on with gene-making (reproduction.) Selfish genes and all.

    I’d say that most Darwinists I’ve heard from publicly see no ultimate purpose in life outside of carrying on the species.

    You, yourself, said that the theory of evolution (which I will take to mean NDE) describes us as gene making machines. I’d agree- but I’d go further and say that NDE says that’s ALL the purpose there needs to be. That IS the ultimate purpose. Every EvoPsych theory I hear about usually brings up reproduction and makes that the basis of why people do A, B, and C. If a theory (evopsych) tells us that we do everything we do to somehow help the goal of reproducing- I’d say it IS telling us our purpose, our worth, or moral guidance.

    I’ve never read an evopsych theory that said humans do A, B, or C because it’s good for the spirit. It’s always “because music playing helps societies bond…and those that bond have a better chance of working together for survival.” Thus- survival is THE purpose of playing music along with a secondary reasoning of aiding in bonding which helps mating.

  28. NDE, the way most proponents tell it, is a process that is blind, uncaring, unguided, and the resulint life forms are purely accidental. I constantly hear that EVERY animals (they include humans in this) purpose is to reproduce.
    I think you are confusing the “purpose” of animals from a hypothetical gene’s point of view (i.e. to make more genes) with a moral “purpose” that we may find in life. The theory of evolution says that from the point of view of genes we serve a purpose of gene-replicator. It says nothing about what our “purpose” on earth from a moral point of view is. Similarly, the theory of gravity (a blind, uncaring, and unguided process btw), tells us that our “purpose” from the point of view of particles is to bend space time. It says nothing about how to find “meaning” in life.

    I’d say that most Darwinists I’ve heard from publicly see no ultimate purpose in life outside of carrying on the species.
    Who has said this?

    You, yourself, said that the theory of evolution (which I will take to mean NDE) describes us as gene making machines. I’d agree- but I’d go further and say that NDE says that’s ALL the purpose there needs to be.
    Again, I would argue that the theory of evolution says that from the point of view of *genes* we are gene-replicating machines. It says no more about how to live a moral life than the theory of gravity does. i.e. Scientific theories describe the way the world is, not how the world should be.

    That IS the ultimate purpose. Every EvoPsych theory I hear about usually brings up reproduction and makes that the basis of why people do A, B, and C. If a theory (evopsych) tells us that we do everything we do to somehow help the goal of reproducing- I’d say it IS telling us our purpose, our worth, or moral guidance.
    I think you have subtly conflated two ideas here. That (1) evo-psychologists (whatever their pro’s and con’s) attempt to describe behavior from the point of view of evolutionarily advantageous steps is true. But that (2) evo-psychologists tell us what is “right” or “wrong” to do is false. Evo-psychs can hypothesize about what behavours are evolutionarily advantageous, but they can not tell us how to act morally. Again I find the analogy to gravity apt – (1) “gravity tells us that as mass we bend space and are attracted to large masses like the earth” does not lead to (2) “we should stay on the earth”.

    Thus- survival is THE purpose of playing music[...]
    I’ve never heard an evolutionary psychologist tell us that we should play music because it has evolutionary advantages (according to their theories), and not because it is enjoyable.

  29. With respect Jason, you’re still missing the point. The genes’ “goals” (which is of course a figurative term) are not identical to the human individual’s goals, even though the former can be invoked to explain certain (perhaps most) traits in human nature.

    To explain the reason for an emotion does not make the emotion feel any less real (or terrible, or joyous).

    Yes, selfish genes do explain our “purpose” as a species, inasmuch as we have one, but that doesn’t mean that the individual’s purpose should be to spread their genes. I doubt anyone consciously acts in their genes’ interests.

    (BTW, FWIW, I think evolutionary psychology can offer us important insights into morality – and ways of deciding what is and is not immoral.)

    You also say you’ve never read an evopsych theory that said humans do X because it’s good for the spirit. But this criticism (if that’s what it is) applies to the vast majority of schools of thought in psychology: psychoanalysis, behaviourism, developmental psychology, social psychology…

    “If intuition could be trusted, we wouldn’t need science.”

  30. Franky172, the theory of gravity did not create us. According to Darwinists, NDE did. There is the difference.

    The creator of a structure is what decides its inherent purpose. If a blind process created us, we have no real purpose, only the “illusion” of purpose.

    If, however, we were created by an intelligent process, then perhaps that intelligence created us for a reason. (Which also implies “dharma” or “duty”)

  31. trystero

    The selfish gene theory is way out of fashion. Didn’t you get the memo?

  32. >>Obviously, she does not want her man to cheat because she does not want attention directed at another woman that could be going to her.

    I have very little to say about this general subject, but this one sentence caught my attention. Here’s the question: why does a woman want “her” man’s attention? Can this question be answered without imposing the psychology of modern humans on our forbears?

  33. “The selfish gene theory is way out of fashion. Didn’t you get the memo?”

    Don’t you mean “the meme”? ;-)

  34. Franky172, the theory of gravity did not create us. According to Darwinists, NDE did. There is the difference.
    Both the theory of gravity and the theory of evolution are scientific descriptions of the natural world. That one “gave rise to us” more directly than another is fairly immaterial to my mind – without both we would not exist (note that evolution could not have given rise to humans without gravity – we would lack oxygen, and a nice round ball to stand on, for a few things). More importantly to my mind, neither theory attempts to ascribe to us any sort of moral purpose.

    The creator of a structure is what decides its inherent purpose. If a blind process created us, we have no real purpose, only the “illusion” of purpose.
    It’s not clear to me what you mean here by an object’s “inherent purpose” or why a creator is necessary for such a thing – I think you’re assuming that which you want to prove – namely that no teleological creator means no “purpose” in the moral sense. I find that argument to be question begging, but regardless… I think it stands that science is impotent when it comes to questions regarding the “moral purpose” of any thing – the concept of what “should be done” is well outside the scope of science. As a result the theory of evolution still tells us nothing about how to lead a moral life or find a “purpose”. So if you personally believe that it follows from (1) evolution is true, to (2) your life lacks purpose, that is your decision, but as far as I can tell, it is not a part of the theory of evolution any more than me saying “gravity was responsible for our ending up here on earth, so we were not meant to leave the earth” is a consequence of the theory of gravity.

  35. Evolutionary Psychology: This is a … discipline?

    According to the wiki the discipline is described as “not a single theory but a large set of hypotheses”
    Ultimately the proof will be in the pudding, if Evolutionary Psychology has merit it will produce results/explanations that withstand peer review, or it will fade away as a once popular fad.

  36. RE 34:

    My definition of purpose requiring a creator/designer is straightforward. We find a designed object (like a hand-axe in a riverbed) and ask “What is its purpose?” If it was teleologically created, we can only be sure of its purpose by asking the creator why they created it (that is, if the creator is around.) If it was not created it has no “purpose”, it simply is.

    Purpose presupposes a goal. Hence, without goals (NDE is a blind process without foresight or planning) there can be no real purpose, only the illusion of purpose.

  37. atom
    My definition of purpose requiring a creator/designer is straightforward. We find a designed object (like a hand-axe in a riverbed) and ask “What is its purpose?” If it was teleologically created, we can only be sure of its purpose by asking the creator why they created it (that is, if the creator is around.) If it was not created it has no “purpose”, it simply is.

    First, I would say that we are outside the bounds of scientific discourse at this point, so the following comments have nothing to do with NDE.

    I would argue that the “purpose” of an object can chage depending on how it is used – the purpose of a tree may be to shade nappers, or to build houses – I disagree that purpose “flows from creator”, but would suggest that purpose “develops from usage”. For example, I would argue that gold in a riverbed has no “inherent purpose” until humans came around and decided it was a worthwhile metal.

    Purpose presupposes a goal. Hence, without goals (NDE is a blind process without foresight or planning) there can be no real purpose, only the illusion of purpose.

    But why isn’t it possible for conscious beings to formulate their own purposes and goals? It seems like millions do every day without impending mental catastrophe.

  38. Franky37: (Sorry I didn’t see your post earlier)
    yes, this discussion of “purpose” is a philosophical one. But it deals with NDE as a philosophical implication.

    I would argue that the “purpose” of an object can chage depending on how it is used – the purpose of a tree may be to shade nappers, or to build houses – I disagree that purpose “flows from creator”, but would suggest that purpose “develops from usage”

    Let’s say I use scissors to hammer a nail. (Don’t laugh, I have had to do this in tough times.) Would that change the purpose of scissors to “hammering nails”? No, scissors (to anyone asked) have the purose of cutting things. That is why they are created and that is why they are shaped the way they are. We can usually guess purpose by the way something functions.

    So even if we give secondary uses to an object, that is not the object’s raison d’etre. Again, purpose presupposes a goal. Look up the definition: all of them, save one, use the concept of a predetermined (telic) reason or goal. It involves intentionality.

    But why isn’t it possible for conscious beings to formulate their own purposes and goals?

    I don’t disagree, it is completely possible. It just doesn’t give objective purpose; only the illusion of purpose. If we are an accident, then we have no “reason” behind our being here (hence no purpose); we simply “are”.

  39. Looking again at your last post, I think you concede my point, when admitting that gold in a riverbed has no “inherent” purpose. Again, if we just accidentally arose here, then we are like the gold in the riverbed, we have no inherent purpose. This is an implication of Blind-watchmaker NDE.

    Now contrast this to a hand-axe lying in the same river. That object, with its form and shape, was created for a reason, to accomplish a goal. Hence it has an objective purpose. Only a creator can tell us “why” s/he created an object, and hence what its real purpose is (though the object itself gives us plenty of clues due to its form.)

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