A chapter on evolutionary psychology in The Comprehensive Guide to Science and Faith: Exploring the Ultimate Questions About Life and the Cosmos (2021) looks at the curious discipline of evolutionary psychology
I wrote one of the chapters, “What is evolutionary psychology?”. It concerns the effort to understand human psychology by appealing to a prehuman (“evolutionary”) past. As such, it explains a large variety of human behaviours as the unconscious enactment of a Darwinian survival scenario among not-quite humans. Thus, the reasons we do things are not at all what we suppose:Denyse O’Leary, “There is no such thing as a fossil mind” at Mind Matters News
Evolution explains, for example, why we shop: “Gatherers sifted the useful from things that offered them no sustenance, warmth or comfort with a skill that would eventually lead to comfortable shopping malls and credit cards.” Or gossip “Back in the day, if you didn’t care to find out what was going on, you were more likely to die and less likely to pass on your incurious genes.” Oh, and anger over trivial matters was once key to our survival.
As the examples above illustrate, EP does not explain puzzling human behavior so much as it offers Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest explanations for conventional behavior, which supplant traditional ones. For example, why we are sexually jealous (not fear of abandonment, but “sperm competition”); why we don’t stick to our goals (evolution gave us a kludge brain); why we developed music (to “spot the savannah with little Pavarottis”); why art exists (to recapture that lost savannah); why many women don’t know when they are ovulating (if they knew, they’d never have kids); why some people rape, kill, and sleep around (our Stone Age ancestors passed on their genes via these traits), and why big banks sometimes get away with fraud (we haven’t evolved so as to understand what is happening).
Of course, people are free to accept these ad hoc evo psych explanations if they wish. Like astrology and palm reading, they make good conversation pieces, But the claim that they are “science” does not strengthen them and should not give them more credibility.
Takehome: If our behavior is said to stem from our prehuman past, not from our present circumstances, evolutionary psychology is a discipline without a subject.
You may also wish to read: Philosopher flattens evolutionary psychology. Rejecting evolutionary psychology means realizing that we cannot both claim to represent “Science!” and refuse to be bound by its standards.