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Larry Moran asks whether evolutionary psychology is a “deeply flawed” enterprise


Longtime University of Toronto biochemistry professor and frequent Uncommon Descent commenter Larry Moran:

We were discussing the field of evolutionary psychology at our local cafe scientific meeting last week. The discussion was prompted by watching a video of Steven Pinker in conversation with Stephen Fry. I pointed out that the field of evolutionary psychology is a mess and many scientists and philosophers think it is fundamentally flawed. The purpose of this post is to provide links to back up my claim.

Steady,  Larry. You are not alone. Lots of people have listened to the tin pan din of evolutionary psychology and come away thinking much the same thing.

Dr. Moran offers citations and goes on to note:

The field of evolutionary psychology is full of hyper-adaptationist thinking. It’s primary task is explaining modern features of human behavior as adaptations that took place in primitive human populations. From an evolutionary perspective, this requires that the behavior has strong enough genetic components to be subject to evolution by natural selection. It requires that primitive populations contained alleles for the modern behavior as well as alleles for a different behavior that reduced fitness. Finally, it requires that selection for the modern behavior is strong enough to lead to fixation in just a few hundred thousand years.

All of these assumptions require supporting evidence that is almost always missing in evolutionary psychology publications. In the absence of evidence, the default assumption should be that the behavior is cultural. If there’s evidence of a genetic component then the default assumption should be fixation by drift unless there’s evidence of selection More.

Of course, the usual story we hear is that evolutionary psychology says we think we should watch our waistlines because Fred Flintstone thought he should watch his waistline.

BVenus von Willendorf 01.jpgut, stop wait… Did the genuinely Stone Age, recently censored Willendorf Venus think she should watch her waistline? Could she even find her waistline? If not, what arbitrary line should she choose? How do we know she would even bother?

Moran offers,

A few years ago I was discussing this issue with Gad Saad, an evolutionary psychologist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He defended his field by listing a number of notable achievements [The Great, Profound, and Valuable Works of Evolutionary Psychology]. I’ll end this post by giving you his list and letting you decide for yourselves whether the field is worthwhile. As you read the list, ask yourselves the following questions …

Is there evidence for genes (alleles) that are responsible for this trait?

Is there evidence that in primitive societies this trait improved fitness more than the original, presumably deleterious, trait?

Is there evidence that this is a universal trait present in all human populations?

He offers 15 questions and I (O’Leary for News) will only attempt one here:

1. Women alter their preferences for the facial features of men as a function of where they are in their menstrual cycles. When maximally fertile, they prefer men possessing markers of high testosterone.

One wonders whether such a finding has been widely replicated. Speaking as a veteran, I would offer the following observations:

How menstrual cycles affect women depends on a variety of issues including health, temperament, and culture. Some women experience amenorrhea and others experience menorrhagia (look it up). Starving women usually stop menstruating (or do so irregularly).

Women vary widely in the extent to which hormone fluctuations make a difference to how they behave because underlying temperament must also be considered.

Whether a culture cares much about menstrual cycles can play a very large role in how women react to them. That can include who or what they think they are supposed to be attracted to.

So even before we get to Dr. Moran’s questions, we should realize that we are not looking at a problem that is as simple as say, the typical behaviour of rabid skunks.

Now, as to the questions he raises:

Is there evidence for genes (alleles) that are responsible for this trait? [UD News: Given the complexities, is there solid long-term global evidence for the trait at all?]

Is there evidence that in primitive societies this trait improved fitness more than the original, presumably deleterious, trait? [UD News: A big problem with the concept of fitness is that what is “fit” is a sliding measure. Is it “fit” to get accidentally pregnant by an alpha male who moves on and doesn’t care about his kid (however fit the kid may be)? For as long as we have known human ancestors, they have lived in groups. Women could hardly afford sisters who created obligations without providing assets. Traditionally, women have let their sisters know that… ]

Is there evidence that this is a universal trait present in all human populations? [UD News: One senses they’d need a big budget for research.]

Other readers can tackle other options, here or at Sandwalk, as they wish.

The bigger question isn’t why evolutionary psychology is bunk but what keeps it alive?

See also: Shock! Darwinism does not explain why old women exist

Toxic snow has claimed Stone Age artwork: Willendorf Venus banned from Facebook (later reinstated)


“The evolutionary psychologist knows why you vote — and shop, and tip at restaurants”

Here is Steven Pinker on evolution and psychology:

Hey, bornagain77 above, no one is blaming you. Larry Moran needs time to think about the infestation of science that evo psych represents. And he is asking for that time. No use hassling him about philosophical matters. Here is my counter-question: In the history of the human race that we actually know, how much benefit derived from women propelled to mate with just any xy who exhibits high testosterone vs women who chose carefully for what their children might receive? Which group of women does he think probably made more difference over time? I do not expect a simple resolution but my question might provide a useful basis for discussion. News
Larry Moran's "junk DNA" is a deeply flawed enterprise ET
News, I did not mean to imply that I was being unfair to Larry Moran. (Although we have had our fairly heated run ins with each other before), I was simply trying to get him, (if he bothers reading this blog anymore), to see that there are far deeper, much more profound, problems with any psychology based on the materialistic premises of Darwinian evolution. In fact, I consider the denial of agent causality as a rational explanation in science to be a catastrophic failure in the basic epistemology of atheistic materialists.
"The failure of evolutionary naturalism to provide a form of transcendent self-understanding that does not undermine our confidence in our natural faculties should not lead us to abandon the search for transcendent self-understanding. There is no reason to allow our confidence in the objective truth of our moral beliefs, or for that matter our confidence in the objective truth of our mathematical or scientific reasoning, to depend on whether this is consistent with the assumption that those capacities are the product of natural selection. Given how speculative evolutionary explanations of human mental faculties are, they seem too weak a ground for putting into question the most basic forms of thought. Our confidence in the truth of propositions that seem evident on reflection should not be shaken so easily (and, I would add, cannot be shaken on these sorts of grounds without a kind of false consciousness)." ~ Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos (2012) Oxford University Press Why Evolutionary Theory Cannot Survive Itself – Nancy Pearcey – March 8, 2015 Excerpt: Darwin’s Selective Skepticism People are sometimes under the impression that Darwin himself recognized the problem. They typically cite Darwin’s famous “horrid doubt” passage where he questions whether the human mind can be trustworthy if it is a product of evolution: “With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.” But, of course, Darwin’s theory itself was a “conviction of man’s mind.” So why should it be “at all trustworthy”? Surprisingly, however, Darwin never confronted this internal contradiction in his theory. Why not? Because he expressed his “horrid doubt” selectively — only when considering the case for a Creator. From time to time, Darwin admitted that he still found the idea of God persuasive. He once confessed his “inward conviction … that the Universe is not the result of chance.” It was in the next sentence that he expressed his “horrid doubt.” So the “conviction” he mistrusted was his lingering conviction that the universe is not the result of chance. In another passage Darwin admitted, “I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man.” Again, however, he immediately veered off into skepticism: “But then arises the doubt — can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions?” That is, can it be trusted when it draws “grand conclusions” about a First Cause? Perhaps the concept of God is merely an instinct programmed into us by natural selection, Darwin added, like a monkey’s “instinctive fear and hatred of a snake.” In short, it was on occasions when Darwin’s mind led him to a theistic conclusion that he dismissed the mind as untrustworthy. He failed to recognize that, to be logically consistent, he needed to apply the same skepticism to his own theory. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2015/03/why_evolutionar094171.html
I have no doubt that Dr. Moran is extremely intelligent, and has gone against the status quo of Darwinian thought before, (as in his casting aside of neo-Darwinism, particularly casting aside natural selection in favor of neutral theory), but my main intention is to, hopefully, get Moran to take the next logical step and to clearly see that his entire materialistic foundation is without warrant.,,, For instance, advances in quantum biology have now undermined the entire materialistic framework that undergirds Darwinian thought,,
Darwinian Materialism vs. Quantum Biology - video https://youtu.be/LHdD2Am1g5Y - paper https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JI6cNzaAzQ83RMo4H887PVWXUOw2QWyy2I1ljk6EPs4/edit
bornagain77 at 1 and 2, perhaps we are being unfair to Moran here. He is posing appropriate science questions - believe me, a rarity in this field. What in evolutionary psychology would meet the standards of, say the Large Hadron Collider, or any science standards at all? I mean, standards that aim for more than whatever can get publicized in pop science mags? At least, I believe that that is what Moran is asking for, given his questions. The first question struck me as interesting because it assumes that all women have the same experiences with hormones, which seems unlikely (counterintuitive and counter-evidence). Whoever proved that it is nonetheless so would get the Nobel for Medicine, one suspects. But was anyone ever nominated for it? Or came close? News
“No, I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.” Max Planck (1858–1947), the main founder of quantum theory, The Observer, London, January 25, 1931 “Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.” Schroedinger, Erwin. 1984. “General Scientific and Popular Papers,” in Collected Papers, Vol. 4. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences. Friedr. Vieweg & Sohn, Braunschweig/Wiesbaden. p. 334.
as to:
"Larry Moran asks whether evolutionary psychology is a “deeply flawed” enterprise"
And just who is there in Larry Moran's brain to do the asking? According to the atheistic materialistic premises that Larry Moran himself holds to, Larry Moran himself is nothing but a neuronal illusion generated by his brain. And I hold that any philosophy that starts off with the premise that you don't really exist as a real person but are merely an illusion of the brain is itself 'deeply flawed' in its premises. Perhaps Larry Moran would do better to ask himself if truly believes that he really exist as a real person or if he truly believes that he is just a neuronal illusion.,,, And if he truly believes that he is just a neuronal illusion, he should then further ask himself, "exactly for whom is this neuronal illusion of personhood occurring? Notes:
Could Consciousness be an Illusion? June 30, 2014 - Excerpt: "I recently participated in a conference which was unusual for a couple of reasons. Firstly it was held in a sailing boat in the Arctic. Secondly the consensus view of the conference was that consciousness is an illusion. This view, ‘illusionism’, is about as far removed from my own perspective in philosophy of mind as it is possible to get. Me the panpsychist, Martine Nida-Rümelin the substance dualist, and David Chalmers who splits his opinion between these two views, formed the official on board opposition to the hard-core reductionist majority. Somehow we managed to avoid being made to walk the plank.",, Illusionism is even less plausible than solipsism: the view that my conscious mind is the only thing that exists.,,, http://conscienceandconsciousness.com/2014/06/30/could-consciousness-be-an-illusion/ The Confidence of Jerry Coyne – January 2014 Excerpt: Well and good. But then halfway through this peroration, we have as an aside the confession that yes, okay, it’s quite possible given materialist premises that “our sense of self is a neuronal illusion.” At which point the entire edifice suddenly looks terribly wobbly — because who, exactly, is doing all of this forging and shaping and purpose-creating if Jerry Coyne, as I understand him (and I assume he understands himself) quite possibly does not actually exist at all? The theme of his argument is the crucial importance of human agency under eliminative materialism, but if under materialist premises the actual agent is quite possibly a fiction, then who exactly is this I who “reads” and “learns” and “teaches,” and why in the universe’s name should my illusory self believe Coyne’s bold proclamation that his illusory self’s purposes are somehow “real” and worthy of devotion and pursuit? (Let alone that they’re morally significant: But more on that below.) http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/06/the-confidence-of-jerry-coyne/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0 "I think the idea of (materialists) saying that consciousness is an illusion doesn’t really work because the very notion of an illusion presupposes consciousness. There are no illusions unless there is a conscious experience or (a conscious person) for whom there is an illusion." Evan Thompson, Philosopher - author of Waking, Dreaming, Being "Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. Nobody even knows what it would be like to have the slightest idea about how anything material could be conscious. So much for the philosophy of consciousness." - Jerry Fodor - Rutgers University philosopher [2] Fodor, J. A., Can there be a science of mind? Times Literary Supplement. July 3, 1992, pp5-7. "Those centermost processes of the brain with which consciousness is presumably associated are simply not understood. They are so far beyond our comprehension at present that no one I know of has been able even to imagine their nature." Roger Wolcott Sperry - Nobel neurophysiologist As quoted in Genius Talk : Conversations with Nobel Scientists and Other Luminaries (1995) by Denis Brian "Science's biggest mystery is the nature of consciousness. It is not that we possess bad or imperfect theories of human awareness; we simply have no such theories at all. About all we know about consciousness is that it has something to do with the head, rather than the foot." Nick Herbert - Contemporary physicist "No experiment has ever demonstrated the genesis of consciousness from matter. One might as well believe that rabbits emerge from magicians' hats. Yet this vaporous possibility, this neuro-mythology, has enchanted generations of gullible scientists, in spite of the fact that there is not a shred of direct evidence to support it." - Larry Dossey - Physician and author ‘But the hard problem of consciousness is so hard that I can’t even imagine what kind of empirical findings would satisfactorily solve it. In fact, I don’t even know what kind of discovery would get us to first base, not to mention a home run.’ David Barash – Materialist/Atheist - evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology at the ­University of Washington Hard Problem of Consciousness — David Chalmers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5DfnIjZPGw
It is amazing how many supposedly smart people deny the reality of their own mind and their own free will. Even Einstein himself fell into that trap (and was proven wrong by advances in Quantum Mechanics):
Albert Einstein vs. Quantum Mechanics and His Own Mind – video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxFFtZ301j4

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