Well, I finally got around to finishing my January 2009 issue of Scientific American, you know, the special issue on the "most powerful idea in science" (shhh! Don't tell Einstein).  I think most of the evolution articles were well written.  I particularly enjoyed “Evolution in the Everyday World” which talks about how evolution is being applied in technology, criminology, medicine, and computer science.  Because I graduated with a doctoral degree in psychology, I was especially interested in “The Four Fallacies of Pop Evolution Psychology.”

Generally speaking, evolutionary psychology uses evolutionary principles to understand human development and behavior.  It is “the new kid on the block” in the discipline of psychology.  It has only been around (in classrooms and texts) for about 10 years.  I thought that the queen bee, evolution biology, would welcome this new offspring into the hive and put it “under her wing” until evolutionary psychology could successfully branch out on its own.  On the contrary, she views the new discipline as an unwanted species resulting from an unfortunate mutation in the social sciences.  And so now the queen bee is trying to artificially select it for elimination.  That’s right folks; evolutionary psychology has been voted off the hive by evolution biologists. 

Hoooray!  As several hundred of my former students know, I don’t think too highly of evolutionary psychology.  I have always said that it was intellectually bankrupted from the get go, and Scientific American (SCIAM) agrees, to a certain extent.  

I found it interesting that SCIAM calls it “pop evolution psychology,” as if to suggest that there may be a legitimate evolutionary psychology out there somewhere – yeah right!  SCIAM sould have just called it “evolutionary psychology” because the scholars it attacks are those the psychology discipline recognizes as modern architects of the evolutionary psychology movement, notables like Steve Pinker.  SCIAM’s criticisms are legitimate, but as we shall soon see, this is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

According to the article, evolutionary psychologists attempt to understand human behavior by “analyzing the adaptive problems our ancestors faced [long ago].”  However, the article also points out that claims regarding our ancestors’ adaptive problems “are purely speculative because we have little evidence of the conditions under which early human evolution occurred.”  In other words, evolutionary psychologists can’t say for certain what conditions and adaptive challenges existed long ago because they were not there!

The article also points out that for evolutionary psychologists to effectively speculate on how adaptation to environmental challenges influenced our ancestors’ psychological traits, we need “knowledge of our ancestors’ psychological traits – which we don’t have – [so] we can’t know how selection tinkered with them to create the minds we now possess.”  In other words, evolutionary psychologists cannot speak authoritatively on how our minds developed because we are missing too much information, thus they resort to best-guess story telling to fill in the gaps.

The gist of these and other criticisms is that evolutionary psychology is plagued by speculation.  It lacks facts to back up the ideas it’s advocating.  Jack Nicholaus might put it this way: “You evolutionary psychologists are writing checks (hypotheses) that your research (facts) can’t cash!”

Well done evolution biology, but did you notice that some of the criticisms you leveled at evolutionary psychology also apply to you?  That’s right – you better be careful when pointing a finger at someone else, there are three pointing back at you, you schmuck.

In the same edition, SCIAM also presents in stunning artistic detail the human pedigree showing the evolution of mankind.  The article boldly claims that “we KNOW that our closest living ancestor is the chimpanzee and that humans arose in Africa between five million and seven million years ago.”  Somewhat surprisingly, after making this bold claim, the article admits these 4 weaknesses: (a) “the human family tree contains many dead branches;” (b) “the story of our origins is far from complete;” (c) paleontologists have yet to find “fossils of the last common ancestor [linking] chimpanzees are humans,” and (d) we have yet to learn how “homo sapiens [were] able to outcompete the Neandertals and other archaic humans.”

Soooo, what evolution biology is saying is it lacks facts to back up several of its assertions regarding the human pedigree because its wasn't there when those things happened, and it is left with conjecture when filling many of the gaps of the human pedigree.  Wait a minute!  Yet evolution biology claims to KNOW that humanity arose in Africa 5-7 million years ago as a close relative of chimpanzees?!  

Evolutionary biology, when it comes to the origins of mankind, like the evolutionary psychologists, you too are writing checks (hypotheses) that your research (facts) can’t cash!

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