RE: Evolution and Rape (was Re: The KansasScienceEducationStandards)

From: John E. Rylander (
Date: Mon Jan 31 2000 - 07:36:40 EST

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    > John:
    > > >An insightful claim: men will naturally tend to seek quantity of sexual
    > > >contacts, women quality. This seems backed up by common sense
    > > (men seeking
    > > >sex, women love, etc.), and strongly supported by evolutionary theory.
    > Me:
    > > Okay, now imagine men did not seek quantity of sexual contacts. It
    > > would be easy to come up with a darwinian explanation for this too.
    > > Like I said, it's plastic wrap.
    > John:
    > >I think we'd need a more detailed scenario to figure out how that would
    > >work. This could be the case in a long-term Christian community, e.g.,
    > >where due to cultural pressure and free choices men had as much
    > invested in
    > >a sexual relationship as women, so that promiscuous men had no
    > offspring due
    > >to being shunned or ...something. :^/ But once fecund promiscuity is
    > >permitted, let alone encouraged or subsidized (as today), and
    > assuming such
    > >promiscuity has -some- degree of genetic basis (via sexuality,
    > via biology),
    > >genetically it'll tend to spread amongst males.
    > Evolutionary psychology used to be called sociobiology. Now, sociobiology
    > explains altruistic behavior through a darwinian lens. It has even been
    > invoked to explain the genetic basis of homosexuality and abortion.
    > Thus, what do we have? A "theory" that explains both selfish and selfless
    > acts. A "theory" that explains both acts that increase fecundity
    > and decrease
    > fecundity. In short, a "theory" that explains anything and
    > everything, thus
    > making no implications about what we should find in the world. It's
    > plastic wrap, and since plastic wrap can be molded around any form,
    > some people might confuse this property and think the plastic wrap
    > is the cause of the forms.

    As with any theory or hypothesis, in any given case it can be over-extended,
    or weak arguments can be portrayed as strong, or there can be serious
    disagreement about the merits of the case. But this doesn't imply that
    there's no strong substance there.

    E.g., how is it a criticism to say that a theory explains both selfish and
    selfless acts, given (and it is a given) that the explanation is
    theoretically non-arbitrary? (It's based on maximizing genetic progeny.)

    > Let me play evolutionary psychologist. Let's pretend men, in general,
    > did not seek out as many sex contacts as possible. Would evolutionary
    > psychology be refuted? No. One could argue populations that
    > did not discourage promiscuity entailed intratribal strife that meant
    > such populations were less likely to contribute the human gene pool
    > (they could not compete well against tribes that did practice fidelity).
    > Over time, the promiscuous tribes would be replaced by the chaste
    > tribes. And voila - a darwinian explanation for why men don't
    > seek out as many sex contacts as possible.
    > So you see, it doesn't matter what we find out there. That's why
    > I don't see any real "insight" from evolutionary psychology.

    I think you've inadvertently shown the kind of insights that we'd gain.
            Suppose men were as you hypothesized as above, at least wrt their nature.
    (I.e., suppose those who said -current- male sexual proclivities are simply
    a matter of culture, perhaps a form of partriarchal gender oppression, were
            Then from evolutionary psychology/sociobiology, we could conclude that the
    history of humanity more or less continuously included extremely strong
    social or biological pressures that more or less continuously prevented men
    with natural (i.e., genetically induced) tendencies toward promiscuity from
    reproducing. (This pressure could take a lot of different forms: a
    consistently applied death sentence for adultery, the effective
    stigmatization by nearly all women of sexual promiscuous males, or death of
    the children of promiscuous males.)
            We could then explore history to see if that appears to be a correct
    conclusion: is that the way things were?

    (Alternately, we could conclude that it's difficult to genetically encode
    sexual aggressiveness or promiscuity in humans, but our genetic proximity to
    the broader animal kingdom makes that rather suspect.)

    Now I agree that history isn't particle physics or molecular biology:
    there's a lot more "best guesses" and intuitive judgment involved. But
    that's not the same as saying there's just nothing there.
            So does it appear through history that aggressive male sexual appetite
    (when appearing) has been universally rendered impotent by culture or
    biology? It doesn't look like it to me at all; but I'm no historian.
            Now obviously there are -some- limits on male promiscuity, social and
    biological, but they don't seem extremely strong throughout history and
    across cultures. -IF- that's right, and if such sexuality is genetically
    influenced, then the male promiscuity (or whatever is encoded by promiscuous
    man's genes) will spread through the gene pool.

    > >> >This rape claim is more speculative simply because there's less
    > >>> evidence for
    > >>>it, and because the evidence has been less well scrutinized.
    > Again, even
    > >>>its proponents see it only as one hypothesis amongst competitors
    > >>> right now, even if it's the one they see as most plausible.
    > >> The rape claim simply builds on the men want quantity of sex
    > explanation.
    > >> Drop the moral concerns and it *is* the quantity of sex explanation.
    > >Yes, but it's more subtle than that. E.g., a rival explanation
    > is that rape
    > >was never itself an evolutionarily successful strategy, but is a
    > byproduct
    > >of excessive degrees (on the edges of the normal distribution) of sexual
    > >behaviors that -were- or -are- successful.
    > Yes, this would be another example of the Gould vs. Dawkins debate.
    > But one could also argue the byproduct itself was selected and since
    > rape involves other psychological traits not involved in simply having
    > sex, those traits become selected. And now we have an evolutionary
    > explanation for men's inferior sense of empathy. Evolutionary
    > psychology makes it so easy to do science! ;)
    > But remember also that while evolutionary psychology can explain
    > the existence of rape, it also must explain the moral sense against
    > rape. You guessed it‰¥Ïmore plastic wrap.
    > >I agree that this is all vague and speculative, remember.
    > Of course, this is a defining feature of evolutionary psychology, although
    > proponents of it often forget this.
    > Mike

    I wholly agree that it's vague and speculative, even fanciful in detail
    (e.g., E. O. Wilson's explaining homosexuality as genetically induced, such
    genes being contained in communities that flourished because of numerous
    heterosexually uncompetitive "helper males", as I recall -- kind of like
    drones or worker ants). Evolutionary psychology relies on knowledge (or a
    best guess) of human and pre-human history, which is always somewhat

    But again, these warranted pragmatic cautions don't imply that there's
    nothing of substance to it.


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