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

Date: Mon Jan 31 2000 - 17:56:53 EST


> 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.

No, but what it implies to me is that there is no reason to think
there is any strong substance there. If a theory can explain a
state of affairs that exists only in the imagination just as well as
the state of affairs that exists, one begins to suspect the theory
is nothing more than an ad hoc approach to reality.

>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.)

If a theory explains both selfish and selfless acts, it loses its
sharp edge and becomes incapable of making predictions about
what we should find. It's nice stuff to speculate about, but it's not
very good science. Coming up with convoluted scenarios that
converge on "maximizing genetic progeny" is always possible.
But when you have a theory that explains abortion or homosexuality
as examples of maximizing genetic progeny, just call me skeptical.


> 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?

Sure, but that's the catch. How does evolutionary psychology plan on using
history to validate its proposals? Can we really measure the fecundity rates
of pre-human and early human populations? Where are the data that
show promiscuous males really did contribute more offspring? I understand
the folk-wisdom-type appeal of the argument, but when the same logic can
turn and also explain things like abortion and homosexuality, there is
no longer to think such folk wisdom is insightful.

Let's not forget that attempts to attribute behaviors to genes have always
been very fuzzy at best. So why think promiscuous behavior is genetically
endowed? After all, environmental and cultural conditioning are likewise

>(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.)

Indeed, which is why once one buys into the sociobiological explanation
for the male sex drive, the thesis that rape is also in our genes is only
a modest and simple next step.

>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.

I'm not claiming there is nothing there. I simply think there is no
reason to think anything is 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.

But is there any evidence that the aggressive male appetite is genetically

> 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.
> No?

What makes you think male promiscuity is simply a matter of a gene (or genes)
spreading through a gene pool? Ought we not first figure out to what
extent male promiscuity is genetically influenced? I suspect it's far more
complicated that this (although I appreciate the dazzling influence of
the simplicity of darwinian just so logic). But doesn't this thesis predict
that, over time, males should be more and more promiscuous? A positive
feedback loop would result, where more males would be promiscuous and
mutations that lead to more promiscuity would spread. I'm no historian
but I don't see any evidence that promiscuity has increased over human

Here's how I see it. Since humans are not slaves to their genetics and
environment, yet darwinian evolution depends on such slavery, there is
no reason to think darwinian evolution nicely accounts for human behavioral
or cognitive features. We too often freely choose to do things that would
thwart the simple biological phenomena of natural selection. Biologists
recognized this a long time ago and sought to do something about it.
It was called eugenics.


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