Evolutionary Psychology’s Flaw

Evolutionary psychologists attempt to explain human behavior in terms of Homo sapiens’ evolutionary history. They study selective pressures that guided the evolution of our ancestors’ genes, and they draw connections between those pressures and general patterns in human behavior that we observe today. The problem with this approach, however, is that humans can choose to act against their genetic coding—to resist their inborn impulses. All other animals are incapable of making such choices, which is why we can explain their behaviors purely in terms of their genetic evolution. But people are different: we can criticize and defy our inborn impulses—for any of an infinity of reasons—and this simple fact spoils any explanation of the form, “He did it because his genes programmed him to do it”. Supposing an inborn impulse does happen to govern a person’s behavior in a particular instance, even that behavior can’t be satisfactorily explained in terms of the person’s genes. For that person, unlike any other kind of creature, could have chosen to do otherwise.

4 thoughts on “Evolutionary Psychology’s Flaw

  1. What is the evidence that humans are fundamentally different from other species of animals in this way? And does a mere possibility because people “can” do something mean they are likely to?

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    1. Humans can rebel against their genetic programming, which no other animals can do. That’s the fundamental difference. Even if a human acts purely in accordance with his genetic programming in a specific situation (i.e., if he doesn’t rebel), the behavior cannot be explained purely in terms of his genes—distinguishing it from all other animal behaviors—because part of the explanation is that he could have rebelled but didn’t.

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      1. With respect, the question is poorly framed. It’s not a matter of evidence, it’s a matter of explanation. All nonhuman animal behaviors can be explained in terms of those animals’ genes. Many human behaviors, such as the behavior of writing a poem or of traveling to the moon, can’t be explained in those terms.

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