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What Explains the Resistance to Evolutionary Psychology?

A recent study conducted by evolutionary psychologists, David Buss and William von Hippel, has found empirical support for the claim that evolutionary psychology is a controversial field among social psychologists.1 Their study titled, “Psychological Barriers to Evolutionary Psychology: Ideological Bias and Coalitional Adaptations,” posed questions to social psychologists to assess their political orientation and their attitudes towards evolutionary psychology, specifically, the extent to which evolutionary theory applies to humans. The responses of the social psychologists to the question of whether Darwinian evolution applies to human minds were highly variable despite being in near unanimous agreement that Darwinian evolution is not only true, but also applies to physical human traits.

Further questions revealed that their discomfort with the notion of evolved minds was neither due to religious beliefs nor to beliefs in human specialness, but were due to their varying opinions on “hot button variables” in evolutionary psychology. These included topics such as genetic tendencies for violence, universal standards of beauty, and psychological sex differences. In other words, evolutionary theory becomes contentious when it veers away from the human body to the human mind.

In his article for Quillette, Colin Wright wrote that evolutionary theory is and always has been controversial among the general public, but not to scientists. However, the branch of evolutionary theory that has proved most controversial to scientists is evolutionary psychology.

While evolutionary psychology may be controversial among social psychologists, evolutionary theory in general is one of the most well-substantiated theories in all of science. Only evolutionary theory can explain the organized complexity of life in contrast to simple, nonliving matter. Scientists unanimously agree that the intricately designed human eye is an adapted organ, one that arose not by chance, but through the gradual process of natural selection. However, many fail to expand this argument to the far more complex organ of which the eye is an extension, and into which the eye carries all its information, the human brain. This is especially concerning given that scientists almost exclusively invoke evolutionary theory in order to understand the mental processes and behavioral patterns of all other animals.

While Buss and Hippel’s study only found some empirical support for their hypotheses about ideology and evolutionary psychology, since its inception, the field has unfairly received an unfair amount of criticism. Since the field has existed, evolutionary psychology, then referred to as “sociobiology,” has received enormous pushback from academics. It came under fiery criticism in a letter written in the 1970s  titled, “Against ‘Sociobiology,’” which was signed by a number of prominent scientists such as Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould who were particularly hostile to the field. This letter sparked a big debate in the scientific community of the relevance of evolutionary analyses on human psychology. The chain of pushback against the findings of evolutionary psychology has continued right up into the present day especially when it comes to psychological differences between the sexes.

Recently, psychologist Michael Reichert, wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times suggesting that boy’s “tendency towards violence isn’t innate.” He writes, “Boys don’t come into the world with some inborn tendency toward domination or violence” rather, “violence springs from what boys learn about what it means to be a man.”

Additionally, the notion that there are sex differences in brain structure has also been coming under fire. A recent article in the Guardian refers to comments made about sex differences in brains by neuroscientist Gina Rippon. The article says, “Are there any significant differences based on sex alone? The answer, she says, is no. To suggest otherwise is ‘neurofoolishness.’”

However, the idea that there are sex differences in brains is well-established in the scientific literature. Indeed, it has recently been corroborated by a large-scale study published in Nature that found sex differences in gray matter volume in many regions of the adult brain.2 Moreover, a recent study published in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience found evidence for sex differences in brain functional connectivity in utero and therefore presumably before socialization could possibly have been at play.3

Additionally, Rippon’s comments in this article have been criticized by Debra Soh an expert in human sexuality and Larry Cahill an expert in neurobiology. Cahill compares the headline of a positive review of Dr. Rippon’s recent book published in Nature, “Neurosexism: the myth that men and women have different brains” to the headline, “The myth that evolution applies to humans.” Both are equally absurd. Cahill writes:

What exactly are people like Rippon so afraid of? She cites potential misuse of the findings for sexist ends, which has surface plausibility. But by that logic we should also stop studying, for example, genetics. The potential to misuse new knowledge has been around since we discovered fire and invented the wheel. It is not a valid argument for remaining ignorant.

Additionally, the types of arguments made by Rippon among others, falsely conflate equality with sameness. They presume that our moral commitment to equal treatment of the sexes is dependent on there being no differences between the sexes. Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker put it best: “Equality is not the empirical claim that all groups of humans are interchangeable; it is the moral principle that individuals should not be judged or constrained by the average properties of their group.”4 What Soh and Cahill are criticizing is a forced misuse of scientific data in light of political concerns. Instead of dispassionately inquiring into scientific questions, facts from politically controversial research are being distorted out of concern for how the data might be used by the worst among us. And today most of the distortion of the science of human nature is coming from the extreme political Left.

While all ideologies come with their own prepackaged presumptions that can contaminate dispassionate scientific inquiry, the reason why I’m focusing on the political left in this article is because their view is predominant in academia. Those on the right once were the main enemies of evolutionary theory, but today, as Colin Wright argues, those on the extreme left are the “new evolution deniers.”

But perhaps I’m dismissing perfectly sensible concerns. After all, don’t evolutionary psychologists believe that we are predestined towards violence since it is in our genes? That our worst behaviors are hardwired, and therefore cannot be changed? Moreover, doesn’t evolutionary psychology justify social injustices and inequalities by arguing that different people have different biological natures? Isn’t evolutionary psychology just social Darwinism in a new garb, fitted with the veiled accessories of eugenics, and bigotry?

Not at all. Most of these arguments stem from misconceptions of the field, namely, believing that evolutionary psychologists are committing the naturalistic fallacy, conflating proximate with ultimate explanations, and attempting to make everything into an adaptation. Most importantly, these misconceptions stem from conflating what’s empirically true with what ought to be true. For instance, taking the point of view of an evolutionary psychologist to whom he is opposed, Gould writes:

Perhaps the most popular of all explanations for our genocidal capacity cites evolutionary biology as an unfortunate source — and as an ultimate escape from full moral responsibility … but we cannot be blamed for these moral failings. Our accursed genes have made us creatures of the night.5

But what evolutionary psychologist is Gould imagining that would take evolutionary theory as an invitation to escape moral responsibility for committing a crime? It must have been one made of straw.

I believe that most of the resistance to evolutionary psychology both then and now stems from two fallacies: (1) that the nasty aspects of our human nature, such as tendencies for violence, are natural and therefore, good. This is known as the naturalistic fallacy; and (2) that an evolved human nature necessarily implies genetic determinism and inflexibility, both of which are found in the above quote.

First, it’s important to realize that what is adaptive has nothing to do with human notions of goodness or morality, a common misconception of evolution. Like gravity or the laws of thermodynamics, natural selection proceeds without regard for human morals, increasing the frequency of those genes that lead to higher reproductive fitness in individuals that have them. A description of human nature is in no way a prescription for how we ought to be. To deduce the latter from the former is to commit a logical error that jumps from saying, for example, homicidal tendencies are at least partly an adaptation to saying that homicidal tendencies are good and should be encouraged. If homicidal tendencies were adaptive, that would be something interesting and worth understanding, but would say nothing about how we ought to be. No matter the evidence about human nature, whether tendencies towards homicide and rape are in our nature, or whether intelligence is 10 percent or 90 percent heritable, our moral commitments to correcting social injustices, treating people as morally worthy individuals, and facilitating political and economic equality should not waver.

Second, that something is a part of human nature does not necessarily mean it will be expressed. Pioneers of evolutionary psychology, John Tooby and Leda Cosmides, give the example of a callus-forming adaptation that all humans have coded in their genome.6 But simply possessing the gene does not mean everyone will have calluses. This is because callus formation depends on both the genetic blueprint and the environmental determinant for it, namely, friction. If one were to wear gloves in order to prevent friction on their hands, they won’t form calluses. Similarly, many forms of violence likely are consequences of adaptations, which, therefore, have a genetic basis. Fortunately, moral, cultural, and social norms and institutions of the modern world can, as it were, act as the glove that prevents these violent tendencies from being expressed. They can facilitate the expression of better aspects of our human nature like altruism, cooperation, self-control, empathy—the better angels of our nature. A book of that title outlines vast amounts of empirical data arguing just that.7

Scientists like Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin who have never failed to bristle at the notion that the human mind is a product of Darwinian selection, but are perfectly fine with the notion that the human body is, are fighting a losing battle. They share their ranks with those who claim that vague notions of “socialization,” and “culture” are primarily responsible for traits of the human mind. This has been called the blank slate view of the mind because it is a view of human nature that denies any innate structure to the mind and instead claims that humans are born with a clean slate, awaiting the hand of culture to mold it.8 The reasons why this cannot be the case are numerous. For one, socialization and culture do not exist independently of human minds, a fact one would think is too obvious to have to be stated and yet is commonly forgotten. Human minds are what created culture in the first place. Secondly, it would be virtually impossible for humans to take up and learn their culture and all its complexity without innate mechanisms in place to make it happen, in the same way that acquiring a language is virtually an impossible task for a blank slate that lacks built-in assumptions about the common structure and regularities of languages.

Interestingly, Buss and Hippel’s explanation for the ideological backlash against evolutionary psychology also accounts for the phenomenon that Soh and Cahill are pointing out. In their paper, Buss and Hippel argue that some of the resistance to evolutionary psychology stems from psychological adaptations for maintaining in-group coalitions and punishing competing coalitions. This is done mostly to broadcast one’s commitments to admirable goals such as political and gender equality and social justice, known as virtue signaling. Evolutionary psychologists seem to be going against these admirable goals by researching into such politically and morally sensitive topics as the psychological differences between the sexes. However, again, this is a non sequitur. Our moral commitment to value individuals does not hinge on what the data show.

Far from objectionable, many hypotheses about mind and behavior coming from evolutionary psychology are so obvious that an explanation often seems superfluous. A commonplace example that bears the unmistakable stamp of evolutionary logic is fear. Fear is an emotion with a function, namely to solve a recurrent and important problem posed to humans throughout their evolutionary history: survival. It is an emotion that takes in a limited set of inputs, namely, signs of danger to either oneself or one’s kin, and produces outputs in the form of physiological and behavioral changes that lead to an outcome commensurate with the goal, i.e., avoiding harm.9

The same information-processing, evolutionary logic holds for most other emotions like shame, guilt, anger, and sexual jealousy.10,11,12 They evolved because the genes for those emotions helped their owners survive and reproduce, allowing those genes to prevail among alternatives and therefore replicate into the next generation. In this sense, behaviors, emotions, and other mental faculties can be dissected and understood like a liver, spleen, or a heart, all of which have adaptive functions that were selected among alternative designs through evolutionary time.

However, it’s important to realize that was advantageous in hunter-gatherer societies is often maladaptive in today’s world. For example, it’s easy to see how a preference for sugary foods, which was adaptive in the environment in which humans evolved, is maladaptive in the modern world. Today, sugar is far from rare, but is instead added to everything from drinks to hamburger buns. Nevertheless, “maladaptive” does not mean or imply “irrelevant.” Quite the contrary. Obesity, as opposed to starvation is a significant problem in the developed world. And it is largely a consequence of a mismatch between the environment in which we evolved—where sugar was scarce—and the environment in which we are now—where sugar is plentiful.

Admittedly, humans are different from all other life forms. Humans have culture. And human culture differs widely throughout the world. Undoubtedly, cultural factors influence human mind and behavior. For example, men are more violent than women, committing almost all forms of violent crime more often than women.13,14,15 Perhaps this is a result of socialization into masculine gender roles.16 Parent’s may positively reinforce their sons to be more aggressive and competitive while punishing their daughters when they show the same behaviors. Perhaps throughout their upbringing, boys are encouraged to display their aggression and physical prowess in sports, whereas girls are discouraged from sports and are encouraged into more caring and stereotypically feminine roles. Additionally, media may influence behavior. More often boys play violent video games and watch violent films, which might make them more violent in the long run.17 While sociocultural factors such as these influence mind and behavior to some degree I have to admit, I find these explanations deeply unconvincing.

Firstly, at least just as often as parents encourage their son’s aggressiveness, they punish it. Parents are constantly scolding their sons for misbehaving. Parents and teachers tell young boys again and again to keep their hands to themselves, to stop acting out, to be nicer, and have empathy. The sociocultural stance would somehow have to provide evidence that boys are receiving one message and girls are receiving another consistently enough to cause distinct differences in their mind and behavior. Secondly, why are parents so often scolding their young boys? Because they are rowdier! I expect that many parents would be skeptical of the sociocultural explanation here. Much of parenting consists of parents responding to the very different natures of each of their children, natures that were not reinforced and conditioned into existence by the TV, but that the children were born with.18

It is my contention that sociocultural factors that have been proposed in place of evolutionary factors as causal influences on mind and behavior have been overstated, while the importance of evolutionary factors have been understated. Evolutionary explanations also account for human aggression and they do so by positing a simpler and more likely theory that links human aggression to a broader trend found throughout the animal kingdom in general.

Robert Trivers’s parental investment theory defines parental investment as “any investment by the parent in an individual offspring that increases the offspring’s chance of surviving (and hence reproductive success) at the cost of the parent’s ability to invest in other offspring.”19 In most species there is an asymmetry in the minimum amount of parental investment in offspring between males and females such that females tend to invest more resources, energy, and time into offspring than do males. This asymmetry in minimum parental investment is prevalent in mammals because it’s the females that gestate and lactate, whereas males contribute a morsel of sperm.

Lower parental investment in offspring makes it pay off for males to adopt a quantity-maximizing strategy to sire more offspring since sperm is cheap. And so, they tend to mate with as many females they can, which necessarily forces other males to go mateless leading to intrasexual competition—that is, competition among males for access to females.20

That fierce intrasexual competition in males has characterized the evolutionary history of many animal species is evidence by the evolution of weapon-like phenotypes in males: deer antlers, rhino horns, narwhal tusks, to name a few.21 These weapons are devoted to competing with other males for access to mates. Males in other species, such as the elephant seal, have size and strength differences rather than weapons, that are indicative of a large asymmetry in parental investment in offspring weighted towards the female side.22 Male elephant seals compete for access to female mates which they win by brutal fighting contests governed by the following rule: the bigger, the better. Bigger seals are better fighters, better fighters win fighting contests against males, winning against males leads to multiple mating partners, which leads to more offspring that in turn have inherited their father’s genes for bigger size, and therefore better fighting ability. And so, males have evolved to be at least four times the size of females.23,24

Although sex differences are highly diluted to an unusual degree in humans compared to other mammals because of their unusually large male investment in offspring, parental investment theory predicts that similar sex differences should also be found in humans. While human males do not have horns protruding from their heads, some researchers hypothesize that greater male size, strength (especially upper body strength), muscle mass, bone density, among other physical differences, are indicative of an evolutionary history of male intrasexual competition and hence of greater male aggression and proclivity for violence.25,26,27 Indeed, one study found that the average man is stronger than 99.9 percent of women.28 Nevertheless, the notion that male psychology has adapted alongside physical traits of aggression and violent capabilities has been contested by psychologists advancing sociocultural theories, such as Alice Eagly who downplays the influence of evolutionary factors on human psychology.29,30

However, in my mind, there’s no reason to think that evolutionary processes have been working away at the human body but left human psychology unscathed. I find it extremely unlikely that all the evolutionary selection pressure trends acting on mammals, including our closely related ape relatives, and even including the human body itself would mysteriously stop at the neck. In his recent book, The Ape that Understood the Universe, evolutionary psychologist, Steve Stewart-Williams, offers his insight into this apparent conundrum: “why would natural selection give men the physical equipment needed for violence but not the psychological machinery to operate it? This would make about as much sense as giving us teeth and a digestive system, but not a desire to eat.”31

Additionally, it seems unlikely that in the midst of this unprecedented pause in selection pressure on the human mind, sociocultural factors would swoop in and fashion human psychology exactly in line with what an evolutionary analysis would expect to find. Better to just cut out the middleman entirely and go with the more parsimonious evolutionary explanation.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that sociocultural and evolutionary explanations are not necessarily at odds with each other. Most often I suspect the two are operating simultaneously in causing most human actions such as aggressive behavior. Problems arise when proximate explanations, like sociocultural theories, are being used in place of ultimate explanations, like evolutionary theories and vice versa to explain human characteristics.

Most of the resistance to evolutionary psychology coming from the left is tribal, as Buss and Hippel explain in their article. But science should be in the business of advancing knowledge of the world and its inhabitants rather than advancing certain groups or sides over others. Like any discipline of science, evolutionary psychology has not been untouched by prejudice and ridiculous theories. But most of them were either unfalsifiable and thus unscientific or were falsifiable and subsequently refuted by experimental tests. Evolutionary psychology, like any other scientific discipline ,progresses by conjecture and refutation. That most of these conjectures will be falsified and refuted is not a sign that the discipline is pseudoscience. Rather, it is a sign that knowledge of the discipline is advancing. Evolutionary psychology is a new field and needs much more progress in order for researchers to be sure of their findings. This is especially true for a field making claims about a universal human nature. A big challenge lies ahead for evolutionary psychologists. It is one that we should earnestly embrace in order to further our understanding of human nature, rather than shy away from in fear of being politically incorrect.

Alex Mackiel is an undergraduate psychology and English double major at Carleton College who will be joining the SUNY New Paltz Evolutionary Psychology Lab for graduate school. You can follow him on Twitter @ajmackiel


1 Buss, D.M. & von Hippel, W. (2018). Psychological barriers to evolutionary psychology: Ideological bias and coalitional adaptations. Archives of Scientific Psychology, 6, 148-158.
2 Lotze, M., Domin, M., Gerlack, F.H., Gaser, C., Lueders, E., Schimidt, C.O., & Neumann, N. (2018). Novel findings from 2,838 adult brains on sex differences in gray matter brain volume. Scientific Reports, 9, 1-7.
3 Wheelock, M.D., Hect, J.L., Hernandez-Andrade, E., Hassan, S.S., Romero, R., Eggebrecht, A.T., & Thomason, M.E. (2019). Sex differences in functional connectivity during fetal brain development. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 36, 1-10.
4 Pinker, S. (2002). The Blank Slate: The modern denial of human nature. New York, NY: Viking.
5 Gould, S.J. 1998. The Diet of Worms and the defenestration of Prague. In Leonardo’s mountain of clams and the Diet of Worms: Essays in natural history. New York: Harmony Books.
6 Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. “The Theoretical Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology.” The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology. (2016). Vol 1, 2nd ed. Edited by David Buss.
7 Pinker, S. (2011). The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why violence has declined. New York, NY: Viking.
8 Pinker, S. (2002). The Blank Slate: The modern denial of human nature. New York, NY: Viking.
9 Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. “The Theoretical Foundations of Evolutionary Psychology.” The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology. (2016). Vol 1, 2nd ed. Edited by David Buss.
10 Szyncer, D., Tooby, J., Cosmides, L., Porat, R., Shalvi, S., & Halperin, E. (2016). Shame closely tracks the threat of devaluation by others, even across cultures. PNAS, 113, 2625-2630.
11 Robertson, T.E., Sznycer, D., Delton, A.D., Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (2018). The true trigger of shame: social devaluation is sufficient, wrongdoing is unnecessary. Evolution and Human Behavior, 39, 566-573.
12 Buss, D.M. (2018). Sexual and emotional infidelity: Evolved gender differences in jealousy prove robust and replicable. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13, 155-160.
13 Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (1990). Killing the competition: Female/female and male/male homicide. Human Nature, 1, 81-107.
14 Nivette, A., Sutherland, A., Eisner, M., & Murray, J. (2019). Sex differences in adolescent physical aggression: Evidence from sixty-three low-and middle-income countries. Aggression Behavior, 45, 82-92.
15 Wright, J., Beaver, K., & Ellis, L.F. (2009). Handbook of crime correlates. London: Academic Press.
16 Wood, W., & Eagly, A.H. (2012). Biosocial construction of sex differences and similarities in behavior. In J.M. Olson & M.P. Zanna (Eds), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (pp. 55-123). Burlington, MA: Academic Press
17 Wood, W., & Eagly, A.H. (2012). Biosocial construction of sex differences and similarities in behavior. In J.M. Olson & M.P. Zanna (Eds), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (pp. 55-123). Burlington, MA: Academic Press
18 Avinum, R., & Knafo, A. (2013). Parenting as a reaction evoked by children’s genotype: A meta-analysis of children-as-twins studies. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 18, 87-102.
19 Trivers, R.L. (1972). Parental investment and sexual selection. In B. Campbell (Ed.), Sexual selection and the descent of man, 1871-1971 (pp. 136–179). Chicago, IL: Aldine.
20 Ibid.
21 Futuyma, D.J., & Kirkpatrick, M. (2017). Evolution (4th ed.). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.
22 Lindenfors, P., Tullberg, B.S., & Biuw, M. (2002). Phylogenetic analyses of sexual selection and and sexual size dimorphism in pinnipeds. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 52, 188-193.
23 Ibid.
24 Futuyma, D.J., & Kirkpatrick, M. (2017). Evolution (4th ed.). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.
25 Lassek, W.D., & Gaulin, S.J.C. (2009). Costs and benefits of fat-free muscle mass in men: relationship to mating success, dietary requirements, and native immunity. Evolution and Human Behavior, 30, 322-328.
26 Puts, D.A. (2010). Beauty and the beast: mechanisms of sexual selection in humans. Evolution and Human Behavior, 31, 157-175.
27 Stoll, T., Huber, E., Seifert, B., Michel, B.A., & Stucki, G. (2000). Maximal isometric muscle strength: Normative values and gender-specific relation to age. Clinical Rheumatology, 19, 105-113.
28 Lassek, W.D., & Gaulin, S.J.C. (2009). Costs and benefits of fat-free muscle mass in men: relationship to mating success, dietary requirements, and native immunity. Evolution and Human Behavior, 30, 322-328.
29 Wood, W., & Eagly, A.H. (2012). Biosocial construction of sex differences and similarities in behavior. In J.M. Olson & M.P. Zanna (Eds), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (pp. 55-123). Burlington, MA: Academic Press
30 Eagly, A.H., & Steffen, V.J. (1986). Gender and aggressive behavior: A meta-analytic review of the social psychological literature. Psychological Bulletin, 100, 300-330.
31 Stewart-Williams, S. (2018). The ape that understood the universe: How the mind and culture evolve. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.


  1. “whether Darwinian evolution applies to human minds”

    It doesn’t. The mind is not the brain. The mind is non-physical. Therefore the mind cannot be an object of selection. (Nevermind the fact that natural selection is not a mechanism.)

    “genetic blueprint”

    There is no such thing.

    The “blank slate” is a strawman. Tooby and Cosmides’ SSSM vs ICM distinction is a false dichotomy, as identified by Robert Richardson in Evolutionary Psychology as Maladapted Psychology.

    There can be no science of the mind—so the quest of EP ultimately fails.

    (1) Science studies the physical.
    (2) The mind is non-physical.
    (3) Therefore, since science studies the physical and the mind is non-physical then it follows that science cannot study the mind.

    • rickoxo says

      Anything else you want to pronounce to us as true?

      Assertions that could not have a shred of evidence (the mind is not the brain), nit picking distinctions that are of no importance (natural selection not a mechanism), since you’re obviously not trying to start a conversation, why not write your own post where you tell us all the things we should know and believe instead of spouting off in response to someone else’s work?

      (1) science studies the physical
      (2) every single aspect of human behavior and mammalian behavior in general can find its basis in the biological brain (I’d put the entire list of references, but there’s a size limit to replies on Quillette. If there are any you’re curious about, please ask)
      (3) saying it emphatically or in the form of a logical argument doesn’t make it true

      • Ray Andrews says


        “every single aspect of human behavior and mammalian behavior in general can find its basis in the biological brain”

        Maybe not. Of course the strict materialist takes it as axiomatic that this is true, and therefore any contrary evidence must be ignored, but it does not go away. Various reports of out of body experiences and other paranormal phenomena are not easy to dismiss, but they will be dismissed because the materialist has no choice but to dismiss them, knowing a priori, as she does, that they must be false.

        • S Snell says

          it is axiomatic that we live in a natural universe that operates by physical laws. We humans are part of that universe, and therefore are a product of, and subject to those same physical laws.

          This doesn’t mean that our species has figured everything out, that all is predetermined, or that there cannot be happenings that we might deem mysterious, suggestive of some deeper meaning, or even “supernatural.”

          It’s a big ol’ multiverse, and we are a long way from understanding it, so who knows?

    • Hutch says

      You are aware that a biological and physical organ is responsible for what you refer to as the “mind”.

      Poor analogy incoming:

      If you brain were a car engine, the firing and energy produced would be your mind. If you study the mechanical workings of the engine you can get an idea as to what energy it can produce.

      Suggesting that the study of the brain gives no insight into the mind is nonsensical.

      • “You are aware that a biological and physical organ is responsible for what you refer to as the “mind””

        You are aware that the brain is a necessary pre-condition for human mindedness but not a sufficient condition?

        “Suggesting that the study of the brain gives no insight into the mind is nonsensical.”

        Science can study the brain since it’s physical. It can’t study the mind. The argument I’ve provided is sound.

        • Theodore A Hoppe says

          You are clearly mistaken. Science studied the brains of other animals in order to gain insights into their minds for things like self recognition, and it studies human brains, especially ones with lesions, in an attempt understand how damaged areas of the brain affects the mind.

          • Believers must have the concept of belief because in order to have beliefs one must recognize that they can be either true or false, one cannot understand objective truths without knowing the nature of beliefs. So in order to develop an understanding of objective truth, one must be able to talk with others about the world, and so all believers must be language users. Other species (except humans) lack language, therefore they don’t have beliefs. Since non-human animals lack beliefs (and desires), therefore non-human animals lack minds.

            Non-human animals lack intentional states therefore they lack belief and desire. Humans are the only animals with the ability for intentional states since we are the only animals with minds.

            That damage to the brain affects the mind isn’t under contention. The claim isn’t “The physical doesn’t affect the mental”, the claim is “The mental is irreducible to the physical.”

        • Pretty sure I could study your mind. I’ve studied plenty just like it. The mind is an emergent property of a biological substrate: the brain. If you find a mind wandering around independently of a brain please let me know.

    • Andrew Worth says

      Are you claiming that the mind is independent of the brain? That the physical nature of the brain doesn’t affect the nature of the mind?

    • Andrew Worth says

      “(1) Science studies the physical.”

      No, science studies the natural (as opposed to supernatural) world, the brain is part of the natural world, the mind is a manifestation of the brain.

        • CZ Marks says

          “The natural world is physical.”

          In which case, the mind must be physical, since it is clearly part of the natural world.

          In any event, the mind is certainly a product of selection (on genes, culture, or other forms of information), as it exhibits adaptation (i.e., fit to its environment), and the only processes we know of that can create adaptation (including human cognition and cultural evolution) all entail selection.

          Furthermore, there are many features of the mind that are clearly biological adaptations shaped by natural selection acting on genes, including the experience of sexual jealousy, a strong tendency to experience love for one’s children (but not other people’s children), a similarly strong tendency not to experience romantic attraction to one’s siblings (provided you were raised with them), and the tendency to experience disgust in response to odors associated with substances that carry a high risk of disease transmission (e.g., feces, rotting meat).

          • What’s the argument that adaptationism is true? In lieu of mental laws, how can EP be true?

            “many features of the mind that are clearly biological adaptations”

            How can the claims you espoused be empirically tested? Or are you telling just-so stories?

        • Stephanie says

          The mind is physical. It is an emergent property of the brain. Science does study the mind, there are whole fields of this.

        • Andrew Worth says

          RaceRealist, so you’re claiming the mind is supernatural?

          • Andrew Worth says

            “I’m claiming the mind is immaterial.”

            Do you see computer software as immaterial?

          • Saw file says

            “I’m claiming the mind is immaterial.”

            The formation of that comment refutes the comment’s point.

        • Diogenes says

          …The point, then, is not that everything is changing, but that the fact that some things change makes possible the continued existence of other things. Perhaps more generally, the change in elements or constituents supports the constancy of higher-level structures…

    • A C Harper says

      Disease, damage, drugs, and anaesthesia all affect the brain directly and the ‘mind’ directly. How can the brain and therefore the mind be excluded from selection?

      • “Disease, damage, drugs, and anaesthesia all affect the brain directly and the ‘mind’ directly. How can the brain and therefore the mind be excluded from selection?”

        How does this refute my argument? The mind isn’t physical so it can’t be an object of selection..

        • A C Harper,

          Note that the claim isn’t that the physical doesn’t affect the mental. The claim is that the mental is irreducible to the physical.

        • CZ Marks says

          It refutes your argument because if the mind can be shaped by physical processes, such as ingesting drugs, then it can be shaped by natural section on genes. If drugs can alter the mind, then genes can alter the mind (after all, most psychoactive drugs work by activating receptors for neurotransmitters that are coded by genes). And if genes can alter the mind, then they can be selected on the basis of their ability to do so. Hence the mind can evolve via natural selection on genes. QED

          • The claim is not that the physical doesn’t affect the mental. The claim is that the mental is irreducible to the physical. Genes can’t “alter mind” because genes are physical and the mind is not.

            When genes are coextensive (and of course all of them are), how does selection know to “act” on the genes “for” the mind in lieu of an agent behind natural selection or laws of selection for trait fixation?

        • Tirthraj Bhatt says

          “Science studies physical”
          Gravitational force is not physical. But when we seen objects falling down it is due this force. By assuming the existence of this force many physical phenomenon can be predicted correctly. Thus, we come to conclusion that this force exist and we can study its interaction with objects.

          • We know the mind exists. It’s distinct from the brain. The mind-body problem is a conceptual, not empirical, matter.

          • Andrew Worth says

            RR. “We know the mind exists. It’s distinct from the brain.”

            Isn’t the brain – mind situation analogous to the computer hardware – software situation? If you don’t think so, what’s the evidence?

        • S Snell says

          The mind is “not physical” in the sense that any set of behaviors is not physical. The heart is a physical thing; an EKG, a non-physical abstraction, is a representation of its behavior.

        • If your mind tells you it’s safe to stick your head in a tiger’s mouth it’s subject to natural selection. If it doesn’t desire food or sex it is subject to selection.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @A C Harper

        It might not be quite that simple. Suppose you had spend your entire existence inside one building and no one else had ever lived there. What happens to be building happens to you. You might be considered to even be a property of the building since it seems inconceivable that you and the building could ever be separated. But if fact you could be separated.

    • 1) It is quite clear that the ‘mind’ emerges from the brain which most definitely is physical.

      2) Science studies anything which can be observed directly or indirectly.

      3) There is an extensive scientific literature on the mind.

      Where does this leave your assertion that scence cannot study the mind?

      • Absent mental laws (psychological and psychophysical laws), science can’t study the mind. There can’t be a science of psychology – a science of the mind.

        • Andrew Worth says

          RR. Do human’s have heritable natural instincts?

        • D.B. Cooper says


          We know the mind exists. It’s distinct from the brain.

          How do ‘we’ know the mind exists? By what means can abstract (non-physical) objects or processes be discovered? How does one distinguish between when we believe and when we know (they exist) without appealing to articles of faith?

          I’ve yet to see (from you) a proper definition of the ‘mind’, apart from you describing what it is not, e.g., “The mind is not the brain,” & “The mind is non-physical.”

          Lastly, how is it that a physical object (brain) can give rise to or make changes in a nonphysical object, i.e., hallucinogenic drugs, brain damage? Conversely, how can a conscious decision (mental process) to raise your hand (physical act), give rise to conditions necessary for your hand being raised. That is, how can an abstract object or nonphysical process (however you define ‘mind’) create a measurable effect in a physical object? This would seem to have breached the metaphysical threshold.

          Help me out here. Where am I going wrong?

    • Jack B. Nimble says


      ‘……..natural selection is not a mechanism……’

      That is a good point, and too many people [even some biologists!] tend to think of natural selection as an occult force like Newton’s inverse square law of gravitational attraction.

      But gravity isn’t an occult force and neither is natural selection–it is a consequence of heritable differences in phenotypic traits that affect survival and reproduction, among those individuals comprising the adult generation of a population or species. These consequences are easy to model mathematically but difficult to study in nature–even in humans.

      Evolutionary biology has been badly served by poor analogies that impede understanding, beginning with natural selection, which analogizes evolutionary change to that produced by the animal or plant breeder.

      But poor analogies crop up repeatedly in evolutionary biology, especially when talking about social species, so we have ‘slave-making’ ant species with ‘worker castes,’ ‘soldier castes’ and ‘royal castes’–even though these behavioral and morphological phenotypes have no real similarities to human biology.

      And the ‘alpha male’ and ‘alpha female’ in wolf packs? Those are the two parents, with the rest of the pack composed of various cohorts of their offspring. Can you understand now why the dominant individuals inhibit the reproduction of the subordinate individuals in a pack?

      But what about humans? Lumping wars, barroom fights and crime together as ‘violence’ or ‘aggression’ is just another example of poor analogizing, or plain sloppy thinking. Ditto for finding analogies to rape and homosexuality in various animal species. Human behavior CAN be understood by proper use of evolutionary principles, but we first have to ditch the bad analogies.

      Why all this fuss about analogies? Mostly because they are the main avenue by which ideological biases and assumptions contaminate scientific thinking. For example, I commented in a different thread on the tendency among some conservatives to analogize natural selection to Adam Smith’s ‘Invisible hand’ of free-market capitalism.

      • Lightning Rose says

        Take your pick of who’s most “evolutionarily successful:”

        (1) The local pimp/rapper/gangbanger who’s eliminated competing males from his “territory” and sired 13 offspring on 11 “baby mamas” -OR-

        (2) The soy-latte sipping man-bunned “intellectual” who’s so “woke” he’s decided not to breed for the good of The Planet ™?

        Just remember, whatever you subsidize, you’ll get more of.

        • Jack B. Nimble says

          @Lightning Rose

          ‘…..Just remember, whatever you subsidize, you’ll get more of……’

          Does that principle explain how the United States, with the world’s largest military budget and most expensive hardware, finds itself fighting endless wars in the Middle East and surrounding regions?

          • Does that principle explain how the United States, with the world’s largest military budget and most expensive hardware, finds itself fighting endless wars in the Middle East and surrounding regions?

            Considering those wars were at the behest of a very specific, un-nameable ethnic group that dominates US foreign policy and whose ethno-nationalist state the US subsidizes (Trump just gave them billions), then yes, yes it does.

    • Donnerhauser says

      This person has made this post before, I’d just ignore it.

        • peanut gallery says

          Well, your argument is basically infallible. How can one disprove it?

          • They can attempt an argument like a mind-brain identify theorist would.

            But if the argument is sound (what I take you to mean when you say “infallible”) then you must accept it.

        • Jim Gorman says

          You are declaring your assumption to be true and drawing conclusions based on the assertion’s truthfulness. You are telling people that if they can’t disprove it then it is true. That is a logical fallacy. In addition, to declaring it true you must offer proof that the assertion is true.

          Basically your assumption is false. The brain has neurons, axons, dendrites, chemical receptors/transmitters, synapses, etc. These all work to create your mind. For example, when you hear the word tree, your brain decodes the sound waves and certain synapses fire causing you to “see” a tree, just like if your eyes saw a tree. Your mind can not exist without your brain.

          Basically, if we had the technology, a neurosurgeon could “cut” the connections in the brain to make you forget what a tree is. Consequently, the mind and physical brain are absolutely linked together. How does the song go “You can’t have one without the other”?

        • If you think the mind is independent of genetics why the hell do you call yourself ‘RaceRealist’, an ideology centred on the idea different human groups behave differently based on their genetics?

      • Jack B. Nimble says


        ‘This person has made this post before……’

        This comment MIGHT BE a reference to my above comment ‘… For example, I commented in a different thread….’

        Granted there was some slight repetition of content between threads, but here’s the interesting thing:

        If online repetition of ideas was somehow made against the law, Quillette would be out of business within a week!!!

    • Asenath Waite says


      This is crazy talk. I’m guessing the idea of the human mind being a product of natural selection is incompatible with your religious views.

    • Absolutely correct on the “mind”.

      The question is between genetics, evolution and behavior. You don’t need a “mind” outside of a court of law.

      Evolutionary “Psychology” understood not as the science of the soul, but the science of human behavior. . . and evolution is essential to any real psychological science seeking to move beyond the Blank Slate and Progressive magical systems of demonology and exorcism.

    • Amin says

      @ RaceRealist

      “The mind is not the brain. The mind is non-physical. Therefore the mind cannot be an object of selection. ”

      Tell you what… remove the brain from a person and then try to describe and locate this “mind”. Is it still functioning?

    • Chris says

      Science studies anything and everything you point it at.

      So far, the evidence of the last three centuries is that this method of discovery consistently produces more useful, more effective results than all of the assertions from hidebound “progressive” ineffectuals cluttering up the humanities and soft (pseudo)science faculties of academia.

      The human mind is (part of) what the human brain does and each has yeilded more results to scientific enquiry in the past forty years than to all other sources over the last four millennia!

      We might be making even more progress without “scientific” claims which seem to be produced to support particular cultural objectives. Recent promotion of material denying differences between male and female brains seems to be linked more closely to authors beliefs than new science. I conclude that while males and females can do good science, such work is more difficult for feminists.

    • Old man red says

      Your assertion is false. Science studies the physical, but not only the physical. For instance science studies, or attempts to study, time (e.g. theory of relativity. Time is not physical, but it is as real as the mind.

  2. Jean Levant says

    “In his article for Quillette, Colin Wright wrote that evolutionary theory is and always has been controversial among the general public, but not to scientists.”
    if this a premise for the following thesis, what a poor one : with a little help of google I can easily list a hundred of scientists (Ph.D or equal), who were or are at odds with Darwin’s theory, from his time until now. The least you can do when you’re a “scientist” and try to teach to profanes is to define clearly what you’re talking about and certainly not to begin with this kind of factual untruth.
    When this thing is fixed, I’ll read the rest.

    • The article is mis-titled. The problem described is not onlya refusal to accept the idea of evolution being applied to the mind but a refusal to accept any mental difference between men and women with a biological origin. This is even more extreme and on teh face of it inexplicable.

      It is bizzare because it contradicts our everyday experience. Sometimes scientific theories contradict our everyday intuition but in doing so they explain our everyday experiences as special cases of a more general rule. General relativity for example extends Newton’s theory to apply in more conditions. Newtons theory extends the everyday experience and understanding that things fall unless supported and heavier objects need more force to support them than lighter objects.

      The idea that the differences between girls and boys are entirely societal goes against and denies our everyday experiences. It goes against our knowledge of changes in boys and girls characters during puberty and our experience and knowledge of the animal world. It goes against the obvious differences ine our bodies and that it is difficult to see how this could not affect our minds. The fact that such an idea in contradiction to a wealth of evidence and everyday experience could become widespread is amazing and fascinating as an example of human cognitive weakness.

      In comparison evolution is a relatively abstract idea.

      • Jim Gorman says

        If you have ever raised and trained animals and/or been a parent, then you know that every individual is different. They have different personalities, intelligences, attributes, likes/dislikes, in other words, different minds. If they are raised in the same home, same parents, same everything, then the blank slate just doesn’t fit. Genetics is the only explanation and evolution does apply.

  3. doug deeper says

    Excellent article-completely comprehensible. It does seem clear that much of the criticism, really demonization of EP from the academic left is of a whole with so much of its criticism of capitalism, free speech and caucasians. I do not mean to equate these subjects with the scientific discipline of EP. But the unreasonable vitriol, I believe, has a source other than scientific disagreement.

    My theory: the fear of ostracism or worse for academics on campus is so heightened that publicized pushback against current orthodox views has been reduced to a whimper.

    The left now is relatively unconstrained in their writings and rhetoric. The inferiority of their science and opinions in general is rarely spoken of, and certainly with little power behind it when it is. This is somewhat understandable as we all know what happens to outspoken, even if very progressive critics, such as Brett Weinstein, Nicholas & Erika Christakis, etc.

    Now, the same fear exists at the largest corporations in the US, the media, Hollywood, and almost every US institution.

    Unconstrained, the left is free to demolish any genuine science that might weaken its narratives of say, evil men, or men and women have the same brains.

  4. E. Olson says

    Darwin was criticized by the religious Right because his theory conflicted with the sacred Biblical creation story, and EP is criticized by the Left because it conflicts with their sacred belief in discrimination based causes for all inequities and government interventions as the solution to inequities. Leftists believe that women are held back by sexist misogynist men, blacks and Hispanics (but oddly not Asians or Jews) are held back by racist Whites, and poor people are held back by rich greedy bastards, which can all be fixed with legislation, education, and redistribution.

    But EP challenges this viewpoint because it suggests that women/blacks/poor have different outcomes than men/whites/rich respectively because of hereditary differences in brain function caused by thousands of years of natural selection that are reinforced by cultural differences built on hereditary based preferences and abilities, which means legislation, education, and redistribution will have minimal effects in erasing differences between groups, and many of the popular Leftist victimhood theories and literature of the social sciences and humanities will be proven wrong. Under such a threat, EP also predicts that Leftists will fight back hard and dirty to protect their sacred beliefs.

    • A C Harper says

      Quite so. If a sizeable proportion of human differences are the ongoing result of evolutionary processes then legislation, education, and redistribution are not enough to guarantee the social Perfectability of Man (lovingly administered by our enlightened leaders, of course). What is worse the ongoing result of evolutionary processes may actually work against the Perfectability of Man.

    • Andrew Worth says

      E. Olson, I agree with your first paragraph completely, but I think in your second paragraph you make assertions that EP does not make, EP does not dismiss the social impact on outcomes, indeed the author recognizes that social and evolutionary factors work together.

      • E. Olson says

        AW – either I wrote poorly or you misunderstood my 2nd paragraph. I agree with the author (and you) that culture is largely the product of evolutionary factors (i.e. genetic based preferences and abilities). For example, boys have come to be socialized differently than girls because hereditary factors mean they are “naturally” rowdier, stronger, and more competitive than girls, which also makes them better warriors, hunters, and explorers for protecting and supplying the tribe. Thus Leftist emphasis on socialization based causes for disparate economic outcomes of men and women always ignore the evolutionary genetic factors that led to gender based socialization differences, which means the Leftist prescription of giving little boys dolls and little girls toy trucks isn’t going to have the desired effect of equalizing outcomes.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @E. Olson

          It is 100% culturally constructed that I do not put diesel in my motorcycle, but it does not follow that I am therefore free to do so. Actually that cultural construct is absolutely non-arbitrary and follows on from the mechanical facts of how my motorcycle works. Are the social constructionists so stupid as not to understand something so simple?

        • S Snell says

          The weakness of the whole “culture explains everything” thesis lies in the fact that culture is the vector sum of a set of individuals behaving a certain way. Given that humans assortively gather based on some commonalithy, principally kinship, historically speaking, then the emergent culture is an expression of their shared innate traits.

          Culture as an equalizer/explainer only works if that culture is imposed by some outside force. Perhaps aliens. The space kind, not the kind that forms convoys.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @E. Olson

      “because of hereditary differences in brain function”

      AND the rich greedy bastards 😉

    • EP runs against the reified patriarchy speculative model. It makes re-engineering of human behavior for achieving social equality more problematic. Red flag confirmation bias.

  5. This is an excellent article. I don’t think many evolutionary psychologists themselves, appreciate just how important their discipline is in bringing about a Copernican, i.e. Darwinian, revolution in the social & political sciences, which are still stuck in a pre-Darwinian dark age, the reason for which I see as an overreaction to the evils of Nazi social Darwinism.

    There is no denying that Hitler took a Darwinian view of the world & abused it to justify his insane racial ideology, programs of eugenics & euthanasia, and wars of aggression, & there is an understandable fear that applying Darwinian logic to understanding human nature & society is bound to lead to the same views & consequences.

    And where there is fear, there is an opening for moral supremacists to claim a spurious moral authority for themselves, which is what all social & political scientists tend to do, not consciously, but as a matter of course. It is after all what their state employer pays them to do.

    The social & political sciences are supposed to be authorities in understanding social & political reality, but are no more so than medieval academics were in understanding physical & material reality. Never mind climate change, which is indeed a big threat, the BIGGEST threat to humanity is the ignorance of the social & political sciences, because of their refusal to apply evolutionary science to their field of supposed expertise.

    • E. Olson says

      You bring up an interesting point. Hitler (and Sanger and many other eugenicists) developing their “theories” before any real scientific proof, which means their theories and consequent sterilization/euthanasia polices were based solely on folklore and personal observations of different group characteristics and behaviors. In other words, these evil people didn’t need any DNA evidence or careful anthropological or experimental study to form their theories that certain groups were genetically inferior/flawed and should be eliminated for the common good.

      Thus it appears that Leftist efforts to hamper and villainize EP theorists and researchers is likely due to fears that widely held racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes are accurate and will be confirmed by the dissemination of EP research findings. And even though there is little likelihood that the radical eugenics policies advocated by Sanger and practiced by Hitler would ever receive popular support, I suspect there is real fear among the Left that such scientific confirmation might lead to popular support for tougher immigration policies (i.e. no entry for those with low IQ and/or violent tendencies who themselves and their children are likely to be wards of the state), abolition of affirmative action and racial/gender quotas (which can’t overcome genetic disadvantages), and toughening up of welfare eligibility rules for low IQ/mentally ill citizens (perhaps linking welfare eligibility with required use of long-term birth control implants or permanent sterilization).

      • Victoria says

        @E. Olsen

        Great point. Progressive Era eugenics and Nazism acted before we even knew what DNA was. Nazis just put a veneer of “science,” really no deeper than just applying that label, to what was really just a rationalization and continuation of a thousand years of tribalistic anti-Semitic persecution.

        You can see the very paranoia of which you speak in Paige Harden, a leftist who is also a behavioral geneticist. The eugenicists are always at the gates in her world. She seems a bit unstable, so I can actually see her cracking up and becoming a reactionary.

    • (Neo-) Darwinism would have to be true for this to be the case. But Neo-Darwinism is false. See Noble, Fodor.

      • Diogenes says

        …The conceptual framework (basically Noble) has already made its way into genetics textbooks, Ferguson-Smith says. “But in fact, the evidence for that is virtually nil.” In mammals, she explains, epigenetic marks are erased completely, and reprogrammed twice during the lifetime of an individual. The first wave of epigenetic erasure happens in primordial germ cells. Then the methylation comes back again in egg-specific marks and sperm-specific marks. And then, upon fertilization, that egg and that sperm meet and the marks are erased again. “So there’s two rounds of epigenetic reprogramming that occur in the germline that basically prevent any epigenetic marks from being transmitted from one generation to the next,” Ferguson-Smith explains. “People don’t seem to appreciate this.”…–not-the-rule-65511

    • Stephanie says

      I don’t see how Hitler’s perspective on Social Darwinism can be anything but pseudoscience. He had an a priori conclusion that “Aryans” were the best race, and considered Jews inferior even though (Ashkenazi) Jews had higher average IQs and blacks inferior even though they had greater physical prowess. Such a theory on racial hierarchies is incompatible with evidence, and thus nothing but ideology cloaked in scientific terminology. This is as close to biology as New Age nuts communicating with people in parallel dimensions has to do with physics.

  6. Emmanuel says

    The author of that article makes many good points but forget to add something very important : apart from biologists, most academics know very little about biology and evolution. It’s especially true in the humanities and social sciences, which does not prevent professors from those fields to attempt explaining every details of human behaviour and societies’ organisation.
    For those people, admitting that evolution contributes to shape human behaviour would mean :
    – acknowledging their ignorance and therefore the limitations of their expertise
    – acknowledging that their colleagues studying evolutionary biology are more qualified ( or rather have some qualifications that social scientists don’t have) to explain how societies work.
    – acknowledging that most of social sciences literature is at best incomplete and at worst entirely devoid of scientific value

      • Emmanuel says

        Academics from different fields compete with one another about legitimacy of their discipline to explain the world : “my discipline is the only one that can provide adequate explanation for such aspect of society / reality itself.” ” No; it’s mine”.
        Evolutionary social sciences not only blur the boundaries between disciplines, but they increase the status of evolutionary biology among those disciplines. For a social psychologist or a regular sociologist, that’s bad news.
        And for literary theoricists like Judith Butler who support the view that reality is discursive in nature and therefore only literary theory can explain it, it’s even worse.

    • Daniel V says

      As an auto didactic learner I found it very strange that applying evolutionary principles to human behaviour wasn’t a gold standard in academia. It has been my default way of thinking about things for as long as I can remember.

      And maybe it’s a sign of bias but it seems so obvious when observing how people behave. Like watching a group of boys go from quiet and calm to rowdy and rambunctious as soon as a girl appears on the scene. It’s clear they start competing for the female attention and doing a multitude of dumb things to try to impress. Just like females blushing themselves with make up or wearing revealing clothing are obviously trying to attract male attention.

      I can appreciate and understand why this is would be uncomfortable to the average person but can’t fathom why academics take issue. Except to say the conclusions are rubbing hard against their other beliefs.

      One of which holds particular interest for me: if we are to say humans are super natural and free from evolutionary pressure then who, what, where, when, and why did this happen? Any conclusion is going to require a super natural force at work and I believe many people are operating under the assumption of divinity while being unaware they are doing so. They call themselves non religious because they don’t engage with an organized religion yet operate as if they do believe.

      • X. Citoyen says


        People have known since time immemorial that boys compete for girls’ attention. So what does “they evolved that way” add to the knowledge you gleaned from the observation? It might be worth asking yourself whether the evolutionary explanation of the behaviour is really just a restatement of the observation with the verb “evolved” thrown in.

        • Alistair says

          X. Citoyen,

          Really? The verb “evolved” adds information by providing a theory, system of explanation, for the observation.

          “They evolved that way” = there is a genetic basis for their behaviour because such behaviour conferred advantage in natural selection for the genes associated with the behaviour..

          Like Darwin’s original theory of evolution, this is a tremendously powerful theory/insight because it is transcendental in form; it doesn’t require an added layer of “why” to explain itself. Unlike say, shouting “patriarchy” or “racism” to explain differences which just begs the question of “so why do people act from racism/patriarchy?” etc

          • X. Citoyen says


            “They evolved that way” = there is a genetic basis for their behaviour because such behaviour conferred advantage in natural selection for the genes associated with the behaviour.

            Where’s the evidence that rambunctious behaviour conferred an advantage and that it was selected for? There isn’t any. The explanation is circular: Boys evolved; boys need to attract mates; boys act rambunctious; therefore, boys act rambunctious to attract mates.

  7. “Scientists unanimously agree that the intricately designed human eye is an adapted organ, one that arose not by chance, but through the gradual process of natural selection”

    ‘designed’ is a poor choice of word for something that arose through natural selection, structured might be a better word.

  8. Nick Wade says

    This is a fantastic article, keep up the good work.

    • Jake Dee says

      Gaozi said, “The nature is like water swirling at a wellspring. If you dig a channel towards the east it will flow east; if you dig a channel towards the west it will flow west. Human nature makes no distinction between good and bad, just as water makes no distinction between east and west.”
      Mencius said, “It is true that water makes no distinction between east and west, but does it make no distinction between high and low? The good disposition of human nature is like water’s tendency to flow down. There are no men innately bad, just as there is no water that does not flow down. Now, by splashing you can make water leap up higher than your forehead, and by applying force you can make it stay up on a mountain, but how could this be the nature of water? It is merely a result of circumstances. The fact that men can be made to act badly just shows that human nature is like this as well.”

      Don’t you just love it when modern scientific inquiry runs parallel with ancient philosophy ? The social activists are trying to make water run uphill.

  9. Princess Underlove says

    This is a garbage propaganda article trying to imply that progressives are anti-science for being cautious about the pro-bigotry uses of EP.

    EP can be a decent extension of evolutionary theory to explain emergent human behavior, the idea that progressives oppose EP is nothing but a right-wing conspiracy theory. There are two types of EP, there is the lower case “evolutionary psychology” based on better research and a broader view of EP, and then there is upper case “Evolutionary Psychology” which is used to find selective, adaptationist explanations to the exclusion of others.

    The concerning part of this latter form of EP is that it constantly produces hyper-adaptationist unfalsifiable claims based on nothing more than speculation and, what a coincidence, those always seem to be cited by anti-feminists and white supremacists to justify their misogyny and racism.

    If you truly had an honest interest in EP you too would be concerned with the anti-progressive pop science dipshits giving the field a bad name when they pull justifications for all sorts of bigotry straight out of their ass and point to EP as their excuse.

    The perfect example for this is the bullshit study that self-proclaimed “evolutionary psychologists” conducted to explain why pink is a color for girls and blue is a color for boys:

    The comically idiotic, sexist explanation these “scientists” came up with was that girls prefer pink because they need to be better at picking berries, yet, in the early 1900s, pink was considered a color for boys because it was seen as a “stronger” color. This proves that the color choices for boys and girls were entirely socially constructed and the “scientists” were just using EP to justify their sexism.

    • Morgan Foster says

      @Princess Underlove

      You post a link to a 12-year-old Guardian review of a study, but not to the study itself.

      Please examine the study carefully and then return to critique the study, instead of merely posting a link to a mocking review in a newspaper not known for scientific accuracy.

      • Princess Underlove says

        @Morgan Foster

        The study itself in all of it’s hilarity is linked in the article. Maybe you should follow your own advice and read things carefully instead of dismissing it under the vague “not known for scientific accuracy”. Do you have any objection to the points raised in the article or are you just going to whine about the source?

        • Morgan Foster says

          @Princess Underlove

          You fail to show us the simple courtesy of reading and understanding the study before posting an indirect link to it and then you say I’m whining about the source?

          Please don’t ever change, Princess.

    • Asenath Waite says

      @Princelss Underlove

      Current Biology is an excellent peer-reviewed academic journal, with a very high impact factor > 9, placing it among the very top biology journals. They would not publish a “bullshit study.” Looking at the study itself, it seems to be well designed and robust. They use a large sample size of both white British and recent Chinese immigrant participants to control for cultural differences and the data show strong statistical significance. It does seem that there is a significantly greater preference among females for reddish hues than among males. The part about the berry-picking was only speculation in the discussion section of the paper about possible reasons why this preference might exist. The main point of the paper was simply demonstrating the existence of the preference, which it does pretty convincingly. An interesting study, really. I had been under the impression that the pink/blue color preference was completely socially constructed, but this study provides some pretty compelling evidence to the contrary. Thanks to you and the Guardian for helping me learn something new.

      • Stephanie says

        I began to doubt that the affinity of girls for pink was socially constructed when legions of feminist parents did all they could to prevent their daughters from liking pink, only to be be dismayed that their daughters demanded pink everything as soon as they could articulate an interest.

    • Simon Elliot says

      Just so you know, that “pink and blue used to be inverse!” argument you relativist imbeciles like to use, well it turns out it’s the counter-intuitive bullshit we sensed it was all along. As if a soft, sugary sweet colour like pink, synonymous with arousal and erogenous zones, would ever be considered masculine. You’re peddling irrational nonsense.

      • Asenath Waite says

        @Simon Elliot

        Interesting. Thanks for sharing that. I’d never really given this issue much consideration. The color preference seemed arbitrary but now I’m seeing it differently.

        • Alistair says

          I always wondered about the pink-blue reversal. It did seem a little strange; especially as no other colours were reputed to have undergone a similar “reversal” of social meaning.

          The source of my doubt was old paintings; noble families with children from the 17th century seemed to consistently be depicting girls in pink and boys in blue; in direct contravention to the pink-blue reversal theory.

  10. Martin Lawford says

    Evolutionary psychology is scientifically dubious because it is difficult if not impossible to apply the scientific method to it. You can form an hypothesis, make a prediction based on your hypothesis, but it is hard to design an experiment to test your prediction. All you can do is try to explain what has been observed, not try to predict what has not yet been observed, which is contrary to the scientific method. Even if you could design such an experiment to test an hypothesis from evolutionary psychology, the biggest problem in all of experimental psychology is its glaring failure of replicability.

    • It’s impossible to test the claim that trait X moved to fixation in virtue of its contribution to reproductive success in the OEE. You need a time machine but time machines don’t exist. So EP fails.

        • How can we test the claim that trait X moved to fixation in virtue of its contribution to reproductive success in the OEE?

    • Pauer_Haus says

      EP, with its poring over the ancestral hunter-gatherer environment and its contention that all significant adaptations happened prior to 10,000 years ago seems rather at odds with more recent and highly plausible theories of gene-culture coevolution advanced by Cochran, Harpending, Haidt and NYT science writer Nicholas Wade in his book A Troublesome Inheritance. Has EP as a field made any real attempt to countenance (or disprove) the idea that human evolution has been subject to fairly specific and strong selection pressures related to agriculture and animal domestication, or in Wade’s words, “recent, copious and regional”?

      • Andrew Worth says

        Pauer_Haus, I don’t see how EP is at odds with theories on gene-culture co-evolution, I first clicked to evolutionary influences on human behaviour after reading Desmond Morris’s book The Naked Ape about thirty years ago, I recently read Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, I see the two fitting together like hand and glove.

      • X. Citoyen says


        Good question. Evolution—or, as Darwin put it, “descent with modification through natural selection”—is the best explanation of speciation (i.e., the similarities and differences we observe among life forms). Sex selection, group selection, and human culture (including, apparently, human freewill) might throw a few twists into the account, but it still works better than anything else.

        Evolutionary psychology, on the other hand, is a pseudo-science wherein people dream up scientific-sounding backstories for various traits. These backstories sound plausible because they’re consistent with evolution. But they’re not verifiable, falsifiable, or even useful for anything other than storytime. This author flatters his discipline—all Galileos fighting the inquisition. But they’re no danger to anyone but taxpayers. The progressives’ real dragon is genetics.

        • You have not answered the question. The original post asked, “Evolutionary psychology is scientifically dubious because it is difficult if not impossible to apply the scientific method to it.” I would like to know how one can apply the scientific method to evolution if one cannot apply it to evolutionary psychology. The criticisms that, in evolutionary psychology “it is hard to design an experiment to test your prediction” and “all you can do is try to explain what has been observed” would seem to apply equally to evolution.

    • Stephanie says

      Martin, that is a narrow view of science. Similarly to EP, all of geology is the study of an experiment that ran once, under unknown and changing conditions, for which we have no record except for the products that exist now. Does that mean our understanding of Earth history is unscientific? No! We simply must design the “experiments” in different ways. For instance, if X is true, there should be a correlation between a and b, when adjusted for c and d. In order to explain what has been observed, you need to predict what would support that and generate that data to support (or not support) your hypothesis. The experiment has already run but that doesn’t mean you can’t collect data on the products of that experiment to understand what happened.

    • Simon Elliot says

      As with most (ostensibly) non-PC critics of evolutionary psychology, you need to put less emphasis on empiricism and more emphasis on rationalism. This “if it ain’t physical it don’t real” heckling is childish and insufferable.

  11. potato says

    What’s the explanation by evolutionary psychology for blank slatism and being against evolutionary psychology? After all, since basically everything about human behaviour can be explained via evolutionary psychology, being against evolutionary psychology and being a ‘blank slatist’ must have evolved some how right?

    The author states that the cause for this is the damn leftists and media socialization made everyone dislike evolutionary psychology. However, it seems unlikely that in the midst of this unprecedented pause in selection pressure on the human mind, sociocultural factors would swoop in and fashion human psychology exactly in line with what an evolutionary analysis would expect to find. Better to just cut out the middleman entirely and go with the more parsimonious evolutionary explanation.

  12. Farris says

    “After all, don’t evolutionary psychologists believe that we are predestined towards violence since it is in our genes?”

    “That our worst behaviors are hardwired, and therefore cannot be changed?”
    Yes and no.
    Humans ability to control impulses and urges are what makes us civilized. Culture most definitely affects how humans respond to these impulses. For example in Middle Eastern countries not in conflict, theft is relatively rare because the penalties are so severe. Middle Easterners are no better at impulse control than anyone else but the risk simply out weighs the reward. However the fact that humans develop culture and societies does not mean the animal brain simply melted away. Rather humans have domesticated their animal brains. Just because man has become a rational thinking animal does not mean he is no longer an animal.
    To deny that male and female brains would develop in response to their biological needs and impulses is to deny not only science but reality. The brain initially develops in response to the body it inhabits and the hormones that body possesses. This is primitive and has been predetermined since the arrival of sexual beings. Men and women share the common desire to reproduce but their roles differ according to their bodies, so naturally their brains would differ to accommodate their predestined role.

    The notion that we are all products of environment is preferable to some because environment can be regulated and controlled. Thus blank slate becomes not just a theory but a justification for authority to regulate, control and dictate behavior.

  13. Fantastic article by an undergraduate. Well done.

    The fiercely emotional responses by those who simply don’t want to believe evolution applies to the brain – but somehow applies to the body, as though evolution magically stops from the neck up, and applies to all other species except humans – only underscores how religious and irrational the equity movement is.

    Before, it was fundamentalist Christians who refused to believe in evolution because God made man in his own image and so on.

    Now it’s fundamentalist Equitists or whatever you want to call them. They have a core belief – they want to believe that we can have equitable results for all humans no matter gender or race but evil forces are at work preventing this. Like fundamentalist religious people,and more like the Catholic Church of old, they not only cling to this belief no matter what, they viciously attack anyone who dares speak outside the dogma. Their belief matters; thus any reality denying this belief must be attacked. They maintain their power through groupthink and collectivist tools of shame, threats, vicious mob attacks. The only difference is that the old Church was open about believing in God. These people, instead, pretend to themselves they are righteous, have the truth, and are the pinnacle of reason, and this is not religious at all.

    They believe we must have a world in which everyone can achieve equitable results and the only thing stopping this are nefarious man made forces such as racism and sexism and the patriarchy and capitalism. If we remove these forces, then we have paradise on earth, forever and always. Having genetic differences would make that impossible. Therefore, they deny the genetic differences no matter how strong the science. They just refuse to believe the science, use straw men (eg the poster here who pretends this is about pink and blue being genetically determined) or most often just use ad hominem attacks and guilt-by-association. Their mob bullying tactics make scientists afraid to even touch the research, which is going to be detrimental in the treatment of brain-based illnesses moving forward. Just an easy example– depression exhibits very differently in men and women and it stands to reason that the treatment may have to be different. Denying this possibility will harm women and men, not heal. Their own dogma is literally more important to them than peoples’ lives. I find it terrifying.

  14. David of Kirkland says

    Our bodies have evolved to not have fur, and so by logic, all who live in cold climates should be dead. Or we can wear clothing. Solving “deficiencies” of nature is what the human mind has been resolving forever, to overcome our natural limitations. It’s why we can drive faster than any runner; produce more food than we can eat; lift more weight; see farther and over a wider spectrum; measure temperatures precisely; etc.

    Lastly, since white skin cannot handle the sun as well, white people must be defective in sunny climates. Or perhaps they wear sunscreen or clothing/hats/umbrellas.

    Nature is one thing. How we behave is almost entirely a set of acts determined to mitigate the brutality of nature.

    • MMS says

      Wonderfully Stated… I wonder of the fools on the Left and the jokers on the Right will be able to comprehend such thoughts…

  15. Somewoman says

    I’m not opposed to innate group differences existing, but I am also not convinced that observing the existence of a difference constitutes information that counts as evolutionary psychology. Men tend to be more violent. True but that’s just an observation of the present. It’s not an explanation of how or why we got here. We could probably hypothesize how we did get here since we can observe the same pattern between males of other species. But there are so many cases where we have no likely explanation for why we observe what we do. For example, Asians have greater average mathematical aptitude than whites. Is the fact that we observe this finding consistently through standardized testing enough to claim the fact is a finding of evolutionary psychology? We have no evolutionary explanation for why this disparity came to exist. Shouldn’t evolutionary psychology actually strive to explain why something evolved as it did?

    • Asenath Waite says


      When studying evolution it is sometimes possible to explain how things evolved (via fossil record etc.) but usually not possible to do much more than hypothesize about why things evolved, because there is no way to test these hypotheses through experimentation. One hypothesis that could potentially go some ways to explaining the differences in intelligence between different human populations is that greater selective pressure for intelligence was placed on humans living in harsher and more unforgiving climates, including the colder climates of in parts of Asia and Europe. There’s some evidence that this is the case for some bird species, where more intelligent species tend to be found in habitats where food is more scarce and selective pressures are therefore higher. It seems plausible to me but there isn’t a way to demonstrate with certainty that this was the case for human evolution.

      • Somewoman says

        The harsher climate thing is a hypothesis but I think an it’s unlikely one because our close Neanderthal and denisovan relatives expanded out into the same harsh climate areas and lived there for hundreds of thousands of years without showing any signs of the level of intelligence modern humans have. Their tool making and artistic capabilities were far more limited and slower to improve.

        For the most part, animals who live in harsh climates don’t evolve more intelligence though there are probably some exceptions. Musk ox look pretty dumb to me. But there is hardly a mammal that braves a harsher climate.

        • Asenath Waite says


          Well just because other species have adapted to harsh climates in other ways doesn’t mean that Homo sapiens didn’t adapt through increased intelligence. Perhaps for neanderthals other types of genetic mutations proved to have higher fitness value within their species. And ultimately it didn’t work out well for them, at any rate. As I said though, there is no real way to actually test these hypotheses. But the presence of animal species with low intelligence in harsh environments doesn’t doesn’t disprove this hypothesis with regard to human evolution.

        • Jake Dee says

          And those of us who had no Neanderthal or Denisovan ancestors or had them to a greater or lesser degree, what then ?

        • Alistair says

          Actually, animals in cold climates are indeed more intelligent; because they are larger, on average, than in warm climates, and have larger brain mass. But that’s entirely because of thermal equilibrium trades.

          I’m not sure cold climates directly stresses intelligence much (it must do at the margin; no other animal has a fraction of the range of humans; and our expansion beyond the native savannah depended upon at least a certain level to access new biomes. Some, like space and underwater, we only got into recently.). But the cold certainly drives a whole series of adaptive mechanisms, many of them quite recent in evolutionary history. My money would be on genes related to group co-operation, trust, conscientiousness and sociability. These are what you need to survive outside the tropics.

    • “Shouldn’t evolutionary psychology actually strive to explain why something evolved as it did?”

      Not necessarily.
      I mean, it does strive to explain.

      But sometimes that leaves scientists falling back on simplistic stereotypes and unconscious biases. For instance, I remember ‘learning’ that men had narrow hips so they could carry spears. This was presented as a fact.

      And other times, there is no reason. It is hard to tell what is evolved because of a direct need – e.g., people in northern climates presumably evolved to digest lactose past infancy because they used dairy for food for adults – versus some trait that is either neutral or accidental or outright dangerous. When you look at the mess ups in evolution it becomes more clear that the system doesn’t always have explanations. It’s about whether the overall genes survive to reproduce, the overall pluses versus minuses. For instance, the human birth canal can barely contain the large head of human babies—millions of women and babies have died throughout our history because of this. There is no ‘reason’ for this. It is simply because human babies evolved to have enormous heads and human hips can’t be structurally wide enough for that. It’s a glitch.

      But often one effect is a positive, neutral, or negative side effect of something else that is advantageous. So to use your example, Asian people can be better at math (if the data is correct and it is genetic and not cultural) as a side effect of something else. For instance, the genes responsible for having, say, less hair on their bodies (I’m just tossing this out as an example, not as anything real) could, by happenstance, be involved also in a producing a protein that impacts brain development and render the brains better at spatial ability. This secondary characteristic could then offer an advantage, disadvantage, or be neutral. If an advantage, there are then two reasons for the gene to propagate.

      Just because we don’t know the immediate purpose of an evolutionary or genetic trait, doesn’t mean that trait doesn’t exist.

      • somewoman says

        “Just because we don’t know the immediate purpose of an evolutionary or genetic trait, doesn’t mean that trait doesn’t exist.”

        Yeah but if we don’t know anything about the evolutionary purpose of the trait, what is the field of evo psych telling us? What is the empirically validated content of this academic field?

        Many twin studies and adoption studies have been used to estimate the heritability of traits within a developed world setting. But those studies aren’t usually called evo psych studies. They are just studies on heritability. What does evo psych do?

        I suppose you could conduct studies to identify genes that correlate with psycholigical predispositions and then do historical population genetics to determine when those genes entered a population and where/who they seemed to come from. I dont think this has been done yet, but I guess that could be called an evo psych study.

      • Alistair says


        Generally good, but I think you underestimate the power of evolution and the underlying economics/game theory. Genes don’t have to be universally adaptive : just generally adaptive. They are happy to roll the dice if the payoff if favourable on average, even at the risk of accepting the odd catastrophe.

        “For instance, the human birth canal can barely contain the large head of human babies—millions of women and babies have died throughout our history because of this. There is no ‘reason’ for this. It is simply because human babies evolved to have enormous heads and human hips can’t be structurally wide enough for that. It’s a glitch.”

        It’s not a glitch – it’s an accepted risk for maximising the propagation of the genes. Sure, you lose 1 in 10 babies and mothers due to complications, say, but the survivors have 20% greater chance of reproductive success with their big brains… that’s a win!

        Sickle-cell anaemia is the classic example. 1 copy of the relevant gene helps protects you from Malaria. 2 is lethal. It’s not a glitch – it’s a reasonable risk in response to a malaria infested pre-modern environment.

        • Yes, @Alistair, I agree. But I said as much in my post, though I didn’t spell it out as much as you do; perhaps you didn’t read past the sentence you quote? For example, I wrote: “It’s about whether the overall genes survive to reproduce, the overall pluses versus minuses.”

    • X. Citoyen says


      You’re exactly right. Evolutionary psychology adds nothing to our understanding of anything. IQ is a good example of this. IQ is indispensable for selection processes like university admission and assessing people for military occupation. It would also be nice to know whether IQ is heritable and how much is, what if anything affects development, etc. But evolutionary psych won’t tell us anything about any of this. Empirical psychology and genetics will. So to whom is evolutionary psychology a danger? Good question.

    • Alistair says


      I think you’re slightly confused RE :(east) Asians: Observed higher East Asia IQ isn’t generally attributed to EP; which is more concerned with the reasons for behaviours than genotype differences.

      The reasons for group differences in IQ are indeed a part of the field Intelligence studies, and human evolution generally; but EP is not the sub-set that deals with them.

  16. Sydney says

    FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, ‘Quillette,’ I BEG YOU! Please hire a copy-editor or proofreader! You’re killing some of us out here.

    “…suggesting that boy’s ‘tendency towards violence isn’t…'”

    • Lol, agreed! Had the same thought. Unfortunately, it really takes away from the professionalism.

      Note to Quillette: I copy-edit and I’d be down for that. 🙂

    • Pauer_Haus says

      @Sydney –
      Count the missing commas in this one: “Additionally, Rippon’s comments in this article have been criticized by Debra Soh an expert in human sexuality and Larry Cahill an expert in neurobiology.”

      • Sydney says

        @Pauer_Haus and @d

        Hahaha! Good to know I’m not alone. You’ve gotta laugh, otherwise you’ll paper-cut yourself to death out of frustration. Or hang yourself on hanging file folders. Or jump off a cliffsnotes (dot com). Professional copy-editors and proofreaders die hard. Or flat or folded.

  17. Asenath Waite says

    Many people just don’t want to believe that we are animals. You see a number of examples of this here in this thread. It seems to come from both a religious perspective mostly on the right, and also increasingly now from an identity politics perspective on the left. However, we are animals like other animals. Instead of evolving sharper teeth to survive, we evolved larger brains. It’s just common sense, and all those who go out of their way to deny it seem to be just doing so in defense of their particular religious or political ideology.

        • Asenath Waite says

          Sorry for the multiple posts. I constantly get errors on this site and can’t tell if my post went through or not. Then I have to alter the content slightly to try again.

  18. “A description of human nature is in no way a prescription for how we ought to be.”

    Here is the problem, a lot of people think they are God and can determine how we are going to be. People argue about human nature as if they have the power to change it. Human beings are not responsible for human nature. We are not a self-made species. You cannot reboot human evolution to produce a different outcome. Winning an argument is not going to determine how things are going to be from now on. Equally foolish is opposing those who strive to change human nature. Their efforts are futile and don’t require any opposition, unless they are inconveniencing you before their ultimate failure takes effect.

    • Asenath Waite says

      @Robert S. Robbins

      Well, attempts to change human nature can have disastrous effects. Communism is a notable example. So I think opposition to such ideas that conflict with human nature is in order, because these ideas will just lead ultimately to misery. We need to understand human nature in order to understand the confines in which we’re working when we seek to build a harmonious society.

    • Andrew Worth says

      Robert S. Robbins, Such people are always inconveniencing others by trying to impose actions to advance their cause, so they should always be opposed.

  19. Blue Lobster says

    The antipathy of RaceRealist et al as well as Princess Underlove et al toward this article and evolutionary psychology more generally originates in their mutual religiosity.

    While, in the former, this doctrinaire inclination is of the traditional variety of God-fearing reverence, the piousness of the latter stems from the orthodoxy of the postmodernist creed. Each clings to “their truth” with increasing desperation as the rising tide of THE truth inexorably encroaches upon their respective islands of belief.

    They are far from allies, however, despite their common attachment to modes of thinking which reject empiricism for they exist in opposing ideological camps whose specific delusions have led them eventually to converge upon similar judgments with regard to the validity of the concept of Darwinian evolution of the mind. Each finds the claims made therein abhorrent and rejects them reflexively as such, but the various sensibilities offended are quite at odds.

    The RaceRealist clan reacts by making untestable assertions which seek ultimately to demonstrate the existence of the supernatural as well as the innate and adamantine chasm which separates it from the natural. The Princess Underlove set, for whom offense is a core tenet, respond both with bile as well as feeble attempts to support their convictions which present a superficial sheen of scientific objectivity (an obviously hypocritical tactic for the postmodernist which invalidates the first principles thereof) but upon closer examination invariably reveal themselves to be ideological instruments.

    It seems, in the end, what we have are two churches whose mutually incompatible dogmas have led them to be both at war with one another as well as the unchurched and heterodox who reject the precepts of each.

  20. Colin Johansson says

    To answer the original question — the dislike of evolutionary psychology comes precisely from:

    The postmodern conception that “science” is not an objective field of inquiry and that nothing can be truly known or proven.
    Fearing the study of genetic phenotypes in populations — at some point. Moreover, concrete proof that humans have evolutionarily evolved from different groups, which would lament those prescient differences.
    After concluding the second, not being able to state that every social inequity is a by-product of social construction and system racism.

    Evolutionary psychology, like any modern scientific field of inquiry, will increasingly fall under attack by those who state: “there is no such thing as race.”

    • Karen Murphy says

      I thought the feelings about race were that, as most people are not specifically one race but a bit of a mixed bag that studies in regard to race deliver mostly inconsequential results.

  21. Jim Gorman says

    Phenotype studies are going to come whether people like it or not. DNA analysis and the gene combinations that control our very makeup will continue and will identify individual genes and combination of genes that control our bodies. This will find differences in races, groups, sexes, etc. There will be no defying it.

    • Asenath Waite says

      @Jim Gorman

      “There will be no defying it.”

      Radical leftist academia requests that you hold zir beer.

  22. X. Citoyen says

    This reads like the plot of Borges story: Fake scholars attacking a fake science in an effort to protect their fantasy politics. Evolutionary psychology is the fan-fiction of biological evolution. It produces no falsifiable or testable hypotheses and can explain nothing in particular that evolution doesn’t explain in general.

    The author’s also wrong that evolutionary psychologists don’t commit the naturalistic fallacy. He writes:

    But what evolutionary psychologist is Gould imagining that would take evolutionary theory as an invitation to escape moral responsibility for committing a crime? It must have been one made of straw.

    I’m assuming you’re misinformed rather than disingenuous. Steven Pinker defended “neonaticide” (very, very different from infanticide) by appeal to evolutionary psychology. Jerry Coyne has argued for euthanizing disabled children on the same grounds—we’re just apes after all. Evolutionary psychologists have also written on monogamy and homosexuality, never presuming to speak morally, of course– “Oh no, not us! We’re just scientists telling you whether your behaviour is natural and adaptive or unnatural and maladaptive. No unspoken lessons here, people.”

    • Asenath Waite says

      @X. Citoyen

      Despite the fact that evolutionary psychology doesn’t produce testable hypotheses, it still follows from general evolution. For the most part no aspects of evolutionary history are actually experimentally testable, other than in terms of basic principles using model systems. But natural selection and evolution are nonetheless obviously real phenomena, and therefore so is evolutionary psychology.

      • We can’t observe and perform experiments on the evolution of humans although we can and do quite easily on rapidly reproducing species.

        Evolution itself has made many testable predictions and can be experimentally observed. It predicted for example that there would be a mechanism for inheritance which combined inputs from the parents and occasionally has copy errors leading to changes. All this long before knowledge of DNA.

        Evolutionary psychology also makes many obvious predicitions which can be tested. Mental traits and characteristics must be inheritable at least to an extent – testable, the biochemistry of the brain will be substantially similar with similar effects for the same compounds across different animals including humans – testable. It is the case that EP can be used to construct glib explanations for almost any aspect of human behaviour which are difficult to test. The difficulty in testing specific theories does not detract from the fact that we are the products of evolution albeit ones also affected by the environment and that applies to our minds just a smuch as our bodies.

        • X. Citoyen says


          In addition to what I said to AW, I’ll address this:

          Mental traits and characteristics must be inheritable at least to an extent – testable, the biochemistry of the brain will be substantially similar with similar effects for the same compounds across different animals including humans – testable.

          This is empirical psychology and genetics, which I have no issue with. But it’s not EP, and you don’t need EP to do this. Like I said above, EP is scientific fan-fiction.

      • I don’t understand this “testable hypothesis” business.

        For example, males commit a disproportionate share of violence and sexual assaults.

        Is this a learned behavior, or does it relate to the biology of human males?

        If violence and sexual assault are learned behaviors, then presumably they can be unlearned and eliminated.

        On the other hand, if violence and sexual assault is (sometimes) an effective strategy to spread your genes far and wide, then there would adaptive pressure in favor of some males pursuing these strategies, and further, you might see widespread differences between geographically distinct populations (for example, depending on the strength and duration of an existing centralized government implementing death sentences for such crimes).

        [Further, if the pattern persisted when members of one geographically distinct population was moved and assimilated with another population that displayed a lower basal rate of offenses, this might suggest empirical evidence that the differences have a significant relationship with genes and biology, and are not simply cultural.]

        There are empirical studies on selection for height in human populations which are empirical, and would fall into the domain of evolutionary psychology, and have not been “discredited” because they don’t directly contradict any of the doctrinal tenets of the social justice faith.

      • X. Citoyen says


        There’s a motte and bailey here. The motte is every trait evolved so our psyche evolved. I’m not disputing the motte. The bailey is that this or that trait evolved in this or that reason. All such hypotheses—so long as they’re consistent with natural selection—will be speculative because they will be underdetermined by evidence, which means there will be no way to decide between two competing hypotheses and that any hypothesis can be modified to fit recalcitrant evidence. A good example of this is the famous EP theory about facial symmetry. I already commented about this on Quillette:

        But things get worse for EP when we look at the logic of evolution. Unlike theories and models in physics, evolution is an inference to the best explanation. Darwinian evolution is the best explanation for the biological taxonomy. Add in genetics and everything turns into working out the details. From a logical standpoint, there’s a weakness in the theory because, oddly enough, it predicts that you can’t really formulate precise predictions. There will always be some randomness in mutations, environments, and so on. A couple of counterfactuals will clarify this.

        We can physically manipulate genes to cause mutations or cause mutations to be selected (e.g., antibiotic resistance is a result of natural selection through manipulating the environment). But if evolution is true, we should not be able to cause a mutation by manipulating the environment. Raising rats in the dark, for example, should not cause a mutation that allows them to see in the dark. If it does, well, we’re back to Lamarck.

        We should not be able to predict the emergence of a particular trait either. If it is possible to predict, say, that purple eyes will emerge in the next three generations, and this and similar predictions work out, we’d have to seriously consider some variation of intelligent design. All we should be able to observe at the genetic level is that mutations occur with some frequency and that mutations have happened in the past and become widespread in the population. It should be (and is) much harder to say what exactly caused any given mutation to spread with a high degree of certainty because there’s no necessity causing them to spread—to borrow Dawkins’s expression, the watchmaker is blind. This is also why EP can’t predict anything.

        But what about retrodiction? Why can’t we look backwards at how traits we can observe evolved? The same basic reason. Every trait has evolved, yes, but there doesn’t have to be a reason for any given one. Nature is inefficient: What survives, survives, what spreads, spreads. Maladaptations can thrive if there’s no pressure on them. Millions of years of adaptations can be wiped out by an asteroid, a flood, or an ice age. Trying to gin up explanations only gets you the facial symmetry theories that can’t be confirmed or refuted. You get convoluted tales about how blue eyes, homosexuality, and wealthy couples who don’t have children and mothers who kill them.

    • Colin Johansson says

      It is fallacious to separate evolutionary psychology from evolution in general. In reality, (EP) is just a mere sub-field of evolutionary studies.

      One comparison would be like asserting that ENT’s (ear, nose, and throat) doctors add nothing which internal medicine cannot likewise explain. The dillema is obvious: they are both doctors, and (ENT) is a sub-specialty.

      Moreover, falsification — from Popper’s view — is a hurdle for every new theory. However, it only means that once something is either proven false or a better theory explains the subject-matter: it can be replaced without fallacy.

      Does one have a better theory than evolutionary psychology?

      Just to add, read my original comment regarding “objective science.” There are actually postmodernists who believe that modern medicine is not valid and falsifiable. Therefore, it is unlikely consensus can be reached on the subject.

      • X. Citoyen says

        It is fallacious to separate evolutionary psychology from evolution in general. In reality, (EP) is just a mere sub-field of evolutionary studies.

        I’m unfamiliar with the fallacy of separating disciplines, please enlighten me.

        One comparison would be like asserting that ENT’s (ear, nose, and throat) doctors add nothing which internal medicine cannot likewise explain. The dillema is obvious: they are both doctors, and (ENT) is a sub-specialty.

        What does an ENT know that’s unknown to medicine in general?

        Moreover, falsification — from Popper’s view — is a hurdle for every new theory. However, it only means that once something is either proven false or a better theory explains the subject-matter: it can be replaced without fallacy.

        You’re confusing falsification—proving something wrong—with falsifiability, which is a criterion for assessing hypotheses. The hypothesis that “the moon is made of green cheese” is falsifiable (we can go to the moon and get a sample) and has been falsified (we did and its not green cheese).

        Does one have a better theory than evolutionary psychology?

        Evolutionary psychology isn’t a theory, it’s alleged to be a science. Evolution is the theory, and I have no dispute with it.

        Just to add, read my original comment regarding “objective science.”

        You haven’t inspired me with the confidence thus far.

        There are actually postmodernists who believe that modern medicine is not valid and falsifiable.

        Look on the bright side, if they all go the homeopathic route, natural selection will take care of what arguments can’t. That’s evolutionary psychology I can get behind.

        • Colin Johansson says

          Your original assertion was that (EP) evolutionary psychology explains nothing which evolution cannot generally surmise.

          That is illogical because they are not merely distinct fields. Evolutionary psychology is a sub-field of evolutionary theory. So, when asserting that evolutionary psychology does not explain any theory independent of evolution: the point is already implicitly understood. Why would evolutionary psychology produce anything distinct from evolution?

          Now, if one argued that (EP) cannot fundamentally explain evolution — then that would be a different argument altogether.

          As for the comparison of the (ENT) ear, nose, and throat sub-specialty to internal medicine: the same logic would apply. Ear, nose, and throat is a sub-field within internal medicine. Hence, why one must compete medical school and residency before undertaking a specialty fellowship. Why would an (ENT) know/practice anything that is unknown to medicine? It is nothing more than one sub-field of internal medicine; however, one cannot reduce the parts to invalidate the whole — or vice-versa.

          Furthermore, the only mistake regarding falsifiability was my spell-check. The example regarding the moon and green cheese is a prescient example of what would be an external, testable hypothesis predicated on real phenomena. Moreover, I would not expect much resistance from that observation. However, the burden of falsifiability does not have to necessary be testable — at least not immediately. There are many abstract theories which are exceedingly difficult to replicate and disprove. One such example would be string theory. The major criticism of such complex theoretical approaches to physics has been replication and falsifiability. Let’s be honest, how many individuals can falsify some of the most complex, inherently abstract theories in the physical sciences? Popper’s idea of falsifiability must be interpreted with caution. In general, if a theory can be proven false or replaced over time: it “may” be. However, once again, we breach some uncharted areas in regards to physics.

          Both evolutionary psychology and general evolution are theories in the same field. (EP) merely specializes in the evolution of psychology and behavior. One cannot separate the two — even though they are not technically comparable because (EP) is not a distinct entity outside of evolution theory.

          Perhaps the one thing we can agree upon is hoping that the postmodernists’ believe that medical treatment is a facet of the racist patriarchy. However, many of those imbecilic mongoloids are the type to “not have children because of climate change,” anyways. Much good it would ultimately do.

  23. Nicholas C Morano says

    It seems incontestable to me that human behavior is largely a product of natural selection, and obvious that to suggest otherwise would be to exclude human beings from the rest of nature. Intuitively, I believe that violence and competition are products of natural selection. The buck is not conditioned by deer culture to battle other bucks near a receptive doe. When Homer composedThe Iliad, he was expressing not Greek nature but Human nature.

    That being said, I share some concerns with Noam Chomsky when he criticizes the field for starting on admittedly solid theoretical grounds (human psychology is a product of natural selection) and then purporting to explain phenomena that are too complex for the experimental procedures to adequately describe. IQ is often made use of, and I’m skeptical about how much performance measures can actually tell us about innate cognitive capabilities. Performance on a test is more than a few steps removed from data that is clean of confounding variables.

    • Alistair says

      But the test has stability and predictive power! The test is a good measure of “something” innate that reliably predicts capability across life outcomes and job performance, and indeed the full suite of mental tasks. It’s also (almost) unidimensional.

      So whether you want to use the label “IQ” or “innate cognitive abilities” or whatever for that something is a bit of a distraction over semantics, frankly.

      • Nicholas C Morano says

        There’s a lot of work by prominent cognitive scientists disputing the reliability of IQ tests as a measure for general intelligence. Kahneman and Tversky are a good place to start.

  24. Tony says

    Col. Nathan R. Jessep to the opponents of EP, “You can’t handle the truth!”

    • Alistair says

      Actually, it’s more like declaration of the opponents of EP to the rest of us.

      The PoMO / Left crowd know, on a least a subconscious level, and greatly fear the truth of EP. They just believe the unwashed masses can’t handle it without ushering a cross between Gilead and the Third Reich. Everyone must pretend it is not true for the system of social justice to continue working.

  25. Fickle Pickle says

    How incredibly boring!
    And boringly reductionist too!

    He doesn’t even begin to write about the higher dimensions of human possibility. For instance the function of the chakra system especially the heart chakra and the ones above it in the psycho-physical structure of the human body-mind complex. And the glands, which are associated with these chakras, such as the thymus, the pineal and the pituritary

    The heart chakra is described as the Spiritual Heart in the mystical traditions. It is also the key to the evolutionary development of Man, both as an individual (one at a time) and the human species as a whole.

    Even in the 1980’s anatomists could identify many of the key physiological factors in the affair of converting degenerative patterns of stress chemistry into the regenerative, transformative, blissful chemistry of Spiritual Ecstasy. For instance, the thymus gland, in the upper center of the chest, is directly related to the subtle or astral heart, or what has traditionally been called the heart chakra.
    The thymus gland is a primary key to the body’s response to stress. If the thymus is weak and contracted, we feel a physical contraction in the heart and the solar plexus, even throughout the entire body, and we are afraid.
    The depressed thymus gland secretes a chemical message that triggers all the rest of the glands of the body into a Life-negative, contractive pattern. It triggers the total body to react to stress, to attempt to survive, to reproduce endlessly, to struggle for food, to continue to kill, and to animate the distress of all the rest of our vital and elemental motives.
    Such heart-stress triggers the entire limbic system – the structures in the brain concerned with emotion and visceral responses – and the other mechanisms of the brain core that relate to stress. Thus, under this chemically caused stress we are always ready with anger for self-defense and attack, lust for reproduction, and cravings of all kinds, and we are continually subject to sorrow and fear and guilt and shame

    • Fickle Pickle says

      Since all of this is so, the thymus gland must become the generative center of a new and Life-positive response to the conditions of existence. Each individual must get their heart to function differently. We must become psychically awakened, whereby the heart or deep psyche is naturally free of the reactive patterns that cause the stress-signalling biochemical secretions of the thymus gland and all the other parts of the endocrine. We must realize the disposition of the heart that is in its native state, free of the chronic tendency toward reactive emotions. Then we can live in the Life-positive emotion of love, or natural, whole body radiance.
      Having accomplished this transformation we can become equipped with the higher chemical advantages that stimulate body blissfulness, interior or astral forms of perception, psychic capabilities, extrasensory perception, and the like. We must adapt and evolve in our yogic and mystical use of the right hemisphere of the brain, as well as in our verbal-conceptual use of the left hemisphere.

      The question of course is how does the individual accomplish this rare transformation?
      He or she must come into the sphere, influence and guidance of someone who has already Realized this transformation. A Threshold personality which of course are quite rare, especially in the Western world.

  26. The question posed by the title to this article is somewhat surprising. After all, the answer has been obvious for the better part of a century. It was given in detail by Robert Ardrey back in 1961 in Chapter 6 (“The Romantic Fallacy”) of his “African Genesis.” Ardrey’s answer was confirmed by the high priests of the Blank Slate themselves in “Man and Aggression,” edited by Ashley Montagu and published in 1968. Therein the main proponents of the reality and significance of human nature were subjected to all the now familiar denunciations of racism, fascism, ultra-right wingism, etc., etc. If you want to go back even further, look at the article entitled “The Problem of Motive,” by H. M. Parshley that appeared in the August 1928 edition of H. L. Mencken’s “American Mercury.”

    In short, the Marxists and various other zealots of the left required perfectly malleable human beings to occupy the assorted utopias they had concocted for us. That’s why they eagerly swallowed the behaviorist dogmas promoted by the likes of John B. Watson, who famously wrote,

    “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select–doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and, yes, even beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.”

    To paraphrase E. O. Wilson, “Great theory, wrong species.” In short, the answer to the author’s question is easily accessible to anyone who takes the time to consult the historical source material.

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  28. People forget the Blank Slate arose in the context of an epistemological dispute between a Platonic theory of knowledge centered around innate ideas (and the persistence of memory) and an Aristotelian tradition of knowledge based on sense experience (later scooped up by the English Empiricists).

    Working backwards, the Blank Slate falls –> Knowledge is based on only sensation falls as well –> Knowledge presupposes innate ideas and a general Platonic anthropology. [At very least, you need instinct, but there is no reason to rule out more complex innate abilities, what with baby rats remembering traumatic stimuli from their mothers.] Moreover, genes and genetic theory provides a potential physical mechanism for the transmission of “innate ideas” across generations.

    Its not like Platonic and Neo-Platonic thought can just be translated into a modern idiom, it will require careful reworking, but Platonic epistemology is actually more consistent with the picture developing from the natural sciences than English empiricism–a point that seems to be lost on folks like Pinker and Coyne.

  29. Victoria says

    I think Gould, Lewiston, and company knew that with atheism there is no such thing as objective morality. They thus stake a socially-constructed morality based on the human mind, but not body, being a Blank Slate. Of course the irony is their Marxism directly caused far more deaths by far in the 20th Century in the name of equality than the pseudo-scientific racism of the Nazis and Japanese Empire.

  30. DNY says

    It seems to me that there are a number of sources of resistance or objection (depending on your view of their validity) to evolutionary psychology:

    First is adherence to a tabula rasa view of human nature, which leads one to reject any account of human nature which describe an immutable human nature.

    Second (exemplified, in a rather un-nuanced way, by our poster @RaceRealist) is adherence to a non-physicalist philosophy of mind.

    And third is an objection not to the notion of the possible validity of neo-Darwinism as an explanation of human psychology, but to evolutionary psychology in practice as a lot of what Gould would call “just so stories”, which conveniently offer explanations within the Darwinian paradigm for what is observed, but in a way which is both unfalsifiable and unverifiable.

    • The “unfalsifiable and unverifiable” canard may have flown back in the 60’s, but it is absurd now. Read, for example, “Blueprint” by Robert Plomin, in which you will find described hundreds of highly replicable experiments with infants, twins, etc., that enable falsifiable, verifiable predictions to be made about the genetic contributions to a wide range of human behaviors. “Behave” by Robert Sapolsky has many other good examples. Perhaps the problem is that the behavioral geneticists are doing the heavy lifting these days, not the evolutionary psychologists. Indeed, read the journals of the evolutionary psychologists and you will find that they seem obsessed with abstruse aspects of sexual behavior, and are extremely shy of touching any subject that might conceivably conflict with the ideological narratives that prevail in academia. The field appears to have undergone a process of Gleichschaltung with the prevailing culture. Evolutionary psychologists today are more interested in appearing morally pure as defined in that culture than in doing work of real relevance to the human condition.

      • DNY says

        “…the behavioral geneticists are doing the heavy lifting these days, not the evolutionary psychologists.”

        Indeed. The third of my suggested objections is leveled at evolutionary psychology, not behavioral genetics.

      • Karen Murphy says

        I was also going to mention Robert Sapolsky’s book “Behave” which is worth reading by any evolutionary psychologist (he is a neurobiologist, I believe) . His chapters on hormones describe how levels of testosterone don’t determine levels of aggression, which suggests that the expression of evolutionary traits, which obviously favoured at some point the development of testosterone is more unpredictable than the author assumes.

        Also, in response to the difference between male and female brains, he describes how species where males are more developed either in size or plumage are more likely to either foster more children through acting as the soul male in a group of females or not engaging with the female after copulation (lions for example) while species where the male and females resemble each other more are more likely to share child rearing and mate for long periods (emperor penguins). Humans are somewhere in between. The fascinating suggestion from this wonderful book is that species change and adapt through evolution and these mating styles can vary quite dramatically between closely related species. This suggest that evolution does determine how males and females behave but the differences between the sexes can change dramatically in relation to how they adapt to their environments over relatively short periods of time.

  31. Richard says

    What explains resistance to evolutionary psychology has nothing to to with science and everything to do with too-poorly understood history. Two things – Nazism and American slavery are the source; the well-deserved revulsion both of those evils caused makes it culturally difficult to discuss anything that includes characterizing human behavioral attributes by race or creed.

  32. Ashley Squishy says

    “This asymmetry in minimum parental investment is prevalent in mammals because it’s the females that gestate and lactate, whereas males contribute a morsel of sperm.”

    You neglected to add the uncertainty of paternity.

    “That fierce intrasexual competition in males has characterized the evolutionary history of many animal species is evidence by the evolution of weapon-like phenotypes in males: deer antlers, rhino horns, narwhal tusks, to name a few.21 These weapons are devoted to competing with other males for access to mates.”

    Some male insects have developed appendages to scrape out the sperm left in females with whom they mate from prior couplings, thus providing a greater certainty of paternity. Male black widow spiders, who usually make the supreme sacrifice after mating, plug the female’s genital orifice with a waxy substance preventing them from further mating at least until the current clutch of eggs is fertilized.

  33. While I appreciate this article written by an undergrad psychology student, allow me to explain my position – I don’t have a problem with evolutionary psychology – I have a problem with the entire field of psychology.

  34. Evolution is deeply offensive to human sensibilities. The question of why that is might be of interest to, well, to evolutionary psychology.

    Why do we believe in biological evolution? Because we’re taught to in schools, and any other theory is ridiculed. All this conditioning overrides out natural aversion to the idea at a young age.

    (The theory is supported by fossil evidence and all that, but that’s not why the average person believes it. Belief is not based on merit. It just isn’t.)

    It helps that we’re not forced to think about it very much. The average person has no real understanding of the theory. He just thinks “okay, we descended from apes, whatever” and goes on with his daily business.

    The trouble with social Darwinism is it has policy implications, forcing us to think about it, and we just don’t like it. EvPsych might have a touch of that problem, but the main thing is that society hasn’t yet been conditioned to accept evolutionary theory in this particular context. So we disbelieve by default, because it’s icky to us.

  35. Peter says


    None of you, nor the author, mention the ideology ‘The ghost in the machine’ which is central to the irrationalists’ ideology (Karl Popper) which includes romanticism, Marxism, post-modernism (Steven Pinker, Stephen Hicks). That ideology is a legacy from our primitive brain: Magical powers, energy floating around us that the brain can master, etc. You should consider the possibility that, that ideology is an entry door to the social construction ideology. The idea that by our almighty brain, we can create reality.
    (The book the blank slate by Pinker is focused on three ideologies: Blank slate, good savage and the ghost in the machine)

    I wish you all a good day.

  36. Alex says

    One very important point I should have made as soon as this article was published was to let you all know that the editor changed the original title I intended this article to have, which was, “Ideological Bias Against Evolutionary Psychology.” This title is more true to the content of this article which is about my criticisms of people who have rejected evolutionary psychology on ideological grounds rather than scientific ones. I’m not trying to claim in this article that there are no viable scientific criticisms of the field. There are a number of them and moreover those criticisms should be encouraged.

    Thanks for all the engagement though!

    • Rod McLaughlin says

      Check out the rock climbing in New Paltz

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  38. Jimmychin says

    That Pinker equality quote is strange. In making his point, he makes a (revealing?) mistake: equality in terms of a moral principle is surely that people are not judged or constrained by the biases, prejudices or false assumptions of those with power over them. The “average properties of their group”, whatever this means, doesn’t need to come into it.

    The “average properties of their group” depends entirely on how “their group” is defined, and becomes very slippery as a result. Biases are far easier to pin down, coming when people deny that a person possesses normal human potentialities without any just cause or evidence to do so (e.g. because they have green eyes).

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