Evolutionary Psychology ≠ Biological Determinism

Gad Saad in Psychology Today:

Gad_saadThis past weekend, a prominent consumer scholar took me to task onFacebook regarding evolutionary psychology. He seemed to reject the idea that men and women might exhibit biological-based sex differences, as this is apparently a form of biological determinism that promotes racial and gender stereotyping. I am reproducing here my two Facebook replies to him (with very slight editing). The first quote refers to his rejection of so-called “gender essences” (i.e., that innate biological-based differences might exist between the sexes) while the second speaks to his lumping of evolutionary psychology with biological determinism.

“Homo sapiens is a sexually dimorphic species (a basic tenet of evolutionary biology). As such, we should expect that on many dimensions, men and women will exhibit no sex differences. On others, there will be differences in one direction or the other. The meta-framework that explains these patterns is evolutionary theory. It has nothing to do with the '50s [in reference to his implying that “gender essences” is a form of obsolete sexist thinking of the '50s] and everything to do with an astonishing amount of empirical evidence collected for well over 150 years (let alone archival, paleontological, historical, anthropological, ethological data etc. collected over millennia and spanning endless cultures).”

“Biological determinism is a canard that has repeatedly been explained away by evolutionary informed scientists since time immemorial. Humans are an inextricable mix of their genes and their environments. As a matter of fact, genes get turned on or off as a function of environmental inputs. Evolutionary-based cognitive computational systems take information from the environment to get activated. Natural selection itself, the foundational mechanism of evolution, is shaped by the selective forces within a specific environment. Hence, there is no such thing as biological determinism. It only exists in the minds of those who wish to hang on to the antiquated and erroneous idea that the human mind starts off as a blank slate. Biological determinism = unicorn. They both do not exist. That many cretins have misused biological-based theories for a wide range of nefarious political goals says nothing about the veracity of evolutionary theory whether applied to mosquitoes or humans. Evolution is the sole game in town to explain the evolution of biological diversity on earth. No working biologist questions its veracity. It is largely becoming untenable for social scientists to reject the import of evolution in explaining human affairs. Culture is crucially important but so is biology.”

More here.