The Evolutionary Psychology FAQ

Edward H. Hagen, Institute for Theoretical Biology, Berlin

More thoughts on Evolutionary Psychology and political (in)correctness

In 1632, Galileo's Dialogue concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Ptolemaic & Copernican was published in Florence. The Dialogue effectively argued that Copernican theory was the factually superior theory of cosmology. Because the major moral/political power of the day, the Catholic Church, had grounded its authority in a Ptolemaic (i.e., Aristotelian) view of the physical world, Galileo's Dialogue was obviously quite threatening, and Galileo was summoned before the Inquisition in 1633. Galileo was found to be vehemently suspect of heresy, forced to formally abjure, and was condemned to life imprisonment.

Today, apparently, a number of thinkers have, like the Catholic Church, also grounded their moral and political views in certain scientific assumptions about the world. In this case, these are scientific assumptions about human nature (mainly that there isn't one). Consequently, any body of theory and research which calls these assumptions into question will be seen as quite threatening. The problem, of course, is not with those who claim on theoretical and empirical grounds that there is a human nature, it is with those who have succumbed to the temptation to ground their theology in assumptions about humans which are scientifically testable. This is especially unwise because the science of human behavior and psychology is extraordinarily undeveloped at this point in time. There are, in effect, no solid facts or proven theories about our behavior, thoughts, and feelings. Any set of assumptions will undoubtedly be challenged by future research. Research which calls into question assumptions underlying popular moral and political views will then unfortunately find itself attacked on extra-scientific grounds. Such research will, in effect, be viewed as heresy. The solution? Don't base your moral or political views on supposed 'facts' about human nature! Example: If you believe, as I do, that 'racial' discrimination is wrong, you might be tempted (as I have) to claim that discrimination is morally wrong because it is scientifically wrong. That is, one mustn't discriminate on the basis of race because there are, in fact, no real differences between people of different races (and besides, 'race' isn't even a valid scientific category). But, what if scientists discover that there are in fact differences between the 'races'. Would that mean that discrimination is now OK? NO!!!!!! It would be a horrible step backwards if social proscriptions against discrimination were somehow called into question simply because scientists discovered population differences. DON'T BASE IMPORTANT SOCIAL VALUES ON SCIENTIFICALLY TESTABLE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT HUMAN NATURE (even if one of those assumptions is that there isn't any human nature). If you do, these social values will inevitably be undermined by future scientific research. Just as most 17th century theories about the physical world were wrong, most 20th century theories about human nature are assuredly wrong, and thus should not, and cannot be used as a foundation for a moral framework.

Copyright 1999-2002 Edward H. Hagen