ALAS, POOR DARWIN

Arguments against Evolutionary Psychology

Edited by Hilary Rose and Steven Rose

Jonathan Cape, 2000

ISBN 0-224-06030-9


Here's another volley in the so-called "Darwin Wars", an attack on Neo- or Ultra-Darwinists.

Chapters by such as Stephen Jay Gould and Annette Karmiloff-Smith ("Why Babies' Brains are not Swiss Army Knives") will repay closer study, but the collection is marred by the misrepresentations typical of these skirmishes.

Hilary Rose accuses Gross and Levitt, in their "academically weak" book, "Higher Superstition", of arrogantly proposing "that their colleagues who teach English and who evidently lack respect for science should be fired. Their certainty that they could then lash up an entirely satisfactory English course takes the biscuit!" (p.127).

Here's what they actually said:

"If, taking a fanciful hypothesis, the humanities department of MIT... were to walk out in a huff, the scientific faculty could... patch together a humanities curriculum... It would have obvious gaps and rough spots... and it might with some regularity prove inane; but on the whole it would be, we imagine, no worse than operative." (op. cit., p.243)

Where's that biscuit?

The contributors stayed at one of Charles Jencks' opulent residences, which may be why that architectural critic's "stylishly ironic essay" appears. Here's his insight about sociobiologist E. O. Wilson:

"so far as I was concerned, he was at the same time a closet postmodernist, because he also gives very passionate sermons on biodiversity" (p.37).

Then there's this gem about Bill Clinton, who got "sex (S) because he had... power (P), and as a consequence he lost... money (M), all of which can be mathematicised as P - S = -M. Or, moving the integers across: +S and +M = -P." (p.32)

There are important arguments here, of great interest to advocates of natural selection, but readers should be cautious, i.e., skeptical.



This review is reproduced by kind permission of The Skeptic.


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Paul Taylor 2001