Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology

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9780099283195: Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology

Today, genes are called upon to explain almost every aspect of our lives, from social inequalities to health, sexual preference and criminality. Based on Darwin's theory of evolution and natural selection, Evolutionary Psychology with its claim that 'it's all in our genes' has become the most popular scientific theory of the late 20th century. Books such as Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene, Edward O.Wilson's Consilience and Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct have become bestsellers and frame the public debate on human life and development: we can see their influence as soon as we open a Sunday newspaper. In recent years, however, many biologists and social scientists have begun to contest this new biological determinism and shown that Evolutionary Psychology rests on shaky empirical evidence, flawed premises and unexamined political presuppositions. In this provocative and ground-breaking book, Hilary and Steven Rose have gathered together the most eminent and outspoken critics of this fashionable ideology, ranging from Stephen Jay Gould and Patrick Bateson to Mary Midgley, Tim Ingold and Annette Karmiloff-Smith. What emerges is a new perspective on human development which acknowledges the complexity of life by placing at its centre the living organism rather than the gene.

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Review:

Alas, Poor Darwin is a multidisciplinary collection of essays from Stephen Jay Gould, Patrick Bateson, Mary Midgely, Charles Jencks, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Gabriel Dover and editors Hilary and Steven Rose, which aims to challenge what they see as the flawed premises and shaky empirical evidence supporting the claims of evolutionary psychology.

The main argument of the book is that "the claims of EP in the fields of biology, psychology, anthropology, sociology, cultural studies and philosophy are for the most part not merely mistaken, but culturally pernicious". What really upsets the contributors is the claim that the view of human nature held by evolutionary psychologists ought to inform the making of social and public policy.

As a whole the arguments against evolutionary psychology have real critical bite which is balanced by alternative views which appear to have a much closer tie to empirical reality. It is this which justifies the editorial claims of the book's importance. The weakness of the book--and particularly the introduction--is that it often fails to make any distinctions between the political views of the writers under discussion and the political meaning of their arguments. Thus evolutionary psychology--and all who are associated with it--is smeared by association with Nazi eugenics, religious fundamentalism, social Darwinism and, last but not least, sociobiology. The recent historical emergence of gene-centred views and even the emergence of the Darwin seminars based at the LSE is given a sinister, politically-motivated character which seems to be based on nothing more than innuendo. Yet despite the questionable cultural analysis this book is a must-read, of interest to specialists and interested lay-folk alike.--Larry Brown

Review:

"At last! With humor and expertise, this diverse group of critical thinkers -- social and natural scientists and philosophers -- take on sociobiology, reincarnated as evolutionary psychology. In the current haze and maze of genes, it is a relief to read these earnest, funny, and always intelligent essays."-- Ruth Hubbard, Harvard University professor emereta of biology and author of "Exploding the Gene Myth" and "The Politics of Women's Biology" " 'Evolutionary psychology' is the latest episode in the misuse of biology. Hilary and Steven Rose have been leaders in the struggle against this kind of pseudo-science and in Alas Poor Darwin they bring together a superb collection of essays debunking this latest attempt to hijack Darwin. Anyone who has been seduced by the claims of 'evolutionary psychology' should read this book."-- Richard Lewontin, Harvard University professor of zoology and biology, and author of "The Triple Helix" "Darwin clearly loved his distinctive theory of natural selection -- the powerful ideas that he often identified in letters as his dear 'child.' But, like any good parent, he understood limits and imposed discipline. He knew that the complex and comprehensive phenomena of evolution could not be fully rendered by any single cause, even one so ubiquitous and powerful as his own brainchild."-- From ""More Things in Heaven and Earth"" by Stephen Jay Gould, in Alas, Poor Darwin. "From the Hardcover edition."

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