Sunday, November 18, 2007
John Wilkins is starting a series of posts on a new paper by David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson, about to appear in The Quarterly Review of Biology, that both defends and redefines the nature of sociobiology. Given the lingering animosity and misunderstandings engendered in the "science wars" of the 1970s and 1980s, this promises to be an important event in evolutionary theory and the start of another round of debate, likely of the rancorous sort. If nothing else, the Discovery Institute and other anti-science types will be circling to see if they can use any of the resulting rhetoric in their own cause, which is good enough reason for trying to understand what is really going on. It is an important debate in any event, because, as John quotes Kim Sterelny as saying, "Something like this has to be right, but what?" Or, as John elucidates:
Evolution made us what we are, that much cannot be gainsaid. The question is, what are we? What is it that evolution has made us?
Evolutionary psychology has two major flaws in my opinion. One is that it is almost always adaptationist even when no evidence of adaptiveness is available. Adaptation is, as G. C. Williams noted of group selection explanations, an onerous hypothesis, to be supported or not used. It is too easy to come up with "possible scenarios", let alone possible adaptations. Such explanations need to follow the evidence rather than use, as EvPsych does, a priori arguments from the self-evident truth of natural selection and the nature of evolution.
The second major flaw relates to this. On the (a priori) assumption that selection always favours modularity, EvPsychologists claim that most of the human behavioural repertoire and its underlying neurology is modular. ...
I think that the modularity hypothesis is not a priori true. Evolution may favour independence of organic traits, but there's a bit of a confirmation error here - we tend to identify things that are independently able to evolve because they have done so, not because they have to be modular.
There are times when having a philosopher around is not just handy but essential.
Wilkins: Part 2