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The Human Nature Review  2002 Volume 2: 99-109 ( 14 March )
URL of this document http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/apd.html

Essay Review

Alas Poor Evolutionary Psychology:
Unfairly Accused, Unjustly Condemned

By Robert Kurzban*

Alas, Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology
edited by Hilary Rose and Steven Rose.
Jonathan Cape, London, 2000.

In “Alas Poor Darwin” (hereafter APD), Steven and Hilary Rose and the other contributors to this edited volume accuse evolutionary psychologists of sins both scientific and political, in prose filled with self-righteous rage, smug dismissals, and unremitting invective. Evolutionary psychologists, they say, are wedded to genetic determinism, a view simplistic in conception, fatalistic in outlook, and flatly mistaken. Further, they argue that evolutionary psychologists indulge in post-hoc, “Just-so” story-telling, the seediest kind of scientific promiscuity. If evolutionary psychology were guilty of the sins of which it was accused, the Roses and their contributors could be considered to have produced an important work, helping to prevent the spread of flimsy science and distasteful politics.

It is therefore important to determine if evolutionary psychology bears any resemblance to the beast the Roses have conjured. Unfortunately, like the witches in Salem or Communists under McCarthy, evolutionary psychologists stand exposed to nearly any character assassination inflicted upon them, their tormentors knowing well that to defend the field is to expose oneself to similar treatment.

Let us nonetheless for the sake of decency interrogate these supposed failings both intellectual and spiritual, against the chance, small it may be, that evolutionary psychology has been falsely maligned, and might after all be worthy of residing among its more reputable brethren disciplines. In the process, let us see if we can ensure that its critics are righteous scholars in pursuit of truth, rather than scoundrels who would through innuendo, mischaracterization, and yes, even outright dishonesty, shame and dishonor a foe they little understand, and therefore fear.

Let us review the charges, and hear the defense.

First Charge: Genetic Determinism

“Evolutionary principles imply genetic destiny,” Nelkin (p. 27) baldly declares1. Evolutionary psychologists “dismiss” cultural, historical and individual variables, Herrnstein Smith (p. 167) assures us. In short, evolutionary psychologists believe that biology is destiny (H. Rose, p. 149), with genes alone determining a “hard wired” brain, exerting total control, with no room whatsoever for influences from the environment. (For additional explicit examples of these claims, see Fausto-Sterling, p. 221; Jencks, p. 34; Shakespeare and Erikson, p. 231.)

Is this the message we see running through evolutionary psychologists’ writings? Are they telling us that there is no chance to escape from Nature, that Nurture is powerless in the face of our genetic tethers? Does evolutionary psychology hold that the organism will be what it will be, regardless of the physical and social environment?

In point of fact, it is clear that the accusers in this particular case have, to be generous, exaggerated to some small degree. Evolutionary psychologists not only reject genetic determinism, but have emphasized that they believe that it is actually nonsensical to try to talk about genes without discussing the environment in which the genes exist. Tooby and Cosmides (1992) put this as straightforwardly and transparently, in academic style, as one could ask: “…every feature of every phenotype is fully and equally codetermined by the interaction of the organism’s genes … and its ontogenetic environments…” (p. 83). They have expressed similar sentiments elsewhere, as have other evolutionary psychologists. (For examples from those the APD authors cite, see Dennett, 1995, p. 338; Pinker, 1997, p. 33; Symons, 1992, p. 140; Thornhill & Palmer, 2000, p. 20; Tooby and Cosmides, 1992, p. 87, p. 122).

Why the vast gap between the actual arguments made by evolutionary psychologists and the claims attributed to them? The answer lies in a deep confusion about biology shared by many of the authors of APD, a preconception that seems to prevent them from understanding what evolutionary psychologists actually say. The Roses and others, expecting to read about genetic determinism, instead read in genetic determinism. To see this, we’ll come at it slightly obliquely. Hilary Rose will be our guide.

Unsatisfied with a conjecture advanced by Martin Daly and Margo Wilson about why the incidence of child abuse is higher among stepchildren than biological children, Hilary Rose proclaims triumphantly that evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker “…entirely shredded any credibility the Wilson-Daly thesis had” with his suggestion that perhaps when a mother hadn’t sufficient resources to nurture a child, maternal love could switch off, replaced by murderous intentions.2,3 Rose concludes: “Both killing and protecting are explained by evolutionary selection…selection explains everything and therefore nothing” (p. 147).

Consider carefully why Rose draws this conclusion. Her suggestion is that an evolutionary explanation is useless if it predicts that an organism will do one thing under certain conditions (i.e., normal ones), and the opposite under different conditions (i.e., extreme scarcity). This is because she believes that evolution must lead to a prediction of only one sort of behavior across all contexts, and therefore that it cannot yield a prediction that the organism will behave contingently on contextual factors.

In Rose’s view, therefore, an evolutionary approach cannot explain why bats feed at night but sleep during the day, why rabbits nestle against other rabbits but flee from a fox, or why humans eat when hungry but not when sated. For her, if evolution explains each of these behaviors, then it explains none of them.

She is forced into this position because she equates evolution with genetic determinism and inflexibility of behavior. In contrast, evolutionary psychologists, biologists and, as far as I know, nearly everyone else, believes that organisms behave contingently on the environment and their own current state. In fact, and each two-year-old discovers this idea anew when she sees that Fido comes when offered a doggie biscuit, but leaves when pelted with rocks.

The intricacies of behavioral flexibility (rather than behavioral fixity) is, in fact, a fundamental message of evolutionary psychologists: evolution sculpts organisms to behave contingently on their environment. This makes an important task of scientists to discover the dimensions of the (internal and external) environment on which organisms condition their behavior (see, to take a random example, Pinker’s hypothesis above).

Indeed, Rose herself endorses this approach when she suggests that child abuse might be explained by contextual factors such as “psychological strain” and “financial pressures” associated with building a second family (p. 146). Both abuse and non-abuse are explained by the presence or absence of these factors and, therefore, her critique of Pinker’s hypothesis ought to apply. Instead, her hypothesis is “obvious” while Daly and Wilson’s is “absurd” (see S. Rose, p. 314, for enthusiastic agreement on both counts). Apparently then, her view is that positing conditional behavior is acceptable as long as evolution (which everyone seems to agree must be part of the story somewhere) is left implicit rather than made explicit. Thus, for Hilary Rose, it’s acceptable to suggest that dogs eat because their bellies are empty as long as evolution plays no role in the hypothesis.

It seems so simple. The evolutionary view, for humans and non-humans, suggests that organisms are designed to develop, learn, and behave in ways that are conditional on environmental influences. There is no room for genetic determinism. Further, and ironically, the argument is that adding adaptations allows greater flexibility, because each adaptation generates more conditional possibilities. To deny adaptations in humans, therefore, is to suggest less flexibility.

The logic is no different from a lesson Bill Gates has learned far too well: Microsoft adds new algorithms to their word processor in every generation. Word 2000, for example, can learn a variety of things it couldn’t in previous incarnations. My instance of MS Word learns new words (today it learned “panglossian”), my preferences for menus, and the fact that the passive voice is not to be considered a grammatical error. Add domain-specific functions, add flexibility.4

Evolutionary psychologists, at minimum the ones named in the Roses’ volume, are innocent of the charge of genetic determinism. They have made their position clear, both in their explicit statements of their views, and as embodied in their research programs.

On the charge of genetic determinism, I find the defendant not guilty.

And I find that the prosecution should go back and carefully review the evidence.

Second Charge: Panadaptationism

Evolutionary psychologists believe that the belly-button is an adaptation for storing small berries on the long trek back to camp. They believe that ear lobes are adaptations designed to accommodate diamond-stud earrings. And they believe that people are good at calculus because mathematicians were considered sexy two million years ago and the “calculus gene” was a genetic winner.

Actually, they don’t believe any of these things. But if one were to read about evolutionary psychologists, one might well come away with the impression that they do.

Stephen J. Gould, for example, is so convinced that evolutionary psychologists believe that all features of organisms are adaptations that there seems to be no amount of evidence that will persuade him to the contrary. Gould (2000) says “Evolutionary universals may not be adaptive now, they [evolutionary psychologists] say, but such behaviors must have arisen as adaptations…” (p. 119, emphasis original) and later that the “internal error of adaptationism arises from a failure to recognize that even the strictest operation of pure natural selection builds organisms full of nonadaptive parts and behaviors” (p. 123). Dover (p. 58) and S. Rose (pp. 303-303, 313) make similar claims.

The idea that evolutionary psychology is “panadaptationist” is not just false, it is infuriatingly false.5 To reject panadaptationism is to accept what Gould terms the “pluralistic” (Gould, 1997) view that there are features of organisms that are not adaptations, and that natural selection is not the only source of genetic change. Tooby and Cosmides (1992) put it this way: “In addition to adaptations, the evolutionary process commonly produces two other outcomes visible in the designs of organisms: (1) concomitants or by-products of adaptations (recently nicknamed “spandrels”; Gould & Lewontin, 1979); and (2) random effects” (p. 62). These sentiments have been echoed by numerous evolutionary psychologists. (For other particularly clear examples, see Buss et al., 1998, p. 537; Daly and Wilson, 1988, p. 12; Dennett, 1995, p. 247; Pinker, 1997, p. 174; Thornhill & Palmer, 2000, p. 9). Further, evolutionary psychologists explicitly test by-product hypotheses in their research (for a blisteringly clear example, see Cosmides & Tooby, 1992). And they explicitly acknowledge that adaptationist claims must be backed by evidence (see e.g., Cosmides & Tooby, 1992, p. 180).

In fact, evolutionary psychologists are so aware of the existence of by-products, in the same volume that Gould claims evolutionary psychologists don’t believe in any by-products, Fausto-Sterling claims evolutionary psychologists believe in too many. Fausto-Sterling is offended by evolutionary psychologist Don Symons’ (1979) speculation that the female orgasm might be a by-product, rather than an adaptation (p. 211). Interestingly, Symons (1979) went on to suggest that male nipples were similarly byproducts, just like the human ability to read and write (pp. 93-94), the very same examples Gould used to educate evolutionary psychologists about byproducts (Gould, p. 113-114, 122).

Evolutionary psychologists acknowledge by-products. They believe in them, they develop hypotheses about them, and they test for them.

But none of them think the belly-button evolved as a berry-storage system.

Third Charge: Unfalsifiable hypotheses

Evolutionary psychologists are routinely accused of generating hypotheses that are both post-hoc and unfalsifiable. Many of these accusations revolve around the idea that we cannot prove anything about the past, so evolutionary claims cannot be verified.

Gould (2000), for example, asks: “…how can we possibly obtain the key information that would be required to show the validity of adaptive tales about the EEA6…We do not even know the original environment of our ancestors…” (p. 120). Similarly, Fausto-Sterling (2000) suggests that because we know so little about the ancestral past, “evaluating competing hypotheses becomes very difficult” (p. 214).7 (See H. Rose, p. 141 and Benton, p. 262, for additional examples).

Gould concludes that “…the key strategy proposed by evolutionary psychologists for identifying adaptation is untestable and therefore unscientific.” (Gould, p. 120). This is a strong (but remarkably common) claim. I suspect that if I approached critics of evolutionary approaches and told them a psychic cat had planted a hypothesis in my brain, they would urge me to test it. However, if I approached them and said that I had developed this same idea from an evolutionary standpoint, I would earn their scorn as a “Just-so” storyteller. It is a serious indictment of a scientist when he or she does not understand that the origin of a hypothesis does not necessarily tell you how easy or hard it is to test, and I urge Dr. Gould to exercise care in his accusations along these lines.

Evolutionary psychologists use our limited knowledge about the past to generate hypotheses. However, as others have pointed out, evolutionary psychologists’ hypotheses about human psychology can be tested in the very same way that other hypotheses about human psychology can be evaluated. David Buss, on the basis of evolutionary ideas, hypothesized that there would be cross-cultural sex differences in a number of variables related to sex and mating. He collected data from 37 cultures to test these hypotheses (Buss, 1989), and many of his hypotheses were supported. If the data had turned out differently, his hypotheses would have been undermined. It didn’t stop being science because his hypotheses derived from an evolutionary analysis. (Holcomb, 1998, provides a very nice discussion of this, as do Ketelaar and Ellis, 1998).

As others have pointed out, from his own statements, it is clear that Gould himself does not really endorse the criticism that the lack of information about the past is crippling. He admits that eyes are adaptations for seeing (p. 105) but that humans don’t have adaptations for reading (p. 124). Why? He denies reading is an adaptation because he believes that we do, in fact, have “key information” about the past. In particular, he knows that because the historical record suggests writing is a recent human activity, natural selection has not had sufficient time to craft adaptations for reading. In contrast, he affirms the eye is an adaptation because he believes the archeological evidence indicates people have been seeing for a very long time, and because the eye has features that make it improbably functional for solving this adaptive problem. Gould here reasons precisely like an evolutionary psychologist, inferring an evolutionary history from what is known about the past combined with an appreciation for evidence of intricate design, as one observes in the human eye.

To claim that a hypothesis is unfalsifiable is to claim that there is no evidence that one could gather to support or refute the hypothesis. To claim that an evolutionary hypothesis is unfalsifiable, however, is just plain fashionable.

Fourth Charge: Proximate Explanations

One of the oddest charges in APD is S. Rose’s criticism that evolutionary psychologists “…insist on distal (in their slightly archaic language, “ultimate”) explanations when proximate ones are so much more explanatory…” (p. 3), a charge peppered throughout the book (see, e.g., H. Rose, 146 and S. Rose, 305).

The distinction between ultimate and proximate explanations focuses on how one answers the question “why?” One answer to the question “Why does the heart work like a pump?” is that it was designed to pump blood. Another answer is that electrical impulses cause the cardiac muscle to contract at regular intervals, decreasing the volume of the heart, causing the fluids inside to squirt out. Both answer the question, one by explaining why the heart has the design features that it has, the other by explaining the physical operation of the device. It is easy to see that answering the first question could go a long way toward answering the second. Indeed it did: research on the heart was stalled until William Harvey recognized its function as a pump, after which research progressed apace.

S. Rose gives the impression that evolutionary psychologists “insist on distal explanations” to the exclusion of proximate explanations. This is easily shown to be false, as H. Rose’s discussion of infanticide illustrates. Daly and Wilson were interested in particular variables that played a causal role in child abuse and homicide-a proximate explanation. H. Rose discussed this hypothesis, although both she and S. Rose are clearly skeptical of the explanation itself.

There is, however, a perverse sense in which the first part of Rose’s claim is correct. It is true that evolutionary psychologists “insist on distal explanations” in the same way that it is true that the legal system “insists on motive” when proving someone’s guilt. One could make a case without a motive, but it is likely to be unconvincing. (Consider the prosecution’s case with and without a will leaving a vast inheritance to the suspected murderer.) Motives, like ultimate explanations, can guide the search for evidence and provide a more thorough and persuasive explanation for the view one is advocating.

In a sense then, this accusation is correct. Evolutionary psychologists prefer a more thorough explanation of behavior, preferring to have accounts at both the proximate and ultimate level. S. Rose’s criticism can easily be put the other way: non-evolutionary psychologists are guilty of failing to insist on ultimate explanations, even though evolution by natural selection is the only mechanism known that generates complex functional design. Hence, failing to provide an evolutionary account is an omission, rather than a virtue.

Providing a proximal explanation neither invalidates an ultimate explanation nor replaces it. A biomechanical explanation of how the heart works doesn’t make it any less a blood-pump. And knowing that it’s a pump can guide the search for other features of the heart. One can go about doing physiology and psychology without care for ultimate explanations. Indeed, scientists who reject the evolutionary approach are free to derive hypotheses from whatever other sources they wish, including intuition, observation, or psychic cats. But if “insisting” on a more thorough explanation for psychological phenomena is a crime, then evolutionary psychologists are guilty as charged.

Fifth Charge: Evolutionary Claims are Political, not Scientific

Possibly because biological approaches to human behavior have been appropriated for political purposes in the past, many evolutionary psychologists have been very careful to emphasize the distinction between science, which can help us to understand what is, and morality, which concerns questions about what ought to be (e.g., Pinker, 1997, p. 50; Thornhill & Palmer, pp. 5-6). Evolutionary psychologists deny that anything they could discover about what is would tell us what ought to be.

In contrast, Nelkin proclaims that “Evolutionary psychology is not only a new science, it is a vision of morality and social order, a guide to moral behavior and policy agendas” (p. 24). She further argues that “natural” explanations, ominously, “convey a message about social policies” (p. 24). Rose and Rose (2000) go further, making the claim that in places, “…the political agenda of EP is transparently part of a right-wing libertarian attack on collectivity, above all the welfare state” (p. 9).

Where do these ideas come from? None of these three claims bear citations (except to another chapter in the volume), and, evolutionary psychologists generally bend over backward to make it clear that their findings can’t tell us what ought to be. Because these kinds of political accusations are very serious, it is important to document them carefully. In APD, although documentation of this type was scarce, one accusation was specifically documented, which allowed me to look into it.

H. Rose wrote: “The sociobiologists David Barash’s appeal in defense of his misogynist claims that men are naturally predisposed to rape, “If Nature is sexist don’t blame her sons,” can no longer plug into the old deference to science as the view from nowhere” (p. 139).

This is an extremely revealing passage. Firstly, many would argue that the claim that rape is natural (by which I think it is meant there are adaptations designed for the purpose) is not, itself, misogynist. It is a scientific claim, not a claim about morality. If a scientist found that certain viruses were designed to kill people, this would not be sociopathic. A hypothesis about adaptations is distinct from claims about how one ought to behave, and therefore no scientific finding could “legitimize” (Rose and Rose, p. 2) any behavior.

Secondly, and much more seriously, this quotation does not appear on the page that Rose cites, nor does it appear anywhere else in the book.8 What does appear on the page she footnotes is Barash’s speculation that “Perhaps human rapists, in their own criminally misguided way, are doing the best they can to maximize their fitness” (p. 55).9 Barash here labels rapists criminals, people who should be punished, rather than blameless or innocent. Later, Barash explicitly rejected the naturalistic fallacy, saying that “…evolution…says nothing whatever about what ought to be…” (p. 90; see also p. 235).10

Indeed, Rose would have done well to have actually read Barash, instead of merely fabricating quotations from him, as Barash laid out many of the corrections discussed here, including an explanation of why the evolutionary approach is not equivalent to genetic determinism. In addition, had she read carefully, she wouldn’t have made another error of fact, claiming that “forced sex among animals [sic]11 always takes place with fertile females” (Rose & Rose, 2000, p. 3). Barash (p. 60) discusses documented cases that contradict this claim (e.g., Abele & Gilchrist, 1977). 12

Of all the false charges, the political ones are the most distressing. If the Roses or anyone else wish to provide evidence of malevolent political ideas being endorsed by evolutionary psychologists, they are invited to provide documented evidence. I myself know of no such evidence to be found in the pages of the evolutionary psychologists they focus on, Buss, Cosmides, Daly, Tooby, and Wilson. Some of these authors do research on charged issues, such as violence, sex differences, rape, and so on. Researching sex and violence is not the same as endorsing either.

The ease with which the Rose’s throw off their undocumented or even falsified political accusations is alarming. Critics of evolutionary psychology must stop ascribing political views to evolutionary psychologists that they do not hold, and members of the scientific community ought to police this conduct with rigor. Why the Roses and others hallucinate certain political agendas into science is mysterious. Why making public these hallucinations is tolerated is considerably more so.


What makes APD worthy of attention is not that it introduces new criticisms of the field of evolutionary psychology. What makes it noteworthy is that it accumulates a cornucopia of old criticisms, recycled and rehashed, in one place. Other sources, both scholarly and popular, have leveled the same accusations, made the same mistakes, and presented the same distorted picture of the field and its practitioners.

There are now a collection of dialogues in the popular press between evolutionary psychologists and their critics. The discussions all seem to have the same form: Critics assert that evolutionary psychologists are wrong in believing behavior is genetically determined, that every aspect of the organism is an adaptation, and that discovering what is informs what ought be. Evolutionary psychologists reply that they never made any of these claims, and document places where they claim precisely the reverse. The critics then reply that evolutionary psychologists are wrong in believing behavior is genetically determined, that every aspect of the organism is an adaptation, and that discovering what is informs what should be.

The contradictions between what evolutionary psychologists have said and what their critics have said they said are as clear as they are infuriating. All of the correctives that I have presented here have been discussed before, and all of them are in the pieces cited by the critics of evolutionary psychology. It is unfathomable how the Roses and the other contributors to Alas Poor Darwin could have come away from the primary literature with their impressions of genetic determinism, panglossian adaptationism, and so on.

The costs of these egregious misrepresentations are enormous. They demand correctives such as the one I have provided here, wasting time, resources, and journal space. They also give an erroneous impression to those not familiar with the field, misinforming interested readers and, no doubt, dissuading them from pursuing it further.

The argument that the contributors to this volume did not mean to include the particular evolutionary psychologists I quote here cannot be sustained. Buss, Cosmides, Daly, Pinker, and Wilson, are specifically mentioned in the introduction, and cited throughout. Further, the argument that these evolutionary psychologists don’t practice what they preach is similarly unsustainable. For example, Cosmides and Tooby (1992) entertain and test by-product hypotheses-they cannot, as Gould suggests, assume everything is an adaptation if they go to the trouble of testing by-product explanations. Daly and Wilson go further, and actually endorse a by-product hypothesis of homicide, rather than an adaptationist one. Similarly, in “The Language Instinct,” Pinker details the critical role the environment plays in the children’s learning of language. And all of these researchers state hypotheses at a proximate level.

I should also add that many of the arguments in APD are delivered with condescension, scorn, derision, and generally inflammatory rhetoric. This in itself is bad enough in the context of what is supposedly a criticism of a scientific discipline, but it is somehow much more galling when this type of language is used amid errors of fact, failures of logic, nearly slanderous misrepresentation of views, and a general indifference to standards of scholarship. This is particularly ironic given the accusations of sloppy science that are made throughout the volume. Perhaps if these authors spent more time reading and understanding the material they were trying to digest, rather than inventing more and more colorful ways to insinuate scientific incompetence, debate centered on genuine areas of disagreement could progress.

The current state of affairs is a loss to all concerned. The prejudice against evolutionary psychology prevents scholars from appreciating any potential insights the field has to offer, and prevents practitioners from having their ideas fairly evaluated and considered. Evolutionary psychology is a field without constitutional rights, unprotected from double jeopardy, triple-jeopardy, or quadruple-jeopardy. Consequently, there is no end in sight. As long as critics continue to misrepresent the discipline, evolutionary psychology is doomed to remain unfairly accused, and unjustly condemned.


Abele, L. & S. Gilchrist. (1977). Homosexual Rape and Sexual Selection in Acanthocephalan Worms. Science, 197, 81-83.

Barash, D. (1979). Sociobiology: The whispering within. New York: Harper & Row.

Benton, T. (2000). Social causes and natural relations. In H. Rose & S. Rose (Eds.) Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology (pp. 249-270). New York: Harmony Books.

Buss, D. (1989). Sex differences in human mate preferences: Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12, 1-49.

Buss, D. M, Haselton, M. G., Shackelford, T. K. Bleske, A. L., & Wakefield, J. C. (1998). Adaptations, exaptation, and spandrels. American Psychologist, 53, 533-548.

Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (1992). Cognitive adaptations for social exchange. In J. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind (pp. 163-228). New York: Oxford University Press.

Daly, M. & Wilson, M. (1988). Homicide. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

Dennett, D. C. (1995). Darwin’s dangerous idea: Evolution and the meanings of life. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Dover, G. (2000). Anti-Dawkins. In H. Rose and S. Rose (Eds.) Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology (pp. 55-77). New York: Harmony Books.

Fausto-Sterling, A. (2000). Beyond difference: Feminism and evolutionary psychology. In H. Rose and S. Rose (Eds.) Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology (pp. 209-247). New York: Harmony Books.

Gould, S. J. (1997). "Evolution: The Pleasures of Pluralism" (June 26). The New York Review of Books.

Gould, S. J. (2000). More things in heaven and earth. In H. Rose and S. Rose (Eds.) Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology (pp. 101-126). New York: Harmony Books.

Haselton M. G. & Buss, D. M. (2000). Error management theory: A new perspective on biases in cross-sex mind reading. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 81-91.

Herrnstein Smith, B. (2000). Sewing up the mind: The claims of evolutionary psychology. In H. Rose and S. Rose (Eds.) Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology (pp. 155-172). New York: Harmony Books.

Holcomb III, H. R. (1998). Testing evolutionary hypotheses. In C. Crawford & D. R. Krebs (Eds.) Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology: Ideas, Issues, and Applications (pp. 303-334). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Hubbard, R. (1988). Some thoughts about the masculinity of the natural sciences. In M. M. Gergen (Ed.) Feminist thought and the structure of knowledge (1-15). New York: New York University Press.

Jencks, C. (2000). EP, phone home. In H. Rose and S. Rose (Eds.) Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology (pp. 33-54). New York: Harmony Books.

Ketelaar, T. and Ellis, B. J. (2000). Are evolutionary explanations unfalsifiable? Evolutionary psychology and the Lakatosian philosophy of science. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 1-21.

Nelkin, D. (2000). Less selfish than sacred?: Genes and the religious impulse in evolutionary psychology. In H. Rose and S. Rose (Eds.) Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology (pp. 17-32). New York: Harmony Books.

Pinker, S. (1994). The language instinct. New York: HarperCollins.

Pinker, S. (1997). How the mind works. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Pinker, S. (1997) “Why They Kill Their Newborns” New York Times magazine 2 Nov., pp.52-54

Profet, M. (1992). Pregnancy sickness as an adaptation: A deterrent to maternal ingestion of teratogens. In J. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind (pp. 327-365). New York: Oxford University Press.

Rose, H. (2000). Colonizing the social sciences? In H. Rose & S. Rose (Eds.) Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology (pp. 127-153). New York: Harmony Books.

Rose, H., & Rose, S. (2000). Introduction. In H. Rose & S. Rose (Eds.) Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology (pp. 1-15). New York: Harmony Books.

Rose, H., & Rose, S. (2000). Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology. New York: Harmony Books.

Rose, S. (2000). Escaping evolutionary psychology. In H. Rose & S. Rose (Eds.) Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology (pp. 299-320). New York: Harmony Books.

Shakespeare, T. and Erikson, M. (2000). Different strokes: Beyond biological determinism and social constructionism. In H. Rose & S. Rose (Eds.) Alas Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology (pp. 229-247). New York: Harmony Books.

Singh, D. (1993) Adaptive significance of female physical attractiveness: Role of waist-to-hip ratio. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 293-307.

Soble, A. (1999). Bad apples: Feminist politics and feminist scholarship. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 29, 354-88.

Symons, D. (1992). On the use and misuse of Darwinism in the study of human behavior. In J. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind (137-159). New York: Oxford University Press.

Thornhill, R. & Palmer, C. T. (2000). A natural history of rape: Biological bases of sexual coercion. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (1992). The Psychological Foundations of Culture. In J. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind (19-136). New York: Oxford University Press.

Wright, R. (1994). The moral animal: Why we are the way we are: The new science of evolutionary psychology. New York: Pantheon.


1. All quotations and citations, unless otherwise specified, are from Rose and Rose (2000).

2. In fact, Pinker (1997) merely relayed this hypothesis that Daly and Wilson (1988) had advanced previously, rather than propose it himself. This is not important for the current point, but does speak to standards of scholarship.

3. This claim is testable in principle by gathering data on the characteristics of mothers who commit infanticide. Relevant data can be found in Daly and Wilson, 1988, pp. 51-52, 63-69.

4. This idea is the answer to what Benton (2000) refers to as the “obvious difficulty” with evolutionary psychology (p. 263), the conflict between flexibility and evolved domain-specific learning mechanisms. He’s right that it’s obvious, but wrong that it’s a difficulty.

5. It is infuriating at least in the sense that it has infuriated John Tooby and Leda Cosmides. See their reply to Gould.

6. “Environment of Evolutionary Adaptiveness,” the statistical composite of the environment over the course of human evolution.

7. In another irony, Fausto-Sterling takes umbrage at Wright’s suggestion that his critics aren’t very knowledgeable about biology, and two pages later asks “What evidence is there for a long, unbroken line of women” (p. 214) between modern women and our ancestors? I leave it to the reader to judge how likely it is that any woman alive today is descended from anyone who did not herself have a mother.

8. Soble (1999) traces this error back to a passage in Hubbard (1988).

9. Similarly, Thornhill and Palmer’s (2000) statement that “… [a man] may mistake a woman’s friendly comment or her tight blouse as an invitation to have sex when in fact sex is practically the last thing on her mind” (p. 179) is rendered this way by Rose and Rose: “Thornhill and Palmer…insult women, victims and nonvictims alike, by suggesting, for example, that a tight blouse is in itself an automatic invitation to sex.” (p. 3). Here, Thornhill and Palmer’s claim that a tight blouse is not intended by women to be a sexual invitation is portrayed as precisely the reverse claim. For evidence that supports the claim that Thornhill and Palmer actually do make here, that men overestimate women’s sexual interest, see Haselton and Buss, 2000.

10. Ironically, in the same chapter she misquotes Barash, Rose entitles a subheading “Setting up a Straw Enemy - The SSSM.” A Freudian would probably invoke the principle of “projection.”

11. I presume she meant non-human animals here.

12. Even if it were true, finding that human males but no other animals rape females who are not fertile would not undermine the hypothesis that humans have adaptations for rape any more than the finding that people eat sugar-free candy would undermine the hypothesis that humans have adaptations designed to motivate consuming high calorie foods. Rose and Rose’s confusion about ultimate/proximate causation misleads them here. Sexual acts such as masturbation that are not potentially reproductive are almost certainly a byproduct of sexual gratification motivational systems. Similarly, males of some species have been observed trying mate with various inanimate objects that sufficiently resemble a female of their species.

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* Dr. Robert Kurzban, Department of Anthropology, University of California Los Angeles, 3207 Hershey Hall, Box 951553, Los Angeles CA, 90095-1553. 


Kurzban, R. (2002). Alas Poor Evolutionary Psychology: Unfairly Accused, Unjustly Condemned. Human Nature Review. 2: 99-109.

NOTE: This article first appeared in Skeptic Magazine, Volume 9, No. 2. and is reproduced here with kind permission of Dr. Michael Shermer.


Matt Ridley

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