Viewpoint: Did this philosopher disprove evolutionary psychology? ‘No—certainly not’

smith subrena x
Subrena Smith. Credit: University of New Hampshire

Subrena Smith, an assistant professor of philosophy at The University of New Hampshire, has made a bold claim in the journal Biological Theory… She claims to have found a fatal flaw in the practice of evolutionary psychology, one that renders the entire discipline “impossible.”

Well, has she done what she aimed to: brought down an entire discipline? My judgment is “no—certainly not.”  She doesn’t even come close. What she does is list a set of standards that, Smith thinks, must be met for an evolutionary psychology explanation to be credible, and these standards are so rigorous and hard to meet that no study has met them or can meet them. Ergo, evolutionary psychology—done the way she wants—is “impossible.”

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[H]ow could we possibly show that the exact neuronal pathways involved in, say, males being promiscuous, are the same as those in our hominin ancestors? Smith is asking too much here. What we can do is use comparative data (do other primates show similar differences in sexual behavior?) as well as concocting tests (e.g., do males who are less promiscuous have fewer offspring?), and, if our predictions and comparative analyses continue to support our hypothesis, then we get increasing confidence in it.

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