The evolutionary explanation for human behaviours and psychology is so often brought up at every opportunity.
Q: Why do people enjoy each other’s company?
A: It is safer in nature to stick together.
Q: Why do people like bright colours?
A: In nature, some edible fruits are bright colours.
Q: Why do people enjoy poetry?
A: Poetry describes nature and allows us to learn about our environment . . .
These forms of explanation can become completely far-fetched and absurd as you can see. But they don’t have to be to be fallacious. The main problem with evolutionary explanations is that a lot of the time they are pure conjecture. They can’t be proved, and more importantly, they can’t be disproved.
When after dispensing of the evolutionary explanation in a case where it is not justified, then other explanations can be considered, which can yield more accurate conclusions.
This more varied and accurate way of thinking can help the psychology student, the scientific researcher and the ordinary person in the way they think about themselves and others in everyday life.
Evolution Isn’t Very Testable
Scientists have long since disproved the theistic claim that evolution cannot be proven in real life. It is hard to demonstrate real-world evolution because of the massive time-spans involved, although it has been demonstrated using species with shorter life-spans—bacteria and flies.
Therefore, evolution is a real thing, there is very little doubt about that by this stage in human history and that is not what this author is arguing. But, in most cases, evolutionary explanations of things are not testable.
E.g. the explanation that: earlobes evolved to cool down the body by providing surface increased surface area for close-to-the-surface blood vessels to release heat into the atmosphere.
Fair enough, this could be the reason. But it doesn’t have to be. There are numerous other explanations:
- Sound tuning.
- Erogenous zones.
- Sexual attractiveness.
Which one of these if any are true. Well . . . it’s hard to tell. Because all of them evolutionarily make sense (more or less). They could be, but if they are cannot be proven or disproved because we can’t travel back in time to when earlobes evolved to see why.
Evolutionary Explanations Need To Stand The Test Of Plausibility
Evolutionary explanations can get very far-fetched sometimes. It gets to the stage where speculations on what could have happened start getting presented as what did happen.
E.g. why do people have red hair?
(1) Because the light skin paired with red hair prevents rickets in climates with low sunlight.
(2) Because the redness is regarded as sexual attractive.
(3) It was a requirement among those of a certain ancient clan. All those without red hair were killed.
(1) is the correct answer. It explains a significant evolutionary benefit and is plausible, only assuming a small difference in vitamins in the skin.
(2) is the kind of effect that is too negligible and too confused by other influences to be a serious answer. There are already so many elements of sexual attractiveness that an additional one wouldn’t be likely to influence the gene pool significantly enough to create the prevalence of red haired people (2–3%) that we have today. There is too much ‘noise’ here for the effects to be prevalent.
(3) is just made up. Hopefully no one believes this because there is no reason to believe it. It may have happened but not likely.
It Often Assumes An End-Goal
Many proponents of evolutionary explanations assume an end-goal to evolution. They assume that there is ‘teleology’ in nature—that nature has a purpose that it is working towards through evolution. This is basically a creationist idea that lingers in evolutionary thinking.
E.g. ‘People born with twelve fingers are at the next step in evolution because they are better at typing.’
This evolutionary idea is fallacious because it assumes that evolution is a straight road into the future. It is predetermined to transform humanity into something superior in the future.
This is wrong for the obvious reasons that:
- How is it predetermined? There is no evidence of it being encoded in DNA.
- Why is it predetermined instead of happening already?
- Why would it be predetermined because evolution adapts to the present, it can’t know the future.
Alternative Explanations To Evolution
There are more factors at play in the world and in human behaviour, biology and psychology than evolution. These are some of the other main explanations that should be considered alongside evolution to find the most plausible explanation. They are:
- Environment: external changes. E.g. climate (and often the species does not have time to evolve in response to such changes)
- Adaptation: changes in behaviour and psychology that aren’t a result of mutation. For instance, in response to a sudden chilling of the climate, penguins started huddling together. No genetic changes were needed for this change.
- Social: e.g. emo subculture is not genetic even though they look different.
- Cultural: e.g. England and China may have slightly different gene pools, but this doesn’t account for most of their differences in cuisine.