The Garbage Gene

by John Quiggin on February 13, 2005

This piece by Nicholas Kristof encapsulates everything I don’t like about ‘evolutionary psychology’, particularly in its pop mode. Kristof makes the argument that the success of the religious right is due to a predisposition to religious belief grounded in supposed evolutionary advantages, supposedly reflected in a particular gene, referred to by its putative discoverer as ‘The God Gene’. This is pretty much a standard example of EP in action. Take a local, but vigorously contested, social norm, invent a ‘just so’ story and assert that you have discovered a genetically determined universal. Kristof doesn’t quite get to the point of asserting that there exists a gene for voting Republican, but it follows logically from his argument (Dawkins defends the idea of a gene for tying shoelaces, for example).

Where to begin on the problems of all this?

The obvious one is that a large proportion of the US population, and a much larger proportion of the population in other developed countries, appears to lack the necessary gene. If you are going to explain this kind of thing properly in an EP context, you can’t, as Kristof does, assert that believing in God has evolutionary advantages – otherwise atheists would be extinct. You need a stable mixed-strategy equilibrium. I’m sure I could generate half a dozen untestable Pleistocene scenarios for such an equilibrium if I put my mind to it for an hour, but Kristof doesn’t even bother.

Then there’s the problem that proportions of believers have changed radically in the space of a few generations. In the late 18th century, Dr Johnson plausibly asserted that there were not above a dozen outright atheists in the kingdom of England. Unless this tiny band of infidels was incredibly fecund, it’s hard to account for the millions who can be found there today. The contrast between the US and Europe today is even more striking, since the differences in living standards and lifestyles is small and the gene pools are fairly similar. Quite subtle differences in social conditions can generate huge differences in religious beliefs.

Third, there’s the definition of religion. Kristof makes much of Chinese drivers dangling pictures of Chairman Mao from their rear-view mirrors, but this is better described as superstition than religion. If he is saying that people haven’t evolved to be perfectly rational, and that superstition is one manifestation of this, then I won’t disagree, but I’ll bet my lucky T-shirt he wants to claim something stronger than this.

Coming back to the starting point, this kind of problem arises invariably with pop EP because it’s inherent in the applications. No doubt EP can be used, at least in principle, to explain genuine cultural universals (according to Pinker, ‘tickling’ is an example) but no one cares much about genuine cultural universals. If there were pro-tickling and anti-tickling factions, a great deal of effort would be expended on proving that tickling was natural, and a crucial part of training hunters to stay silent while tracking the great mammoth or whatever. Since, AFAIK, no-one much is against tickling, the issue doesn’t arise.

{ 130 comments }

1

john landon 02.13.05 at 3:09 am

The whole idea of the ‘god gene’ is out of control terminology and the idea of the evolution of religion as an adaptational scenario and/or a genetic process simply shows the poverty of reductionist thought, although the biochemistry of ‘mysticism’ is not a subject one should reject out of hand. Kristof delivers the coup de grace of absurdity here, cool out an go with your genes (??), maybe it will get the value vote. The whole discussion is nutty, and always has been seen E.O. Wilson started it all back when.

2

seth edenbaum 02.13.05 at 3:33 am

It’s not that Europeans don’t have the faith ‘gene’, it’s that they accept the result. ‘Faith’ after all includes common bias, and gullibility; it also includes the suspension of disbelief that we make when we read a novel or see a movie. Western Europeans are inoculated against religious faith by the weaker faith in the false realities of language and storytelling. We are not quite rational beings. We may be capable of behaving rationally, to some degree, but that’s not the same thing. ‘Continental’ philosophy is built around an ironic relation to the ‘fact’ of faith. We on the other hand have moralizing technocrats and religious fundamentalists, both of whom have unending faith in what they say. And England is in no way the exception: The established religion, the central mythology of England, remains social class.

I’m arguing with you more than Kristof of course.

3

se 02.13.05 at 3:47 am

Arguing with Kristof isn’t worth it.

4

Kieran 02.13.05 at 3:56 am

and a much larger proportion of the population in other developed countries, appears to lack the necessary gene.

It’s striking how a huge chunk of the population of Ireland born between c.1940 and 1960 — who phenotypically expressed the God gene like you wouldn’t believe — somehow completely failed to pass it on to their children born between c.1970 and 1990.

5

david 02.13.05 at 3:56 am

It’s hard to beat David Brooks in simplemindedness, but I think this is the worst the Times has produced this year. He uses the god gene to explain republican victories over the past three election cycles. It truly could not get any stupider than that (though who knows, tomorrow Steven Pinker or Charles Murray might get a chance in the Times to try).

We are doomed.

6

david 02.13.05 at 3:57 am

It’s hard to beat David Brooks in simplemindedness, but I think this is the worst the Times has produced this year. He uses the god gene to explain republican victories over the past three election cycles. It truly could not get any stupider than that (though who knows, tomorrow Steven Pinker or Charles Murray might get a chance in the Times to try).

We are doomed.

7

Cody 02.13.05 at 4:38 am

It is amazing to see E.O.Wilson taken seriously. There’s a number of problems with this piece, such as the fact that this “work hasn’t been replicated, and much of his analysis is speculative” and how this relates to “an openness to spirituality at a much broader level.” Great. So what exactly IS this gene supposed to do, then? Kristof says “Genes that promote spirituality may do so in part by stimulating chemical messengers in the brain like dopamine.” HUH? More dopamine = more spirituality. Wait, I’m sorry, more dopamine = more openness to spirituality on a broad level. To top it off, at the end of this bizarro analysis, Kristof decides faith is “as inextricable and perhaps inexplicable as the way we love and laugh.” All of a sudden, Kristof’s agnostic again about the whole thing.
The really funny thing about it is that I betcha you could make an argument for genetic involvement in love through dopamine reception in the brain. Likewise, laughter is genetic in the sense that the pitch and volume is a function of the structure of the lungs, etc. etc. So, sure, I think he could make those cases. But with this one, he trundles forth this ridiculous argument and then promptly backs off. He tosses out this example of Chinese cab drivers carrying a lucky charm (and wow, he’s so well-traveled!) as though that made them the equivalent of the current American moral majority.
Whatever, the book oughta be a hoot to read. Though, apparently, it does such a good job explaining the God gene that readers come away believing religion to be “inexplicable.”

8

eb 02.13.05 at 4:42 am

I keep waiting for them to discover the gene that determines whether or not you believe the claims of evolutionary psychology.

I must lack it, as I keep finding in myself a predisposition to disagree with sweeping, poorly-defined claims like Kristof’s.

9

perezoso 02.13.05 at 4:46 am

What about a gene for
theory-spewing crypto-jesuits
who think Darwin is
some sort of ideology–
who would not know the difference
between zygote and zeitgeists;
who mistake windy rhetoric
flourishes for some sort
of analysis; who are really
are just bourgeois ethicists
in denial…………

Dennett and Dawkins, even Pinker are worth a stack of Derrida
Heidegger Bad-oooo, the gurus of ad nauseum
al

10

hick 02.13.05 at 4:51 am

And EO Wilson’s writing–even if primitive and anti-philosophical in sections—triumphs over the theological and “theoretical”

you dont need french post.mod, you need a f-n stats. classs

11

bsf 02.13.05 at 5:05 am

peresozo,

Dawkins worth a stack of Derrida? I’d say that they’re both fairly tendentious and far from rigorous or reflexive, and offer you a one for one swap.

However, Derrida’s work demands to be taken a good deal more seriously than you seem to, whereas Dawkins, IMHO is taken quite seriously enough by far too many people.

Derrida, at least, is a useful jumping-off point for some thinkers whose work has some scholarly merit. Dawkins discipleship is consistent mostly of obnoxious, prattling athiest missionaries.

And to pre-empt your likely response, im much more of an athiest than I am a postmodernist.

12

Gene O'Grady 02.13.05 at 5:19 am

I’ve given up Kristoff for Lent (and all other seasons of the year), but I miss the connection between (most) Republican religion and spirituality referenced above as being genetic, with the usual reference to dopamine. My ideas of spiritual guides hardly resemble Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell, and the rest of that gang of salesmen/manipulators. Even in my wife’s rather appealing denomination (American Baptist) I’ve had the feeling watching ministers change since the 50’s that learned men of compassion and character were being replaced by insurance salesmen.

I do take a sort of pleasure when I see headlines about the God Gene, however.

13

Anthony 02.13.05 at 5:34 am

I think my favorite is this sentence:

Imagine if, as a cosmic joke, humans have gradually evolved to leave many of us doubting evolution.

It takes quite a bit of imagination to say that humans have gradually evolved over the course of 150 years to do anything, let alone doubt evolution. What “modern science” has he been reading?

14

SqueakyRat 02.13.05 at 5:57 am

What struck me was Kristof’s use of “secular left” and “religious right” as indivisible units. Even supposing the (essentially meaningless) notion of a gene for “spirituality” were correct, how does Kristof get from there to the ascendancy of the right? This column, together with the one by Michael Behe earlier this week . . . WTF?

15

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.13.05 at 8:12 am

Drat, eb beat me to it. A cute problem for evolutionary psychology would be to assert that you have found a gene which leads people to believe in evolutionary psychology.

16

Gareth Wilson 02.13.05 at 8:14 am

“Kristof doesn’t quite get to the point of asserting that there exists a gene for voting Republican, but it follows logically from his argument”

There is. 55% of voters with the SRY gene voted for Bush in 2004, compared to 48% of voters lacking it. That’s better data than a lot of genes. Yes, I am mostly kidding, but I suspect a lot of the “genes for” work in a similar way. Including my favourite, Desmond Morris’ gene for the English breakfast.

17

belle waring 02.13.05 at 8:52 am

I think I must lack the “English breakfast gene”, as dubious bland sausages, beans, margarine, and feeble grilled tomatoes hold little appeal. I’d be up for trying out the full Wodehouse-style spread sometime, though, with chafing dishes of kippered herring and whatnot. Oh, and Kristof is a total fucking idiot in this piece. We got to give him some props for the Darfur reporting and anti-sex-slavery stuff, though.

18

Kimmitt 02.13.05 at 9:51 am

You know, Evolutionary Psychology probably forms the basis of my worldview, and I can see that this was unbelievably badly considered crap.

19

g 02.13.05 at 10:41 am

It seems to me that there was one (exactly one) interesting thing in the article, though of course it was described too vaguely to know just how interesting.

One bit of evidence supporting a genetic basis for spirituality is that twins separated at birth tend to have similar levels of spirituality, despite their different upbringings. And identical twins, who have the same DNA, are about twice as likely to share similar levels of spirituality as fraternal twins.

If that’s true, it would seem to provide good evidence that there’s some substantial genetic influence on “faith”, which (1) would be interesting, at least to me, and (2) wouldn’t be disproved by the obvious fact that faith is even more strongly influenced by cultural factors.

But I’m suspicious about the absence of a definition of “similar” and about that oh-so-convenient-sounding “about twice as likely”…

20

g 02.13.05 at 10:46 am

It seems to me that there was one (exactly one) interesting thing in the article, though of course it was described too vaguely to know just how interesting.

One bit of evidence supporting a genetic basis for spirituality is that twins separated at birth tend to have similar levels of spirituality, despite their different upbringings. And identical twins, who have the same DNA, are about twice as likely to share similar levels of spirituality as fraternal twins.

If that’s true, it would seem to provide good evidence that there’s some substantial genetic influence on “faith”, which (1) would be interesting and (2) wouldn’t be disproved by the obvious fact that faith is even more strongly influenced by cultural factors.

But I’m suspicious about the absence of a definition of “similar”, and about that oh-so-convenient-sounding “about twice as likely”…

21

g 02.13.05 at 10:53 am

Oh, bother. Sorry about that. The usual story: “internal server error”, check several times that the thing hasn’t posted, try again, dupe. Isn’t this fixable?

22

Keith M Ellis 02.13.05 at 11:02 am

“…but no one cares much about genuine cultural universals.”

That’s the sort of grand overstatement for which the pop EP people are rightly criticized.

I find these debates incredibly tedious—not in the “I’m not interested” sense, but rather in the “I’m so disappointed, I feel the strong urge for a nap” sense—because almost everyone that thinks these matters are worth strenuously arguing over are those who are following some ideological program. They have something to prove. Or disprove, as the case may be.

I don’t trust common sense in these matters. I don’t doubt that there are behavioral traits that are commonly thought to be unquestionably genetic but are actually purely cutural. Nor do I doubt that there are behavioral traits that are commonly thought to be unquestionably cultural that are actually purely genetic. Why can’t we shut up and just do some decent science to find out which is which?

23

Austroblogger 02.13.05 at 12:01 pm

I dont think it worth getting embroiled in the detail of the debate. The proposition is plainly silly. But a couple of comments.
a) In a “Survival of the least unfit” scenario. It is the survival in evolutionary time of those most EFFICIENTLY equippped to deal with their environmental surroundings that is posited. Which is VERY different from the tautology of survival of the fittest. Now, I can conceive of many environmental situations in which a gene determining that I am predisposed to believe in something larger than self (and that defies rational analysis) could just give me the edge. Once those environmental conditions (probably adversarial) are ameliorated, the gene becomes useless, relatively speaking, and perhaps even an albatross.
I haven’t mentioned “GOD” once.

b) The debate itself gives me the willies: There is an eugenic undertone that I find quite scary.

Oh and curiously enough: The English Breakfast gene can still be present, even if not switched on. Right now id kill for those sausages. There is only so much coffee and marmalade an expat can take. I wonder which breakfast gene dominates in my kids?

24

Austroblogger 02.13.05 at 12:13 pm

I posit the existence of a gene coding for a need to eroticise randomly chosen axioms of political belief…..based on observational data culled from the blogosphere. The null hypothesis is confirmed.

25

Austroblogger 02.13.05 at 12:28 pm

And before I shut up, this lodged itself in my sarcasm channel when reading the piece:
“Evolutionary biologists have also suggested that an inclination to spirituality may have made ancient humans more willing to follow witch doctors or other leaders who claimed divine support. The result would have been more cohesive bands of cave men, better able to survive – and to kill off rival cave men.”

Anyone notice any modern parallels?

26

DS 02.13.05 at 12:41 pm

So Mao Tse-Tung may have had a point when he said that bourgeois human nature and proletarian human nature are two completely different things…

27

Nicholas Weininger 02.13.05 at 12:54 pm

I agree that Kristof is spouting nonsense, but have a couple of quibbles here. First of all, the existence of a sizable proportion of atheists doesn’t demonstrate that those atheists lack a gene for *wanting* or being *likely* to believe in God– just that, if they have such a gene, they’ve overcome its effects. There are, after all, a nontrivial number of people who do not lack a sex drive but are nonetheless celibate by choice.

(I say this as an atheist who has never, ever felt the slightest desire to believe in anything spiritual at all; so I don’t doubt the conclusion of the argument, only the method used to get there).

Also, it’s not clear to me that the proportion of nonbelievers has actually changed so much over time. The proportion of *open* nonbelievers, certainly. But how would an 18th century chronicler detect all those who paid lip service to religion, went through the rituals for the sake of social convenience, but never believed a word of it?

28

John Isbell 02.13.05 at 1:54 pm

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind postulates, with some neatness, that gods date from about 10,000 BC to about 3,000 BC, during which period we heard the voices of the gods in our right brains, telling us what to do, and after which prayer arrived, for instance. Jayes I think is the author, it’s worth a look.

29

Matt 02.13.05 at 2:37 pm

John Said,
_AFAIK, no-one much is against tickling_

Well, my wife is seriously (sometimes violently) against tickling, so maybe we should throw that one in the trash too!

30

Matt McIrvin 02.13.05 at 2:40 pm

What is a “level of spirituality” anyway? Did Kristof’s source have a meter to measure it? If the twins were brought up in similar cultures it might be easier to compare, but then again that would also dilute the power of the result.

I become suspicious when people speak of a concept of “spirituality” independent of any particular set of religious beliefs. I get the feeling that they’re trying to slip something past me.

31

Jeremy Osner 02.13.05 at 2:46 pm

I think Nicholas has the right take — the reason for positing a “God Gene” is to assert down the road that atheists are denying their true nature. Oh and John, his name is Julian Jaynes.

32

Philboid Studge 02.13.05 at 2:48 pm

Kristof ignores some rather relevant points made by Hamer. First, what exactly is he measuring? Kristof thinks it’s enough to call it “a propensity to faith,” but that broad definition hardly separates true believers from secularists. What Hamer has sought to measure is ‘a scale called ‘self-transcendence,’ developed by psychologist Robert Cloninger, which provides a numerical measure of people’s capacity to reach out beyond themselves — to see everything in the world as part of one great totality. Mohandas Gandhi and Albert Einstein would score highly; Genghis Khan would not.” (Hamer, writing in Religion News Service).

Hamer’s ‘self-transcendence’ scale is built on a subscale of three precepts: “One of them is called self-forgetfulness: a measure of people’s propensity to completely lose themselves in what they’re doing, whether it’s weeding the garden or meditating or whatever. People who are self-transcendent put less focus on themselves and more on everything outside of them. They see the connections to things. A psychic component is called ‘transpersonal identification,’ a feeling of a sense of unity with everything else in the universe. Then there’s a third scale called mysticism or spiritual acceptance which is more like, do you think mystical experiences have changed your life? Do you believe that science can’t explain everything? Do you believe that there might be ESP, for example? Believing that there is more going on than meets the eye.” (See interview with Laura Sheahen.)

The most hard-nosed atheist can “see everything in the world as part of one great totality,” certainly inasmuch as such a predilection can even be measured in the laboratory. Moreover, does the propensity to lose oneself in a task — weeding the garden, e.g. — really confer “faith” on the subject who is lost in the task? The real contradiction here, though, is the third pillar of Cloninger’s subscale. People who believe science can explain everything (at least theoretically) have a very strong faith indeed. I know I do. I — and probably most of the heathen atheists I know — would score very high on this so-called “propensity to faith.” At the end of the day, it’s kind of meaningless.

P.S. Mao dangling from the rear window is no more superstitious than a St. Xtopher medal hanging there. Less so, in fact — at least Mao existed.

33

Matt 02.13.05 at 3:07 pm

Ah- Dean Hamer is involved. I should have known. I suspect this will be a lot like his work on the “gay gene”- no one but he will be able to replicate his results, and when people are watching more closely, even he won’t be able to replicate them very well, w/o using lots of tricks. But, in the mean time he’ll have been on TV and radio a lot, made quite a lot of money, and made people believe a lot of what’s not true. One difference, though, is that it’s unlikely that the religious will be very excited about believing in this supposed gene, while there was a large group of homosexuals (Hamer among them) that thought the supposed gay gene was in their interest (and not just financial interest, as it was for Hamer). (But, do see the post relating to this on Mirror of Justice, link in the law section of the blog roll. Pretty silly, really, but worth looking at.)

34

Uncle Kvetch 02.13.05 at 3:10 pm

Kristof and Brooks appear to be competing to carve out a previously unheard-of niche in the chattersphere: the thinking person’s anti-intellectual.

I hope that some of those with relevant scientific expertise who have commented above will also submit their objections and ripostes to Kristof’s employers.

35

Uncle Kvetch 02.13.05 at 3:43 pm

Sorry…have to post this to get my previous post “unstuck.”

36

Thomas Dent 02.13.05 at 4:20 pm

Until he or his sources give us some non-nonsensical measure of ‘spirituality’ I will continue to be a non-believer in the existence of Mr. Kristof’s intellectual capabilities.

A measure of superstitiousness would be a much more promising subject of investigation, however people would probably object to calling religious observances superstitious.

37

RS 02.13.05 at 4:33 pm

“The obvious one is that a large proportion of the US population, and a much larger proportion of the population in other developed countries, appears to lack the necessary gene. If you are going to explain this kind of thing properly in an EP context, you can’t, as Kristof does, assert that believing in God has evolutionary advantages – otherwise atheists would be extinct.”

In an EP context, you’re right – EP is supposed to explain human universals with evolutionary reasoning. But behavioural genetics could propose a gene that makes you more likely to be religious. You’d then have prima facie evidence that religiosity has a genetic component. Then you switch back to EP to argue that the reason humans are so -likely- (not certain) to be religious is that there is an evolutionary advantage. The existence of athiests doesn’t prove the theory wrong because we didn’t evolve in a world where we knew about evolution or physics, you don’t need a “stable mixed-strategy equilibrium” unless religious belief is entirely genetically determined (which it obviously isn’t, as reason and atheists show).

Of course he doesn’t provide very convincing arguments -for- the EP explanation.

38

David Tiley 02.13.05 at 4:40 pm

Isn’t it easier to postulate some kind of genetically caused brain malfunction which makes the sufferer credulous?

39

eudoxis 02.13.05 at 4:58 pm

My pet snail goes to church on Sunday and I don’t. So there we have it, obviously genetics have nothing to do with religiosity.

By the way, I think it’s a strong misreading of Dawkins to suggests he supports “a gene for” tying shoelaces. At least Dawkins understands some biology.

40

Polly 02.13.05 at 5:05 pm

There are ongoing academic debates about the nature of tickling. It is in a category of emotional and physiological anomalies that includes crying and startle responses. There are current battles going on between those who claim tickling is the precursor to humor and those who consider it a complex reflex with little direct relationship to enjoyment or pleasure. It may have developed to encourage people to protect vulnerable areas during fighting, practiced during rough-and-tumble play (all young predators practice fighting in play). It is not necessarily an expression of affection or mutual enjoyment but can also be hostile. For example, some people enjoy being tickled, but others hate it (about 50-50). There exists a kind of “tickle torture” where someone is held down and tickled against their will. One cannot tickle oneself.

I object to Pinker’s glossing over these controversies in order to build a case for his own evolutionary point of view. That isn’t any kind of science.

Part of the evidence for a “God gene” is that religiosity develops as a symptom in certain neurological disorders affecting the temporal lobes (e.g., temporal lobe epilepsy).

Julian Jaynes book was just as speculative as these current evolutionary psychologists, if not more so, and is incorrect in many ways, especially since it is now so old.

In my opinion, this cannot be an argument about whether genes determine a particular behavior. Obviously genes are the blueprint for the brain and the brain provides the substrate for all behavior. The arguments must be about specifics and evidence. These broad Pinker-type explanations are specious and only support ulterior motives to buttress cherished social beliefs. You can tell because he does not deal with any of the specifics and makes so many statements supported by no empirical evidence — just an appeal to common sense, an inherently unscientific way of knowing.

41

Prudence Goodwife 02.13.05 at 5:21 pm

Much of what has been discussed in the comments has been addressed in William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience .

42

RS 02.13.05 at 5:30 pm

JQ:
“Dawkins defends the idea of a gene for tying shoelaces, for example”

Dawkins:
“You can easily translate “gene for religion” as “gene for developing the kind of brain that is predisposed to religion when exposed to a religious culture”. “Gene for skill tying shoelaces” will show itself as such only in a culture where there are shoelaces to be tied.

In another culture the same gene – which would really be responsible for a more general manual dexterity – might show itself as, say, a “gene for skills in making traditional fishing nets” or a “gene for making efficient rabbit snares”. I’ll come back to the more controversial idea of “a gene for sodomy” later.

First, there is a quite separate difficulty. Many people make a hidden, and quite wrong, assumption of a one-to-one mapping between single genes and single effects. We shall see in a moment that it is almost never really like that. Another equally wrong assumption is that genetic effects are inevitable and inescapable. Often, all they do is change statistical probabilities.

Cigarettes can give you cancer. So can genes. We’d expect insurance actuaries to be interested in both. We all know the cigarette effect isn’t inevitable: heavy smokers sometimes reach an advanced age before dying of something else. Smoking just increases the probability of dying of cancer. Genes are like cigarettes. They, too, change probabilities. They (usually) don’t determine your fate absolutely…

It is worth bearing this in mind next time you read of a newlydiscovered “gene for X”. It will almost certainly be a much less momentous discovery than it sounds and it correspondingly should be less alarming – and less controversial.”

43

RS 02.13.05 at 5:33 pm

[At the risk of a double post, apologies in advance]:

JQ:
“Dawkins defends the idea of a gene for tying shoelaces, for example”

Dawkins:
“You can easily translate “gene for religion” as “gene for developing the kind of brain that is predisposed to religion when exposed to a religious culture”. “Gene for skill tying shoelaces” will show itself as such only in a culture where there are shoelaces to be tied.

In another culture the same gene – which would really be responsible for a more general manual dexterity – might show itself as, say, a “gene for skills in making traditional fishing nets” or a “gene for making efficient rabbit snares”. I’ll come back to the more controversial idea of “a gene for sodomy” later.

First, there is a quite separate difficulty. Many people make a hidden, and quite wrong, assumption of a one-to-one mapping between single genes and single effects. We shall see in a moment that it is almost never really like that. Another equally wrong assumption is that genetic effects are inevitable and inescapable. Often, all they do is change statistical probabilities.

Cigarettes can give you cancer. So can genes. We’d expect insurance actuaries to be interested in both. We all know the cigarette effect isn’t inevitable: heavy smokers sometimes reach an advanced age before dying of something else. Smoking just increases the probability of dying of cancer. Genes are like cigarettes. They, too, change probabilities. They (usually) don’t determine your fate absolutely…

It is worth bearing this in mind next time you read of a newlydiscovered “gene for X”. It will almost certainly be a much less momentous discovery than it sounds and it correspondingly should be less alarming – and less controversial.”

44

Mary Kay 02.13.05 at 5:45 pm

While I am dubious about the existence of a god gene, personal observation suggests to me the possibility of a god chemical. I have always wanted, at times rather desperately, to believe in a god and/or a religion — I just can’t. As part of my spiritual seeking and investigation I have talked to a number of people about how their experience works, how/why they believe, and, especially, about conversion experiences. Almost invariably the latter involves a state which seems to be to be electro-chemically induced. Indeed, I seem often to see obvious triggers to alterered chemical states in these accounts. But the people involved invariably see the hand of god instead. Now, I have a chemically faulty brain. I take drugs to help regulate its serotonion and norepinephrine levels because it doesn’t do a good job of regulating those on its own. It’s a small step from there to suspecting that there’s very likely another chemical that causes or facilitates states many people perceive as religious experience of some variety. Brains are tremendously complex systems we really don’t understand very well, but those of us with malfunctioning brains can testify as to just how much of things traditionally called character or personality are, in fact, chemical in nature.

MKK

45

Keith 02.13.05 at 5:48 pm

Bonobos and chimpanzees, our closest genetic relatives, lack the God gene, as well as the gene that shapes gluteal muscles in the way that allows us to walk upright. This proves conclusively that the God gene and the ass gene are on the same chromosome.

46

Dan 02.13.05 at 5:48 pm

FWIW, there’s a weaker form of evolutionary psychology that avoids both the just-so stories and the stupid claims of the sort that Kristof makes. The “ecologically rational” view suggests that humans evolved to make good decisions quickly in uncertain environments, and so human cognition can be understood as a kind of statistical learning process with biases that are tuned to particular types of environments. So some kinds of prior assumptions are built into our decision-making processes, but particular beliefs are not. Moreover, to avoid circular reasoning, you actually have to look at the statistical structure of the environment. Unfortunately, no-one seems to be interested in writing editorials about this kind of work.

47

luci phyrr 02.13.05 at 5:52 pm

What is the NYT trying to do with Tom Friedman, Kristoff and Brooks?

Is the NYT the best US journalism can do?

48

luminous beauty 02.13.05 at 6:07 pm

A lot of reasonable yammer here, all illusory mists of prejudice and pre-concieved notions of god, faith, spirituality, narrowly constrained by the dualistic argumentation of the post-Aristotelean arrogance of both western religion and atheist philosophy, locked in a petty fight of children afraid to admit the infinite extent of their ignorance.

Derrida is important, not just for his work in textual analysis, but his trans-rational taunting of the narrow, button down, objectivist, rationalist, robot mentality that demeans and diminishes the awesome wonder of the mind. He is correct that knowledge is a cultural artifact and that there is no external objective reality, for the simple reason there is no real externality or self-existing thought, there is only open, inter-active process. Some philosophers just want to have fun.

If I want science I go to the journals and look at the methodology, the data, the graphs, and the mathematical analysis. If there is any deductive speculation about the consequence of the given findings I do not conclude that is any kind of epistemelogical fact or worthy opinion, but speculation on how the process under examination can be further tested. Synthetic explications of scientific findings are marginally useful in apprising the innumerate of scientific knowledge, but extensive philosophical musings are of as much significance as the medieval counting of angels on pinheads. We used to call it Scientism.

If I want mysticism I go to the poets; Rumi, Donne, Shelley, Frost, Schiller, Rimbaud, Ginsburg, etc. People who can handle phatic evocative language, metaphor and mythological meaning without losing their cool; who find mystery and wonder exciting. So much more interesting than synthetic philosophers who want to reduce every damn thing to dry abstract dead mechanical premise. Loosen up, fellas. Closed systems are what you’re seeking, open systems are what we have.

If I want religion, I go to Buddhism; practical ontological advice free from the internal/external absolutism of dualistic theistic/athiestic belief and deadly abstraction.

If pressed I’d have to say the quart or so of gene plasm of all living things on the planet is collectively engaged in the evolving spiritual enterprise we call life, in intimate collaboration with the so called inanimate factors of mineral soil, air, water, and sunshine.

There is not likely to be a self-importance gene, as every ego can be crushed and humiliated, or even, even I say, compassionately removed from the psyche without organic damage, indeed leaving a feeling of relief and wholesomeness.

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Kimmitt 02.13.05 at 6:10 pm

One cannot tickle oneself.

Oddly enough, I can.

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Dan 02.13.05 at 6:30 pm

FWIW, there’s a weaker form of evolutionary psychology that avoids both the just-so stories and the stupid claims of the sort that Kristof makes. The “ecologically rational” view suggests that humans evolved to make good decisions quickly in uncertain environments, and so human cognition can be understood as a kind of statistical learning process with biases that are tuned to particular types of environments. So some kinds of prior assumptions are built into our decision-making processes, but particular beliefs are not. Moreover, to avoid circular reasoning, you actually have to look at the statistical structure of the environment. Unfortunately, no-one seems to be interested in writing editorials about this kind of work.

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fifi 02.13.05 at 6:58 pm

God is dead. Long live the Democracy gene!

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rilkefan 02.13.05 at 8:29 pm

What is the response of those ridiculing the wretched Kristoff to g‘s point above, that twin studies suggest a strong genetic basis for religiousity?

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neil 02.13.05 at 8:39 pm

“These broad Pinker-type explanations are specious and only support ulterior motives to buttress cherished social beliefs.”

Priceless. Exactly what Marx had to say about evolution – a mere projection of bourgeois values onto nature.

Evolutionary psychology has a very sound basis in science. This debate only shows how much sections of the Left have just as much of a problem with evolution as some on the Christian Right.

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gsty 02.13.05 at 9:23 pm

More proof that social science is in big trouble. Somebody could probably unearth works from the late 19th century and put a modern scholars name on it and it would be seen as cutting edge work in ‘socio-genetics’.

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gsty 02.13.05 at 9:24 pm

More proof that social science is in big trouble. Somebody could probably unearth works from the late 19th century and put a modern scholars name on it and it would be seen as cutting edge work in ‘socio-genetics’.

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philosopher 02.13.05 at 9:34 pm

Neil, some evolutionary psychology is decent science, but heaps & gobs of it isn’t — and that includes much of what Pinker says. I’m sure there are some knee-jerk politically-motivated rejections of some good science that is done by more responsible thinkers than he, but you’ve got no evidence that that’s what’s going on here.

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Ajax Bucky 02.13.05 at 9:38 pm

rilkefan-
One obvious response is that religious institutions are attaching their belief systems to an existing genetic predisposition for something that religious faith matches well enough to work.
There are cogent theories around that humankind has been undergoing an evolutionary ontogeny-slowdown for some time. That we’re, as adults, a lot like young primates, not fully-haired, more playful, our learning circuits still wide-open. The idea that that infantilization – as evolutionary process as well as in the seemingly intentional downward manipulation of the “viewing public’s” median intellectual expectations – might produce in many individuals a hunger for a strong protective paternal authority figure who will take responsibility for all the bad things in the world, as well as providing the good – it doesn’t seem too farfetched does it?
What’s suspect is the insistence by so many that we’re all the same (when clearly we’re not), or that the median is immutable, that what is human now has always been what human is – and that anyone not sharing that “God gene’s” expression as religious “faith” is flawed, marginal, and therefore, when the time comes, suited to be left behind.

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Ajax Bucky 02.13.05 at 9:47 pm

rilkefan-
One obvious response is that religious institutions are attaching their belief systems to an existing genetic predisposition for something that religious faith matches well enough to work.
There are cogent theories around that humankind has been undergoing an evolutionary ontogeny-slowdown for some time. That we’re, as adults, a lot like young primates, not fully-haired, more playful, our learning circuits still wide-open. The idea that that infantilization – as evolutionary process as well as in the seemingly intentional downward manipulation of the “viewing public’s” median intellectual expectations – might produce in many individuals a hunger for a strong protective paternal authority figure who will take responsibility for all the bad things in the world, as well as providing the good – it doesn’t seem too farfetched does it?
What’s suspect is the insistence by so many that we’re all the same (when clearly we’re not), or that the median is immutable, that what is human now has always been what human is – and that anyone not sharing that “God gene’s” expression as religious “faith” is flawed, marginal, and therefore, when the time comes, suited to be left behind.

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neil 02.13.05 at 9:54 pm

I’ve read the criticisms of Pinker here (Pinker is not a “responsible thinker”???) and am sorry to say that they are not very scientific.

Where have the critics of evopsych gone through and debunked the various twin studies and other factual evidence?

It is only my opinion, but it appears to me that the general tenor of CT towards evopsych is a hostility not born out by evidence and reminiscent of the Pope’s view that evolution is all very well as long as it stops at the neck.

Really, the reaction to Kristof is a major over-reaction. That there is a possibility of genetic involvement in our predisposition towards religiousness should hardly be considered blasphemous.

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david 02.13.05 at 10:00 pm

Not blasphemous, Neil. Stupid. Like Pinker when he says modern art is dissatisfying on genetic grounds.

what a laugh, EP folks indignant over a lack of evidence.

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philosopher 02.13.05 at 10:12 pm

Neil, you’re badly misrepresenting the dialectical situation here. To attack the kind of just-so-stories-on-steroids sort of stuff that Pinker indulges in and which the Kristof column in question ludicrously indulges in, one need not deny at all that “there is a possibility of genetic involvement in our predisposition towards religiousness”. To say that some EP is done badly is not to say that no good EP is possible. I myself am very gung-ho on EP, and if you want us to start talking about, say, Pascal Boyer, then we could get a conversation going. But your last couple of comments here just indicate more of an interest in name-calling than in dialogue.

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John Quiggin 02.13.05 at 10:14 pm

g, given the evidence that modest variations in environment can produce huge differences in religiosity, the existence of twin studies showing a strong genetic component suggests that the environmental differences in these studies were either very modest or were correlated with the variable of interest (identical twinness). This finding does more to cast doubt on twin studies than to support the idea of heritable religiosity.

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neil 02.13.05 at 10:15 pm

David, it’s not a matter of being “stupid”, it’s an hypothesis that will stand or fall on the basis of evidence.

Providing some counter evidence might be more productive to your argument than stating an opinion. Lots of things that are now considered scientific fact were once considered stupid.

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John Quiggin 02.13.05 at 10:20 pm

Neil, the post points out some obvious evidence against the claim – do you have a response?

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Chris 02.13.05 at 10:20 pm

I am no fan of evolutionary psychology, but it’s interesting to note that there is a burgeoning literature on the evolution of religious, and the vast majority of theat literature treats religion not as a special adaptation, with its own gene (a claim for which there is no evidence whatsoever), but as a cultural development that utilizes ordinary cognitive mechanisms, such as memory (religious beliefs tend to be minimally counterintuitive, allowing them to be more memorable while utilizing intuitive ontological knowledge), and social dynamics, such as the need for hard-to-fake demonstrations of commitment to the group.

Scott Atran has what is probably the most detailed description of this perspective, but there are several other researchers who have come to a similar conclusion.

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john c. halasz 02.13.05 at 10:26 pm

“Lots of things now considered scientific fact were once considered stupid.”- An historicist argument masquerading as an epistemic one. Care to give some examples? And wouldn’t the obverse obtain just as well?

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RS 02.13.05 at 10:31 pm

“given the evidence that modest variations in environment can produce huge differences in religiosity, the existence of twin studies showing a strong genetic component suggests that the environmental differences in these studies were either very modest or were correlated with the variable of interest (identical twinness).”

Surely the environments would be the same in a twin study, isn’t that the point?

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dude 02.13.05 at 10:36 pm

HUH? More dopamine = more spirituality. Wait, I’m sorry, more dopamine = more openness to spirituality on a broad level.

Well, it is more complicated than that, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a biochemical or even genetic origin to it. There is a class of drugs called ‘dissociatives’ that can induce spiritual experiences; these drugs include PCP, ketamine (“special K”) and dextromethorphan (over the counter cough medicine, sometimes known as Robo, Dex, and Skittles when abused). All these drugs can cause a considerable release of dopamine, but they are far more complex than that–they mainly exert there dopaminergic effects through NMDA receptor blockade; though they also block dopamine reuptake at the PCP2 receptor. Ritalin (methylphenidate), the anti-ADD drug, also targets the PCP2 receptor. Additionally, there are internal dissociative chemicals (“angeldustin” or “endopsychosins”) that also exert the effects of dissociative drugs (including near-death experiences).

More info here:

http://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dxm/faq/dxm_neuropharm.shtml#toc.10.7

(endopsychosins)

http://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dxm/faq/dxm_neuropharm.shtml#toc.10

(Neuropharmacology of DXM; much of the info also applies to other dissociatives and endopsychosins)

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neil 02.13.05 at 10:39 pm

John Q, you have made the only scientific criticism by querying the methodology of the twin study. That is a valid observation. Most twin studies attempt to avoid such pitfalls. Perhaps this particular one did not. On the other hand the study’s conclusions may be valid.

Anyway, not even Pinker would argue “gene for” and it’s always the variance due to genetic effects in conjunction with that from the environment. Kristof does not put it very well but I can’t hold it against him that much.

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neil 02.13.05 at 11:10 pm

On a side issue, Pinker’s musings on Art attract a fair amount of flak. I find them interesting but not necessarily convincing.

Ramachandran looks at this area from a slightly different point of view – The neurological basis of artistic universals – http://www.interdisciplines.org/artcog/papers/9/3/1

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Wren 02.13.05 at 11:20 pm

It’s hard to debate Kristof’s observation that the religious live longer lives than the rest of us when you see headlines like this.

Last of Children to See Fatima Virgin Dies at 97

Better than simply going to church and voting Republican, try hard to actually see the Virgin or at least claim you did. Bonus years for stigmata.

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rilkefan 02.13.05 at 11:33 pm

ajax: “What’s suspect is the insistence by so many”

Who are these “many”?

I’m disappointed in john quiggen‘s February 13, 2005 10:14 PM – seems too much like a failure to understand the point of twin studies or, worse, “let’s ignore data we don’t agree with”.

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rob 02.13.05 at 11:42 pm

I don’t really know anything about evolutionary psychology, so it would be unwise of me to say anything about that particularly, but it strikes me that anyone really interested in that kind of area ought to read Donald Davidson’s ‘Mental Events’ and ‘Psychology as Philosophy’ (both in his ‘Actions and Events’). Also, as for weird and semi-comprehensible ramblings about Derrida, have you heard of the linguistic turn?

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lemuel pitkin 02.13.05 at 11:48 pm

rilkefan-

Where’s the failure to understand?

Suppose we had a twins study that showed a strong genetic component in knowledge of French. In general, we know that the langauge one speaks is highly (in fact, entirely) dependent on environment. So we could make sense of these results only by asuming a very uniform environment — easy access to French classes, none to other forign languages — so that what we’re actually seeing is a genetic proclivity for learning lanaguages, which in this very specific context shows up as a higher probability of knowing French. Or we could conclude the twins study was flawed.

The study in question seems analogous.

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rilkefan 02.14.05 at 12:00 am

lemuel, your (and I believe john‘s) argument is simplified to the point of being circular. I don’t see why there can’t be both cultural and genetic components of the traits in question. Surely you don’t mean to claim that there is no genetic basis to language acquisition aptitude.

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Polly 02.14.05 at 12:34 am

Anthropologist Roger Brown catalogued a variety of kinds of universals, ranging from biological ones (e.g., all people have two legs) that are of no research interest because they are trivial, to cultural universalities that arise consistently across cultures because people with similar needs find similar solutions in similar contexts, to near universalities, to statistical universalities. As Brown explains, the broader you define a phenomenon, the more cultures it can encompass, and the greater universality, because greater similarity will be possible. If you define religion permissively and inclusively and do not specify which type of universality you are considering, then it is easy to call religion universal. But what if we define religion narrowly as, perhaps, lutheranism, and insist upon 100% representation in all cultures as the criterion for universality? Some people call science a religion using this trick.

When Pinker refers to tickling as a universality, it is a near-universality, since not everyone is ticklish within a culture, but ticklish interaction is found within MOST cultures worldwide. It is not necessarily biological on that basis but could represent a need for social bonding through play that is solved in the same way in all cultures, taking advantage of a biological mechanism that serves some other purpose. Pinker assumes the explanation consistent with his hypothesis, he does not examine the possible alternatives. That’s why he is not being a scientist but is instead making a propagandistic case through use of selective evidence and ignoring opposing views. I believe this is called “card stacking.”

It gets worse if you start talking about art or religion. I do not know enough about this argument to know whether they are defining in or excluding charismatic religious experience. If they are including it, that would exclude many of the world’s religions, which explicitly teach against such manifestations of religiosity. If they exclude such experience then they rule out the religious experience of many non-Western cultures. How does this work in Pinker’s/Kristol’s argument? Or are they focusing only on theological beliefs and so-called faith (something that plays a small role in religions that are taken literally in cultures where people live without a secular division)?

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Alan Bellis 02.14.05 at 1:18 am

>> David, it’s not a matter of being “stupid”, it’s an hypothesis that will stand or fall on the basis of evidence. >>

That surely depends on the quality of the evidence. Something that can be weighed or measured is one thing, something as subjective & ill defined as, “spirituality”, quite another.

>> Providing some counter evidence might be more productive to your argument than stating an opinion >>

Again, that would be truer if the quality of the evidence was beyond reasonable dispute & in this case it most certainly isn’t. Besides, if you do not agree, then you should be able to state why not, rather than making up some dubious rule about what your opponent can & cannot say – I have never heard anything like it before.

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Ajax Bucky 02.14.05 at 1:30 am

r-fan-
“…who…many?…”
Anyone who talks about universal generic human traits. Anyone who talks about human qualities that are constant through time. Anyone who talks about the “human spirit” as though it were some immutable thing that gets its features adjusted by evolutionary processes but never “really” changes. Anyone who talks about human evolution solely in the past tense, as something that happened to produce “us” but is no longer happening, no longer producing an other, different “us”.
That’s the who-dat for the first part of what was a complex sentence.
The second part would be referring to those who try to assimilate proof of genetic-triggering into their pre-existing superstitions, so that would include everyone from GWBush to the Intelligent Design’ers to who knows but there’s a bunch of ‘em.
My reply was, in case it got away from you, to your original question “What is the response of those … to g’s point above, that twin studies suggest a strong genetic basis for religiousity?”
As I said then, it may well be that the genetic basis possibly revealed in the twin studies cited is for something religiosity, through the agency of religious institutions, opportunistically attaches itself to, not for religion per se.
In addition we could consider whether or not the steady removal of non-believers from the gene “pool” has, over time, selected for whatever gene it is that can cause people to mindlessly follow charismatic leaders and/or take comfort in logically inane explanations of existence that promise a reward to them for passive docility and blind obedience here, in the next world. Though that’s a tangent.
As I also said, a steady process of infantilization might just account for the willing acceptance of an unseen paternal authority figure by so “many”. But if quibbling over terms is more to your liking than addressing those points, have at it again.

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rilkefan 02.14.05 at 1:42 am

ajax, no need to get your dander up. I am in nearly complete agreement with you about the correlation question and the question of infantilization (what I think of as “taming” – don’t know if I got this view from Dawkins or Diamond). I’m simply unfamiliar with those making the “human spirit” arguments you refer to and find that specificity in such matters makes these debates less unbearable.

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neil 02.14.05 at 2:17 am

What influence would knowledge of a genetic predisposition for religiousness (if this turns out to be true) have on the matter of dealing with conservative religious assaults on liberal values?

Such knowledge would be of no use to conservative Christians since they would no doubt take umbrage at the suggestion that their belief in God has something to do with genes.

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masaccio 02.14.05 at 2:27 am

There was an article in Scientific American a while back suggesting that there might be a genetic basis to the seemingly universal desire of humans to find explanations for things. This might be the “god gene”, since the notion of god can be used to explain a lot of things. It does seem that there might be a reasonable argument that it might be a useful evolutionary tool.

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McDuff 02.14.05 at 3:15 am

I don’t see why there being a genetic reason for believing in God makes it a good or necessary thing in the modern age. Human beings also have a genetic predisposition towards eating lots of salt and fat. Important and evolutionary necessary when these things were rare, now a positive liability, as obesity and heart-disease rates show. We have used our massive brains to change our environment far faster than our genes can cope with, so if anything all this shows is that credulous belief in God is as good for you as a Big Mac with large fries.

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perezoso 02.14.05 at 3:25 am

It’s amusing how these clever post.mods and theists phrase this argument against Ev. Psych.: as if there was some alternative– platonism, theology, useless unverifiable garbage such as Derrida–to biology, to determinism, to genetics. The argument should be (more so in this post-tsunami world) how is any theological or transcendent view of mind justified–yeah somewhat obvious, but that is a much more arduous task than defending genetic determinism, iddnt it

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john c. halasz 02.14.05 at 3:41 am

perezoso:

There is a large gap between a “theological or transcendent view of mind” and genetic determinism. This is one of those cases where the “law of the excluded middle” just ain’t so.

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Phil 02.14.05 at 4:17 am

to john quiggen:

you don’t seem to understand evolutionary psychology / sociobiology. any genetic influence on human behavior depends on cultural /environmental influences as well. so people with the “god genes” raised a certain way might end up more religious than they would have if they were raised another way. behaviors are only genetically determined according to certain environmental circumstances.

You’re really misrepresenting Dawkins and company. they don’t deny the influence of the environment people grow up and live in. have you even read Dawkins?

too many people are foolishly afraid/mocking of EP/SB because they don’t understand it (and it’s not at all hard to understand if you actually read it). they foolishly think that it espouses a “genetic determinism” where there’s no free will and everything we do is already decided by our genes. well that’s not it at all.

furthermore, the inclusion of environmental/cultural influences on our behavior also robs us of our free will. it is not a matter of nature vs. nurture. it is nature and nurture and nothing else?

in psychology one of the first things they teach you is that for the purposes of the science there is no such thing as free will (undetermined behavior); there is only nature and nurture and nothing else.

anyway, quit misrepresenting and dissing EP/SB. how can anyone deny the influence of genes? that’s so ridiculous. what makes us and our behavior so different from an amoeba and so (relatively) similar to chimps? our genes.

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complainer 02.14.05 at 4:55 am

Re NK it’s the sheer *windiness* of it that gets me. I’d expect to see this in a 3rd-tier columnist but what’s the NYT for? No, don’t answer that. Easterbrook, Brooks, NK … I really start miss Safire. Wrong he may have been most of the time but he was smart, interesting, and had enough self-respect and respect for the reader not to pass off this sort of warmed-over crap as a column.

Even E.O. Wilson, for Chrissakes, wouldn’t waste your time like this. And at least he knows his damn ants.

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Donald A. Coffin 02.14.05 at 4:57 am

My problem with the “genetic” explanation of everything is the same as my problem with the “change in tastes” explanation of everything in econmics. In the absence of an observable gene-to-effect pathway, the genetic explanation explains everything, which means it can’t ever be shown to be wrong. Of course, that’s an economist talking about genetics, so you’re getting what you pay for.

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Donald A. Coffin 02.14.05 at 5:04 am

Tried posting this once (about 15 minutes ago), but it didn’t show up. Trying again.

My problem with the “genetic” explanation of everything is the same as my problem with the “change in tastes” explanation of everything in econmics. In the absence of an observable gene-to-effect pathway, the genetic explanation explains everything, which means it can’t ever be shown to be wrong. Of course, that’s an economist talking about genetics, so you’re getting what you pay for.

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Kieran 02.14.05 at 5:21 am

Just to pre-empt the “CT is a bunch of anti-science lefties who can’t stand the truth of Evo Psych”, here’s a post from last October on this and related topics.

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rilkefan 02.14.05 at 5:38 am

kieran, any response to Pinker’s rebuttal of Fodor cited in that thread?

And really the post strikes me as yes buttery. You’d have to have leaned more on the yes side to make your February 14, 2005 05:21 AM claim.

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John Quiggin 02.14.05 at 6:43 am

It’s certainly striking how many EP supporters assume that anyone who denies the obvious truth of their position, or even criticises its sillier emanations, must be a postmodernist of some kind. A search on “postmodern” and cognate terms here and on my blog might suggest otherwise.

The only reason EP silliness gets more airplay here than the postmodernist variety is that there is more raw material to hand (unless you count the kind of postmodern Republican disdain for objective truth that gets bagged here all the time).

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rilkefan 02.14.05 at 6:52 am

“The only reason EP silliness gets more airplay here than the postmodernist variety”

How do you know this?

“there is more raw material to hand”

What’s the ratio and associated uncertainty?

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dsquared 02.14.05 at 7:36 am

I would hazard a guess that it would not take me more than forty minutes and high-school calculus (Americans: undergraduate calculus) to start with the truisms that a) gullible women are easier to get into bed and b) gullible men are easy to take advantage of in other ways, and come up with a stable-strategy equilibrium which, if you squinted your eyes and read it quickly, could be taken as “proving” that there is a gene for believing in Kristof-style evolutionary psychology.

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bad Jim 02.14.05 at 8:20 am

I’m with Mary Kay (or MKK). If our genes code for anything that promotes a mystical experience, it’s likely as not a chronic neurotransmitter imbalance.

The technology required for making bread being essentially the same as that for making beer, and the near simulaneity of these accomplishments and the emergence of civilization and organized religion, suggest that differences in the ability to metabolize alcohol might incline some towards mysticism and others otherwise.

But are the god-mad saints the drunks or the sober?

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Walt Pohl 02.14.05 at 8:29 am

The link to Pinker’s rebuttal doesn’t actually work.

These defenses of evolutionary psychology are absurd. It’s like we’re being forced to live through Freudianism all over again, where any reasonable objection is met with the shrieks of j’accuse.

The fact that twin studies show that there is a correlation between twinness and religosity is interesting and suggestive. But that’s a long way from showing that we now know that being religious is genetic. I’m fine with someone half-assedly speculating that being religious is genetic, but for that person to upset that someone calls them on the half-assedness of it is _astonishing_. Maybe someday it will lead to important science, but we are so far away from being able to draw real conclusions that skeptics are perfectly entitled to their skepticism.

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x 02.14.05 at 9:03 am

“Evolutionary psychology has a very sound basis in science. This debate only shows how much sections of the Left have just as much of a problem with evolution as some on the Christian Right.”

Except evolution in _biology_ is in a completely different realm than “evolutionary psychology”. In biology, you can determine which traits evolved, in what species, in what time. With psychology, what with it being a social science and not a physical science, you cannot. You cannot arbitrarily decide a particular psychological trait is the result of genetics, with culture, society, personal experiences, playing no relevant part whatsoever. Because you cannot verify that, as you can never find a human being who hasn’t been exposed to social, cultural and personal experiences in their lives.

The only way to verify even the wackiest assumptions of evolutionary psychology would be to take a newborn baby, put them in a completely isolated environment, with no human contact whatsoever, for life. Then check if he or she starts believing in god, or playing with trucks instead of dolls, or voting Republican. Except, they wouldn’t be able to do any of that, and you wouldn’t be able to record their thoughts anyway, because they wouldn’t have even learnt to speak because no one taught them. In fact, they probably wouldn’t be able to survive without human interaction in the first place. Which perhaps says something about the importance of society and culture.

Maybe genetics is a more complex thing than simple determinism, when it comes to personality, emotions, thoughts. Shifting one theory from one scientific domain to an un-scientific one is not “rooted in science” – it is only a magician’s trick.

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x 02.14.05 at 9:37 am

Brains are tremendously complex systems we really don’t understand very well, but those of us with malfunctioning brains can testify as to just how much of things traditionally called character or personality are, in fact, chemical in nature.

Mary, the fact that everything that happens in the brain is a chemical process is a moot point; experiences themselves alter the chemistry of the brain. Anything that is learnt builds new connections. It’s not a one-way process.
How is that suppose to confirm a genetic basis for religiosity? And what do we mean by religiosity – people who go to church; people who claim they believe in god; people who claim they have visions and mystical experiences? The latter group, regardless of how genuine or not their claims can be (as there is no scientific way to ascertain that either), are definitely a very very small subset of people who follow any given religion. Suppose there is a genetic factor that predisposed saints, mystics, buddhas and sufis to go into the desert and speak to god. I doubt they’d have come back to go vote for Republicans. The Christian Right in America is about as far removed from the mystical kind of religiosity as can be. It is a political movement. It is an ideology. A system of ideas with a history and a precise social and political development and goals.

Of course evolutionary psychology has such an appeal for certain people precisely because it can be used to do away with any attempt to analyse social phenomena for what they are. If something has to do largely with social and cultural changes, it can in turn be changed. If we can just toss up the idea it has to do more or exclusively with genetics, then it cannot be changed. This ideological intent is very clear in studies on gender – you can come up with all sorts of theories why females are more inclined to x and males more inclined to y by virtue of some supposed genetic selection of traits associated with gender, we don’t need to bother with explaining why we associate those traits with a particular gender at all. It just is like that. And forever will be. Amen.

This is science in exactly the same way that creationism or “intelligent design” is. It isn’t.

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RS 02.14.05 at 9:50 am

I’m not familiar with the man’s biography but as far as I can tell he’s a journalist, not an academic. So isn’t a lot of this invective missing the point somewhat? I mean EP has plenty of its own failings without ascribing the failings of a rubbish (and quite possibly light-hearted/fluffy) journalistic exposition to it.

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x 02.14.05 at 9:56 am

in psychology one of the first things they teach you is that for the purposes of the science there is no such thing as free will (undetermined behavior); there is only nature and nurture and nothing else.

Talk about misrepresentation…
You’re confusing psychology with Greek tragedy.

Re- the “evolutionary psychology is just sooo misrepresented” refrain – yeah, it’s true, it does not make the claim that all other influences that it cannot posit as a matter of “evolutionary psychology” do not exist. It is simply not interested in how they operate. Thus, in practice, it does away with them. The very basic demand that evolution in biology can be posited to work in the same way in human behaviour is deterministic. It is inherently dismissive of the relevance of those other factors that do influence human behaviour, especially behaviours that have become established social patterns.

Funny how it’s claimed to be a science, without actually being one, and yet, defended as it if was a religion.

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chris 02.14.05 at 10:32 am

Whenever I see a discussion like this I want to know:

a. How many of those posting have an undergraduate degree in a discipline relevant to evolutionary biology;
b. What proportion of these are broadly pro or anti JQ’s general thesis.

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Phil 02.14.05 at 1:03 pm

well this X person obviously has no biology training.

most of Cornell’s bio and psych depts. would probably say people like him/her are seriously misrepresenting evolutionary psych / sociobiology.

i suggest reading some dawkins. it’s highly accessible and quite interesting if you want to learn more about how biological things work. usually, the concept most people find controversial is “memes.” remember, Dawkins is the one who refers to religion as a cultural virus of sorts.

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RS 02.14.05 at 1:13 pm

Chris,

Short answer:
a. Kinda
b. Kinda

Long answer:
a. Studied evolutionary biology and animal behaviour as part of a wider undergraduate degree, extensive postgraduate experience of biology and psychology
b. See previous post, but essentially I agree with the sentiment if not the specific arguments.

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Phil 02.14.05 at 1:22 pm

oh. and to clarify, because i don’t think X understood me at all,

by nature i was referring to DNA
and
by nurture i was referring to environment (including culture, “social patterns,” and all that jazz).

psychology is not in the business of studying supernatural things. if human behavior is not deterministic (i.e., determined by nature and nurture and nothing else) then there’s no way to study it. the science depends on assuming no such thing as free will (defined as undetermined behavior).

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Donald A. Coffin 02.14.05 at 3:24 pm

And this just in (in yesterday’s LA Times):

Love, Lust and Homo Sapiens

By Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Barnett, Rosalind C. Barnett is a senior scientist at Brandeis University and Caryl Rivers is a professor of journalism at Boston University. Their book, “Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Rela

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-op-mating13feb13,0,2637899.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions

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x 02.14.05 at 4:33 pm

No, phil, I do not have a training in biology. Is that supposed to imply that no one can seriously have an unfavourable opinion of evolutionary psychology unless they have a degree in biology, or that all those who have degrees in biology must have favourable opinions of evolutionary psychology? Or?

Anyway. See the trackbank link at Pharyngula. The views expressed there happen to coincide with mine (and John’s), and it’s by someone with a PhD in biology, as well as someone who can write much better than I do. There are more people with biology training and similar views on EP. It’s not impossible or contradictory. What with EP being a completely different use of the notion of “evolution” within a completely different branch. Simply enough.

psychology is not in the business of studying supernatural things. if human behavior is not deterministic (i.e., determined by nature and nurture and nothing else) then there’s no way to study it. the science depends on assuming no such thing as free will (defined as undetermined behavior).

That seems to me a very bizarre and simplistic notion of psychology. That “else” is not the realm of the supernatural, just because it is not deterministic. It is the very realm of human behaviour, choices, actions. The psychology I know is not deterministic, and is not a science in the way biology is. But perhaps there are as many notions of it as there are of evolution.

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Alex Fradera 02.14.05 at 4:40 pm

How exciting, we get to declare our expertise! Well, as an undergrad I did psychology, took both advanced evo psych options, taught the concepts behind The Selfish Gene to my seminar class, and generally headbanged for the cause. I’m now a PhD student, and read more widely around than the fun ‘one-size-fits-all’ stuff I was toting back then. It’s interesting, because when you break it down, it seems to me it is NOT the scientists who are the big EP advocates.

In the study of brain and behaviour, everyone employs evolutionary constraints – it’s embedded in the way we approach problems (that seems implausible, as it would be very costly to instantiate). But with the exemption of those who actively pursue it, people don’t think very much of Evolutionary Psychology, as coined, at all. A lot of them are pretty embarrassed by it. See, EP as not looking at the biological underpinnings of our brain, and the forces that may have shaped it. EP is a fairly big leap to applying physicalist-type arguments to the social realm.

You will find no sensible scientist grumbling about research into the evolutionary basis for colour vision, but a fair few will deride work on the evolutionary basis for standing in queues, or a phenomena as complex, wide-ranging and ephemeral as religion. I think it should be fairly self-evident as to why. And the key point is that EP is all the stuff about queues and religion, sulking and modern art, and NOT the other stuff. I’m not playing a definition game here: EP is a fairly specific research program, and no-one researching visual area V4, the role of the hippocampus in spatial memory or failures motor coordination is not part of this.

Meanwhile, many of the people enthusiastic about evolutionary psychology seem without a scientific brief, and it seems to me its popularity is partly due to the fact it allows you to play at science without really knowing very much science at all. Just arm yourself with a casual observation, conduct a little unrigourous thought experiment for why it might be so, and conclude that dang, it must be so for those very reasons.

Of course, this has all been said before, in previous CT threads – http://tinyurl.com/6y93a – and again I will suggest
the Heyes paper and Panksepp papers for those who only get their goods from one market

Heyes – (2003, in psychological review, 110(4), 713-727 – I seem to be hawking this around the internet in a campaign of putting EP in its place….)
Abstract and possible full text here (you will need to have a password for full text) http://tinyurl.com/6dl28

Or equally a Panksepp paper, which is a bit older so some of the crit may be obsolete. But its worth checking out.
http://tinyurl.com/382pm

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Alex Fradera 02.14.05 at 4:44 pm

The bracket comment above

(that seems implausible, as it would be very costly to instantiate)

should read

(e.g. “that seems implausible, as it would be very costly to instantiate”)

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Alex Fradera 02.14.05 at 4:46 pm

The bracketed comment above

(that seems implausible, as it would be very costly to instantiate)

should read

(e.g. “that seems implausible, as it would be very costly to instantiate”)

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Alex Fradera 02.14.05 at 4:50 pm

and

the role of the hippocampus in spatial memory or failures motor coordination is not part of this.

should read

the role of the hippocampus in spatial memory or failures of motor coordination is part of this.

Damn. I guess I never got the proofread gene.

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Alex Fradera 02.14.05 at 4:55 pm

and

the role of the hippocampus in spatial memory or failures motor coordination is not part of this.

should read

the role of the hippocampus in spatial memory or failures of motor coordination is part of this.

Damn. I guess I never got the proofread gene.

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freply 02.14.05 at 7:01 pm

If you are going to explain this kind of thing properly in an EP context, you can’t, as Kristof does, assert that believing in God has evolutionary advantages – otherwise atheists would be extinct.

Skimming over the many, many comments to question this. If there are evolutionary advantages to belief in God, could it not be that developments in societal organization over the last small number of years (<1000) have compensated for those advantages? I mean, good vision has evolutionary advantages, but nearsighted people (like me) aren't extinct. Cooperative social structures and then technology have compensated for myopia.

Not that I particularly want to uphold the EP viewpoint on this. Just questioning the form of this particular argument.

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perezoso 02.14.05 at 8:06 pm

Criticizing the people involved in ev.psych. for making inferences (beyond any observable gene-to- effect pathway still to be discovered) is not tenable; true ev. psych. is not biochemistry, but since Pavlov forward psych. people have claimed that the study of human behavior deals with the same world–physical and chemical– that science deals with.

it seems one must assume that human behavior is determined by genetic factors (and shaped/affected by conditioning/environment /adapatation etc.)….or join david chalmers and the rest of the nut cases in the quantum theology department– or perhaps throw the i ching? tarot? call David Chalmers now for a free tarot reading!

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neil 02.14.05 at 8:20 pm

“Of course evolutionary psychology has such an appeal for certain people precisely because it can be used to do away with any attempt to analyse social phenomena for what they are.”

Absurd. No one invloved in EP denies the influence of the environment.

“Meanwhile, many of the people enthusiastic about evolutionary psychology seem without a scientific brief, and it seems to me its popularity is partly due to the fact it allows you to play at science without really knowing very much science at all.”

Many people enthusiastic about evolution have no science background. Evolution must therefore be wrong.

“You cannot arbitrarily decide a particular psychological trait is the result of genetics, with culture, society, personal experiences, playing no relevant part whatsoever.”

That is true and no EP is so arbitrary and, again, no one is denying the role of the environment.

Still no substantial challenge to the hypothesis that religiousness has a genetic component. Lots of allegations about the motives of those who are keen on EP but no chalenge to the science involved except John Q’s querry about the methodology of twin studies.

John Q’s first line of argument against the hypothesis is that if it were true then atheists would be extinct. That is not a vaild argument in the same way that the non-extinction of homosexuals contradicts a genetic explanation for homsexaulity is not vaild.

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neil 02.14.05 at 8:34 pm

“Of course evolutionary psychology has such an appeal for certain people precisely because it can be used to do away with any attempt to analyze social phenomena for what they are.”

Absurd. No one involved in EP denies the influence of the environment.

“Meanwhile, many of the people enthusiastic about evolutionary psychology seem without a scientific brief, and it seems to me its popularity is partly due to the fact it allows you to play at science without really knowing very much science at all.”

Many people enthusiastic about evolution have no science background. Evolution must therefore be wrong.

“You cannot arbitrarily decide a particular psychological trait is the result of genetics, with culture, society, personal experiences, playing no relevant part whatsoever.”

That is true and no EP is so arbitrary and, again, no one is denying the role of the environment.

Still no substantial challenge to the hypothesis that religiousness has a genetic component. Lots of allegations about the motives of those who are keen on EP but no challenge to the science involved except John Q’s query about the methodology of twin studies.

John Q’s first line of argument against the hypothesis is that if it were true then atheists would be extinct. That is not a valid argument in the same way that the non-extinction of homosexuals contradicts a genetic explanation for homosexuality is not valid.

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neil 02.14.05 at 8:37 pm

Apologies for doubdle post.

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John Quiggin 02.14.05 at 8:47 pm

“John Q’s first line of argument against the hypothesis is that if it were true then atheists would be extinct. That is not a vaild argument in the same way that the non-extinction of homosexuals contradicts a genetic explanation for homsexaulity is not vaild.”

Reread the post, Neil. I pointed out that to make the story work you need a stable mixed-equilibrium model like the “helper gene” theory of homosexuality that got a run in the early days of sociobiology. Neither Kristof nor his sources provided such a model.

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John Quiggin 02.14.05 at 8:51 pm

freply, the problem here is that there is no evidence as to the advantages of religiosity in the past, only some dubious claims about its advantages in the present. So its the opposite of the situation with myopia

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freply 02.14.05 at 9:05 pm

Ah. Thanks. I may have misparsed the original statement.

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RS 02.14.05 at 9:05 pm

“Still no substantial challenge to the hypothesis that religiousness has a genetic component.”

Yes there is. As far as I can tell your evidence, apart from hand-waving speculation, is a single association study (VMAT2 with a measure of spirituality) done by Hamer, that doesn’t seem to have been published.

Why hasn’t he published it? What was the methodology – did he fix the high and low groups so that he could get a spurious association? What is the probability of this association being due to chance? etc.

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neil 02.14.05 at 9:07 pm

John, I take that point back, there would have to be something as you suggest. But just because Kristof doesn’t outline something is hardly a major criticism. It’s a newspaper artilce not a scientific paper.

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Mary Kay 02.14.05 at 9:08 pm

Dear x: It isn’t supposed to be support for genetic basis of religiosity; as said in my first sentence, I doubted the existence thereof. The rest of your post seemed completely irrelevant to what I said. And it’s Mary Kay thanks, if you wish to address me by name.

Chris: No and no. I mean I studied the stuff in college as part of a wide undergrad education and read Gould devotedly but that’s it. However, as the possessor of a brain with certain physiological problems, I know as much as possible about the functioning of brains and the interaction of brain and perception and experience. I do have a postgraduate degree but it’s in Library and Information Science not in any of the biological areas.

MKK

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RS 02.14.05 at 9:12 pm

Further to my other post (which may or may not show up)…forgot about the twin studies – more similar levels of religiosity among MZ versus DZ twins may not indicate a genetic basis of religiosity per se – rather it could be due to the closer relationship of MZs and their, therefore being more likely to do things together (like go to church, which is I think the measure of religiosity).

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Alex Fradera 02.14.05 at 10:26 pm

“Meanwhile, many of the people enthusiastic about evolutionary psychology seem without a scientific brief, and it seems to me its popularity is partly due to the fact it allows you to play at science without really knowing very much science at all.”

Many people enthusiastic about evolution have no science background. Evolution must therefore be wrong.

Not at all. The statement was about EPs popularity, not an inductive case for it being invalid. But I think its worth noting that it gets press and popularity out of proportion to its popularity with people who seriously study brain and behaviour. I think it’s interesting – and would suggest its because a lot of scientists don’t have a lot of confidence in its ability to tackle the ground it has chosen with its particular toolbox, at this moment in time. I agree with someone up-thread that in the future Evolutionary Psychology may BE psychology, or at least one strata of explanation, and if it was really delivering we would all be evolutionary psychologists now. It’s not, in the main, so we don’t. Not to say there isn’t good work coming out of it -as in many areas of psychology, a young science of a hugely complex subject – just that we should apply our skepticism, especially when people are making big claims about immutability, or being designed for anything.
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RS 02.14.05 at 10:59 pm

“Still no substantial challenge to the hypothesis that religiousness has a genetic component.”

I know a few people working in personality genetics (bored psychiatric geneticists by and large) and they tell me that it is very very very very difficult to establish gene associations with personality traits, the sample sizes required for these sorts of effects are currently unfeasible because the effects are so small, and replication is nigh impossible. So I am, unsurprisingly, skeptical about data that the author won’t publish, because I can guess why.

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seth edenbaum 02.14.05 at 11:21 pm

This thread became silly a long time ago. It reminds me of the argument about the anthropic principle with the difference being that the difference between the ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ principles is ignored. SAP is the religious argument that the world being as it it, it was designed for us. WAP is the common sense understanding that the world is such that it is possible for us to exist. There have been a few comments here, including mine, that make no claims against a weak EP, and it should be obvious that the one does not lead to the other. Dan made the point well:

“FWIW, there’s a weaker form of evolutionary psychology that avoids both the just-so stories and the stupid claims of the sort that Kristof makes. The “ecologically rational” view suggests that humans evolved to make good decisions quickly in uncertain environments, and so human cognition can be understood as a kind of statistical learning process with biases that are tuned to particular types of environments. So some kinds of prior assumptions are built into our decision-making processes, but particular beliefs are not. Moreover, to avoid circular reasoning, you actually have to look at the statistical structure of the environment. Unfortunately, no-one seems to be interested in writing editorials about this kind of work.”

And please lets stop using ‘spirituality’ as a term of reference. It’s meaningless. ‘Faith’ makes more sense, since it means a faith in something. People tend to have a faith in stories, some more than others. It only makes sense that this has some evolutionary function, or is related to one. The argument over whether there is another ‘plane of existence,’ however, is not worth having. I’m not going to argue with the Pope any more than I am with a Yanomami.

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no prescription needed 02.14.05 at 11:45 pm

Interesting. Have any of you checked out the prescription information on Medicare? In case you need any no prescription needed medication, I recently got mine through this site http://www.noprescriptioneeded.com/ and I have already received my no prescription needed meds. Or you can find more information on no prescription needed pharmacies here. Again, awesome point.

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Peter 02.15.05 at 8:04 am

“Maybe genetics is a more complex thing than simple determinism, when it comes to personality, emotions, thoughts.”

Why is Steven Pinker accused above only of dealing with straw men when this sort of post is typical of exactly how most criticisms of EP are raised? Is x a straw man of Steven Pinker’s creation?

And I’m not even sure x’s stuff isn’t preferable, despite its ignorance, to those like John Quiggin who will happily concede that all sides agree human behaviour, the mind etc. are a mixture of genetics and environment, but will then go out of their way to deny and discredit any studies and evidence – sorry, “Garbage” – that are summoned to demonstate specifically where that genetic influence might actually take effect – and not only that, but will boast of how much they dislike the whole discipline, the entire field of science, that tries to find these things out.

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x 02.15.05 at 11:51 am

Mary Kay, I was responding to both your post and the topic in general, not attributing to you everything I was responding to. No offence was meant by getting your name “wrong” by reading only the first and not the second name. Sorry!

Neil – “No one invloved in EP denies the influence of the environment.”

No, but, again, when someone makes the following statement (see this post):

bq. Boys are more likely to be learning disabled or retarded but also more likely to reach the top percentiles in assessments of mathematical ability, even though boys and girls are similar in the bulk of the bell curve. The pattern is readily explained by evolutionary biology. Since a male can have more offspring than a female–but also has a greater chance of being childless (the victims of other males who impregnate the available females)–natural selection favors a slightly more conservative and reliable baby-building process for females and a slightly more ambitious and error-prone process for males.

and that someone happens to be Pinker, not Kristof, how is it a “misrepresentation” of Pinker to observe he is a) positing differences in academic results equal differences in academic skills and b) “explaining” that (without actually explaining it) simply by making a jump into another field entirely, ie. biology, reproduction, with the accompaniment of colourful vignettes from prehistoric times to boot?

How is that reasoning not a way of dismissing the complexities of phenomena in which social, cultural factors do play a relevant part?

Forgive me for expressing my thoughts in such simplistic ways that do not stand up to the kind of exact scrutiny required by the most strenous defenders of the most bombastic claims by the most prominent evolutionary psychology theorists. I am taking for granted the distinction someone pointed out, which I didn’t think would need pointing out, between that kind of claim as Pinker’s above, and the mere, simple idea that there may be a biological, genetic component to certain _behaviours_. Talk about straw men. You don’t need to be a Pinker fan to accept that. Especially when it comes to specific kinds of behaviour, such as behavioural disorders, for instance, that can be observed a bit more precisely than complex historical, social, cultural phenomena. For those phenomena, be they academic performance or religious faith, simply positing, or affirming (“can be easily explained”…) a genetic predisposition via a jump from sociology into biology is not the same thing as genuinely researching the possible hereditary factors of, say, alcoholism, addiction, depression, or OCD.

peter – And I’m not even sure x’s stuff isn’t preferable, despite its ignorance, to those like John Quiggin who will happily concede that all sides agree human behaviour, the mind etc. are a mixture of genetics and environment
Everyone is “happily conceding” that, it’s not some kind of controversial revolutionary concept. What’s being denied is that making an unsupported leap from revealed preferences in complex social phenomena to biological differences is enough of a genuinely scientific approach. “Evidence” is dismissed when it’s not real evidence but simply assertions. Again, see the above-linked post for another obvious example of what’s being debated.

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Martin Bento 02.15.05 at 9:07 pm

Yes, the article is dumb, but let us be precise in our objections. What most people here have objected to is the genetic reductionism. That’s not evolutionary psychology – that’s selfish genery. One can be a “group selection” evolutionary psychologist (like David Sloan Wilson) or one can embrace selfish genery without applying game theory and other tools of evolutionary psychology. Since selfish genery is the established view in biology, most evolutionary psychologists embrace it, but it is not a logically necessary component of evolutionary psychology itself, AFAICT.

I do think there is a case to be made for religion enhancing survival by positing cosmic enforcement (Last Judgement, karma) of moral principles that optimize game theory problems that otherwise would not be solved as well, at least not in complex societies (where people have to frequently deal with strangers). I don’t say this because I am Republican or Christian: I am neither. In fact, I think the “new age” movement is, at least potentially, a religion, and one which tends to be sympathetic to many liberal ideals, such as tolerance and sexual freedom. The Right does not own religion. Furthermore, if religion does fufill a genuine need – which seems likely since religion itself is so widespread and believed in so fervently – it behooves us to understand that need whether or not we are religious or think that religion also has destructive effects.

“Dopamine is very complex, but it appears linked to both spirituality and promiscuity, possibly explaining some church scandals.)”

It’s also dramatically upped by cocaine use. Should we expect great religiousity from cokeheads if the big D is a proximate cause? Boy George the Lesser may be an example of this, but he seems to be much the outlier.

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rilkefan 02.16.05 at 2:50 am

x, you managed to omit the “One doesn’t have to accept the evolutionary explanation to appreciate how greater male variability could explain, in part, why more men end up with extreme levels of achievement.”
without which your argument about Pinker might actually be reasonable.

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