Dunno how you guys feel about evolutionary psychology...

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Dunno how you guys feel about evolutionary psychology...

Postby Valerie » Fri Nov 09, 2012 11:19 pm

And I'm totes not a professional, let's be f'real.

But I've read up on it enough to have a basic understanding, I think. Lots of various little things online along with this book called The Moral Animal. I found it all pretty fascinating, especially the book's liberal lean. A lot of people have evolutionary psychology pegged as sexist/racist/etc., but the writer makes some pretty compelling arguments about some very vague concepts that seem to go against the stereotyped ideal of "survival of the fittest." (For example, why would we feel compassion for strangers? Sometimes even enough to give them our resources. But evolution has equipped us with that quality, and there are reasons that are better explained by him than by me, admittedly.)

So anyway, moving on. I've seen a lot of people suggest that abortion goes against what evolution intends. I think that's incorrect, so I wrote up this whole post about it on a different forum, and now I'm going to post it here to see what you guys think, 'cause you're a pretty smart bunch. (And because I like figuring out things that don't always make sense on the surface. People are really interesting, frankly.)

So, here we go.

I just saw the title of an anti-abortion book. It implied that abortion is "unnatural selection." I am going to write this to explain why I think that is incorrect.

Please keep in mind that I am self-taught in these issues and am by no means an expert. I have done some reading and am basing my ideas here on what I have read and what dots I have connected.

Please also keep in mind that I am not interested in arguing about the following items:
- Whether abortion is morally right or wrong
- Whether evolution is correct or incorrect
- Whether evolutionary psychology is correct or incorrect
For the purposes of this thread, we will assume that evolution and evolutionary psychology are correct, and we will not argue about the morality of abortion because this is about the human inclination toward abortion, not whether people should or should not do it. Just because natural selection wants you to do something does not mean that it is correct or incorrect to do.

All that said, let's move on.

---

I'm very interested in psychology. Particularly evolutionary psychology, the idea of which is that humans' behavior and feelings can be linked back to evolutionary traits that we gained in our ancestral environment.

So, for instance, the reason you're afraid of scary movies. You know that it's just a movie, that it isn't real, and that there is no chance that whatever is portrayed on screen is able to hurt you. But your brain isn't wired to know that. It's just acting on a leftover urge, from before technology allowed us to see something that wasn't tanglible and present. As far as your brain is concerned, that's a real tiger and it's really going to eat you.

Now, to understand the point that I'll be attempting to make with this thread, you need to understand a couple of things:
1. Evolution, if we assume it to be true (as I am doing), does not care about you. It cares about your genes. More specifically, it cares about your genes being able to make copies of themselves for as long as possible. This is why we have things like parental sacrifice. A parent's genes gets copied into the child, and the parent's genes make the parent protect that child because the genes want copies of themselves to continue being made. (If you child dies it can't reproduce later, after all.)
2. First and foremost, humans tend to look out for themselves. That is because 100% of your genes are your genes. You children will have roughly 50% of your genes, which is still significant enough that you will watch you for your children.
3. Parents have limited resources.

There are two abortion scenarios I've come up with that fit into the idea of evolutionary psychology quite well, and I'd like to present them if only for the sake of having them written down somewhere.

Scenario A
A young woman, anywhere between, say, 16 and 25, has gotten pregnant. She wants an abortion. Her logical reasons for doing this are as follows:
1. She may not be able to afford a child right now.
2. She may feel that she is not prepared to be a mother in one or more ways.
3. She may feel that having a child right now would throw a wrench in her plans-- maybe she's in school or has a job that she really enjoys.

These are all valid reasons and should be enough on their own, of course, but we're looking at this from natural selection's perspective, which throws all rational thinking out the window.

As far as natural selection is concerned, this woman should get an abortion because she is not in optimal "parenting" mode yet-- she needs a few more years to mature so that she can properly take care of her babies, when (or if) she decides to have them. Natural selection wants copies of your genes to live on and to have a good chance at surviving long enough to make more copies. In this scenario, natural selection is for abortion.

Scenario B
A mother of any age gets pregnant. (Yes, a lot of women who get abortions are already mothers.) She wants an abortion. Her logical reasons are as follows:
1. She may not be able to afford another child right now.
2. She may feel that she wouldn't be able to raise another child and the one(s) she has already. She may feel that there wouldn't be enough attention to go around and that she wouldn't be able to teach the children about life as well if she had another child.
3. She may feel content with her life as it is, with the children she already has.

As above, these are all valid reasons and should be enough on their own, but again, we're looking at natural selection's reasoning, not hers. Similar to the above, natural selection wants this woman to have enough resources and time to properly take care of her children, because that will give the existing children a better chance at making more copies of genes through reproduction. So, again, natural selection is for abortion.

As a quick side note: I didn't get into people who are against abortion because natural selection's reasoning there seems pretty sound already. Though I did run into a bit of a conundrum here, and I will gladly explain it.

From an evolutionary-psychology point of view, being against abortion for yourself (and/or your spouse, for the gentlemen) makes sense. There are two ways to look at your own offspring:
1. As mentioned above, having too many children limits their ability to survive, so natural selection leans you toward abortion
or
2. Having more children means more chances at spreading your genes. Some families have five or more children, and a lot of them are anti-abortion, and this could be why. It's possible that the "pro-abortion gene" and "anti-abortion gene" are fighting for dominance, or something similar to that thought.

But being against abortion for others confuses me, strictly from an evolutionary-psychology point of view. If there are fewer people not carrying your genes (other people's children) to compete with the people who are carrying your genes (your children), then your genes will have a better chance of making copies of themselves. It's possible that it's a fluke of some kind or another gene-versus-gene predicament that hasn't sorted itself out yet.

Now, please review the list of things I don't want to discuss, near the top of this post. If you have something to add that does not pertain to those things, please post. I'd be interested in throwing this idea around and maybe coming up with more scenarios.
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Re: Dunno how you guys feel about evolutionary psychology...

Postby Lia S » Sat Nov 10, 2012 5:48 am

Strictly speaking evolution doesn’t have intent. It is not self aware. Nothing is “against” evolution, not even if it causes our species to go extinct. Someone who says abortion is “unnatural” because evolution couldnt “make” us that way is trying to make an argument from divine authority without a god. In other words, it’s bullshit.
There is no such thing as unnatural behavior, unless you define “unnatural” as “technology only humans have” (abortion is one such technology). In which case we evolved to be unnatural.

That said...

Many animals will kill and even eat their young when they don’t have sufficient resources, so it obviously possible for evolution to cause behavior that can be described as “not wanting children”. However abortion is a more complex(1) behavior than infanticide is, which would make it more difficult to get “noticed” by evolution, and on the timescale on which evolution works I don’t think evolution has an influence on it yet.

On the other hand, if we ignore the moral , ethical and cognitive differences, we could think of abortion as a type of infanticide, or an alternative to it, which *might* be driven by the same instincts. AFAICT killing ones own child has always been very unusual behavior for humans, which might be explained by us being a very social species - when the mother cannot look after the child, someone else(2) will.

If a woman wants to maximize spreading her genes, a cuckoo strategy seems much better than abortion. I’ve already argued that at the point one is most likely to start thinking about an abortion, it’s not really possible for evolved instincts to affect the thought process, but if we assume evolution does somehow have an effect on these decisions, wouldn’t we be seeing many more women talking to adoption agencies rather than wanting abortions?

It would seem to me that not having the resources to give a child all it needs is an additional reason to want an abortion, but not wanting to be pregnant and give birth is the main reason, at least as far as evolution can at all have an effect on it. I can easily understand someone preferring the idea of not having a child over that of their child existing somewhere outside their sphere of influence, but that is some VERY abstract thought.

(1) Wanting to get rid of something that one can only know as a concept (early pregnancy) requires far more abstract thought than wanting to get rid of a baby that is in front of oneself.

(2) Probably a relative, who shares many genes with the child, but we’re so social even strangers aren’t likely to abandon a found child.

By the way, saying one shares 50% of ones genes with ones child is completely wrong and leads to bad mathematical intuitions. I don’t know what a typical percentage would be, but it’s much higher than 50% because one will have many genes in common with ones partner. Unless ones partner is a Martian, of course :P .
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Re: Dunno how you guys feel about evolutionary psychology...

Postby Trefle » Sat Nov 10, 2012 6:27 am

Many animals will kill and even eat their young when they don’t have sufficient resources, so it obviously possible for evolution to cause behavior that can be described as “not wanting children”. However abortion is a more complex(1) behavior than infanticide is, which would make it more difficult to get “noticed” by evolution, and on the timescale on which evolution works I don’t think evolution has an influence on it yet.

On the other hand, if we ignore the moral , ethical and cognitive differences, we could think of abortion as a type of infanticide, or an alternative to it, which *might* be driven by the same instincts. AFAICT killing ones own child has always been very unusual behavior for humans, which might be explained by us being a very social species - when the mother cannot look after the child, someone else(2) will.

Hmm. It's highly possible. Sometimes evolutionary psychology seems to forget that women don't become mothers instantly; at least in the most basic sense.

Given the complex moral landscape of today's parenting, I think it makes some sense for abortion to be some form of (instinctual) protection; whether for the mother, or for the entire family.
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Re: Dunno how you guys feel about evolutionary psychology...

Postby Lia S » Sat Nov 10, 2012 6:59 am

Valerie wrote:But being against abortion for others confuses me, strictly from an evolutionary-psychology point of view. If there are fewer people not carrying your genes (other people's children) to compete with the people who are carrying your genes (your children), then your genes will have a better chance of making copies of themselves.


This one gets pretty easy to explain once you consider who are the loudest against abortion. I’m getting the impression older men are overrepresented in that group. Furthermore they tend to be on the political right, and tend to be opposed to providing help to poor families. Combine all this, and you see older men who want you to have your child but who then won’t help you raise it. Are you getting the picture yet?

The point is not to make you have more children. The point is to ruin your life so you will have FEWER children and so the children you do have will be less successful in life than they would have been if you had them at the right time.

From a gene spreading point of view, older men want the best partners not only for themselves but also for their children. That means that controlling who has children with who benefits them more than it would anyone else, and so evolution may have given them an urge to control the sex life of others, in other words an urge to participate in slut shaming. A woman who wants an abortion is perceived to have had irresponsible/unapproved sex, they don’t want that to be without bad consequences.
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Re: Dunno how you guys feel about evolutionary psychology...

Postby Valerie » Sat Nov 10, 2012 10:00 am

Lia S wrote:It would seem to me that not having the resources to give a child all it needs is an additional reason to want an abortion, but not wanting to be pregnant and give birth is the main reason, at least as far as evolution can at all have an effect on it.


From what I understand of it, evolutionary psychology suggests that we feel things like the bolded part because of the italicized part. We feel love and hate and independence and dependency and all kinds of other things because feeling those things has helped us to spread our genes in the past.

That doesn't mean that your feelings are invalid. In fact, it makes them more valid. That's the main reason that I find evolutionary psychology so interesting. So many people think that emotions are inferior to logic, but, in this way, emotions are a sort of logic. Just a... non-sentient one.

Lia S wrote:By the way, saying one shares 50% of ones genes with ones child is completely wrong and leads to bad mathematical intuitions. I don’t know what a typical percentage would be, but it’s much higher than 50% because one will have many genes in common with ones partner. Unless ones partner is a Martian, of course :P .


Sorry, I was simplifying. :P I don't know the actual percentage, either, though.
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Re: Dunno how you guys feel about evolutionary psychology...

Postby Valerie » Sat Nov 10, 2012 10:00 am

Lia S wrote:
Valerie wrote:But being against abortion for others confuses me, strictly from an evolutionary-psychology point of view. If there are fewer people not carrying your genes (other people's children) to compete with the people who are carrying your genes (your children), then your genes will have a better chance of making copies of themselves.


This one gets pretty easy to explain once you consider who are the loudest against abortion. I’m getting the impression older men are overrepresented in that group. Furthermore they tend to be on the political right, and tend to be opposed to providing help to poor families. Combine all this, and you see older men who want you to have your child but who then won’t help you raise it. Are you getting the picture yet?

The point is not to make you have more children. The point is to ruin your life so you will have FEWER children and so the children you do have will be less successful in life than they would have been if you had them at the right time.

From a gene spreading point of view, older men want the best partners not only for themselves but also for their children. That means that controlling who has children with who benefits them more than it would anyone else, and so evolution may have given them an urge to control the sex life of others, in other words an urge to participate in slut shaming. A woman who wants an abortion is perceived to have had irresponsible/unapproved sex, they don’t want that to be without bad consequences.


This is a pretty interesting point. I like this. :D
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Re: Dunno how you guys feel about evolutionary psychology...

Postby Trefle » Sat Nov 10, 2012 10:51 am

I agreed with Val. Lia's point is a very interesting one. So it's for eliminating rivals or potential threats rather than to directly protect their offsprings, per se.
But if contraceptives and abortions are more restricted, wouldn't there be even more tangible, if not direct threat of violence and crime? (But I think that drive may have been irrational regardless of the potential risks available. Cognitive dissonance may also play a part here, so)

I don't really agree with all points or insinuations of them, but the concept of evolutionary psychology intrigues me;
how people adapt and what tools are built to try to survive / thrive in this rather complex world.
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Re: Dunno how you guys feel about evolutionary psychology...

Postby svenman » Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:15 pm

Some thoughts of mine...

First of all, looking at the history of mankind, abortion hasn't really been around for long enough to have had any effect on the evolution of our instincts. Contraception, of course, isn't even remotely a part of the picture. Seen from the angle of our evolutionary history, a wish to have children or lack of it has rather little to do with personal chances of passing on your genes (only as far as it translates into your motivation to care for your children once you have them). Your sex drive and your ability to act on it are the main agents.

That said, you can't see all of these instincts/drives/whatever in isolation from the situation the person in question lives in. The majority of us nowadays live in environments of high population density and with a fair amount of competition for limited resources. Our instincts do adapt and respond to this. A genetically identical twin living, or having grown up, in a different kind of environment, with low population density and maybe little competition for resources, might possibly feel quite differently about sex and about having children. For example, there are AFAIK some indications that the incidence of homosexual behaviour is positively correlated with population density both in humans and in some animal species.

Valerie wrote:2. First and foremost, humans tend to look out for themselves. That is because 100% of your genes are your genes.

Yes, but given our own mortality, survival is not the ultimate purpose because in the long run we all fail at it anyway, it is just a means of improving our chances to pass on our genes.

Valerie wrote:You children will have roughly 50% of your genes, which is still significant enough that you will watch you for your children.

Lia already commented on that. Given that humans are said to share somewhere between 97 and 99% of our genome with chimpanzees, depending on how you count genes, I think we can safely assume that we share well upwards of 99.5% percent of our genes with any other humans.

(By the way, what percentage of our genes do we share with penguins, salmon, fruitflies, earthworms, petunias or our own intestinal bacteria? Just wondering.)

This means that we don't necessarily need to have offspring ourselves to help spreading our genes around. Helping our relatives, or even our fellow humans in general, to improve their chances of successfully raising their offspring, while not necessarily reproducing ourselves, are also valid strategies towards that end, and may make sense increasingly with the rise of population density and competition for resources.

Valerie wrote:There are two abortion scenarios I've come up with that fit into the idea of evolutionary psychology quite well, and I'd like to present them if only for the sake of having them written down somewhere.

Scenario A
A young woman, anywhere between, say, 16 and 25, has gotten pregnant. She wants an abortion. Her logical reasons for doing this are as follows:
1. She may not be able to afford a child right now.
2. She may feel that she is not prepared to be a mother in one or more ways.
3. She may feel that having a child right now would throw a wrench in her plans-- maybe she's in school or has a job that she really enjoys.

These are all valid reasons and should be enough on their own, of course, but we're looking at this from natural selection's perspective, which throws all rational thinking out the window.

As far as natural selection is concerned, this woman should get an abortion because she is not in optimal "parenting" mode yet-- she needs a few more years to mature so that she can properly take care of her babies, when (or if) she decides to have them. Natural selection wants copies of your genes to live on and to have a good chance at surviving long enough to make more copies. In this scenario, natural selection is for abortion.

I don't think it's that clear-cut, even if we forget all I wrote above and concentrate on producing own offspring as the preferred strategy of gene-spreading. Say the woman does not have an abortion, she gets a child, this child and its possible subsequent siblings may individually have slightly worse chances of reproducing themselves because they are going to be equipped with less resources than in the scenario where the woman has an abortion and waits until later in her life to have children (presumably fewer of them, at least by one) when she has secured more resources for her eventual family. That doesn't say much about the woman's net chances of spreading her genes. In most modern societies, poverty tends not to be a deal-breaker for procreation unless we really are looking at malnutrition or actual starvation.

Valerie wrote:Scenario B
A mother of any age gets pregnant. (Yes, a lot of women who get abortions are already mothers.) She wants an abortion. Her logical reasons are as follows:
1. She may not be able to afford another child right now.
2. She may feel that she wouldn't be able to raise another child and the one(s) she has already. She may feel that there wouldn't be enough attention to go around and that she wouldn't be able to teach the children about life as well if she had another child.
3. She may feel content with her life as it is, with the children she already has.

As above, these are all valid reasons and should be enough on their own, but again, we're looking at natural selection's reasoning, not hers. Similar to the above, natural selection wants this woman to have enough resources and time to properly take care of her children, because that will give the existing children a better chance at making more copies of genes through reproduction. So, again, natural selection is for abortion.

Similar story here. It boils down to the choice between different strategies for procreation: having many offspring who individually are less well equipped with resources or fewer offspring who individually are better equipped with resources. In some circumstances, one may be better, in other circumstances, the other. (Of course, this is not a black-or-white kind of choice but rather a spectrum on which you can pick your personally preferred compromise anywhere.)

My take on evolution is that as a species, we tend to be the more robust, the more different strategies for survival and for spreading our genes we have at our disposal. The upshot of this is: diversity is a good thing for our existence as a species.

And that means that evolution argues against anybody wanting to impose their moral code on others.

Wow. I hadn't even known I'd arrive at that conclusion when I started writing this. But I like it. :D
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Re: Dunno how you guys feel about evolutionary psychology...

Postby mindstalk » Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:36 pm

I think our psychology is shaped by evolutionary influences, duh, and we're not complete blank slates. Exactly what the influences are is another matter, and while some evo psych stuff makes sense to me, there seems to be a lot of crap riding along as well. One common flaw is trying to give everything about human behavior a direct 'evolutionary' explanation -- in this case, why people oppose other people's abortions.

But the arguments for abortion make sense; historically, they'd apply to infanticide, which was *not* extremely rare... I thought I had a link saved, but I don't.

Reliable birth control is fairly new, but pregnancy-safe sex isn't.
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Re: Dunno how you guys feel about evolutionary psychology...

Postby svenman » Sat Nov 10, 2012 12:49 pm

mindstalk wrote:Reliable birth control is fairly new, but pregnancy-safe sex isn't.

Now I wonder: When did people actually first figure out the connection between sex and pregnancy?

I guess that there's unfortunately not going to be a reliable answer to that. Though I seem to recall some speculation about this discovery having led to a shift from matriarchal to patriarchal societies.
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Re: Dunno how you guys feel about evolutionary psychology...

Postby svenman » Sun Nov 11, 2012 4:02 pm

svenman wrote:
Valerie wrote:There are two abortion scenarios I've come up with that fit into the idea of evolutionary psychology quite well, and I'd like to present them if only for the sake of having them written down somewhere.

Scenario A
A young woman, anywhere between, say, 16 and 25, has gotten pregnant. She wants an abortion. Her logical reasons for doing this are as follows:
1. She may not be able to afford a child right now.
2. She may feel that she is not prepared to be a mother in one or more ways.
3. She may feel that having a child right now would throw a wrench in her plans-- maybe she's in school or has a job that she really enjoys.

These are all valid reasons and should be enough on their own, of course, but we're looking at this from natural selection's perspective, which throws all rational thinking out the window.

As far as natural selection is concerned, this woman should get an abortion because she is not in optimal "parenting" mode yet-- she needs a few more years to mature so that she can properly take care of her babies, when (or if) she decides to have them. Natural selection wants copies of your genes to live on and to have a good chance at surviving long enough to make more copies. In this scenario, natural selection is for abortion.

I don't think it's that clear-cut, even if we forget all I wrote above and concentrate on producing own offspring as the preferred strategy of gene-spreading. Say the woman does not have an abortion, she gets a child, this child and its possible subsequent siblings may individually have slightly worse chances of reproducing themselves because they are going to be equipped with less resources than in the scenario where the woman has an abortion and waits until later in her life to have children (presumably fewer of them, at least by one) when she has secured more resources for her eventual family. That doesn't say much about the woman's net chances of spreading her genes. In most modern societies, poverty tends not to be a deal-breaker for procreation unless we really are looking at malnutrition or actual starvation.

Aaand after thinking some more about it, I realized I forgot something here: the desire not only to spread one's genes around, but also to combine them with those of a "genetically optimal" mate. In this scenario, having the baby would damage the mother's future chances of attracting a mate with high social status, which for the purposes of this discussion we may uncritically equate with a mate with "good genes". So yes, that will be a factor in favour of abortion in this situation.

However, at any rate a decision like this is a kind of a gamble: you have to try and account for factors which you don't know at the time of your decision. Once more, diversity wins: it is optimal in evolutional terms that different people will make different decisions in this kind of situation.
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Re: Dunno how you guys feel about evolutionary psychology...

Postby CBrachyrhynchos » Sun Nov 11, 2012 8:59 pm

Methodologically it's not good biology or good psychology. Evolutionary psychologists have not done the necessary work to quantify genetic contributions to behavior in order to advance their claims about the evolutionary history of behavior.

To put on the biology hat for a moment, teleological claims in evolutionary biology require evidence that we just don't have for the last 3 million years of human history. We're limited to a half-dozen hominid species with a common ancestor > 3.5 MYA. And we don't have the genes in question. Without actually sequencing the genes, we can't make the same kinds of claims that we make regarding the evolutionary history of lactase among European populations, or sickle cell among African populations. From a biological perspective, the best that you can do is make the phylogenetic claim that such-and-such a behavior is common among humans. (And that isn't a problem, because most claims in evolutionary biology are phylogenetic and not teleological. Saying that some families of dinosaurs had feathers is easy. Saying that some families of dinosaurs evolved feathers due to runaway sexual selection is much more difficult.)

From the psychological perspective, well most psychology already treats humans as the products of evolution. Posing specifically teleological claims specifically about the last 3 million years of evolutionary history (just so stories) isn't necessary for having a conversation about perception or kinks in human cognition. In fact, classic behaviorism falsifies the arbitrarily short time frame stipulated by evolutionary psychologists by observing that many forms of behavior are shared among all vertebrates.

In my not so humble opinion, evolution has nothing to say about abortion because evolution is a theory about the distribution of genes over multiple generations. It's not a theory of morality, ethics, or good governance. Talking about the ethics of abortion (or anything) in terms of biological evolution is as much nonsense as talking about ethics in terms of special relativity.
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Re: Dunno how you guys feel about evolutionary psychology...

Postby svenman » Tue Nov 13, 2012 2:23 pm

CBrachyrhynchos wrote:Methodologically it's not good biology or good psychology. Evolutionary psychologists have not done the necessary work to quantify genetic contributions to behavior in order to advance their claims about the evolutionary history of behavior.

Of course evolutionary psychology is not solid science, given alone how it works with a lot of unverifiable assertions (I can't imagine how the various hypotheses made by e. p. could be rigorously tested without data gathered over several dozen generations of a human population). I see it as a fun thought exercise.
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Re: Dunno how you guys feel about evolutionary psychology...

Postby CBrachyrhynchos » Tue Nov 13, 2012 4:10 pm

I think that's part of the problem. Evolutionary biology is a science, which means that if you're going to make a claim about something like dinosaur feathers or endosymbiosis in algae, you need to support that claim with evidence.

Psychology, for all of its problems with methodological validity, reliability, and dependence on qualitative data is also a science. We might not have a consensus on which claims are testable and how, but there's generally a consensus that they should be testable.
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Re: Dunno how you guys feel about evolutionary psychology...

Postby Valerie » Tue Nov 13, 2012 4:28 pm

CBrachyrhynchos wrote:In my not so humble opinion, evolution has nothing to say about abortion because evolution is a theory about the distribution of genes over multiple generations. It's not a theory of morality, ethics, or good governance. Talking about the ethics of abortion (or anything) in terms of biological evolution is as much nonsense as talking about ethics in terms of special relativity.


Which is why we aren't talking about ethics? Which I thought I made perfectly clear?
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