Let me clarify some things.
Stephen Pinker and all his followers seem to be arguing that evolution has created some differences between male and female brains. I agree ““ there almost certainly are some evolved differences. What those differences are, and if they have any real-world significance, is what’s under debate. No one, so far as I know, is arguing that evolution didn’t occur.
However, what evolution means is another question altogether. Many Pinker-ites (and keep in mind, not all evolutionary biologists are Pinker-ites) tend to speak about evolution as if it leads to set-in-stone characteristics: “men evolved this way, so men will always use this reproductive strategy.”? But this is a simplistic and mistaken view of how evolution works: as if animals were simple machines, like toy trains, able to only move dumbly along one train track.
In fact, humans (like many other animals) have also evolved plasticity ““ the ability to alter our behavior in beneficial ways in response to new or changed environments. For example, look at bluebirds. In the wild, suitable spots for bluebird nesting are rare: the mating strategy used by bluebird males is to take a nesting spot and aggressively defend it from other males; the successful males will let a female use the nest in exchange for sex.
Most Pinkerites would look at bluebirds and say: “There, you see? Bluebird males have aggressive competitions, and the females will mate with the male who’s able to win these competitions. If you don’t believe that, then you’re an blank slater who doesn’t believe in evolution.”
But if you put bluebirds in a different environment ““ say, one with plenty of nesting sites, more than the bluebirds would ever need ““ what happens? Bluebird females nest wherever they please. Bluebird males react by trying to help females with their current batch of children ““ in the hope that he’ll be allowed to father her next batch. Same genes, same evolution, but very different mating behaviors.
And if bluebirds can exhibit that kind of plasticity in response to changes in environment, how much plasticity can humans ““ the all-time champions of plasticity in the animal kingdom ““ exhibit? We’re wired to adapt our behavior to our environment. Yet that basic fact of evolution is something that evolutionary psychology’s advocates routinely ignore.
No one’s saying that evolution or genes are entirely unrelated to behavior; plasticity itself is an evolved trait, after all. But although evolution and behavior are undeniably related, they are not related in the simplistic, predictive fashion that Stephen Pinker and his fans seem to believe.
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