Is Belief in Evolutionary Psychology Hardwired, or Is It Just a Biological Imperative to Cling with Death Grip to Privilege?

Well, that’ll teach me to dash off my angry thoughts at 7am after pulling an all-nighter.

Because everything I said about some of the Pharyngula commenter’s obsession with using evolutionary psychology to prop up their own faltering egos and desperate need to be viewed as intelligent — Chris Clarke has said better, funnier, and pithier.

This just breaking from Creek Running North: Belief in Evolutionary Psychology May Be Hardwired, Study Says

The particularly brilliant beginning to the post:

Special to Creek Running North: Biologists have long assumed that evolutionary psychology, a controversial branch of psychology that ascribes many common social behaviors to genetics, is a muddled blend of half-understood evolutionary biology, selective data mining and resentment of women’s changing roles in society.

A new study, published in today’s issue of the German publication Unwirklichen Genetikjournal, does not challenge that assessment. But it does suggest that some men may be genetically predisposed to believe in evolutionary psychology, a finding that may well suggest future methods of treatment of the psychological malady.

Believers in evolutionary psychology maintain that feminism sets itself in opposition to millions of years of anthropoid evolution, and is thus futile and inhumane to men. Allegations made by believers include references to putative differences in math skills between men and women, a supposedly irresistible but entirely non-visually stimulated female attraction toward powerful and/or arrogant males, and the existence of a genetically preordained male right to multiple female sexual partners.

Many such men hold to these beliefs despite an absolute lack of supporting scientific evidence, says Dr. Ulrike Mann-Esser, chair of the sexual anthropology department at Universität Ulm and the study’s lead researcher. “But we had no way to determine why this was so until last year’s discovery of the locus taedius.”

I’d excerpt more, but the whole thing is too damn correct and funny to pull pieces out of.* While it’s written to mock evolutionary psychology’s claims about sex and gender, it pretty much demolishes all the ridiculous “White dudes is the smarterest and most civilizedest!” claims at the same time.

So go read over there. He even has witty illustrations, which proves that he carries the Superior Blogging Gene.

*As we all know, quoting funny, pithy blog articles in full is a sure way to make people stomp around whining about all that unfair, extra publicity.

UPDATE: While I bow to Chris Clarke for being more cogent than I am on this issue, I do have to point out just one last ludicrous comment from a new Pharyngula thread about Watson’s remarks. Writes a commenter called Christian Burnham: “It seems that [another commenter] is now suggesting a genetic basis for the apparent variation in IQ between different groups. That may make him/her completely wrong- but it still doesn’t make him/her a racist.”

Here we have yet another perfect example of how people squirm to make sure that even the most blatant, obvious racism is denied the label. For me, reading that thread, it also becomes an example of how [many of] the mostly white, mostly men are inured to anything except the abstract ramifications of what they’re saying. [Some c]ommenters [admonish] those who endorse the ev-psych viewpoint to [substantiate their viewpoints with evidence, not because they’re making ridiculous statements, but] due to the controversial nature of the topic, while decrying anyone who reacts [to the black people are just dumb meme] with anger. The[se commenters] seem to have no real [understanding] that the asshats [who they suggest should not be lashed at angrily] are talking about real, flesh and blood people, and that what they’re saying has stakes. After all, it [probably] doesn’t have stakes — except po[tentially] beneficial ones — for them.

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23 Responses to Is Belief in Evolutionary Psychology Hardwired, or Is It Just a Biological Imperative to Cling with Death Grip to Privilege?

  1. 1
    Arnaud says:

    [devil’s advocate] re. Christian Durham, you seem to be saying that white men cannot have opinions on what is racism unless these are given them by people themselves victim of racism? [/devil’s advocate]

  2. 2
    The Devil says:

    I’ve never met Arnaud in my life. I don’t know who he’s advocating for, but it certainly isn’t me. My minions are persuasive.

    Getting me behind thee, yr obdt svt,
    (dictated not read)

  3. 3
    Mandolin says:

    Nope. I couldn’t have that opinion, as I am not a victim of racism.

    I’m making the argument that lots of white people look at direct examples of racism and define it away. Michael Richards — “I know I used the history of slavery to shut up a black critic, but I’m not racist.” Commenters here – “Well, how can we be sure it’s racist that people with identical economic profiles who go in to get a loan are given different rates depending on their race?” Snark — “That cross on the lawn? Let’s not be hasty now.”

    I also said that it was easy to look at racism bloodlessly if one was not part of the affected group, not that it was inevitable to do so.

  4. 4
    mythago says:

    Right on both. PZ might as well have just posted “Well, shoot, sorry, black people, but I really admire Dr. Watson so let’s not be all hasty here.”

    And if somebody who says blacks are inherently less intelligent except for the few Credits to their Race is notracist–then WTF *is* racist?

  5. 5
    Christian Burnham says:

    Well, I suppose I should say thanks for singling out my comments as an example of random stupidity on the internet.

    I think that the racism charge should be applied to those who commit racist acts in real life. I don’t consider that posting a technical comment in a scientific forum defending a contested scientific point of view (no matter how uncomfortable) qualifies as racism.

    There’s an ongoing debate regarding whether there are meaningful genetic differences between geographically separated populations. Some of these arguments impinge on race and intelligence- which though controversial- are not to my knowledge altogether settled.

    For the record- I personally believe (as a complete layman) that there does exist a variation in intelligence between groups- and that this variation is almost certainly due to nutrition, education and (yes) racism.

    I was born in Ireland, and the Irish appear to have by some measures a significantly lower IQ than the English- so this question does interest me.

    My comment was in defense of another poster to the board who delights in making controversial statements. I personally don’t agree with his statements, but I didn’t think that his comments were enough to warrant the racism label. I guess that’s for others to judge.

    If you have any questions- then I’ll be pleased to answer them. I’m not however going to answer anything that I judge to be name-calling.

  6. 6
    mythago says:

    I think that the racism charge should be applied to those who commit racist acts in real life.

    So a person who believes Africans are subhuman, do not deserve to live other than as servants to their white “betters”, and so on is not racist as long as they don’t do anything other than blather about it?

    There is no ‘ongoing debate’ of any scientific merit that suggests people who live on different continents have differently-evolved natural levels of intelligence.

  7. 7
    Christian Burnham says:


    1) It’s true- that position would be racist. I think I messed up in explaining myself. There is such a thing as having racist views- obviously. It would be pretty clear that anyone who stated such a remark in an internet forum was irredeemably racist and to be avoided.

    What I’m not so sure about is whether people who take on controversial views about gene-frequencies, IQ testing and explanations for apparent IQ gaps can be assumed to be racist from a few ill-explained remarks. I think we have to allow for people on an internet board involved in a lively debate to put forward controversial opinions, if only that they can be corrected. We have no evidence that the people in question have committed racist acts in the ‘real world’ and I would give them the benefit of the doubt.

    The risk you run by equating such people to slave-owners, Klan members etc. is that you shut down the debate and such people will continue to keep their convictions unchallenged.

    I would much rather that bad ideas are exposed to the rigors of debate and beaten by good ideas than those bad ideas are left in silence to fester.

    I’ll admit that mine is a controversial stance, and many disagree with it. I’m willing to have my mind changed on this. Maybe I’m wrong.

    2) It’s not my field. You say there isn’t an ongoing debate that geographical separation leads to differences in gene frequency, but I think there is- just by the fact that there appear to be peer reviewed papers investigating this. I’m not saying I support the science or even find it credible. I personally think that there are clear differences in environment which have an effect.

  8. 8
    mythago says:

    What I’m not so sure about is whether people who take on controversial views about gene-frequencies, IQ testing and explanations for apparent IQ gaps can be assumed to be racist from a few ill-explained remarks.

    We’re not talking about merely ‘controversial’ views or ‘ill-explained remarks’. Watson flat-out said that Africans’ intelligence is not the same as “ours”, and that anyone who has worked with black employees “knows this to be true”. This had nothing to do with gene frequencies or controversies about IQ testing. How, precisely, is this not racist?

    In apologizing for Watson, you throw up the usual strawmen: we must allow controversial speech, there are worse racists. Free speech doesn’t mean “you can say whatever you like and everybody else must shut up”. I also don’t follow your argument that calling out racists is a paradox: if we don’t limit anti-racist criticism to the worst of the worst, we actually SUPPORT racism?

    The fact that peer-reviewed papers investigate an issue does not mean that there is ‘controversy’, that the science in that area is credible, or that there really is as much evidence on one side as on the other.

  9. 9
    Christian Burnham says:

    mythago: You’re taking my remarks out of context. I wasn’t defending Watson- who I repeatedly called pathetic. I was defending a poster on a board discussing Watson’s comments.

    This is a bit like a witch-hunt and I’m tired of this. I don’t know why I’m getting dragged through the mud when I’ve been quite clear that I disagree (quite strongly) with the idea that intelligence is tied in any way to the few genes which determine skin color.

    I’m happy to explain my views- but don’t ask me to defend other people’s opinions who I personally disagree with.

  10. 10
    Mandolin says:

    You disagree with the concept, but you’re willing to say that the concept itself isn’t racist. That’s minimizing real racism. It’s an ahistorical viewpoint; surely you’re aware of the history of racist thought regarding IQ and race, and the ways in which that thought has been leveraged.

    For the record, you’re not being dragged through the mud. Nor is this a witch hunt — I assure you, we won’t be burning you at the stake.

    You seem like a nice enough guy; I’ve read your comments on Pharyngula a long time. In this particular case, you said something stupid, and you’re being called out on it. You got called out for it on the thread by Chris Clarke; you’re getting called out on it here, now. You said something in a public place; I and others are reacting. You’re not exempt from criticism, nor is the fact that one of your ideas is being criticized evidence that anyone’s goign to come to your home and take away all your puppies, or that you’re being attacked, etc.

    So go ahead: explain how a thoroughly debunked theory which poses that people with black skins (as PZ points out, an ephemera that does not indicate that all people with the same feature share many other genetic similarities) are intellectually inferior — a theory which has been and is leveraged against black people — is not inherently racist. But be aware that we probably aren’t going to agree with you.

  11. 11
    Christian Burnham says:

    Mandolin: I think the comments you’re referring to are racist.

    I still stand by my original opinion that it’s appropriate to discuss controversial opinions on a blog- without being shouted down as a KKK member (which numerous people were). Like it or not, millions of people would find themselves in agreement with Watson’s remarks- and I would like to see those views challenged in a debate.

    I mentioned in a post that a cursory Google search for ‘intelligence’ and ‘race’ produces i) the highly contested Wikipedia article, ii) several long racist screeds and iii) a rather dry statement by the AAA. It seems to me that there are a lack of good internet resources that deal with this controversial topic. A topic that people are interested in. It doesn’t surprise me that given this lack of readily available information you will find that many people are going around with completely wrong-headed views, which need to be challenged. Unfortunately, debate is often effectively shut down by people screaming ‘racist’ and so these people continue in ignorance.

    I still completely disagree with CC (and this blog post) that defending people’s right to ask difficult and uncomfortable questions is ‘enabling’ racism. I was also tremendously hurt by his accusations.

    I will repeat that this is not my field- I’m in physics. My knowledge of these issues comes from reading Gould, Pinker, Diamond and (yes) Watson. All have quite different views on the subject. I don’t really know what the consensus view is, which is part of the reason why debates are important.

  12. 12
    mythago says:

    Christian, I thought you were in favor of “lively debate”. Nobody has threatened you or called you names here. Yet rather than respond with sensible counterarguments, you insist that you are being subjected to something like a ‘witch hunt’ and being ‘dragged through the mud’. Why?

    Watson did not “ask uncomfortable questions”. He made a flatly racist remark with no scientific basis whatsoever behind his remarks; his evidence was that anyone who had a black employee would know what he was talking about.

    Whether or not you mean to defend Watson, you certainly sound as though you are minimizing and excusing his remarks.

  13. 13
    Christian Burnham says:

    Mythago: Show me where I’m defending Watson’s views.

    Again- you’re confusing my defense of a poster’s right to make comments with a defense of Watson’s views. I can only repeat for the nth time that I found Watson’s statements to be pathetic. Do you need a stronger condemnation than that?

  14. 14
    mythago says:

    Will you answer my question as to why you threw out inflammatory terms like “witch hunt”?

    Please understand that I’m not accusing you of sharing Watson’s racist views, or of being a racist. But you are implying that we shouldn’t harshly criticize Watson or characterize him as a racist, variously suggesting that to do so would undermine “vigorous debate”, that Watson is referring to a genuine, good-faith controversy in science, or that the impact of his remarks is minimal so we should save our outrage for others.

  15. 15
    Christian Burnham says:

    Mythago: I meant a witch-hunt of my comments. For the 3rd time you’re confusing my words with a defense of Watson, which goes to prove my point.

    I’m a little concerned that the contributors to a left wing blog can’t distinguish between my defense of free speech with the contents of the speech itself.

    Personally- I think that Watson’s comments were rightly criticized, though I was a little annoyed to see his lecture tour cancelled.

  16. 16
    mythago says:

    I meant a witch-hunt of my comments

    You have a very odd definition of “witch hunt”. You seem to be using it as a shorthand for “criticism I dislike”.

    You are not defending free speech. Nobody has claimed that Watson has no right to say what he did, or that he should be jailed for making his racist remarks. To do so would, in fact, be suppressing free speech. Pointing out that he is racist and that his remarks are unscientific and shameful is, itself, free speech.

    By the way, attacking critics by suggesting you’re the victim of a witch hunt, PC-ness, etc etc is a form of attacking free speech. It’s called “silencing”.

  17. 17
    Christian Burnham says:

    Mythago: I think now is a good time to end this discussion.

    I’m fine with criticism of my comments- but it does make me unhappy when my comments are repeatedly misinterpreted. I have responded at length to clear up any remaining misinterpretations of my comments- and I hope I have done that.

    It may be that you still disagree with my position. That’s fair enough and I’m happy that we can both argue our case and let others decide.

    My personal view is that it was a bad decision to disallow Watson to speak, if only that it denied others the chance to debate him in public. I know you disagree with this.

    Regarding the forum which started this off- people were attempting to silence those with alternative (possibly racist) views by doing the internet equivalent of shouting them down- calling them KKK supporters etc. I think you have to be very careful before you start making such accusations against others on an internet forum. For one thing- it cheapens the real threat from actual KKK supporters.

    In closing, can we come to some consensus? I would like to point out that whilst I disagree with some of yours and Mandolin’s comments, I have respect for your opinions and also have respect for your civility during this to and fro. I also thank the blog moderators for allowing me the right of reply, even if I still strongly disagree with the original post.

    Can you recognize that whatever our other disagreements, it is a matter of record that I have consistently referred to Watson’s comments as ‘pathetic’. I’m happy to recognize that we have differing views on what constitutes free-speech in this instance- but maybe that is an argument for another day.

  18. 18
    mythago says:

    Mythago: I think now is a good time to end this discussion.

    You don’t end a discussion by saying “let’s end it” and then continuing to discuss after that. That’s another silencing game: I get to say my piece, but you have to shut up because the discussion is over.

    You’ve said repeatedly that you thought Watson’s comments were pathetic, and I didn’t see anybody claim you said otherwise.

  19. 19
    Mandolin says:

    Christian, a couple links:

    1) How prejudice and bias works

    2) How to suppress discussions of racism

    3) How not to be insane when accused of racism

    By the by, moderation is automatic for new posters, and release from moderation is a manual process that can only happen when someone’s monitoring the site. It is not evidence that anyone’s picking on you.

  20. 20
    Christian Burnham says:

    Well, nevertheless- I’m ending it now. I think I have the right to silence myself!

    I’ve really tried to explain my position and I don’t see much good in repeating myself one more time. I’m not going to visit this page, or blog again- so please- no more questions. I’m sorry that I couldn’t bring this discussion to a consensus.

  21. 21
    Christian Burnham says:

    Mandolin: As I said- I’m leaving. I don’t like this blog and I definitely didn’t like your original post. The fact that my first post was held in moderation for an hour (without much explanation) did not do anything to impress me as to the openness of debate. I’m also not impressed by all posters having to agree that ‘white supremacy is one of the central organizing principals of American society’. I’m not an American and the Americans I meet and interact with are not ‘white-supremacists’.

    Having said that- I repeat my closing comments to mythago. I thank you for keeping the discussion relatively civil- even though we have obvious disagreements in certain areas. I also thank you for giving me the right of reply. I wish that we could be talking in more pleasant circumstances.

    On a personal note- it’s probably a mistake to show weakness- but your accusations of my enabling racism have taken a heavy emotional toll on me. I also found CC’s comments to be deeply hurtful. Unlike my accusers, I am using my real name on this page. You have convinced me that I can’t afford to do this in future, for fear of having my comments misinterpreted and my name dragged through the mud.

    Anyway- I won’t be visiting this blog or this page again.

  22. 22
    Mandolin says:

    I’ve now chatted a bit with Christian, in private communication… I’m going to ask that the conversation move away from the update which invoked his comments, and move back to Chris Clarke’s parody.

  23. 23
    Arnaud says:

    [I’ve moved an off-topic comment by Arnaud. The comment, which criticizes the moderation policies on “Alas,” can now be found in this thread, where it is on-topic. –Amp]