How valid are Koestler's criticism of evolutionary theory?

I recently read Arthur Koestler's 1967 book The Ghost in the Machine. In it, Koestler criticises the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution-beneficial random mutations preserved by natural seleciton-as insufficient to explain the formation of complex forms like eyes and eggs. The issues Koestler has with the theory are ones that I've been trying to wrap my head around since before I read the book, but I'm aware that:

a) the book is half a century old;

b) Koestler was not a biologist or scientist; and

c) neo-Darwinian theory/the modern synthesis seems to have stood the test of time

so I'm wondering how accurate Koestler's account of the theory is, and if he is wrong what the retorts to his claims are. Here are two examples he gives of complex forms:

[The giant panda] has on its forelimbs an added sixth finger, which comes in very 'handy' for manipulating the bamboo-shoots which are its principal food [but] that added finger would be a useless appendage without the proper muscles and nerves [and t]he chances that among all possible mutations those which produced the additional bones, muscles and nerves should have occurred independently are of course infinitesimally small.


The decisive novelty of the reptiles was that, unlike amphibians, they laid their eggs on dry land… [b]ut the unborn reptile inside the egg still needed an aquatic environment… [i]t also needed a lot of food… [s]o the reptilian egg had to be provided with a large mass of yolk for food, and also with albumen-the white of egg-to provide the water. Neither the yolk by itself, nor the egg-white itself, would have had any selective value… [e]ach change, taken in isolation, would be harmful, and work against survival.

Instead of random mutations and external selection, he suggests that 'internal selection' works at all levels, from chemical upwards, to correct 'misprints' long before the developed organism is exposed to any sort of external selection. The implication that there must therefore be some plan towards which embryonic development works is supported by two examples:

the growing eye-bud of the embryo is an autonomous holon, which, if part of its tissue is taken away, will nevertheless develop into a normal eye


[the fruit fly has a recessive gene that when paired with another in a fertilised egg will produce an eyeless fly.] If now a pure stock of eyeless flies is made to inbreed, then the whole stock will have only the 'eyeless' mutant gene, because no normal gene can enter the stock to bring light into their darkness… within a few generations, flies appear in the inbred 'eyeless' stock with eyes that are perfectly normal.

His other main point is that evolution takes a zig-zag path, evolving down until reaching an evolutionary dead-ends before retracting to 'an earlier or more primitive, but also more plastic and less committed stage-followed by a sudden advance in a new direction'. For example:

[A]mphibian… ancestry… goes back to the most primitive type of lung-breathing fish; whereas the apparently more successful later lines of highly specialised gill-breathing fishes all came to a dead end.


… the human adult resembles more the embryo of an ape than an adult ape

Is Koestler's science just faulty, or are these valid criticisms that've been resolved since?

Maybe both. Certainly his understanding of limb developement doesn't match modern understanding. The quote you provide seems to indicate that he thought the appearance of an additional digit would require a multitude of coordinated mutations. Our current understanding seems to indicate that it's all about changes in the regulation of genes. For example in fruit flies mutations in the antennapedia gene can cause antenna to grow where legs should be or visa versa. Another example is polydactyly(extra toes) in cats which be be caused by mutations to a single regulatory region.

within a few generations, flies appear in the inbred 'eyeless' stock with eyes that are perfectly normal.

I'm not a fruit fly expert, but this seems highly dubious to me. There is a well studied eyeless mutation, but it's dominant, not recessive. Furthermore getting two copies of this mutant eyeless gene is lethal at the embryonic stage. This means that a colony of adult eyeless flys are necessarily all heterozygous. That is, they have one copy of the mutated eyeless gene, and one copy of the normal eyeless gene. By Mendel's laws, a quarter of the offspring from the completely eyeless generation are going to have two copies of the normal eyeless gene, and so will have normal eyes. I wouldn't be surprised if the flies with normal eyes outcompete the flies without eyes, so eventually the eyeless flies will disappear from the colony. I can't tell you whether Koestler has mis-characterized this gene, or is talking about some other gene all together. Citation needed.

Koestler's entire argument can be summed up is an argument of irreducible complexity, which always stems from a lack of understanding of the biological systems. All his arguments stem from a lack of knowledge about the things he is describing. Lets handle them in order.

  1. Panda thumb. lack of understanding. The panda thumbs does not move, it is just a spur of bone. but becasue it is a wrist bone it still has muscles on it so the argument is wrong in two ways.

  2. Reptile eggs. Amphibian eggs have yolks and albumen. so this again is just a lack of knowledge.

  3. Internal selection is again based on a lack of knowledge, the "plan" embryonic development works from are called HOX genes, which regulate development. And there are organisms without them and indeed behave just like you would expect. Eyeless fruit flies do not lack the genes to make eyes they have a mutation in the HOX genes that trigger eye development, (lake a "make eye here" on a blueprint) and just as single mutation can prevent the gene from functioning, another can make it functional again, we can can even trigger eye development in the wrong place, say on the legs.

  4. Is just confusing, It sounds like he thinks there needs to be some overarching plan to evolution instead of the chaotic whatever works mess that actually happens. In which case he does not even understand what evolution is, so his arguments against it make even less sense. I certainly can't imagine why he would claim teleost fish are dead ends when they are the most numerous vertebrate on the planet.

Time - i.e. the advances in our knowledge of molecular genetics - has clearly disposed of Koestler's arguments, as it has of many of those of people who cannot see the wood for the apparently diseased tree.

Other answers provide chapter and verse, but what I wish to contribute in this answer is something about the intellectual bias that influenced Koestler's views. Most of us will be aware that many anti-evolutionary arguments are made from religious conviction, rather than from disinterested scientific rationalism, but the poster and the younger members of this list may not be aware of a different kind of intellectual bias.

Although Koestler is most famous for his book “Darkness at Noon” in which he attacked the evils of Stalinism, after which he rejected the Communist party, this did not change the (in many respects admirable¶) socialist principles that had lead to his joining the party in the first place.

So, what does this imply? It does not imply a rejection by Koestler of Darwin's theory of evolution, but a rejection of the idea of a genetic mechanism in which man is subject to the dice of random mutation. He still clings to a doctrinal belief in Lamarckism in which man evolves by the incorporation of characteristics acquired by his own efforts†. It is ironic that despite repudiating Stalin, he hung on to Stalin's dogmatism that led to Lysenko and the consequent murder of Soviet geneticists as well as the death by starvation of untold thousands of Russians.

And the moral for today? There are several. But it is politic to restrict myself to suggesting one should question the motives of those who cry “epigenetics” when they haven't the first idea of what they are talking about.

¶ In my opinion. (Not particularly relevant, but to show I am not criticizing him from a right-wing standpoint.)

† The actual context at the time he wrote it was different - a rejection of social Darwinism. I personally regard the latter as having nothing to do with genetics or biology, but in order to repudiate the one, he seems to have returned to his repudiation of neo-Darwinism.

Mathematicians and Evolution

As recently highlighted here, mathematics is an academic locale where scientific skepticism of Neo-Darwinism can survive the current political climate! Discovery Institute recently received an e-mail from someone commenting on the Scientific Dissent from Darwinism List where over 600 Ph.D. scientists from various fields agree that they are “skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.” This skeptic of evolutionary-skepticism e-mailer wrote “I’m a mathematician and certainly am NOT qualified to support such a statement. Only evolutionary biologists are qualified to respond here.” While the Dissent from Darwinism list does contain individuals trained in evolutionary biology, the question remains “Is the objection valid?”

The truth is that mathematics has a strong tradition of giving cogent critique of evolutionary biology. After all, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection is fundamentally based upon an algorithm which uses a mathematically describable trial and error process to attempt to produce complexity. Population genetics is rife with mathematics. In fact, one criticism of the alleged transitional fossil sequences for whales is that they represent evolutionary change on too rapid a timescale to be mathematically feasible. It seems that there is no good reason why those trained in mathematics cannot comment on the ability of the Neo-Darwinian mutation-selection process to generate the complexity of life.

One of the best known mathematical forays into evolution was the 1966 Wistar Symposium, held in Philadelphia, where mathematicians and other scientists from related fields congregated to assess whether Neo-Darwinism is mathematically feasible. The conference was chaired by Nobel Laureate Sir Peter Medawar. The general consensus of many meeting participants was that Neo-Darwinism was simply not mathematically tenable.

The proceedings of that conference, Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution (Wistar Institute Press, 1966, No. 5), reports various challenges to evolution presented by respected mathematicians and similar scholars at the conference. For example, the conference chair Sir Peter Medawar stated at the outset:

“[T]he immediate cause of this conference is a pretty widespread sense of dissatisfaction about what has come to be thought as the accepted evolutionary theory in the English-speaking world, the so-called neo-Darwinian Theory. … There are objections made by fellow scientists who feel that, in the current theory, something is missing … These objections to current neo-Darwinian theory are very widely held among biologists generally and we must on no account, I think, make light of them. The very fact that we are having this conference is evidence that we are not making light of them.”

(Sir Peter Medawar, “Remarks by the Chairman,” in Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution (Wistar Institute Press, 1966, No. 5), pg. xi, emphasis in original)

Various scientists, including some mathematicians, proceeded to comment about problems with Neo-Darwinism:

“[A]n opposite way to look at the genotype is as a generative algorithm and not as a blue-print a sort of carefully spelled out and foolproof recipe for producing a living organism of the right kind if the environment in which it develops is a proper one. Assuming this to be so, the algorithm must be written in some abstract language. Molecular biology may well have provided us with the alphabet of this language, but it is a long step from the alphabet to understanding a language. Nevertheless a language has to have rules, and these are the strongest constraints on the set of possible messages. No currently existing formal language can tolerate random changes in the symbol sequences which express its sentences. Meaning is almost invariably destroyed. Any changes must be syntactically lawful ones. I would conjecture that what one might call “genetic grammaticality” has a deterministic explanation and does not owe its stability to selection pressure acting on random variation.” (Murray Eden, “Inadequacies as a Scientific Theory,” in Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution (Wistar Institute Press, 1966, No. 5), pg. 11)

“[I]t seems to require many thousands, perhaps millions, of successive mutations to produce even the easiest complexity we see in life now. It appears, naively at least, that no matter how large the probability of a single mutation is, should it be even as great as one-half, you would get this probability raised to a millionth power, which is so very close to zero that the chances of such a chain seem to be practically non-existent.” (Stanislaw M. Ulam, “How to Formulate Mathematically Problems of Rate of Evolution,” in Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution (Wistar Institute Press, 1966, No. 5), pg. 21)

“We do not know any general principle which would explain how to match blueprints viewed as typographic objects and the things they are supposed to control. The only example we have of such a situation (apart from the evolution of life itself) is the attempt to build self-adapting programs by workers in the field of artificial intelligence. Their experience is quite conclusive to most of the observers: without some built-in matching, nothing interesting can occur. Thus, to conclude, we believe that there is a considerable gap in the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, and we believe this gap to be of such a nature that it cannot be bridged within the current conception of biology.” (Marcel Schutzenberger, “Algorithms and Neo-Darwinian Theory,” in Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution (Wistar Institute Press, 1966, No. 5), pg. 75)

These are potent arguments from academics qualified to assess the mathematical ability of a random / selective process to produce complexity. While evolutionary biologists and other types of biologists can yield many insights into evolutionary biology, scientists other than biologists, such as mathematicians, are most certainly qualified to comment on the feasibility of Neo-Darwinian evolution.

Teaching Evolution: Law, Policy, and Practice

Unlike John Scopes (see Figure 1), the Tennessee biology teacher convicted of teaching evolution (a conviction upheld in the 1925 case of Tennessee v. John Scopes), the plaintiffs and teachers in Dover prevailed in the courts when the Dover classroom disclaimer was declared unconstitutional. Consistent with earlier cases in other states, the court in Kitzmiller v. Dover found that ID—like other more explicitly religious alternatives to evolution—must be excluded from public school classrooms as a violation of the Constitution's Establishment Clause [10,11]. Judge John E. Jones III's ruling could not have been stronger: the Dover school board's actions were of “breath-taking inanity” and an “utter waste of monetary and personal resources [1].”

On May 7, 1925, John T. Scopes was arrested for teaching evolution at Rhea County High School in Dayton, Tennessee. When the famous “monkey trial” ended, Scopes was convicted of violating a Tennessee law that made it a crime to “teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man is descended from a lower order of animals.” Since that time, teachers have been on the front lines of the battles between evolutionary biology and alternatives such as intelligent design and creationism.

Victories in cases like Kitzmiller are important to the scientific community, which devotes time and resources to exclude the teaching of nonscientific alternatives to evolutionary theory. These victories have paid dividends in policies at the state and local level. Although the United States has no national curriculum guidelines or requirements in any area of science, state governments do. These standards provide local school boards within each state with a common guide to classroom instruction in science and other subjects. While these standards vary widely in quality and detail from state to state, all recognize, at least to some degree, the importance of evolutionary theory. At this time, not a single state uses its content standards to explicitly promote ID or creationism [12–14]. School boards are monitored by organizations like the National Center for Science Education, by state academies of science, and by local scientific and professional organizations. As a result, few state school boards can formally consider measures like the one adopted in Dover without scrutiny and challenge from organizations representing the scientific profession.

These legal rulings and legislative victories are clearly necessary for evolution to maintain its proper place in the biology curriculum, but they are not sufficient. Implementation of state standards, adherence to court decisions, and the full integration of textbook material rests in the hands of the thousands of classroom teachers throughout the country. And about this, we are less sanguine. Notwithstanding the professionalism and bravery of the teachers in Dover, the status of evolution in the biology and life sciences curriculum remains highly problematic and threatened. Evolution—more precisely opposition to it—is profoundly important to fundamentalist Christianity, where it has played a critical role in its early formation as doctrine and as a social movement [15,16]. Within American politics generally, religious-based conflict is increasingly salient [17] even President Bush has expressed support for teaching “both sides” of the evolution controversy. But opposition to evolution can be especially intense at the local level, where teachers live and work. This may occur through the election of “stealth” school board candidates [18], or when teachers face organized and unorganized opposition and questioning of their curriculum from religiously motivated members of the community [19,20].

Community pressures place significant stress on teachers as they try to teach evolution, stresses that can lead them to de-emphasize, downplay, or ignore the topic [20]. This is particularly true of the many teachers who lack a full understanding of evolution, or at least confidence in their knowledge of it. Such a lack of confidence can lead teachers to avoid confrontations with students, parents, and the wider community. They may, for example, not treat evolution as the class's organizing principle, or may avoid effective hands-on activity to teach it, or not ask students to apply natural selection to real life situations [19]. There are many reasons to believe that scientists are winning in the courts, but losing in the classroom. This is partially due to the occasional explicit teaching of creationism and ID, but most especially because of inconsistent emphasis and minimal rigor in the teaching of evolution.

Evolution—more precisely opposition to it—is profoundly important to fundamentalist Christianity, where it has played a critical role in its early formation as doctrine and as a social movement.

Studies of science teachers seem to confirm these fears by suggesting “that instruction in evolutionary biology at the high school level has been absent, cursory or fraught with misinformation” [21]. But we are wary of this conclusion. Most of the previous studies are now dated the recent ones each examine a single state, and many states (most notably California, New York, and all of New England) have never been studied (see [19,21,22] for comprehensive reviews of these single-state studies). Collectively, the studies employ incomparable measures, and some of them sacrificed scientific sample survey methods in favor of higher cooperation rates (such as surveys of teachers attending conventions and professional meetings [23]). As a result, we lack a systematic and coherent account of how instruction varies from teacher to teacher across the nation as a whole. To remedy this, we provide a statistical portrait of evolution and creationism in America's classrooms, from which we draw conclusions about the unevenness of how evolutionary biology is taught and some of the causes of that variation.

How About Some Standards?

She argues that proponents of evo psych ought to be held to basic standards of evidence. For example:

Evolutionary psychologists argue that behaviors in the present are caused by cognitive systems that operate today as they did in the past. In their view, each module was selected for because of its specific fitness-enhancing effects in the EEA [environment of evolutionary adaptedness], and each of them is domain-specific — that is, responsive only to the kinds of inputs for which they are adaptations.

Evolutionary psychological inferences are secure only if it is possible to determine that particular kinds of behavior are underwritten by particular structures. Further, these must have the evolved function of producing behaviors of just these kinds.

If you claim that a particular modern behavior is caused by a particular psychological structure that arose due to particular selection pressures, then you need to show that a particular structure causes that behavior and that it was in fact selected to produce that behavior. Her argument is so reasonable, and so obvious, it’s a bit concerning that she needed to say this at all. Did evolutionary scientists not understand these things already?

How Valid Is Evolutionary Psychology?

Why do we find natural scenes like green fields, trees, and rivers beautiful? Why do people have an urge to gain wealth and power? Why do human beings fight wars? Why are human beings creative?

According to evolutionary psychology, the answers to these questions are linked to survival and reproduction. Evolutionary psychology explains present-day human traits and characteristics in terms of the survival value they possessed for our ancestors. These traits have survived because the genes they are linked to were ‘selected’ and have remained part of our genetic heritage. So in terms of the above examples, we find natural scenes attractive because for our ancestors they represented survival—lush vegetation, trees laden with fruits and nuts, rivers. People have an urge to gain wealth and power because, in prehistoric times, they enhanced their chances of survival and increased their reproductive possibilities. The instinct to wage war is so strong because prehistoric tribes of genetically similar people were in constant competition for resources with other groups. The creative instinct can also be seen as a way of increasing our reproductive possibilities—successful creativity increases our status and so makes us more attractive to potential mates.

It’s clear from these explanations (all of which have been put forward by evolutionary psychologists) that evolutionary psychology has a great deal of explanatory power—seldom has such a simple idea been used to explain such a wide variety of human behavior. This is probably the reason why the theory has become very popular, especially in the media and amongst non-scientists. As human beings, we have a strong need for explanation, to make sense of our behaviour and of the world around us. (This is part of the reason why religions are appealing to many people too.) However, the negative side of this is that, when theories do have explanatory power, we tend to become over-enthusiastic about them, and to over-estimate their validity. And I think this is the case with evolutionary psychology. Seldom has a theory gained such widespread support whilst being based on such shaky foundations.

Having said that, my problem with evolutionary psychology isn't so much with the theory itself, but with how it has been used to justify a particular view of human nature. After all, it makes sense to assume that we have inherited some behavioural tendencies from our ancestors, that some of the instincts we carry originated millions of years ago. As I suggest later, it might be possible to formulate an alternative interpretation of evolutionary psychology that doesn't make such grandiose claims, and is more in line with anthropological evidence.

Evolutionary Assumptions

As many observers have pointed out, evolutionary psychology is largely based on assumptions rather than evidence, and as such it is debatable whether it should be referred to as a 'science' (since its hypotheses are generally unfalsifiable). Its explanations of human behaviour are conjectures based on assumptions about what human life was like in prehistoric times. Adherents to evolutionary psychology tend to pick certain aspects of what they believe is ‘human nature’ and create stories to justify their development, based on the supposed benefits these traits would have had in early human history. Tellingly, these stores usually employ many qualifying terms such as ‘could have’ or ‘may have’, or adverbs such as ‘probably’ or ‘possibly.’ For example, the ‘innate’ selfishness of human beings could have been selected because, in prehistoric times, life was extremely hard, and the people who were most ruthless and least compassionate were more likely to hold on to food and resources themselves, and therefore more likely to survive. Compassion and a desire to share would have probably decreased the individual’s chances of survival. In a similar way, racism could have been ‘selected’ as a trait because altruism towards another group would have decreased a group’s own chances of survival. It was beneficial to deprive other groups of resources and power in order to increase our own access to them.

One fallacy of this is that ‘human nature’ is extremely nebulous and can be interpreted in a variety of ways. It’s easy to cherry-pick the characteristics which you think constitute human nature and invent your own ‘evolutionary psychology story’ to interpret them. Human beings are often collaborative rather than selfish and competitive we are often benevolent rather than ruthless. There are many racist individuals, but there are also many people who feel empathy and inclusiveness towards other ethnic groups. Some evolutionary psychologists have even suggested that rape has an evolutionary basis: it can be seen as desperate attempt to replicate their genes by low status men who cannot attract willing sexual partners. However, what about the vast majority of low-status single men who would find the idea of rape barbaric and unthinkable? (As I write this, I’m thinking in terms of an ‘evolutionary psychology’ board game, with picture cards showing different human traits and squares moving upwards to selection and survival, and downwards to the evolutionary scrapheap.)

The latter example highlights another problem with evolutionary psychology: its underlying assumption that any human traits which have survived must have had some survival value. (This is referred to as 'panadaptionism.') If they hadn’t had any value, the genes related to them wouldn’t have been selected. This is why evolutionary psychologists feel obliged to make absurd and offensive justifications of behaviours such as rape and male domination. However, there are many prevalent human traits that don’t necessarily have survival value.

For example, perhaps the most striking aspect of human beings, in relation to other animals, is our consciousness. There have certainly been attempts to explain its development in adaptationist terms. The British philosopher Nicholas Humphrey, for example, suggests that having our own consciousness may have been evolutionary advantageous because it makes us feel that we are significant. We feel that we are ‘special individuals’ and that our lives have meaning, and so must have encouraged our desire to survive. Also, according to Humphrey, having our own consciousness may have helped us in terms of survival by giving us insight into other people’s thought processes, helping us to guess what they might be thinking or feeling. This helped us to compete against them, to ‘second guess’ or ‘out-guess’ them.

However, there are serious problems with this interpretation. Why should the feeling of being a ‘special self’ be advantageous when most other species survive well enough without (apparently) possessing it? And as the German philosopher Thomas Metzinger has pointed out, consciousness can easily be seen as a disadvantage. Firstly, self-consciousness causes psychological suffering, makes us liable to suffer from anxiety, frustration, and self-hatred. And on a wider scale, it can be seen as maladaptive, since we as human beings can’t seem to live in harmony with the earth, and are in danger of destroying the life-support of our planet, and hence killing ourselves.

In terms of one of the examples I chose at the beginning of this piece, it may make sense to suggest that we find lush natural landscapes beautiful because they are associated with abundant resources, and therefore represent survival. However, many people also find desert landscapes beautiful, when such a landscape would surely represent death. Many people find clear skies beautiful, and gray skies dreary, when in terms of survival gray skies would have been preferable (since they promised rain). Many people find the sea beautiful, which (although it obviously contains resources) is extremely treacherous.

Prehistoric Fallacies

Perhaps the most serious problem with these interpretations, however, is that they are based on erroneous assumptions about the human race’s past. The underlying assumption of most evolutionary psychologists is that the early period during which human traits developed was a hard and bleak struggle for survival. What is referred to as the 'environment of evolutionary adaptedness' was a time when human life was ‘nasty, brutish and short.’ It was—so they assume—a period of intense competition for survival, a kind of Roman gladiatorial battle in which only the traits which gave people a survival advantage were selected, and all others fell by the wayside.

But this is a crude caricature of prehistoric life. Until around 8000 BC, all human beings lived as hunter-gatherers. They survived by hunting wild animals (the man’s job) and foraging for wild plants, nuts, fruit, and vegetables (the woman’s job). When anthropologists began to look at how contemporary hunter-gatherers use their time, they were surprised to find that they only spent 12 to 20 hours per week searching for food—between a third and a half of the average modern working week! Because of this, the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins called (in his famous paper of that name) hunter-gatherers the ‘original affluent society’.

Strange though it may sound—the diet of hunter-gatherers was better than many modern peoples.’ Apart from the small amount of meat they ate (10%-20% of their diet), their diet was practically identical to that of a modern-day vegan—no dairy products and a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, roots, and nuts, all eaten raw (which nutrition experts tell us is the healthiest way to eat). This partly explains why skeletons of ancient hunter-gatherers are surprisingly large and robust, and show few signs of degenerative diseases and tooth decay. Hunter-gatherers were much less vulnerable to disease than later peoples. In fact, until the advances of modern medicine and hygiene of the 19th and 20th centuries, they may well have suffered less from disease than any other human beings in history. Many of the diseases which we’re now susceptible to (such as colds, the flu, measles, and smallpox) only actually arrived when we domesticated animals and started living close to them. In view of this, it’s not surprising that with the coming of agriculture, people’s life spans became shorter.

Prehistoric life was also relatively easy in the sense that warfare was uncommon. Although some observers (such as Steven Pinker) claim that war was rife in prehistoric times, many anthropologists dispute this, believing that warfare only become endemic once human beings switched to farming and began to live a settled life, leading to the formation of villages and towns. Before then, there was little sense of territory to protect, and populations were so small that there was little need for competition over resources. (1) Even modern-day hunter-gatherers are generally not territorial—they don’t think of a particular area of land as belonging to them and them alone, and don’t aggressively resist anybody who encroaches on it. (As the anthropologists Burch and Ellanna put it, “both social and spatial boundaries among hunter-gatherers are extremely flexible with regard to membership and geographic extent.”) It seems very unlikely that different groups were in continual conflict with another of resources. In fact, rather than being in conflict, contemporary foraging groups interact with each other a good deal. They regularly visit each other, make marriage alliances, and often switch membership. (For a longer discussion of this issue, see my book The Fall.)


There are many aspects of the typical ‘evolutionary psychology’ narrative which make no sense in terms of this anthropological evidence. The idea that human beings are naturally competitive and selfish makes little sense in view of the egalitarianism of hunter-gatherer groups. The anthropologist James Woodburn speaks of the “profound egalitarianism” of hunter-gatherer groups, while another anthropologist, Tim Ingold, speaks of their ‘moral obligation’ to share everything. Foraging peoples are also strikingly democratic, with no different classes or castes, which makes it difficult to imagine how an instinct to gain power and create hierarchy could have developed. Most societies do operate with a leader of some kind, but their power is usually very limited, and they can easily be deposed if the rest of the group aren’t satisfied with their leadership.

This egalitarianism extends to women too, which makes nonsense of the idea that male domination is somehow ‘natural.’ The fact that women provided the majority of a group’s food (as much as 90% according to some estimates) strongly suggests that they had equal status, since it’s difficult to see how they could have low status while performing such an important economic role. As Tim Ingold notes, in ‘immediate return hunter-gatherer societies’ (that is, societies which live by immediately using any food or other resources they collect, rather than storing them for later use), men have no authority over women. Women usually choose their own marriage partners, decide what work they want to do, and work whenever they choose to, and if a marriage breaks down they have custody rights over their children.

An Alternative Evolutionary Psychology?

In fact, it’s easy to imagine an alternative interpretation of evolutionary psychology, based on a more evidence-based view of the human race’s past. This type of evolutionary psychology would explain why altruism, sharing, and collaboration have become instinctive to human beings. The ‘story’ to explain this might be that the hunter-gatherer group’s ethos of egalitarianism was so strong that anyone who showed a strong desire for personal power or property would be ostracised from the group (which is actually the practice in some groups), and therefore be less likely to survive. Altruism was necessary as a way of demonstrating egalitarianism, to reduce one’s chances of being ejected from the group. Egalitarianism and altruism could therefore easily have been ‘selected’ as favourable traits. The difficulty with this kind of evolutionary psychology would be explaining why human beings are also prone to selfishness and status-seeking … But perhaps these could be explained away as forms of ‘disguised altruism.’

This sounds absurd, of course—but only as absurd as evolutionary psychology as it is normally interpreted is.

As I hinted above, the reason for the popularity of evolutionary psychology is probably the same reason why religions have been so popular throughout human history—a psychological need to make sense of the world, to possess an ‘explanatory framework’ which tells us who we are, where we are, how we came to be here and why we behave as we do. I’m not seriously suggesting that evolutionary psychology is a kind of religion—at least it has its roots in evidence-based science, even if its interpretations stray too far into conjecture and erroneous assumptions. But due to its simplicity and reductionism, evolutionary psychology is very appealing as the basis for an ideology or belief system. It is also appealing because the narrative of competitiveness and individualism which has been derived from it fits with the values of our society. The picture of early human life as a struggle for genetic success, with individuals and groups competing for access to limited resources, is a good metaphor for competitive capitalist societies—and was no doubt created in their image. A more egalitarian culture might well have come up with a more collaborative and benevolent model of human behavior—and would certainly have found evidence to justify this view.

(1) Lawrence Keeley’s book War Before Civilisation suggests several examples of prehistoric violence and warfare, but all of these are dubious, and have been dismissed by other scholars. For example, Keeley sees cut marks on human bones as evidence of cannibalism, when these are more likely to be the result of prehistoric funeral rituals of cleaning bones of their flesh. He also interprets highly abstract and stylised drawings in caves in Australia as depicting battles, when they are open to wide variety of other interpretations. In this way, as the anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson remarks, 'Keeley’s rhetoric exceeds his evidence in implying war is old as humanity.'

Why is evolutionary psychology so criticized?

The following text is a small review of evolutionary psychology and its critiques, written by Sergio Morales, student of anthropology and epistemology at the Ciencias delsur site.
I decided to post this text here, because I see that there are some users here who attach studies of this discipline in an uncritical way. Also because, although the RedPill is not based on this discipline, it does use marginally some studies or literature from evolutionary psychology or uses terms/notions close to it, like a universal feminine psychology, biological determinism and innatism. THE FOLLOWING TEXT IS NOT MINE.

Evolutionary psychology (EP) is a discipline whose objective is to analyze human behavior from an evolutionary theoretical framework. As such, it has become established as a very controversial field: while some claim that it is a rigorous scientific proposition, others claim that it is closer to being a pseudoscience.

Despite the polarization generated -which complicates a fruitful and undistorted debate- EP is a very widespread discipline not only in academia, but also in popular culture. Why the controversy? The following essay reviews the most important criticisms of EP and provides some reflections on its epistemological status.

EP was founded in 1992, after the publication of The adapted mind, a book written by Jerome Barkow (anthropologist), John Tooby (anthropologist) and Leda Cosmides (psychologist). However, we can find an antecedent two decades earlier. In the 1970s, Barkow (1973), held that human beings were not level tables shaped by culture, but biological organisms "programmed by evolution" (p. 374).

For Barkow, Cosmides and Tooby (1992), EP is that psychology "informed by the additional knowledge that evolutionary biology has to offer" (p. 3). In its early years, it was considered a "new paradigm" of psychology (Buss, 1995a) and, in time, it was applied in diverse areas such as choice of partner, competence, affective relationships, parenting, or sociability (Buss, 2016a).

For its founders, EP is based on three premises: there is a "universal human nature" at the level of "evolved mental mechanisms" (not at the level of behaviors) such mechanisms are adaptations formed by natural selection over millions of years and, the structure of the human "mind" is "adapted to the way of life of the Pleistocene hunter-gatherers" (Barkow et al., 1992, p. 5).
Given that only 1% of human evolutionary time corresponds to modern life, it is "unlikely" that our species has developed complex adaptations in such a short time (ibid.*). For EP, the human "mind" and its "unique, universal and pan-human design" (Ibid.) are best understood from our hunter-gatherer past.

"By understanding the selective pressures our hominid ancestors faced - by understanding what kind of adaptive problems they had to solve - one should be able to gain some insight into the design of processing and information mechanisms that evolved to solve these problems" (Ibid., p. 9).

To fulfill its objective, EP begins by identifying some trait or behavior (jealousy or taste for mathematics) and linking it to some context of evolutionary pressure. Later, the adaptive advantage it would offer in such dynamics is speculated and a study is designed to address such advantage (in humans or animals) by predicting the expected outcome.

Finally, the study is executed and the results are interpreted.
As a proposal, it is very reasonable and constitutes the rough way in which any evolutionary science that wishes to explain human behavior operates. With such a scheme, several questions about many psychological traits can be answered. However, why is EP so resisted, and what criticisms have been made of this discipline?

What stands out most in the criticism of evolutionary psychology is its adaptationism: the a priori assertion that a certain psychological trait or behavior is an adaptation formed by natural selection millions of years ago. However, this overestimation of natural selection was denounced even before EP was EP, specifically towards its mother discipline: the sociobiology of E.O. Wilson.

Early on, the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins (1977) warned that a kind of "vulgar sociobiology" conceived socio-cultural phenomena as equivalent to biological phenomena (and vice versa), that is, as products of organic evolution. Precisely, the title of his book "Use and Abuse of Biology", graphed the reductionism of those explanations.

In that line, the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould (1978) described sociobiology as the "art of storytelling" and coined an influential adjective that encompasses this extreme adaptationism: "just so stories". As a result of his fundamentalist view of natural selection, Gould (1978) argued that "sociobiological tales are not true, but unfounded speculation" (p. 532).

The following year, the biologist Richard Lewontin (1979) conceived sociobiology as an example of adaptationism because it "assumes without further evidence that all morphological, physiological and behavioral aspects of organisms are optimal adaptive solutions to various problems" (p. 6).

Like Gould, Lewontin (1979) stated that sociobiology elaborated "adaptive stories" through "imaginative reconstruction".

In a classic essay, Gould and Lewontin (1979) called "Panglossian paradigm" that tendency to tell "stories" coherent with a restricted vision of evolution that overestimates the adaptive advantages of presumed traits and ignores the plurality of forms in which they could be generated: genetic drift, mutation, etc.

While these criticisms were directed at sociobiology, could EP be described as adaptationist or Panglossian?

Before any hasty objection, it is worth saying that its very founders clarified this point. For Cosmides and Tooby (1997), EP consisted in applying "an adaptationist logic to the study of the architecture of the human mind". For this discipline, the explanations referred to adaptive functions were called "distal explanations" or "ultimate explanations" because they presumably refer to evolutionary causes.

Recovering his critique of sociobiology, Gould (1997a) renamed adaptationism as "Darwinian fundamentalism". Thus, while the fundamentalists sought a "true path" (natural selection), the pluralists considered a "set of interactive explanatory modes". Part of that fundamentalism that overvalued natural selection was EP.

In fact, EP reinstalled the adaptationist vice of sociobiology almost three decades later. In its attempt to explain human behavior, EP resorted to an "adaptive narrative" composed of "speculative or narrative modes" and just so stories about our lithic life (Gould, 1997b). For arguing that the main features of human psychology were adaptations, Gould (1997b) called EP "ultradarwinian".

In EP we can find outstanding cases of adaptationism. Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer (2000) argued that rape is an adaptation as well as a byproduct of adaptive traits. In a similar vein, Max Krasnow and colleagues (2011) argued that the female "mind" has adaptations for food gathering, which explains why women are better at shopping.

Other studies went further and stated that cunnilingus evolved to detect infidelity by tasting traces of semen in the partner's vagina (Pham and Shackelford, 2013) or that the female counterpart evolved to generate sexual attractiveness (Pazhoohi et al., 2020). Although these constitute exceptional proposals (even within the EP), it should be noted that they are consequences of their particular research logic.

In her critique, anthropologist Susan McKinnon (2005) showed that for evolutionary psychology every adaptation was supported by certain genes. Thus, one could find genes to be faithful, genes to form clubs, genes to help relatives, or genes to be friendly, which appeared in popular PE books such as Robert Wright's The Animal Morality or Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works.

According to David Buss (2008), the main representative of the camp, the EP focuses on "psychological adaptations". This explains why they treat certain behaviors or traits as adaptations, even going against common sense. For example, for a man to think that if a woman smiles at him it is because she is looking for sex, it is an adaptation that serves to - oh surprise - look for sex (Ibid., p. 19).

For EP, the human "mind" is composed of adaptations or "evolved psychological mechanisms". Such mechanisms integrate a "set of processes" that solved specific problems of "survival or reproduction in a recurrent way throughout evolutionary history" (Ibid., p. 50). This proposal is maintained in the most recent books (Buss, 2019).

Here the problem is not to resort to evolutionary theories and concepts nor to suspect that all behavior is an adaptation. The objection lies in the forms, in how EP supports the existence of psychological adaptations. In this regard, what Russell Gray and colleagues (2003) have said makes a lot of sense: "a plausible story is not enough to meet the challenge of adaptive explanation" (p. 251).

For the biologist P.Z. Myers (2012), adaptationism reveals that EP was based on a "naive and simplistic understanding of how evolution works". Likewise, for Matthew Rellihan (2012), EP developed a "strong adaptationism" despite the fact that "there is little reason to believe that adaptive thinking can be used to infer our current psychology from past selection pressures" (p. 246).

As such, adaptationism results from an optimistic reading of Darwin. For EP, Darwin provided a "naturalistic explanation" of the evolution of organisms and the features of human psychology (Barkow et al., 1992, p. 8), while natural selection provided a "graceful causal account" of the link between adaptive problems and organismic design (Ibid.). As can be seen, this was no small feat.

"The theory of evolution by natural selection greatly expanded the range of things that could be explained, so that not only physical phenomena such as stars, mountain ranges, impact craters, and alluvial fans could be located and explained causally, but also things such as whales, eyes, leaves, nervous systems, emotional expressions, and the faculty of language." (Ibid., p. 52)

Despite the enthusiasm, in On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin himself (1859) said he was "convinced" that in the evolution of organisms "natural selection has been the principal, but not the exclusive, means" (p. 6). Although several studies postulate the existence of non-adaptive mechanisms, adaptationism is a "simplistic caricature" of Darwin's work (Gould, 1997b) because it presumes that natural selection explains every trait or behavior.

For his part, the anthropologist Joseph Henrich (2016) criticized Pinker and Buss for considering natural selection as the "only process" capable of generating adaptations. As studies on cultural evolution indicate, "natural selection has lost its status as the only ɿoolish' process capable of creating complex adaptations well adjusted to local circumstances" (Ibid., p. 114).

For EP, natural selection has shaped the human mind, just as it shaped the anatomy itself: through natural selection. Since natural selection is an adaptive mechanism, this argument leads to the assumption that various psychological traits or behaviors constitute adaptations. However, the scientific evidence does not support such an assumption.

For anthropologist Jonathan Marks (2015), "there is no reason to believe that any specific trait should have an adaptive explanation. In almost the same words, Robert Boyd (2018), also an anthropologist, held that "there is no reason why learning mechanisms should favor adaptive behavior in any particular case" (p. 60).

Rather than being assumed, adaptations must be tested and this is something that EP has serious problems with.

As a result of its adaptationism, PE developed the hypothesis of massive modularity (hereinafter HMM). According to this proposal, the human "mind" is composed of different encapsulated neurological circuits or "modules" innate "mental organs", formed by natural selection and destined to solve diverse adaptive problems (Cosmides and Tooby, 1997 Kurzban, 2010).

As well as several genes were proposed, several modules were also proposed: face recognition module, spatial relations module, tool use module, fear module, social exchange module, emotion perception module, child care module, friendship module, grammar module, etc. (Barkow et al., 1992, p. 113).

In The language instinct, Pinker (1994) made a list of modules, among which were modules for mapping, habitat selection, or infidelity detection, as well as for food, justice, kinship, or numbers [Figure 3]. This thesis was developed in depth in his book How the mind works:

"The mind is organized into modules or mental organs, each with a specialized design that makes it an expert in a field of interaction with the world. The basic logic of the modules is specified by our genetic program. Its operation was shaped by natural selection to solve the problems of hunting and gathering life that our ancestors carried through most of our evolutionary history". (Pinker, 1997, p. 21)

Such modules-which can be "hundreds or thousands" (Tooby and Cosmides, 1995, p. xiii)-exist because they solve adaptive problems faced by our ancestors (Cosmides and Tooby, 1997). This proposition is graphical in the phrase "our modern skulls contain Stone Age minds," coined by William Allman and considered a "very appropriate summary" of the EP (Ibid.).

Despite the good intentions, the HMM was highly criticized (Sterelny, 2003). Although the brain possesses some modularity, such modules are not genetic specializations, but the result of brain plasticity they are adaptive responses to local conditions, not vestiges of prehistoric pasts (Buller & Hardcastle, 2000). In fact, strong evidence shows that the structure of the brain is determined by its interaction with the environment (Ibid.).

For James Woodward and Fiona Cowie (2004), "there is no reason to think that evolution 'should' produce modular minds" (p. 313). Moreover, MHM does not reflect important features of human cognition, such as its ability to plan or its flexibility. Although its proponents claim to refer to Jerry Fodor's work, even Fodor (2000) does not agree.

This makes discussions of HMM confusing (Frankenhuis and Ploeger, 2007 Chiappe and Gardner, 2011).

For Johan Bolhuis and colleagues (2011), the HMM "is not supported by neuroscientific evidence" (p. 3). Indeed, neuroscience does not conceive of the brain as a set of innate modules formed by natural selection, but as an interconnected network, linked to context (by its plasticity and learning capacity) and formed by culture (Bolhuis et al., 2011 Peters, 2013 Muthukrishna et al., 2018).

Although the EP states that, in order to understand the human "mind", we must understand the "mind" of our ancestors, multiple evidence shows that the socio-cultural changes that have occurred in the last 100 thousand years have modified multiple aspects of human cognition (Laland, 2017). This makes MHM empirically implausible.

"The idea that 'our modern skulls house a Stone Age mind' is also wrong at the contemporary end of our evolutionary history. The idea that we are stuck in a psychology adapted to the Pleistocene greatly underestimates the pace at which natural and sexual selection can drive evolutionary change. Recent studies have shown that selection can radically alter the life history traits of a population in as little as 18 generations (for humans, approximately 450 years)." (Buller, 2012, p. 49)

By promoting a "caricatured view of the Pleistocene environment" (Gray et al., 2003, p. 248), the idea of prehistoric minds in modern skulls is far from the paleoanthropological and archaeological evidence. Already here it becomes clear that another of the vices of EP was to have neglected a central concept for the understanding of human behavior: culture.

Underestimating culture

If it is a question of culture, the EP repeated the mistake of sociobiology: rejecting its adequate treatment in the explanation of human behavior. Opposed to it, a group of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theories have recovered the importance of culture and defended its principal role in the understanding of human behavior (Morales, 2020).

That EP has been accused of underestimating culture is surprising given that, in his classic essay, Barkow (1973) referred to the work of the geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, known for studying the feedback between biological evolution and cultural evolution. Something happened between 1973 and 1992 that the EP dismissed culture in favor of innate approaches.

Generally, EP associates culture with the idea of cultural difference (Buss, 2001). This explains why they believe that a behavior is innate if it appears in multiple cultures (Buss, 1989) or that there is a "universal human nature" underlying cultural differences (Gangestad, Haselton & Buss, 2006).

However, this conception produces what McKinnon (2001) called an "oversimplification" of culture.

As such, culture has been present since the genus Homo, 2.5 million years ago (Henrich, 2016). Since that time, based on the so-called Baldwin effect, various cultural practices have altered human evolution. Contrary to a universal human nature and underlying cultural differences, human nature itself lies in its genetic-cultural diversity, fostered by evolution itself (Brown et al., 2011).

In the last 50 thousand years, several changes have affected human beings at the genomic level (Williamson et al., 2007 Laland, Odling-Smee and Myles, 2010). Likewise, agriculture, domestication of animals or the increase in population density over the last 10 thousand years accelerated human evolution (Hawks et al., 2007) and modified our brain (Bolhuis et al., 2011).

EP's disregard for culture also has repercussions in methodological areas. According to a recent study, 70% of the samples used in EP studies (published in the journals Evolution & Human Behavior and Evolutionary Psychology) correspond only to university students (Pollet and Saxton, 2019).

It is difficult to speak of a "universal human architecture" with such a biased sample.

In the face of criticism, several Darwinian-oriented psychologists such as Andrew Whiten or Michael Muthukrishna have aligned themselves with other evolutionary theories that treat culture as a central element of human evolution (Morales, 2020). The fact is that contempt for culture was materialized in one of the most important topics of the EP: human sexuality.

For Darwin*, sexual selection* (hereinafter SS) was an important mechanism in the evolution of species. SS took this reference and used it to explain various presumably biological and universal human behaviors (Buss, 2019).

Observed in many cultures with a marked sexual division of labor (male hunter/woman gatherer), EP held that gender differences (Buss, 1995b) and mating strategies (Buss, 1989) were universal. This universality was explained not by the influence of the environment or culture, but by the effect of the SS, that is, such differences are the result of biological evolution.

In A mind of her own, Anne Campbell (2002) criticized the "biophobia" of constructivist approaches that attribute gender differences to the social environment for not explaining where such differences come from. Far from those, the EP considers "the distant causes of the difference between males and females arising from disparate pressures on men and women several hundred thousand years ago" (p. 32).

Under this logic, the male/female preference for the colors blue/pink does not occur because of cultural codes, but because primitive women had to interpret the excited faces of their babies (Hurlbert and Ling, 2007). Likewise, the male preference for hard sciences (related to greater visuospatial ability) occurred because primitive men travelled long distances when hunting (Halpern et al., 2007).

Since many genus differences were found in other species, those were explained evolutionarily. For EP, such a pattern provides a "powerful reason" for asserting that "evolutionary forces are the primary cause of psychological differences between the sexes" (Stewart-Williams and Thomas, 2013, p. 143). Recently, in The ape that understood the universe, Steve Stewart-Williams (2020) reiterated that "many sexual differences have evolutionary origins" (p. 117).

Derived from the SS, the Bateman Principles (hereafter PB) were also employed by the EP (Buss, 2019). In order to test the mechanisms of SS, geneticist Angus Bateman studied fruit flies and postulated that in order to achieve reproductive success, it was necessary for males to be promiscuous and females to be passive.

The first to apply SS and PB to human behavior was the biologist Robert Trivers, creator of the theory of parental inversion. Although Gould (1978) warned about how sociobiology used Trivers' work, he quickly became an EP cliché author (Buss, 2019).

However, a fundamental problem of applying SS and PB to human behavior is to ignore the influence of culture.

Although SS is active in humans, it depends on many factors that can be categorized as cultural: mortality, population density, polygamy, monogamy, biparental upbringing, or even sexual dimorphism. It is precisely this complexity in the integration of factors, mechanisms and traits that makes human beings a "model species" in the study of SS (Wilson, Miller and Crouse, 2017, p. 8).

According to Wataru Nakahashi (2017), the classical SS models are inapplicable to humans because they refer to polygamous species (humans are semi-monogamous) and because human mating preferences are culturally transmitted.

For Nakahashi (2017), "it is important to discard the preconceived idea that any human mating preference is aimed at achieving good genes or direct benefit" (p. 9).

Something similar occurs with PBs. In fruit flies and other insects, the applicability of PBs was much debated. In humans, the same was true, since "human mating strategies are unlikely to conform to a single universal pattern" (Brown, Laland, & Mulder, 2009, p. 297). Indeed, for each sex, the relationship between reproductive success and mating success varies culturally (Ibid.).

Sex roles, theoretically linked to PB and long considered immovable, were also subject to criticism:

"Our traditional assumptions about sex roles (as defined by Darwin, Bateman, and Trivers) have been shattered by the realization that polyandry is common among women that males of many species are demanding, while females are competitive and that sex roles can change even within a species at different times due to demographic or environmental changes. (Tang-Martinez, 2016, p. 19)

Criticism of SS and PB influences the study of gender differences. Although these exist, this does not imply that they are without cultural influence, but quite the opposite: it is enough that some difference is present in humans to admit that culture played a fundamental role in their manifestation. This demolishes any innate or pleistocene explanation typical of PE.

Human brain development does not depend only on the intrauterine period, but also on the learning and experiences lived in the first 5 years of life, which is a feature that differentiates us from other primates (Liu et al. 2012). This allows us to understand why breeding biases and stereotypes explain gender differences better than a presumed biological inheritance from millions of years ago.

It also clarifies why the loose comparison of human and primate behavior - a common exercise in EP (Jarrett, 2017) - is bound to fail. Both the expression of emotions in young infants and the child's preference for certain toys and play practices are heavily influenced by parental gender, parenting biases, and cultural values (Li et al., 2019, Liu et al., 2020).

In Adapting Minds. David J. Buller (2005) analyzed arguments for and against EP with the intention that all those interested in EP would know "both sides of the story" (p. 16). After weighing the evidence, Buller (2005) concluded that EP "fails to provide us with an accurate evolutionary understanding of human psychology" (p. 481).

Given its popularity, Buller (2012) coined the category "evolutionary pop psychology" to refer to a strand that makes claims about human behavior through evolutionary concepts for popular consumption (whose main representatives are Buss and Pinker). Since the evidence on which the pop EP is based is scarce, its claims are "deeply flawed" (p. 51).

Precisely because of the infallible nature of its claims, the EP has been linked to pseudoscience by the greatest exponent of the subject, the philosopher and PhD in genetics, Massimo Pigliucci (2006, 2008). However, here it is worth clarifying the following: identifying EP as pseudoscience will not make it disappear nor will recognizing it as science make its vices disappear.

Indeed, it is not necessary for a discipline to degenerate into a pseudoscience in order to be rejected. If one has to choose an adjective, the evidence and arguments reviewed here sufficiently suggest that EP is, at most, a weak theory about the evolution of human behavior.

The few works that develop an epistemology of evolutionary psychology cite literature from 4 or 5 decades ago, when sociobiology was in vogue (Ketelaar & Ellis, 2000 Schmitt & Pilcher, 2004). Even in recent studies it is notorious that EP narrative used to be more triumphalist and ambitious than the contemporary, more humble and probabilistic one (Ploeger & van der Hoort, 2015).

In this respect, one study suggests that the aim of EP is not to formulate evidence-based theories, but hypotheses that could later be corroborated (Ketelaar & Ellis, 2000) - a questionable process for a supposed natural science. Also, another study mentioned the term "hypothesis" 60 times (Ploeger and van der Hoort, 2015), which reveals the current epistemic nature of EP.

While real science aims at formulating theories, EP only formulates hypotheses. Although every theory has been a hypothesis, when a study is published, it is done because of its theoretical character and not because of its hypothetical character. That is why it is said that scientific theories are born proven, because it is assumed that they have already considered all the evidence.

On the other hand, the EP operates in a different way: it does not publish proven theories, but hypotheses that need to be proved. Its mistakes are cyclical because its academics are used to tentative explanations. This makes the quality criteria flexible, since it is not the same to publish a theory as a hypothesis. Moreover, it seems that in PE the peer review is not done before publication, but after.

"It would be a shame if scientific journals also published creationist garbage, but that is exactly what PE journals do: publish a onanistic mix of terrible, horrible, ridiculous articles with a few articles that try to refute them. It's a turbulent mess that keeps publishers in business, but does nothing to improve our knowledge." (Myers, 2018)

Some even claim that the EP is "impossible" to corroborate. For Subrena Smith (2020) there is a matching problem in the EP, a fundamental difficulty in matching the current mental mechanisms with those of our ancestors. Since 'n' cognitive mechanism or algorithm by which a certain problem was solved leaves no fossils, we have no access to it nor can we know if it is an expression of an ancestor.

The main criticisms of EP have come from biology (Gould, 1997 Lloyd and Feldman, 2002 Myers, 2012 Laland, 2017), anthropology (McKinnon, 2005 Marks, 2015 Henrich, 2016 Boyd, 2018), psychology (Halpern et al, 2007 Bolhuis et al., 2011), neuroscience (Buller and Hardcastle, 2000 Peters, 2013) and even philosophy of science (Buller, 2005 Pigliucci, 2006, 2008 Richardson, 2007).

A not very positive record for those who claim to explain scientifically the biological evolution of the human "mind".

Another critical line comes from the theory of developmental systems or DST (Lickliter, 2008). By discussing the unidirectional view Gen→Fenotipo and incorporating the biosocial perspective, this theory discusses the existence of innate behavioral information in genes and bets on a plural and dynamic approach: permanent feedback loops between the different layers of an organism.

The DST objects that the EP assigns ultimate causes to a phenomenon of proximate causes (phylogenetic fallacy).

In contrast, the EP has not remained cross-modular (Schmitt, 2015 Buss, 2016a Hagen, 2016 Al-Shawaf, 2019 Stewart-Williams, 2020). Although several objections were morally motivated, others - like the ones reviewed here - deserve a better response than the simple enumeration of other equally questionable studies (Al-Shawaf, 2020). There is no point in declaring oneself a supporter of the EP if one does not know its successes and failures.

When the criticisms are not answered, evolutionary psychologists prefer to state that, if you object to their arguments, it is because you deny evolution (Geher, 2015), you are politicized (Geher & Gambacorta, 2010) or you are ideologically biased (Buss & Von Hippel, 2018). This attitude has led to the belief that evolutionary psychologists prefer to ignore criticism rather than respond to it adequately:

"Evolutionary psychologists largely ignore the biological evidence that has the strongest scientific credentials and is most directly relevant to their claims about psychological mechanisms. This includes not only evidence from neurobiology, genetics, and developmental biology, but also any evidence from evolutionary biology, ethology, and population genetics that threatens to undermine their armchair adaptationism. (Woodward and Cowie, 2004, p. 331)

"Evolutionary psychologists often respond to their critics by suggesting that they misunderstand their field and that they should read the foundational texts of their discipline and the enormity of their research findings. However, this suggestion would seem to be no more than a theoretical biblical punch line. They want their research to somehow stand on its own - hoping that their critics will excuse or overlook the theoretical assumptions that were made to achieve their realization. (Peters, 2013, p. 317)

"T]he SP does not investigate the dynamic interaction between genes and context, which is essential for understanding the development and evolution of behavior. Therefore, EP does not conform to the rigorous standards of biology or psychology, often does not respond to methodological criticism, eludes theoretical controversy, and is disconnected from a large number of studies on issues related to behavioral evolution. (Grossi et al., 2014, p. 283)

"I have been complaining for years, as have others. Proponents of evolutionary psychology simply continue to do more and more junk science based on ignorance of evolutionary biology, publishing the same crap to pollute the scientific literature. It is shameful." (Myers, 2020)

Even worse, certain evolutionary psychologists have accused their critics of being constructivists or tablarasists, despite being evolutionists. Perhaps because of this sectarian behavior, the Santa Barbara school (which embodies the EP referred to here) was dubbed the "Santa Barbara church" (Laland and Brown, 2002, p. 154) one whose members should "act less as evangelists and more as evolutionary biologists" (Gray et al., 2003, p. 265).

Although for 20 years Buss defined EP as a "new scientific discipline," it is notorious that it has lost ground. The first books set out a concrete program with an object of study, a theoretical framework, and specific proposals. Today, however, several handbooks include topics incompatible with it, such as cultural evolution (Workman and Reader, 2014 Buss, 2016a, 2016b, 2019).

Perhaps knowing this, Buss himself recently published an article in which he referred to cultural evolution and gene-cultural co-evolution (Lukaszewski et al., 2020), two proposals that strictly disagree with the EP. Who would have thought that one of the most important evolutionary psychologists is now linked to this culture that he recently underestimated. Life does give lessons.

Something curious is that when Buss and colleagues refer to cultural transmission (the main mechanism of cultural evolution) and to gene-culture co-evolution (the main concept of cultural evolution) they cite Tooby and Cosmides (Ibid.), even though in their work there is nothing similar to such proposals. Evolutionary psychologists may not be great scientists, but they are good colleagues.

Although many criticisms and replies have been left out of this essay due to lack of space, it is pertinent to note that the most objected to proposals of the EP have also been the most representative: adaptationism, modularity, SS and or the PB. This explains why critics of the EP have questioned the program as a whole -for example:

"In principle, there is nothing wrong with taking an evolutionary approach to human behavior or cognition. In practice, however, the impoverished view of evolution and psychology adopted by many evolutionary psychologists, as well as the weakness of their empirical science, is frankly quite embarrassing". (Gray et al., 2003, p. 248)

"Much of the appeal of EP derives from the fact that it seems to provide a way of ɻiologizing' cognitive science with evolutionary considerations that supposedly provide powerful additional constraints on psychological theorizing. We believe that this appearance is misleading. (Woodward and Cowie, 2004, p. 331)

"The failure of evolutionary psychology to produce solid empirical findings [. ] stems from problems with its theoretical framework - in particular, its reliance on 'reverse engineering' the mind from the remnants of our Pleistocene past, its assumption that the adaptive architecture of the mind is massively modular, and its doctrine of a universal human nature. (Buller, 2006, p. 282)

"It is unlikely that we will ever learn much about our evolutionary past by dividing our Pleistocene history into discrete adaptive problems, assuming that the mind is divided into discrete solutions to those problems, and then backing up those assumptions with pencil and paper data. The field of evolutionary psychology will have to improve." (Buller, 2012, p. 51)

After reviewing 2578 social science articles, Alvaro de Menard (2020) concluded that PE studies were "weak social psychology articles with an infinitesimally thin top layer of evolutionary paint. For de Menard (2020), PE was a "surprisingly bad" discipline with a low capacity for replication, unlike others such as economics, education or demography.

Generally, debates about EP resort to poisoning the well or straw men such as the labels "biophobia", "creationism of the mind", "Standard Model of Social Sciences", "constructivism" or "tablarasism". Although they are a source of amusing memes on social networks, they contribute little to scientific progress and to developing a serious opinion about human behavior.

About the EP, there are diverse positions: some say it is not the devil (Geher, 2006), others that it is not a theory but a meta-theory (Duntley and Buss, 2008), others ask that we all enact it (Burke, 2014), others demand that it be abolished (Myers, 2018), some want to throw it away (Eberle, 2019) and others claim that it provides a "solid scientific framework" that generates a "scientific revolution" (Buss, 2020).

If anyone agrees with the criticisms reviewed, but is interested in behavioral evolution, they should know that there are other PE schools that do not share the record of the one referred to here, nor do they share adaptationist, modularist, innate or anti-cultural approaches (Dunbar et al., 2007 Laland, 2017).

Does evolution impact on human behavior? Yes, as animals, humans are subject to the mechanisms of natural selection, genetic drift, etc. Critics and proponents of evolutionary psychology agree that evolution operates on organisms. The discrepancy, you understand, revolves around how this occurs, around the explanation given.

In science there is no subject free of controversy. The condemnations received by Darwin or Giordano Bruno themselves are clear examples of this. This epic serves to raise the statements invested with science as martyrs against the criticisms made at a certain historical moment.

If the avid reader noticed that this essay used verbs in the past tense to refer to the EP, it is because the critical evidence already exposed it as a finished theory. Even so, this essay will serve those who wonder what became of that discipline that swore to explain human behavior through adaptations, genes, modules and an incomprehensible contempt for culture.

-Author's note: This essay was made with the support of my colleagues Sientífiko (political scientist, Universidad de Santiago, Chile) and Miguel Ángel (biological anthropologist, Universidad de Arte y Ciencias Sociales, Chile), who are co-authors.

How valid are Koestler's criticism of evolutionary theory? - Biology

Darwin was not without his critics. In his book, Darwinism: The Refutation of a Myth, Soren Lovtrup points out that "some critics turned against Darwin's teachings for religious reasons, but they were a minority most of his opponents . argued on a completely scientific basis." He goes on to explain:

". the reasons for rejecting Darwin's proposal were many, but first of all that many innovations cannot possibly come into existence through accumulation of many small steps, and even if they can, natural selection cannot accomplish it, because incipient and intermediate stages are not advantageous."

Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873)

". parts (of Darwin's Origin of Species) I laughed at till my sides were almost sore. "

". I have read your book with more pain than pleasure. Parts of it I admired greatly, parts I laughed at till my sides were almost sore other parts I read with absolute sorrow, because I think them utterly false and grievously mischievous. You have deserted&mdashafter a start in that tram-road of all solid physical truth&mdashthe true method of induction, and started us in machinery as wild, I think, as Bishop Wilkins's locomotive that was to sail with us to the moon. Many of your wide conclusions are based upon assumptions which can neither be proved nor disproved, why then express them in the language and arrangement of philosophical induction?

&ldquoBut I must in the first place observe that Darwin's theory is not inductive,&mdashnot based on a series of acknowledged facts pointing to a general conclusion,&mdashnot a proposition evolved out of the facts, logically, and of course including them. To use an old figure, I look on the theory as a vast pyramid resting on its apex, and that apex a mathematical point."

But I cannot conclude without expressing my detestation of the theory, because of its unflinching materialism&mdashbecause it has deserted the inductive track, the only track that leads to physical truth&mdashbecause it utterly repudiates final causes, and therby indicates a demoralized understanding on the part of its advocates.

The Spectator, 1860
from David L. Hull,
Darwin and His Critics
. The Reception of Darwin's Theory of Evolution by the Scientific Community,
Harvard University Press, 1973, pages 155-170

Perhaps the most formidable of Darwin's critics was St. George Mivart. His major book, On the Genesis of Species, took aim at the notion that natural selection could account for the accumulation of the incipient stages of useful structures (Mivart, 1871). Stephen Jay Gould notes that

"Darwin offered strong, if grudging, praise and took Mivart far more seriously than any other critic. Mivart gathered, and illustrated "with admirable art and force" (Darwin's words), all objections to the theory of natural selection---"a formidable array" (Darwin's words again). Yet one particular theme, urged with special attention by Mivart, stood out as the centerpiece of his criticism. It remains today the primary stumbling block among thoughtful and friendly scrutinizers of Darwinism. No other criticism seems so troubling, so obviously and evidently "right" (against a Darwinian claim that seems intuitively paradoxical and improbable).

Mivart awarded this criticism a separate chapter in his book, right after the introduction. He also gave it a name, remembered ever since. He called it "The Incompetency of 'Natural Selection' to account for the Incipient Stages of Useful Structures." If this phrase sounds like a mouthful, consider the easy translation: we can readily understand how complex and full developed structures work and owe their maintenance and preservation to natural selection---a wing, an eye, the resemblance of a bittern to a branch or of an insect to a stick or dead leaf. But how do you get from nothing to such an elaborate something if evolution must proceed through a long sequence of intermediate stages, each favored by natural selection? You can't fly with 2% of a wing or gain much protection from an iota's similarity with a potentially concealing piece of vegetation. How, in other words, can natural selection explain these incipient stages of structures that can only be used (as we now observe them) in much more elaborated form?"

Gould goes on to point out that among the difficulties of Darwinian theory "one point stands high above the rest: the dilemma of incipient stages. Mivart identified this problem as primary and it remains so today."

Note: Mivart's criticism that natural selection was incompetent to account for the incipient stages of useful structure is an understatement. In fact, the history of life on Earth lacks any evidence for incipient stages of useful structures. Statis is natural. Natural selection actually explains why major evolutionary change does not occur on a gradual step-by-step basis and is the foundation for a new Theory of Conservation or Macrostasis.

Louis Agassiz

"Between two successive geological periods, changes have taken place among plants and animals. But none of those primordial forms of life which naturalists call species, are known to have changed during any of these periods. It cannot be denied that the species of different successive periods are supposed by some naturalists to derive their distinguishing features from changes which have taken place in those of preceding ages, but this is a mere supposition, supported neither by physiological nor by geological evidence and the assumption that animals and plants may change in a similar manner during one and the same manner is equally gratuitous."

Louis Agassiz
Contributions to Natural History: Essay on Classification, p. 51.

". Have they (geologists) found fossil remains which they can prove to belong to the progenitors of the eagle, or of the horse, or of the donkey, or the whale--of any creature, in short from a mouse or a mole up to a man? I am aware, indeed, that fossil remains of animals thought to resemble the horse have been found, but Mr. Darwin might as easily prove that the donkey is descended from the dromedary, as that the horses of the present day are descended from the Hippotherium. Why is it. that naturalists do not come into light of existing facts, and point out to us some other living species? They know that existing facts would not bear them out. Hence they grope their way, by the aid of fossil bones, millions of ages back into the past and there, amid its pitchy darkness, they fancy they see the desired transformations taking place."

". What, then, is the sum of the changes which Mr. Darwin is able to point to within the historic period as tending to prove his hypothesis? It amounts absolutely to nothing. . There are. many animals living now which can be compared with their progenitors of the 3,000th generation back. Can Mr. Darwin show, then, in the case of any one of them, that, by successive variations accumulated during 3,000 generations, it has sensibly advanced towards some higher form? Can he show that 3,000 generations have, in any instance, done aught towards proving the truth of his hypothesis? It appears that he cannot point to a single such case as yielding him support. 3,000 generations have done literally nothing for his hypothesis, If so, neither would 30,000, nor 300,000 for. if you multiply nothing by a million it will be nothing still."

"There are. absolutely no facts either in the records of geology, or in the history of the past, or in the experience of the present, that can be referred to as proving evolution, or the development of one species from another by selection of any kind whatever."

"Those who accept Mr. Darwin's account of the descent of man must accept along with it not a little that is, if possible, even more incredible. For example, while a certain monkey race has, by a series of insensible gradations, occurring during a period of enormous length, developed into man, other monkey races, during a yet longer period, have remained monkeys, making no progress whatever! Mr. Darwin, I presume, would maintain that at least half a million of years have passed since man emerged into humanity from the last of his ape-like progenitors How far remote, then, must be the time when the ape from which man has descended, branched away from the stem of the Old World monkeys! But during this period - so long that, to us, it is practically an eternity--Old World monkeys have remained Old World monkeys, with the solitary exception of that wonderful member of the ancient series of the Primates, with his plastic frame, of which Mr. Darwin catches "an obscure glance" through the dim vista of ages."
Source: Lyon, William Penman, Home (?) versus Darwin, an (?) Examination of Statements Recently Published by Mr. Darwin Regarding the Descent of Man. London, Hamilton, Adams and Co., 1871, pp. 29, 138-139, 140, 145.

Agassiz, Elizabeth C. (Ed.).
Louis Agassiz, His Life and Correspondence
Cambridge, Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1893. p. 647.

  • Smith, Wolfgang
    Teilhardism and the New Religion
    Tan Books and Publishers, 1988, Rockford, Illinois, p. 24

Lynn Margulis

  • Michael Behe
    Darwin's Black Box (1996), page 26
    Reference given is to: Science Vol. 252, 19 April 1991, pp. 379-381
    Which references: American Zoologist, 30:861-875 (1990)

Michael Denton

&ldquoBut do the facts of actual organic nature square with the Darwinian hypothesis? Are all the recognised organic forms of the present date, so differentiated, so complex, so superior to conceivable primordial simplicity of form and structure, as to testify to the effects of Natural Selection continuously operating through untold time? Unquestionably not. The most numerous living beings now on the globe are precisely those which offer such a simplicity of form and structure, as best agrees, and we take leave to affirm can only agree, with that ideal prototype from which, by any hypothesis of natural law, the series of vegetable and animal life might have diverged.&rdquo

'Individuals, it is said, of every species, in a state of nature annually perish,' and 'the survivors will be, for the most part, those of the strongest constitutions and the best adapted to provide for themselves and offspring, under the circumstances in which they exist.' Now, let us test the applicability of this postulate to the gradual mutation of a specific form by some instance in Natural History eminently favourable for the assumed results. In many species nature has superadded to general health and strength particular weapons and combative instincts, which, as, e.g., in the deer-tribe, insure to the strongest, to the longest-winded, the largest-antlered, and the sharpest-snagged stages, the choice of the hinds and the chief share in the propagation of the next generation. In such peculiarly gifted species we have the most favourable conditions for testing one of the conclusions drawn by Messrs. Darwin and Wallace from this universally recognised 'struggle for the preservation of life and kind.' If the offspring inheriting the advantages of their parents, did in their turn, however slightly and gradually, increase those advantages and give birth to a still more favoured progeny, with repetition of the result to the degree required by 'natural selection,'-then, according to the rate of modification experimentally proved in pigeons, we ought to find evidence of progressive increase in the combative qualities of antlers in those deer that for centuries have been under observation in our parks, and still more so in those that have fought and bred from the earliest historical times in the mountain wilds of Scotland. The element of 'natural selection' above illustrated, either is, or is not, a law of nature. If it be one, the results should be forthcoming more especially in those exceptional cases in which nature herself has superadded structures, as it were expressly to illustrate the consequences of such 'general struggle of the life of the individual and the continuance of the race.' (43) The antlers of deer are expressly given to the male, and permitted to him, in fighting trim, only at the combative sexual season they fall and are renewed annually they belong moreover to the most plastic and variable parts or appendages of the quadruped. Is it then a fact that the fallow-deer propagated under these influences in Windsor Forest, since the reign of William Rufus, now manifest in the superior condition of the antlers, as weapons, that amount and kind of change which the succession of generations under the influence of 'natural selection' ought to have produced? Do the crowned antlers of the red deer of the nineteenth century surpass those of the turbaries and submerged forest-lands which date back long before the beginning of our English History? Does the variability of the artificially bred pigeon or of the cultivated cabbage outweigh, in a philosophical consideration of the origin of species, those obstinate evidences of persistence of specific types and of inherent limitation of change of character, however closely the seat of such characters may be connected with the 'best chance of taking care of self and of begetting offspring?' If certain bounds to the variability of specific characters be a law in nature, we then can see why the successive progeny of the best antlered deer, proved to be best by wager of battle, should never have exceeded the specific limit assigned to such best possible antlers under that law of limitation. If unlimited variability by 'natural selection' be a law, we ought to see some degree of its operation in the peculiarly favourable test-instance just quoted.

Mr. Darwin asks, 'How is it that varieties, which I have called incipient species, become ultimately good and distinct species?' To which we rejoin with the question:--Do they become good and distinct species? Is there any one instance proved by observed facts of such transmutation? We have searched the volume in vain for such. When we see the intervals that divide most species from their nearest congeners, in the recent and especially the fossil series, we either doubt the fact of progressive conversion, or, as Mr. Darwin remarks in his letter to Dr. Asa Gray, one's 'imagination must fill up very wide blanks.'

Richard Owen
'Darwin on the Origin of Species'
Edinburgh Review, 3, 1860, pp. 487-532.

The Institute for Creation Research

Science is our attempt to observe, understand, and explain the operation of the universe and of the living things it contains. Since a scientific theory, by definition, must be testable by repeatable observations and must be capable of being falsified if indeed it were false, a scientific theory can only attempt to explain processes and events that are presently occurring repeatedly within our observations. Theories about history, although interesting and often fruitful, are not scientific theories, even though they may be related to other theories which do fulfill the criteria of a scientific theory.

The Nature of Theories on Origins

On the other hand, the theory of creation and the theory of evolution are attempts to explain the origin of the universe and of its inhabitants. There were no human observers to the origin of the universe, the origin of life, or, as a matter of fact, to the origin of a single type of living organism. These events were unique historical events which have occurred only once. Thus, no one has ever seen anything created, nor has anyone ever seen a fish evolve into an amphibian nor an ape evolve into man. The changes we see occurring today are mere fluctuations in populations which result neither in an increase in complexity nor significant change. Therefore, neither creation nor evolution is a scientific theory. Creation and evolution are inferences based on circumstantial evidence.

Thus the notion that evolution is a scientific theory while creation is nothing more than religious mysticism is blatantly false. This is being recognized more and more today, even by evolutionists themselves. Karl Popper, one of the world's leading philosophers of science, has stated that evolution is not a scientific theory but is a metaphysical research program.[1] Birch and Ehrlich state that:

Our theory of evolution has become . . . one which cannot be refuted by any possible observation. Every conceivable observation can be fitted into it. It is thus "outside of empirical science" but not necessarily false. No one can think of ways in which to test it. Ideas either without basis or based on a few laboratory experiments carried out in extremely simplified systems have attained currency far beyond their validity. They have become part of an evolutionary dogma accepted by most of us as part of our training.[2]

Green and Goldberger, with reference to theories on the origin of life, have said that:

. . . the macromolecule-to-cell transition is a jump of fantastic dimensions, which lies beyond the range of testable hypothesis. In this area all is conjecture.[3]

It seems obvious that a theory that is outside of empirical science, or a theory that lies beyond the range of testable hypothesis cannot qualify as a scientific theory. Any suggestion that these challenges to the status of evolution as a scientific theory are exceptions can be refuted by a thorough search of the scientific literature. Although these quotes are fairly old, they are still true and relevant.

It is evident that the major challenge to the status of evolution as a scientific theory comes from within the evolutionary establishment itself, not from creation scientists.

Creation and evolution are thus theoretical inferences about history. Even though neither qualifies as a scientific theory, each possesses scientific character, since each attempts to correlate and explain scientific data. Creation and evolution are best characterized as explanatory scientific models which are employed to correlate and explain data related to origins. The terms "creation theory," "evolution theory," "creations science," and "evolution science" are appropriate as long as it is clear that the use of such terms denote certain inferences about the history of origins which employ scientific data rather than referring to testable scientific theories. Since neither is a scientific theory and each seeks to explain the same scientific data related to origins, it is not only incorrect but arrogant and self-serving for evolutionists to declare that evolution is science while creation is mere religion. Creation is in every sense as scientific as evolution.

The Relationship of Theories on Origins to Philosophy and Religion

No theory on origins can be devoid of philosophical and religious implications. Creation implies the existence of a Creator (a person or persons, a force, an intelligence, or whatever one may wish to impute). The creation scientist assumes that the natural universe is the product of the design, purpose, and direct volitional acts of a Creator. It is untrue to say that creation scientists are seeking to introduce Biblical creation into the public schools. Their desire is that the subject of origins be taught in a philosophically and religiously neutral manner, as required by the U.S. Constitution as applied in recent decades.

On the other hand, evolution is a non-theistic theory of origins which by definition excludes the intervention of an outside agency of any kind. Evolutionists believe that by employing natural laws and processes plus nothing, it is possible to explain the origin of the universe and of all that it contains. This involves the acceptance of a particular philosophical or metaphysical world view and is thus basically religious in nature. The fact that creation and evolution involve fundamentally different world views has been frankly admitted by some evolutionists. For example, Lewontin has said:

Yet, whatever our understanding of the social struggle that gives rise to creationism, whatever the desire to reconcile science and religion may be, there is no escape from the fundamental contradiction between evolution and creationism. They are irreconcilable world views.[4]

Thus, Lewontin characterizes creation and evolution as irreconcilable world views, and as such each involves commitment to irreconcilable philosophical and religious positions. This does not imply that all evolutionists are atheists or agnostics, nor does it imply that all creationists are Bible-believing fundamentalists.

While it is true that teaching creation science exclusively would encourage belief in a theistic world view, it is equally true that teaching evolution exclusively (as is essentially the case in the U.S. today) encourages belief in a non-theistic, and in fact, an essentially atheistic world view. Indoctrinating our young people in evolutionism tends to convince them that they are hardly more than a mechanistic product of a mindless universe, that there is no God, that there is no one to whom they are responsible.

In their literature, humanists have proclaimed that humanism is a "non-theistic religion." They quote Sir Julian Huxley as stating:

I use the word "Humanist" to mean someone who believes that man is just as much a natural phenomenon as an animal or plant that his body, mind, and soul were not supernaturally created but are products of evolution . . . . [5]

In his eulogy to Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the world's leading evolutionists until his death, Ayala wrote that:

. . . Dobzhansky believed and propounded that the implications of biological evolution reach much beyond biology into philosophy, sociology, and even socio-political issues. The place of biological evolution in human thought was, according to Dobzhansky, best expressed in a passage he often quoted from Pierre Teihard de Chardin: "[Evolution] is a general postulate to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must henceforward bow and which they must satisfy in order to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light which illuminates all facts, a trajectory which all lines of thought must follow—this is what evolution is.[6]

The above statement is as saturated with religion as any assertion could be, and yet it is quoted approvingly by Ayala and Dobzhansky, two of the main architects of the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution.

It is no wonder that Margorie Grene, a leading historian of science, has stated that:

It is as a religion of science that Darwinism chiefly held, and holds, men's minds. The derivation of life, of man, of man's deepest hopes and highest achievements, from the external and indirect determination of small chance errors, appears as the very keystone of the naturalistic universe . . . . Today the tables are turned. The modified, but still characteristically Darwinian theory has itself become an orthodoxy preached by its adherents with religious fervor, and doubted, they feel, only by a few muddlers imperfect in scientific faith.[7]

Birch and Ehrlich have used the term "evolutionary dogma," Grene has referred to Darwinism as a "religion of science," an "orthodoxy preached by its adherents with religious fervor," and Dobzhansky and Teilhard de Chardin proclaim that all theories, hypotheses, and systems must bow before evolution in order to be thinkable and true. One could easily search the evolutionary literature to find many other examples that reveal the religious nature of the evolutionary world view. It can thus be stated unequivocally that evolution is as religious as creation, and conversely, that creation is as scientific as evolution.

Creation and Evolution Are the Only Valid Alternative Theories of Origins

Evolutionists often assert that creationists have constructed a false dichotomy between creation and evolution, that there are actually many theories of origins. However, all theories of origins can be fitted within these two general theories. Thus, Futuyma, an evolutionist, states:

Creation and evolution, between them, exhaust the possible explanations for the origin of living things. Organisms either appeared on the earth fully developed or they did not. If they did not, they must have developed from preexisting species by some process of modification. If they did appear in a fully developed state, they must indeed have been created by some omnipotent intelligence.[8]

No professionally trained teacher should thus hesitate to teach the scientific evidence that supports creation as an alternative to evolution. This is recognized by Alexander, who stated that:

No teacher should be dismayed at efforts to present creation as an alternative to evolution in biology courses indeed at this moment creation is the only alternative to evolution. Not only is this worth mentioning, but a comparison of the two alternatives can be an excellent exercise in logic and reason. Our primary goal as educators should be to teach students to think. . . . Creation and evolution in some respects imply backgrounds about as different as one can imagine. In the sense that creation is an alternative to evolution for any specific question, a case against creation is a case for evolution, and vice versa.

Teaching Both Theories of Origins is an Educational Imperative

Thus, since creation is as scientific as evolution, and evolution is as religious as creation, and since creation and evolution between them exhaust the possible explanations for origins, therefore a comparison of the two alternatives can be excellent exercises in logic and reason. No theory in science should be allowed to freeze into dogma, immune from the challenge of alternative theories. Academic and religious freedoms are guaranteed by the United States Constitution, and public schools are supported by the taxes derived from all citizens. Therefore, in the public schools in the United States, the scientific evidences which support creation should be taught along with the scientific evidences which support evolution in a philosophically neutral manner devoid of references to any religious literature.


1. Karl Popper, in The Philosophy of Karl Popper, vol. 1, ed. P.A. Schilpp, (La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishers), pp. 143- 183.
2. L.C. Birch and P.R. Ehrlich, Nature, vol. 214 (1967), p. 349.
3. D.E. Green and R.F. Goldberger, Molecular Insights into the Living Process (New York: Academic Press, 1967), p. 407.
4. R. Lewontin, in the Introduction to Scientists Confront Creationism, ed. L.R. Godfrey, (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1983), p. xxvi.
5. "What is Humanism?" San Jose, CA 95106: Humanist Community of San Jose).
6. F.J. Ayala, J. Heredity.
7. M. Grene, Encounter, (Nov. 1959), pp. 48-50.
8. D.J. Futuyma, Science on Trial (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), p. 197.
9. R.D. Alexander, in Evolution versus Creationism: The Public Education Controversy (Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1983), p. 91.

* At time of publication, Dr. Gish was Senior Vice President at the Institute for Creation Research.

Cite this article: Gish, D. 1995. The Nature of Science and of Theories on Origins. Acts & Facts. 24 (4).

Return of the “Perfect Design” Straw Man

What about Longo’s claim that if organisms go extinct then this shows the design “does not seem to be very productive, or particularly intelligent”? He argues that unless we admit that extinction refutes design, this shows “the impenetrability of divine design.” By that he means ID proponents change the goalposts arbitrarily, and “Whenever we see fit … the criteria change, and we invoke faith.”

If ID proponents had ever argued that design requires that all species must live eternally, he might have a point. But no mainstream ID proponent has ever said that, and ID readily allows that mass extinction occurs. Evolution News dealt with the “perfect design” objection in response to BioEssays as well. Imperfect design is still design. Anyone who ever got stuck trying to upgrade a computer’s operating system is well aware of this fact. From the textbook Discovering Intelligent Design:

[W]hen ID proponents use the term “intelligent,” they simply seek to indicate that a structure has features requiring a mind capable of forethought to design the blueprint. But does intelligent design require perfect design?

For that matter, what constitutes biological perfection? Take humans for example. Should our bodies all last 100 years? 200 years? Forever? Should we be impervious to injury and never get sick? These are philosophical or theological questions, having little or nothing to do with science.

Holding biological systems to a vaguely defined standard of “perfect” design is the wrong way to test ID. The examples at the beginning of this chapter — broken machinery, computer failures, and decaying buildings — all show that a structure might be designed by intelligence even if it breaks or has flaws. Intelligent design does not mean perfect design. It doesn’t even require optimal design. It means exactly what it says: design by an intelligent agent.

In attacking such outlandish straw men, ID critics parade their own ignorance.


Evolutionary biology provides some hints to analyse the articulations and possible issues which arise from the integration between scientific practise and historical-philosophical reflection. Indeed, the study of organic change has been carried out by scientists poised to play on more than one table, becoming the major players in the dialogue among science, epistemology and history of science. In particular, during the XX century a number of biologists made the historical-epistemological reflection a work tool. This, however, poses a number of questions: which role do historical narratives play for the scientist? What drives his choices of authors and issues to tackle? Can we consider scientists’ historical narratives as rhetorical devices to legitimise their own scientific agenda? By framing such issues in the field of evolutionary biology, the present article aims at reconsidering the use of historical narratives in science. The paper will consist of three sections. In the first part, I will retrace the main steps of the debate on the role of history of science in scientific practise and education. In the second paragraph, I will examine how the classical historical narratives provided by twentieth-century biologists have come under considerable criticism over time. A third and last section will examine the interplay between the latest evolutionists’ narratives and the current approaches in the historiography of evolutionary biology.

The modern-day call for interdisciplinarity is largely a response to the institutionalization of knowledge and disciplinary specialisation that have increased since the twentieth century. Undoubtedly, the 2020 health crisis has made it even more desirable to develop new strategies to achieve a cross-disciplinary dialogue on science and prevent the risks of overspecialisation. In particular, the call for a historical-philosophical informed approach in scientific practise, education and communication has been a pivotal subject of debate[1]. Yet it is necessary to think about how to balance the styles of different disciplines without running into exploitations, trivialities or “pitch invasions”.

Scholars have increasingly focused their attention on the making of cross-disciplinary studies on science and constantly monitored the state-of-art of specific fields within national and international education systems[2]. Among the several conclusions drawn from such surveys, some are of major concern in the contemporary reflection on science. Interdisciplinary discourses involve semantic bargaining, critical analysis and numerous epistemological issues. Their price, as it has been pointed out, is «eternal vigilance»[3], thus scholars are compelled to monitor the interplay of languages, boundaries and necessities respecting the peculiarities of each field. Furthermore, to better understand the drawbacks as well as the potentialities of interdisciplinarity in science, it may be useful to study how it manifested in the contexts in which particular projects emerge and evolve[4].

In this regard, evolutionary biology provides some hints to analyse the articulations and problems that arise from the integration between scientific practise and the historical-philosophical reflection. Indeed, the study of organic change has been carried out by scientists poised to play on more than one table, which became the major actors in the dialogue among science, epistemology and history of science. Especially since the mid-twentieth century, many biologists have made the historical-epistemological reflection a structural element of scientific research. In this regard, the present article aims at reconsidering scientists’ use of historical narratives. In the first section, I will retrace the main steps of the debate on the role of history of science in scientific practise and education. In the second paragraph, I will examine how the classical historical narratives provided by twentieth-century biologists have come under considerable criticism and revision in the last years. A third and last section will be devoted to examine the interplay between the latest evolutionists’ narratives and the current approaches in the historiography of evolutionary biology.

This line of argument will allow us to show that a) historical narratives are still widely used in evolutionary biology b) the scientific developments influence to a large extent the work of historians and epistemologists c) the increasing international debate within the HPS (Integrated History and Philosophy of Science), together with the interdisciplinary dialogue among scholars, has increased awareness of the historical complexity of evolutionary biology.

Who is the historian of science? When considering such question, we ought to bear in mind that the attention towards history was an essential feature of nineteenth-century scientific discourse. Early accounts of the progress within astronomy, physics, medicine and natural history were quite often written by scientists as a way to introduce their own contribution to the cause. Just as important is that, despite their almost hagiographic approach, early histories of sciences were frequently understood as a work tool to direct scientists’ efforts effectively and improve their research agenda[5].

This view of history of science (HS) poses many questions as to the significance of scientists’ historiographical narratives. In 1968, epistemologist George Canguilhem affirmed that scientists’ use of history aimed at making up forerunners to legitimise hypothesis not yet recognised by the scientific community[6]. The issue of utilization goes along with that of valorisation. The historian, by the very fact of selecting its materials, inherently gives values, which makes historical narratives the result of a choice[7]. In this regard, the question arises as to what drives scientists’ choices of authors and theoretical issues to tackle.

The fact that present scientific puzzles may affect scientists’ historical analysis, and virtually lead to biased narratives, has been matter of debate in historiography since the 1960s. Concurrent with the professionalization of HS, historians have often charged scientists’ historical reconstructions with “Whiggism” and “presentism”, namely the general tendency to interpret and assess the past on the basis of the present knowledge[8]. Yet opinions on scientists’ “distorted” history are anything but unanimous, especially as far as its significance in scientific practice and education is concerned. In his milestone book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), Thomas S. Kuhn regarded scientists’ historical narratives as comparatively functional to the perpetuation of normal science. In this regard, he emphasised, non-functional HS might even prove to be detrimental for science students. In a science classroom, it is indeed a vantage to see science «developing linearly toward its present». Not only does HS hardly help solve scientific puzzles, but «more historical detail, whether of science’s present or of its past, or more responsibility to the historical details that are presented, could only give artificial status to human idiosyncrasy, error, and confusion»[9]. Since scientists’ HS is likely to be subservient to science, historian Martin J. Klein took a similar position in criticising the implementation of HS in science courses. According to him, history courses designed for scientists cannot but mirror scientists’ pedagogical needs, and thus resulted in selecting, organizing, and presenting historical materials «on decidedly nonhistorical» and even «antihistorical grounds»[10].

Over the years, a considerable amount of research has been carried out to assess the impact of HS modules in science courses, which however has left numerous questions so far open[11]. According to historian Stephen G. Brush, the use of history may help students understand that a) scientific and philosophical issues are often intertwined and thus the «tendency to judge science primarily on the basis of its practical applications» might be simplistic b) «science can acquire valid and useful knowledge» which is however «a product of human thought, subject to change in the light of new evidence and reasoning» c) scientific contributions made by minorities undergone discrimination and negative social factors that have kept their numbers small[12]. In spite of this, the idea that coursework in HS necessarily enhances early scientists’ knowledge of the “nature of science”, though being an intuitively appealing assumption, still lacks of empirical demonstration[13].

In parallel, the debate between professional historians and scientists/historicists has somehow softened. Both historians and scientists have increasingly debunked the claim for “anti-Whiggism” and rather advocated the desirability of a sophisticated “presentist” and scientifically-informed HS[14].

Twentieth-century evolutionary biology proved to be an ideal arena for such confrontations. Since the time of Darwin, the evolutionists have seized the history of evolutionism[15]. At least in the second half of the nineteenth century, this was outcome of the process of professional self-definition by which scientists countered amateurs and science popularisers in the contention for scientific narrative. However, in the twentieth century some biologists made the historical-epistemological reflection a refined work tool. Far from being an end-of career whim, to such evolutionists as Ernst Mayr and Stephen Jay Gould the history of ideas and the epistemological reflection represented a structural element of research methodology. This, however, elicited a complex controversy among scholars as to evolutionists’ use of HS.

  1. Evolutionary biologists and the use of history: the “modern historiography” and its criticisms

In the introduction of The Growth of Biological Thought (1982), the famous evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) regarded history of science as a tool for concept analysis and clarification[16]. As the architect of the so-called “Modern Synthesis” whose main purpose was to integrate systematics, genetics and the Darwinian theory of evolution, Mayr highlighted that the modern evolutionary thought had emerged through emancipation from the physicalist approach of hard sciences, as well as from the refusal of typological and teleological thinking. To Mayr, not only were such conceptual transformations noteworthy from a historical point of view, but also had a concrete significance in the contemporary debate on the epistemological and methodological nature of life sciences[17].

Reviews of Mayr’s Growth of Biological Thought were numerous and often praised his view of HS as a tool to clarify longstanding issues in biology. Ornithologist Donald S. Farner considered it «a landmark volume» that would hardly have been «superseded». Philosopher Michael Ruse praised the book and regarded it as «a magnificent overview of important themes and aspects in the history of biology». Contrary to those scientists who «made history their hobby» and turned out to write nonsensical histories of glorious progress, historian Jacques Roger and philosopher Michael T. Ghiselin claimed that Mayr had managed to make the historico-philosophical reflection a necessary component of scientific inquiry[18].

However, there was no shortage of criticism of The Growth of Biological Thought. In a pivotal paper published on the Journal of the History of Ideas in 1990, Mayr responded to several charges of “Whiggism”[19]. Here, he reiterated that scientists could use HS as a mean of conceptual elucidation. By relying on philosophers Michael Ruse and David Hull’s similar views[20], Mayr maintained that it was «by no means wrong to look at the past on the basis of an understanding of the present»[21], and further proposed the idea of «developmental historiography», which aimed at reconstructing the phylogeny of scientific concepts by accurate selection, comparison and assessment.

A similar attitude characterised the work of the well-known American palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002). Along the lines of David Hull’s evolutionary epistemology, Gould saw HS as the processing of conceptual genealogies. According to this view, scientific ideas are historically situated objects that belong to specific phyletic lines and must be examined by analysing the degree of similitude of their essential propositions. As in evolutionary biology, the historical inquiry must recognise the difference between homologous genealogies, which result from the transfer of information from master to disciple, and conceptual analogies, i.e. the occurrence of similar scientific ideas in non-related authors. Understood in this way, science and history converge on a homogenous totality[22].

No doubt Gould’s scientific interests fostered and oriented his attention towards history. As a palaeontologist and morphologist, throughout his production Gould attempted to reassess theoretical issues that, in his view, had long been marginalized by the architects of the Modern Synthesis, i.e. the importance of developmental constraints in orienting evolution, the limits of pan-adaptationist interpretations of organic change, and non-gradual explanations of phyletic progress. Not surprisingly, Gould’s main historical surveys dealt with biological theories that had traditionally been considered unorthodox and non-Darwinian: i.e. neo-Lamarckism, orthogenesis, saltationism. This was meant to elicit a form of self-criticism in scientific practise, as well as to provide useful tools to contemporary research by critically reviewing long forgotten insights[23].

As for Mayr, historians’ responses to Gould’s forays into the history of biology were manifold. When Ontogeny and Phylogeny (1977) was published, reviews of the first half of the book, which explored the rise and fall of the recapitulation theory, showed both enthusiasm and complaint. Historian Frederick B. Churchill praised the historical section of the book for having elucidated some important differences in Von Baer’s and Haeckel’s views of development, which helped readers understand the making of the modern conception of the ontogeny process. Gould was «extraordinary successful at binding science and history» adding considerably to the history of biology, although the selection of authors and topics mirrored «his own immediate purposes»[24]. Gould’s scientifically informed historical survey, historian Phillip R. Sloan maintained, allowed to understand the epistemological complexity of nineteenth-century descriptive embryology, where, in accordance with the Duhem-Quine thesis, «no crucial observation could be made to decide between competing theories». Despite being well documented and comparatively useful, Gould’s HS was unquestionably on the «whiggish side» and even downsized issues of deeper historiographical interest[25].

These charges of presentism pose a number of epistemological and methodological issues that deserves further historical reflection. Understood as the general tendency to subordinate the past to the present and deem the latter as a fairly inevitable outcome[26], whiggish histories may take many forms. Both Mayr’s and Gould’s selection of authors and subjects was functional and informed to present scientific concerns, which does not mean that their accounts of the history of evolutionism came down to merely teleological narratives. When used deliberately, conceptual anachronisms (i.e. falling back on new terminologies and concepts) may be auxiliary means to make the past accessible. As tools «on the edge of methodological correctness»[27], anachronisms demand attention and careful utilisation, yet, just like metaphors, represent devices that enable the interdisciplinary reflection on science. In a similar way, little «historical sins», such as focusing on those past ideas that proved to be scientifically fruitful over time, may enrich contemporary scientific debates[28]. On the other hand, removing whatsoever interest in contemporary research and using solely repertoire concepts which corresponds to the historical sources would make HS descriptive and barely intelligible[29].

In addition to this, when inflated, charges of whiggism are pernicious in so far as they convey the idea that historians can only write reliable and unbiased histories of science, which somehow contradicts the very assumptions that such historical epistemologists as Suzanne Bachelard and Alexander Koyré had long put forward, namely that historical narratives always result from a choice and, therefore, valorisation[30]. As historian Junker maintained: «the notion that a scientific study can be conducted by a completely detached observer from a neutral standpoint has been shown to be impossible in physics, and is also an illusion in historiography. The question is not whether, but which kind of interests are the underlying motivation for a historian»[31].

Perhaps, the analysis of evolutionists’ use of history should leave aside the issue of presentism, and rather focus on other aspects that the most recent historiography has contributed to examine. By relying on Maurice Mandelbaum’s taxonomy of historiographical approaches, historian Maurizio Esposito has recently posited that one major aspect of modern historiographies of evolutionary biology that post-modern historians phased out is the explanatory approach to historical reconstruction. Not only did Mayr’s and Gould’s narratives seek to trace a strand of events and research traditions, but also examined them in order to understand why and how some present options succeeded, tracing back the causes that brought about the current research agendas. In contrast, Esposito highlights, post-modern historians, most of which are frequently not biologist, rather try to understand how research traditions coexisted, mingled and declined, addressing the development of evolutionary thinking in all its complexity[32].

Modern historiographies turned out to hypostatize historical phases and research agendas (i.e. Darwinism, Eclipse of Darwinism, the Evolutionary Synthesis) by imposing temporal horizontal cuts and labels on what should be rather considered as «vertical intellectual movements and ideas evolving in parallel and interacting in complex ways»[33]. Historiographical labels are unquestionably powerful and useful from the scientist’s perspective: they identify what is in and out of research programs and can be further used to make up historical traditions, schools of thought or, with the utmost efficiency, confine inconvenient ideas. Twentieth-century debates in evolutionary biology frequently saw scientists struggling for the right label and/or rejecting the problematic ones. When at the turn of the twentieth century the new studies on the mechanical basis of heredity drew a clear distinction between inheritance and development, i.e. the transmission of characters (genetics) and their expression (embryology), almost any study of environmental influences on development was pigeonholed as “Lamarckian”. The parabola of the Austrian biologist Paul Kammerer is a case in point in this regard. The experimental work on midwife toads he carried out between 1905 and 1910 aimed to show that environmental effects could cause hereditable genetic changes. As is well-known, Kammerer committed suicide in 1926, following allegations of having counterfeited his experimental results, an event that many scholars considered as the evidence of how “Lamarckism” became a stigma for twentieth-century evolutionary biologists[34]. It was also for this reason that the British embryologist Conrad Hal Waddington, who, in 1942, had introduced the term “epigenetics” to designate the study of the interactions between the genes and their products that bring about the phenotype, struggled to be considered as a “Darwinian” and tried to reconcile genetics, development, and evolution in a renewed research program he later called “post-neo-Darwinism”[35]. To some extent, scientists’ use of historiographical labels is a matter of sociology of science[36].

The reconsideration of the modern historiographies of evolutionism materialised in parallel with the shifts towards a pluralist paradigm in evolutionary biology and the consequent rise of new historical narratives. While expanding the theoretical borders of the Modern Synthesis, many evolutionary biologists have contributed to revise the old historical reconstructions and proposed new – and sometimes controversial – ones. Perhaps, no such field as epigenetics has affected the history of evolutionism. Indeed, the findings in contemporary epigenetics rehashed the label “Lamarckism” and further fostered the quite catchy leitmotiv of Lamarck taking revenge on Darwin.

The recent scientific literature shows plenty of examples of what, using historian Daniel Špelda’s typology of anachronism, can be regarded as «conceptual anachronism»[37], i.e. associating transgenerational epigenetic inheritance with the classic doctrine of the inheritance of acquired characters. Whilst acknowledging the difference between Lamarck’s original transformation theory and the modern concept of epigenetic inheritance, many biologists have proposed terms such as “quasi-Lamarckism” to designate organisms’ epigenetic responses to environmental stress[38]. In addition to this, scientists have got into the substance of historical inquiry focusing on how “Lamarckian” ideas underwent rejection during the consolidation of the Modern Synthesis and exploring the works of “unorthodox” evolutionists[39]. Within this framework, Darwin himself is back to being revised in so far as his «long forgotten» plural view of the laws of evolution has ultimately been rehabilitated by contemporary research[40]. According to Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb, the very concept of “Darwinian evolution” changed over time encompassing different views of the origin of variation. Although the gene-centred view of evolution became dominant through the evolutionary synthesis, this «does not mean» that «it is the final, correct, and complete interpretation of Darwin’s theory». To the present day, they highlighted, Darwinism is due «for another transformation»[41].

All this has triggered a profound reflection within the history and philosophy of biology, with scholars highlighting the misuses of the label “Lamarckism” when applied to contemporary epigenetic studies and, just as importantly, trying to overcome the assumed lasting opposition between “Darwinian” and “non-Darwinian” theories of evolution [42]. In spite of such criticisms, a common trajectory of inquiry can be detected. Indeed, both scientists’ retrospective interest in the history of unorthodox evolutionary theories and historians’ call for overcoming old-fashioned dichotomies have contributed to increase awareness of the historical complexity of evolutionary biology. This has started to materialise as early as the late 1970s, when such scholars as, for instance, palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould and historian of science Peter Bowler, though going their separate ways, expanded the historiography of evolutionism shedding light on “non-Darwinian” ideas and their remarkable role in the shaping of evolutionary thought.

Never as today has the professional connection among scientists, historians and philosophers of biology been manifest. Progresses in scientific research largely influence the work of historians and epistemologists. New research findings, as well as scientists’ own historical narratives, provide inspiration and subjects of inquiry for historians and philosophers, which, in turn, contribute to further analysing and challenging the epistemological structure and the narratives of contemporary research agendas. The international debate within the HPS and the increasing number of scientific projects in which scientists, historians and philosophers of biology interact each other has no doubt contributed to this scenario.

The marks of such a transition towards a more effective cooperation among scientists, historians of science and epistemologists was already recognised by David Hull between 1969 and 2002. In his pivotal paper What Philosophy of Biology is not (1969), Hull argued that, at that time, philosophers used to address topics in the evolutionary biology with no proper understanding of scientific concepts and further undermined any productive interaction[43]. After about thirty years, Hull noticed a considerable change in this regard. Both biologists and epistemologists had contributed to better understand scientific topics such as “function”, “species”, “systematics”, “fitness”, “selection”, “reduction” and “development”. In spite of this, there were other dangers to be avoided:

Philosophers are attempting to join with biologists to improve our understanding of these biological phenomena. As such, they run the risk of being considered by biologists to be “intruders”. In point of fact, biologists have been amazingly receptive to philosophers who have turned their hand to philosophy of biology with significant emphasis on “biology” [. ]. But sometimes the tables are turned. Biologists take up traditional philosophical topics and attempt to treat them even if they are not professional philosophers[44].

How have things changed since 2002? In the conclusion of his article, Hull hoped for an «alternative» theory of evolution able to integrate the study of ontogenetic development with the rest of the evolutionary synthesis. To a large extent, this is what happened thanks to the studies in evolutionary developmental biology (Evo-Devo), the research on epigenetics and, finally, the establishment of the so-called “Extended Evolutionary Synthesis”[45].

Within this expanding theoretical framework, scientists, philosophers and historians, though not necessarily sharing the same objectives, are involved in a mutually shaping network of knowledge. Scientists’ historical narratives are still widespread in evolutionary biology and largely contribute to this process. Considering them “intrusions”, apart from substantiating a hardened view of disciplinary boundaries and perpetuating the never faded schema of “the two cultures”[46], appears inappropriate in light of the contributions scientists have made to the history of science. Undoubtedly, it is a hardly smooth dialogue among scholars who constantly struggle to develop a shared vocabulary and, most importantly, emphasize different aspects according to their epistemologies, methodologies and professional objectives. The broader is the dialogue, the more a scrutiny of languages and conceptual bargains is essential to make it effective.

[1] A. Briscuso, Il Ministro Boccia ignora cosa sia la scienza. Parola di Karl Popper, in «Strade», 15, 2020 S. Pollo, Parlare del virus in democrazia, in «La Rivista il Mulino», 25, 2020 Id., Comunicare la scienza nella fase 2, in «La Rivista il Mulino», 21, 2020 M. McKinnon et al., Effective Communication in a Pandemic Requires More than “the Science”, in «International Network for Government Science Advice», International Science Council, 24, 2020.

[2] J.T. Klein, Creating Interdisciplinarity Campus Cultures. A Model for Strenght and Sustainability, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco 2010 R. Frodeman (a cura di), The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity, 2a edizione, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2017.

[3] T. Augsburg, S. Henry (a cura di), The Politics of Interdisciplinary Studies: Essays on Transformations in American Undergraduate Programs, MacFarland, Jefferson 2009, p. 246.

[4] J. Vickers, Diversity, Globalization, and Growing Up Digital: Navigating Interdisciplinarity in the Twenty-First Century, in «History of Intellectual Culture», 3, 1, 2003, pp. 1-19.

[5] W. Whewell, History of Inductive Sciences, I, John W. Parker, London 1837, pp. 41-42.

[6] G. Canguilhem, L’objet de l’histoire des sciences, in Etudes d’histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences, J. Vrin, Paris 1968, pp. 9-23.

[7] S. Bachelard, Epistémologie et Historie des Sciences, in «Revue de Synthèse», III, 49/52, 1968 A. Koyré, Perspectives sur l’histoire des sciences, in Etudes d’histoire de la pensée scientifique, Gallimard, Paris 1973, pp. 390-399.

[8] C. Russell, Whigs and Professionals, in «Nature», 308, 1984, pp. 777-778.

[9] T.S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), University of Chicago, Chicago 1970, pp. 137-138 see also T.S. Kuhn, The History of Science, in International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, Growell, Collier &Macmillan, New York 1968.

[10] M.J. Klein, Use and Abuse of Historical Teaching in Physics, in History in the Teaching of Physics, a cura di S.G. Brush, A.L. King, University Press of New England, Hanover 1972, pp. 12-18.

[11] M.R. Matthews, History, Philosophy, and Science Teaching: the Present Rapprochement, in «Science & Education», 1, 1992, pp. 11-47.

[12] S.G. Brush, History of Science and Science Education, in «Interchange», 20, 2, 1989, pp. 60-70.

[13] F. Abd-El-Khalick, N.G. Lederman, The Influence of History of Science Courses on Students’ Views of Nature of Science, in «Journal of Research in Science Teaching», 37, 10, 2000, pp. 1057-1095 N.G. Lederman, J.S. Lederman, Teaching and Learning Nature of Scientific Knowledge: Is It Déjà Vu All Over Again?, in «Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Science Education Research», 1, 6, 2019, doi: 10.1186/s43031-019-0002-0

[14] D.L. Hull, In Defence of Presentism, in «History and Theory», 18, 1979, pp. 1-15.

[15] See for instance H.F. Osborn, From Greeks to Darwin: an Outline of the Development of the Evolution Idea, Macmillan and Company, New York 1894.

[16] E. Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought, the Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge 1982, p. 17.

[17] T. Junker, Factors Shaping Ernst Mayr’s Concepts in the History of Biology, in «The Journal of the History of Biology», 29, 1, 1996, pp. 29-77 B. Continenza, Ernst Mayr e la “Essentialism Story”, in «Medicina & Storia», XII, 2012, pp. 7-58.

[18] D.S. Farner, Reviewed Work: The Growth of Biological Thought. Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance by Ernst Mayr, in «The Auk», 100, 2, 1983, pp. 507-509 M. Ruse, Book Review: Ernst Mayr. The Growth of Biological Thought. Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance, in «Journal of The History of the Behavioural Sciences», 20, 3, 1984, pp. 220-224 J. Roger, M.T. Ghiselin, More Maiorum (A Review Symposium). The Growth of Biological Thought. Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance. Ernst Mayr, in «Isis», 74, 3, 1983, pp. 405-413.

[19] E. Mayr, When is Historiography Whiggish?, in «Journal of the History of Ideas», 51, 2, 1990, pp. 301-309.

[20] M. Ruse, Booknotes, in «Biology & Philosophy», 2, 1987, pp. 377-381 D.L. Hull, In Defence of Presentism, cit.

[21] Mayr, When is Historiography Whiggish?, cit., p. 309.

[22] S.J. Gould, Ontogeny and Phylogeny, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1977.

[23] D. Ceccarelli, Per un’analisi di Gould: storico e teorico della struttura in biologia, in S. Caianiello (a cura di), Da Gould a evo-devo. Percorsi storici e teorici, CNR Edizioni, Roma 2014, pp. 39-55.

[24] F.B. Churchill, Reviewed Work: Ontogeny and Phylogeny by Stephen Jay Gould, in «Journal of Paleontology», 52, 6, 1978, pp. 1395-1399, p. 1399.

[25] P.R. Sloan, Reviewed Work: Ontogeny and Phylogeny by Stephen Jay Gould, in «The British Journal for the History of Science, 13, 1, 1980, pp. 50-55, p. 53.

[26] H. Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History, G. Bell and Sons, London 1931, p. 16.

[27] D. Špelda, Anachronisms in the History of Science: An Attempt at a Typology, in «Almagest», 3, 2, pp. 91-119, p. 113.

[28] S.J. Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2002, p. 343.

[30] S. Bachelard, op. cit. A. Koyré, op. cit.

[32] M. Esposito, Cathedrals, Corals and Mycelia: Three Metaphors for the History of Evolutionary Biology, in R.G. Delisle (a cura di), Natural Selection: Revisiting its Explanatory Role in Evolutionary Biology, Springer, Cham 2021, forthcoming.

[33] R.G. Delisle, Introduction: Darwinism or a Kaleidoscope of Research Programs and Ideas?, in The Darwinian Tradition in Context. Research Programs in Evolutionary Biology, Springer, Cham 2017, pp. 1-8, p. 4 see also J. Cain, Rethinking the Synthesis Period in Evolutionary Studies, in «Journal of the History of Biology», 42, 2009, pp. 621-648 G.S. Levit, U. Hossfeld, Darwin without Borders? Looking at Generalised Darwinism through the Prism of the Hourglass Model, in «Theoretical Biosciences», 130, 2011, pp. 299-312.

[34] A. Koestler, The Case of the Midwife Toad, Hutchinson, London 1971 R.W. Burkhardt, Lamarckism in Britain and the United States, in The Evolutionary Synthesis: Perspectives on the Unification of Biology (1980), a cura di E. Mayr, W.B. Provine, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1998, pp. 343-352 S. Gliboff, The Case of Paul Kammerer: Evolution and Experimentation in the Early Twentieth Century, in «Journal of the History of Biology», 39, 3, 2006, pp. 525-563 S. Gliboff, The Golden Age of Lamarckism, 1866-1926, in Tranformations of Lamarckism. From Subtle Fluids to Molecular Biology, a cura di S.B. Gissis, E. Jablonka, the MIT Press, Cambridge 2011, pp. 45-55 B. Continenza, Waddington tra “neo-darwinismo” e “post-neo-darwinismo”, in Atti del del Convegno dei Lincei su Genetica, epigenetica ed evoluzione (XXXI Seminario sull’evoluzione biologica e i grandi problemi della biologia, Roma 26/28 febbraio 2004), Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, 2005, pp. 143-173.

[35] B. Continenza, Waddington tra “neo-darwinismo” e “post-neo-darwinismo”, cit.

[36] R.G. Delisle, What was Really Synthesized during the Evolutionary Synthesis? A Historiographic Proposal, in «Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences», 42, 2011, pp. 50-59.

[38] E.V. Koonin, Y.I. Wolf, Is Evolution Darwinian or/and Lamarckian?, in «Biology Direct», 4, 42, 2009, doi: 10.1186/1745-6150-4-42 see also S.B. Gissis, E. Jablonka (a cura di), Transformations of Lamarckism, from Subtle Fluids to Molecular Biology, the MIT Press, Cambridge 2011 Y. Wang, H. Liu, Z. Sun, Lamarck Rises from his Grave: Parental Environment-Induced Epigenetic Inheritance in Model Organisms and Humans. «Biology Review», 2017, 92, 4, doi: 10.1111/brv.12322.

[39] S.B. Gissis, E. Jablonka, Introduction: The Exclusion of Soft (Lamarckian) Inheritance from the Modern Synthesis, in Transformations of Lamarckism, from Subtle Fluids to Molecular Biology, a cura di S.B. Gissis, E. Jablonka, the MIT Press, Cambridge, 2011, pp. 103-107.

[40] M. Buiatti, Is Darwin Back? Towards and Expansion of Darwinian Thought, in Life and Time: the Evolution of Life and its History, a cura di S. Casellato, P. Burughel, A. Minelli, Cleup, Padova 2009, pp. 219-238.

[41] E. Jablonka, M. Lamb, Evolution in Four Dimensions (2005), the MIT Press, Cambridge 2014, p. 40.

[42] D. Penny, Epigenetics, Darwin, and Lamarck, in «Genome Biology and Evolution», 7, 6, 2005, pp. 1758-1760 U. Deichmann, Epigenetics: The Origins and Evolution of a Fashionable Topic, in «Developmental Biology», 1, 416, 2016, pp. 249-254 U. Deichmann, Why Epigenetics is not a Vindication of Lamarckism - and Why that Matters, in «Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences», 57, 2016, pp. 80-82 L. Loison, Lamarckism and Epigenetic Inheritance: A Clarification, in «Biology & Philosophy», 33, 20, 2018, doi: 10.1007/s10539-018-9642-2.

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