Of Hoggamus and Hogwash: Evolutionary Psychology and Gender Relations

Article excerpt

Dept. of Psychology and Center for Christian Women in Leadership Eastern University, St. Davids, PA (1)

Evolutionary psychologists argue that genes determine not just human physical, but human behavioral tendencies to a much greater degree than many people want to believe. In particular, they argue that certain behavioral tendencies distinguishing men from women are reflective of different male and female reproductive strategies which evolved during the early history of the human race. In this article, evolutionary psychology's claims to be a rigorous science are questioned, with particular reference to its conclusions about gender relations. In addition, evolutionary psychology as a metaphysical world view is contrasted with the biblical creation account, which calls for gender co-operation, not competition, and which does not see pair-bonding as a reductionistic strategy for getting individuals' genes copied in the next generation.

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In the late 19th century, philosopher and psychologist William James was credited with inventing a two-line piece of doggerel that went as follows: "Hoggamus, higgamus, man is polygamous; higgamus, hogamus, woman monogamous." James, it can safely be surmised, knew nothing about genetics, let alone about evolutionary psychology, though he had an ambivalent attraction to Darwin's theory of natural selection (Donnelly, 1992). Indeed, the published results of Gregor Mendel's mid-l9th century experiments with pea plants had gone unread even by Charles Darwin, who went to his death without having invoked any specific biological mechanism to support his theory of natural selection. They continued to be ignored by scientists until 1900, sixteen years after Mendel's death and eight years after James relinquished the directorship of the Harvard Psychology Laboratory to return to philosophical scholarship (Henig, 2000). Nevertheless, James' doggerel anticipated the substance, if not the reasoning, behind a central tenet of what was later to be called the 'science' of evolutionary psychology, one of the most strongly defended and criticized intellectual currents circulating today. The purpose of this article is to examine its claims about gender relations in the context of a Christian worldview, but also against the criteria for scientific credibility that its adherents claim to honor.

In brief, evolutionary psychology defends the view that not only do genes largely determine human physical characteristics but behavioral tendencies as well, and that this occurs because certain behaviors--including those that differ by sex--are adaptive for survival and reproduction. Darwinian mechanisms of natural selection are presumed to have favored genes for behaviors and mental habits that solved survival problems faced by early humans, thus contributing to further survival and the passing on of those gene-based habits. Many ways of solving those survival problems--such as finding food and shelter--are presumed to have been common to all our human ancestors, regardless of sex. But to meet the challenge of getting their genes into the next generation, evolutionary psychologists postulate that men and women evolved quite different strategies which are enshrined in their respective genes to this day (Buss, 1995; Cosmides, Tooby, & Barkow, 1992; Wright, 1994, 1999).

WHAT EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY IS NOT

Before examining this hypothesis and the evidence invoked to support it, some brief remarks need to be made about what evolutionary psychology is not. It is not, first of all, to be confused with behavior genetics, an interdisciplinary field of study that attempts to weigh the relative power of genetic and environmental influences on behavior by studying the behaviors and traits of actual people of varying degrees of biological relatedness. Two kinds of events--the formation of twins and the formation of adoptive families--aid in assessing the relative effect of nature and nurture on a number of conditions. …