The Pleistocene Mind: A Critical Review of Evolutionary Psychology, and an Introduction to Intelligent Design Psychology

By Grace, Christopher R. | Journal of Psychology and Theology, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

The Pleistocene Mind: A Critical Review of Evolutionary Psychology, and an Introduction to Intelligent Design Psychology


Grace, Christopher R., Journal of Psychology and Theology


Researchers and scientists in evolutionary psychology, a new theoretical perspective within the field of psychology, have proposed striking insights into human behavior based on our long evolutionary past. These insights and proposals have gained support over the past decade among psychologists, but they have also been roundly criticized. According to proponents, the field of evolutionary psychology seeks to synthesize modern evolutionary theory with the latest psychological findings, informed by the field of evolutionary biology. This new field of evolutionary psychology claims to have discovered insights about our universal human nature, pointing to our supposed millions of years of evolution during the Pleistocene era as the main designer of our minds. Evolutionary psychologists point to such universal phenomenon as feelings of shame, cheater-detectors, standards for female beauty, mate selection, and child abuse by step-fathers as evidence for specialized brain circuits that were designed by evolution. Ad apted to a life on the savannas, the human mind is composed of these functionally specialized circuits, and to fully understand behavior today we must understand the pressures of savanna life. Critics of this new discipline, including philosophers, scientists, and evolutionary biologists, have responded with serious counterpoints. This article provides a brief overview of the field and the arguments brought against EP, including evaluating both the empirical evidence and the theoretical underpinnings. Implications for those favoring a theistic worldview are also discussed, and an introduction is given to a new field called Intelligent Design Psychology.

Evolutionary psychology (EP) is a newly developing theoretical perspective within the field of psychology that has seen much growth over the past decade. According to key proponents (e.g., Buss et al., 1998) the field of evolutionary psychology "seeks to synthesize the guiding principles of modern evolutionary theory with current formulations of psychological phenomena" (p. 533). Barkow, Cosmides, and Tooby (1992) state that evolutionary psychology "is simply psychology that is informed by the additional knowledge that evolutionary biology has to offer, in the expectation that understanding the process that designed the human mind will advance the discovery of its architecture" (p. 3). Understanding the process that designed the mind is of central importance to EP, as our own particular mind architecture is shared with all other humans, and in fact underlies all of human behavior. EP believes that if we map out and understand this architecture, the longstanding riddles of human behavior will begin to make sen se.

Over the past decade, research in this new field has thrived, surprising to some only in the sense that it has taken so long. Darwin (1859/1958) himself ended his Origin of Species with the notable prediction that psychology would one day be based on his new theory and that "in the distant future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation" (p. 346). This second Darwinian-based revolution has now dawned. The author of this country's most adopted introductory psychology textbook has given EP prominent space in recent revisions (i.e., Myers, 2001), devoting numerous pages to the new perspective and its findings. The number of articles and textbooks on the subject is also growing rapidly, and includes the influential Barkow, Cosmides, and Tooby's (1992) text The Adapted Mind, and the more recent How the Mind Works by Pinker (1997). There are also a host of academic articles and expanded reviews on EP (e.g., Badcock, 2000; Buss, 1995, 1998, 1999; Cosmides & Tooby, 1997; Crawford & Krebs, 1997; Tooby & Cosmides, 1992; Wright, 1995). The annual conference of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES) and the journal Ethology and Sociobiology, among others, serve the researchers in this growing field. …

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The Pleistocene Mind: A Critical Review of Evolutionary Psychology, and an Introduction to Intelligent Design Psychology
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