Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Is Evolutionary Psychology Settled Science?

However strong their convictions that evolutionary theory trumps creationism and intelligent design, Darwin's defenders are less than eager to embrace the psychological implications of their ideas.

Unsurprisingly, because if you accept evolutionary psychology as settled science you cannot also believe that gender differences are a social construct. And that would threaten the myths that sustain the belief systems of many radical feminists.

For those who would like to explore the topic in depth, Kay Hymowitz offers a well-reasoned excursion through the debate in City Journal. Link here.

Hymowitz explains that, according to evolutionary theory, women have a greater investment in childcare and therefore are more discriminate in selecting a mate. Compared with men, women have far fewer opportunities to reproduce, thus they think longer and harder about each potential mating opportunity.

This ought to be beyond debate, so I will assume that it is. Hymowitz, however, raises another, more salient, question. Since she believes, as everyone does, that women's choices in life should not be restricted to caring for home and children, why has it so often been the case that women have been consigned precisely to these domestic roles?

Where some have offered a myth of patriarchal oppression to explain the traditional woman's condition, Hymowitz refers to research showing that, until relatively recently, women were forced by circumstances to stay at home with their children.

In her words: "Until 1900, the vast majority of the Western world lived in conditions much like those in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of the Middle East today. Few had access to electricity; only about a quarter of American households had running water. In this environment, American women did what women tied to their domiciles with three-plus children had always done: cooking, making and cleaning clothes, hauling water, and the like."

How were women liberated from this mind-numbing domestic drudgery? According to Hymowitz, science and technology deserve most of the credit. Beginning with advances in medical science.

In her words: "It wasn't just the Pill...; antibiotics, blood banks, improvements in prenatal and obstetric care, and the mass production of safe baby formula fundamentally altered the human environment in ways that lay the foundation for contemporary women's achievement."

Add to that improved public sanitation and labor-saving household appliances, the internet, and the premium put on knowledge workers and you can see that the great advances that women have made in the last century owe more to science and technology and the Industrial Revolution than they do to revolutionary ideology.

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