Why aren't the social sciences Darwinian?


At the inception of the social sciences in the late 19th century, early psychologists, anthropologists, archaeologists and sociologists frequently proposed evolutionary explanations for social phenomena. Yet by the mid-20th century Darwin’s theory had virtually disappeared from the social sciences, and most social scientists continue to reject evolutionary approaches within their disciplines. This special issue of the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology contains six papers each of which addresses the question of why social scientists rejected evolution, and why they still do. Three broad reasons are identified by our contributors. First, many social scientists past and present hold distorted views of evolution leading to, in our view, an unfounded rejection of evolutionary theory. This distortion might be addressed by improved education and communication of evolutionary theory. Second, many past applications of evolutionary theory to social phenomena have been inadequate for explaining the kinds of phenomena that social scientists are most interested in, such as rapid cultural change and the emergence of large-scale cooperative institutions. This situation is changing as modern Darwinian approaches incorporate behavioural flexibility, group-level explanations and culture. Finally, certain strands of the social sciences have rejected the scientific method in general, instead adopting non-scientific perspectives such as social constructionism. While this is a broader epistemological issue, the application of evolutionary methods to social phenomena may provide the best and most direct support for the value of the scientific method.

Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 8, 93–104. https://doi.org/10.1556/jep.8.2010.2.1