AS202: Dr. Richard Carrier on EvoPsych

Is 90% of all Evo Psych false? That’s the claim Dr. Richard Carrier makes in his mammoth article, which can be found here. While I’m hoping to have Richard on at a later date to discuss the topic he’s likely most known for – Jesus’s existence, this visit is all about Evolutionary Psychology and whether or not it is a pseudo science.

11 thoughts on “AS202: Dr. Richard Carrier on EvoPsych”

  1. Terrific interview – Dr. Carrier’s observations and information seem an invaluable contribution to our understanding of ‘who we are and why we behave as we do’. I’ve wanted to post a note of thanks to you for some time but have avoided it as I sometimes have too much I’d like to share/discuss. Present lifestyle is demanding and somewhat labor intensive, (best described as ‘homestead’ lifestyle with very limited resources available so tends to involve lots of practical problem solving that takes time! The time involved also reduces capacity to concentrate on these important and valued questions about our nature!)
    I’ve ceased trying to write and my rural location lacks a ready community of like-minded questioners. In any case ‘ themes and subthemes are complicated to sort through in spoken conversation, and are much more so when attempting to be write of them!
    I have some academic and professional contact and training re the question of ‘our ultimate species nature’. I’ve explored the questions personally for a lifetime, am a long-ago English major, am a retired elem. teacher, and also a retired farmer. As a farmer I was in position to study behavioral development of several common domestic livestock species, and always found it interesting to compare/contrast what I simultaneously observed about myself and my human family. Along the way I’ve read much – to understand, to sort through personal questions, and as part of professional studies.
    Despite these limitations – I continue these studies although these days, extremely informally. Lacking on hand conversation, I seek ‘human voice’ sources, on-line lectures, book talks, and such are a lifeline, and podcasts such as yours are vicarious ‘discussions’! .
    In any case! As you might expect from above, interviews such as this one with Dr. Carrier inspires much brain whirring and clicking!
    A few bits: (1) re gender hardwired behaviors. I of course can’t say for sure but was raised on a farm in a culture that supported traditional assumptions. These didn’t fit me. Some, yes, but a lot not at all. I was the proverbial ‘tomboy’ and happier learning about machinery and livestock, as well as climbing buildings and running, then I was when doing my share of domestic household chores. The worst thing I felt as a kid was that everyone was forever trying to put me into a box and get me to stay there when I wanted instead to explore everything I could about my surroundings. I was actually negatively impacted by the assumptions. Even though my family culture was generally caring and benign, I was also something of a ‘classic middle kid’ who never seemed to quite fit in anywhere. … Much more going on as family dynamics are quite complex, but upshot was I was highly motivated to understand “people”, “the rules”, and so on. Re gender – it took me a few decades but I eventually decided there had to be ‘a continuum’ on which male/female attributes and inclinations could be arranged and that no single one of us was likely to be a perfect match to societal generalized claims. (I knew/know many males who also didn’t fit expectations. Like with me, it was a case of “some but largely not so much”.) I’m well into retirement but think for so many years I felt I had to ‘fight’ to ‘be me’ that I sometimes still feel threatened when researchers under name of ‘scientific truth’ make claims that might foster notions we belong in gender-boxes!

    Dr. Carrier’s analysis is reassuring! Also, perhaps (2), his criticisms of some research being impossibly simplistic and non-scientific fits with my observation even from my relative amateur status. It also fits with my finding that we humans are unavoidably inclined to personal biases, oversimplification for efficiency’s sake, and so on. These tendencies – to overgeneralize, oversimplify, and carry individualized and culturally based world-view biases are essential in some ways, but can also trip us up or send us down unhelpful paths of understanding – IMO. Even some researchers who have powerful credentials and whose work I deeply appreciate almost to point of worship can – I find – reveal ‘here and there’ conclusions that seem ‘suspiciously’ based more in personal bias than as per their usual high standard.

    (3)? I don’t discount the amazing contributions of these individuals, and continue to trust them in other ways with great admiration. But that doesn’t prevent me from noticing occasional possible weak spots in their arguments. Noam Chomsky even – and he’s one I’m willing to consider nearly untouchable! .. .btw … Marx another one of these, on a par for me almost with Chomsky, so in a different discussion I’d challenge your dismissiveness of his contribution to our understanding! For me his descriptions of power-over dynamics of ‘the machine of industrial capitalism’ and its impact on psychology of everyone involved, especially re the wage-earner’s alienation, is critical for us to understand. (I’m not even close to a Marxist scholar – but deeply appreciate David Harvey’s lectures on Capital.)

    I’m not sure I can remember all the points I might like to make re your interview with Dr. Carrier … you may by now see the difficulty I have with trying to engage in discussion when I also feel I don’t have adequate time or concentration to get involved and to follow through! I’ll close. Best wishes to you (and to your brother – Comedy Shoeshine is excellent!) Thank you so much for your contributions to our collective human study/exploration of who we are and how we develop. These questions, the eager pursuit and sharing of them through internet, become part of the hope our species certainly needs going forward! … Maggie.

    1. What an interesting comment! You sound like a very fascinating person and I’m really glad you are getting something out of my show(s). It’s interesting what you say about Marx. I’d love to try to understand him better but it was so hard to read his writing. So many unnecessary word games… But I definitely would not be surprised to see some brilliant thought in there somewhere.

      1. Thank you for your reply and positive feedback! Now that I’ve dumped some of my personal backstory maybe I can settle down enough to make comments that are more brief and focused.

        Re Marx: I don’t have patience or concentration, or even real time, to try to read him directly. David Harvey is a sociologist and life-long student of Marx. His full lecture series is posted on YouTube, actual classroom lectures. You might enjoy them as he reads excerpts and talks about them, pointing out arguments that are solid as well as offers critiques when he believes Marx has not succeeded. Harvey’s manner, personality and style, for me, is thoughtful, generous, and inviting. I trust his integrity and his long study of Das Capital. Since he’s also teaching Das Capital, students presumably are reading the text independently but I don’t even own a copy! You, on the other hand, have a copy?, and are well set to read along!

        The lectures are established as playlists at Typing David Harvey Marx Capital into YouTube or any search engine will also lead you there.

        I play the lectures (and other lectures) as ‘radio’. I’d learn more if I sat and focused, took notes, etc., but I enjoy just letting the ideas and information soak into my head for musing without assigning myself more tasks than I’ve already got. It’s always possible to replay any lecture as many times as I’d like!

        My professional background includes psychology as it applies to child development. Working with whole child education causes family and cultural, societal, dynamics to also be relevant. My particular interest in Marx is exploring ‘power-over’ dynamics as they have developed in industrial and ‘expand/exploit’ capitalism. Since politics is inextricably linked to a society’s beliefs about hierarchy and resource access and management, all human woes and successes, to my mind, are in a continuous feed-back loop with belief, practice, and policy. Marx – I believe – has important insights to offer on much of this. I find him a good fit with my interest in psychology, sociology, and individual/community development.

        Thanks again for your podcasts – they are a truly appreciated contribution. Your work is part of what we so badly need – an opportunity to focus in on a topic or theme that explores our larger questions in the context of community.
        — Maggie

  2. It should be a warning sign when he starts with trying to poison the well through repeated assertions that arguments (that just so happen to debunk his political view) are ridiculous so many times before even raising any issues. Most of his “experts” also just happen to be on his same blogging network and share his political ideals or people like ideologue Richard C. Lewontin author of “Biology as Ideology” and Christian “evolutionist” Jonathan Marks, author of “Why I am not a Scientist”. (
    He also name dropped a lot of people without giving any citation to what they supposedly disagreed with, you just have to take Carrier’s word for it.

    A couple of points:
    Animals don’t need to “know what a bowl is”, humans didn’t invent the curved object. Leaves, Nut shells, seashells, skulls, animal skins and organs, pieces of bark to name a few. That the bowl was only invented 6000 years ago is irrelevant. Once again he claims a perfectly demonstrable scientific claim is ridiculous, cherry picking two from opposing ends of the bell curve and claiming they’re contradictory, apparently ignorant to the fact that there are many more than two experiments that were conducted.

    Also, giving money is the modern form of how people look after each other, of course it’s good way to measure expression of care. If gay people in particular did give money to their relatives in a way that’s measurably different to non-gay people, then that would be a perfectly demonstrable psychological phenomenon. To claim that it somehow doesn’t count if it’s giving money instead of physically handing over food like you would in a tribe frankly seems like he’s being intentionally ignorant.
    He then brought up one rare tribe as evidence, as though it were the only untouched tribe in the world as if anthropologists haven’t studied countless tribes from all over the world. Just one backs him up and he holds that as evidence that he’s right.

    I’ve heard the same arguments being made by climate change deniers. “They agree with the science they just don’t come to the same conclusions” They won’t perform any scientific tests of their own, and they’re not actually practical scientists themselves, but they will cherry pick out the one case that supports them out of the thousands that don’t.

    It would be nice if we could hear the arguments for evolutionary psychology from an actual evolutionary psychologist.

    1. “It would be nice if we could hear the arguments for evolutionary psychology from an actual evolutionary psychologist.”

      I highly recommend Ed Clint in that regard, an evolutionary psychologal-leaving biological anthropologist, as well as a blogger at SkepticInk:

      He’s debated Rebecca Watson on this same topic and would be well qualified to take on Carrier’s claims and arguments.

    2. I love to see any links for references you have. The homosexuality experiment seems pretty terrible to me, and what you said doesn’t really fix it in my mind, but I’m happy to change my mind if I’m wrong. If the claim is that homosexuality evolved in order for a certain percentage of humans to stay within the family and provide labor and defense, I cannot understand how measuring how much money modern gay people give to their families has any relevance at all. That doesn’t make any sense. Our societal structure is totally different now. Let me know if you think I’m missing something still.

  3. “Also, giving money is the modern form of how people look after each other, of course it’s good way to measure expression of care. If gay people in particular did give money to their relatives in a way that’s measurably different to non-gay people, then that would be a perfectly demonstrable psychological phenomenon. To claim that it somehow doesn’t count if it’s giving money instead of physically handing over food like you would in a tribe frankly seems like he’s being intentionally ignorant.”

    First of all, Dr. Carrier emphasized the role of defender, not handing over food. Criticizing what he doesn’t say is irrelevant noise.

    Second, the point is not to demonstrate that modern gays tend to give more money to their families, especially if you don’t trouble to be sure it’s not just because childless family members have more money to give. The point is that the genes allegedly causing the homosexual behavior give such an advantage for the reproduction of the family (which carries those genes as well,) that the (presumably) lower reproduction of the homosexual members doesn’t eventually drive the genes “for” homosexuality out of the population. The money experiment would have to show that gays gave enough money to their families that the families could be larger than those families who were not reinforced by gay uncles and aunts to demonstrate kin selection. It should be obvious this is an absurd way to measure how much benefit gay uncles can be during primitive warfare. The money study cannot show what a kin selection study needs to show.

    Third, Dr. Carrier explicitly supports a kin selection hypothesis for homosexuality as a viable candidate theory. He merely correctly denies that the money study provides valid evidence for it. The irony of course is that kin selection is an evolutionary mechanism the evo psych field has by and large rejected.

    The multiple failures of Phil’s criticisms I find to be typical of everyone who supports evo psych. Misrepresentation of opposing views; failure to proportion proposed effects to the norm, much less proportion conclusions to the evidence; failure to consider alternative hypotheses.

  4. Dr. Richard Carrier PhD is the poster child for the Dunning-Kruger effect. I only listened to this interview for a while because I was curious how long it would take for him to drop the words “peer-reviewed” in reference to his own obscure publications in obscure, short-lived journals. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long.

    If you were to interview an actual scientist, I can safely predict that the last thing this person would do is to boast that their work has been peer-reviewed. Because that goes without saying. Only a complete academic nobody like Carrier would feel the need to point this out.

    Carrier is an embarrassment to the atheist/skeptic movement. And not only for his penchant to lecture his readers on topics that are well outside his area of expertise.

    See also and

    1. The second link looks like a critique of his personal life choices, which have nothing to do with this topic and I don’t care about. The second is merely a post you’ve written on a site called the Slyme Pit? Hmmm…

      1. If you’d bother to read the stuff I linked to (including the comments), you might discover that the common denominator is that Dr. Carrier is a totally dishonest, self-aggrandizing narcissist, who can’t be trusted to argue in good faith.

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