Why Men Rape
Why Men Rape
PUBLISHED BY THE NEW YORK ACADEMY OF SCIENCES · JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2000
Why Men Rape
Prevention efforts will founder until they are based on the understanding that rape evolved as a form of male reproductive behavior BY RANDY THORNHILL AND CRAIG T. PALMER
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Why Men Rape
Kiki Smith, Las Animas, 1997
A friend of ours once told us about her rape. The details hardly matter, but in
outline her story is numbingly familiar. After a movie she returned with her date to his car, which had been left in an isolated parking lot. She was expecting him to drive her home. Instead, the man locked the car doors and physically forced her to have sex with him. Our friend was emotionally scarred by her experience: she became anxious about dating, and even about going out in public. She had trouble sleeping, eating and concentrating on her work. Indeed, like some war veterans, rape victims often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, in which symptoms such as anxiety, memory loss, obsessive thoughts and emotional numbness linger after a deeply disturbing experience. Yet gruesome ordeals like that of our friend are all too common: in a 1992 survey of American women aged eighteen and older, 13 percent of the respondents reported having been the victim of at least one rape, where rape was defined as unwelcome oral, anal or vaginal penetration achieved through the use or threat of force. Surely, eradicating sexual violence is an issue that modern society should make a top priority. But first a perplexing question must be confronted and answered: Why do men rape? The quest for the answer to that question has occupied the two of us collectively for more than forty years. As a purely scientific puzzle, the problem is hard enough. But it is further roiled by strong ideological currents. Many social theorists view rape not only as an ugly crime but as a symptom of an unhealthy society, in which men fear and disrespect women. In 1975 the feminist writer Susan Brownmiller asserted that rape is motivated not by lust but by the urge to control and dominate. In the twenty-five years since, Brownmiller. s view has become mainstream. All men feel sexual desire, the theory goes, but not all men rape. Rape is viewed as an unnatural behavior that has nothing to do with sex, and one that has no corollary in the animal world. Undoubtedly, individual rapists may have a variety of motivations. A man may rape because, for instance, he wants to impress his friends by losing his virginity, or because he wants to avenge himself against a woman who has spurned him. But social scientists have not convincingly demonstrated that rapists are not at least partly motivated by sexual desire as well. Indeed, how could a rape take place at all without sexual motivation on the part of the rapist? Isn. t sexual arousal of the rapist the one common factor in all rapes, including date rapes, rapes of children, rapes of women under anesthetic and even gang rapes committed by soldiers during war?
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CHALLENGING OLD IDEAS
We want to challenge the dearly held idea that rape is not about sex. We realize that our approach and our frankness will rankle some social scientists, including some serious and well-intentioned rape investigators. But many facts point to the conclusion that rape is, in its very essence, a sexual act. Furthermore, we argue, rape has evolved over millennia of human history, along with courtship, sexual attraction and other behaviors related to the production of offspring. Consider the following facts: " Most rape victims are women of childbearing age. " In many cultures rape is treated as a crime against the victim. s husband. " Rape victims suffer less emotional distress when they are subjected to more violence. " Rape takes place not only among human beings but also in a variety of other animal species. " Married women and women of childbearing age experience more psychological distress after a rape than do girls, single women or women who are past menopause. As bizarre as some of those facts may seem, they all make sense when rape is viewed as a natural, biological phenomenon that is a product of the human evolutionary heritage. Here we must hasten to emphasize that by categorizing a behavior as "natural" and "biological" we do not in any way mean to imply that the behavior is justified or even inevitable. Biological means "of or pertaining to life," so the word applies to every human feature and behavior. But to infer from that. as many of our critics assert that we do. that what is biological is somehow right or good, would be to fall into the so-called naturalistic fallacy. That mistake is obvious enough when one considers such natural disasters as epidemics, floods and tornadoes. In those cases it is clear that what is natural is not always desirable. And of course much can be, and is, done to protect people against natural threats. from administering antibiotics to drawing up emergency evacuation plans. In other words, the fact that rape is an ancient part of human nature in no way excuses the rapist
RAPE: NATURE VS. NATURE
Why, then, have the editors of scholarly journals refused to publish papers that treat rape from a Darwinian perspective? Why have pickets and audience protesters caused public lectures on the evolutionary basis of rape to be canceled or terminated? Why have investigators working to discover the evolutionary causes of rape been denied positions at universities?
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The reason is the deep schism between many social scientists and investigators such as ourselves who are proponents of what is variously called sociobiology or evolutionary psychology. Social scientists regard culture. everything from eating habits to language. as an entirely human invention, one that develops arbitrarily. According to that view, the desires of men and women are learned behaviors. Rape takes place only when men learn to rape, and it can be eradicated simply by substituting new lessons. Sociobiologists, by contrast, emphasize that learned behavior, and indeed all culture, is the result of psychological adaptations that have evolved over long periods of time. Those adaptations, like all traits of individual human beings, have both genetic and environmental components. We fervently believe that, just as the leopard. s spots and the giraffe. s elongated neck are the result of aeons of past Darwinian selection, so also is rape. That conclusion has profound and immediate practical consequences. The rapeprevention measures that are being taught to police officers, lawyers, parents, college students and potential rapists are based on the prevailing social-science view, and are therefore doomed to fail. The Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection is the most powerful scientific theory that applies to living things. As long as efforts to prevent rape remain uninformed by that theory, they will continue to be handicapped by ideas about human nature that are fundamentally inadequate. We believe that only by acknowledging the evolutionary roots of rape can prevention tactics be devised that really work.
From a Darwinian perspective, every kind of animal. whether grasshopper or gorilla, German or Ghanaian. has evolved to produce healthy children that will survive to pass along their parents. genetic legacy. The mechanics of the phenomenon are simple: animals born without traits that led to reproduction died out, whereas the ones that reproduced the most succeeded in conveying their genes to posterity. Crudely speaking, sex feels good because over evolutionary time the animals that liked having sex created more offspring than the animals that didn. t. As everyone knows all too well, however, sex and the social behaviors that go with it are endlessly complicated. Their mysterious and tangled permutations have inspired flights of literary genius throughout the ages, from Oedipus Rex to Portnoy. s Complaint. And a quick perusal of the personal-growth section of any bookstore. past such titles as Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus and You Just Don. t Understand. is enough to show that one reason sex is so complicated is that men and women perceive it so differently. Is that the case only because boys and girls receive different messages during their upbringing? Or, as we believe, do those differences between the sexes go deeper? Over vast periods of evolutionary time, men and women have confronted quite different reproductive challenges. Whereas fathers can share the responsibilities of child rearing, they do not have to. Like most of their male counterparts in the rest of the animal kingdom, human males can reproduce successfully with a minimal expenditure of time
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and energy; once the brief act of sexual intercourse is completed, their contribution can cease. By contrast, the minimum effort required for a woman to reproduce successfully includes nine months of pregnancy and a painful childbirth. Typically, ancestral females also had to devote themselves to prolonged breast-feeding and many years of child care if they were to ensure the survival of their genes. In short, a man can have many children, with little inconvenience to himself; a woman can have only a few, and with great effort. That difference is the key to understanding the origins of certain important adaptations. features that persist because they were favored by natural selection in the past. Given the low cost in time and energy that mating entails for the male, selection favored males who mated frequently. By contrast, selection favored females who gave careful consideration to their choice of a mate; that way, the high costs of mating for the female would be undertaken under circumstances that were most likely to produce healthy offspring. The result is that men show greater interest than women do in having a variety of sexual partners and in having casual sex without investment or commitment. That commonplace observation has been confirmed by many empirical studies. The evolutionary psychologist David M. Buss of the University of Texas at Austin, for instance, has found that women around the world use wealth, status and earning potential as major criteria in selecting a mate, and that they value those attributes in mates more than men do. Remember, none of the foregoing behavioral manifestations of evolution need be conscious. People do not necessarily have sex because they want children, and they certainly do not conduct thorough cost-benefit analyses before taking a partner to bed. As Darwin made clear, individual organisms merely serve as the instruments of evolution. Men today find young women attractive because during human evolutionary history the males who preferred prepubescent girls or women too old to conceive were outreproduced by the males who were drawn to females of high reproductive potential. And women today prefer successful men because the females who passed on the most genes, and thereby became our ancestors, were the ones who carefully selected partners who could best support their offspring. That is why, as the anthropologist Donald Symons of the University of California, Santa Barbara, has observed, people everywhere understand sex as "something females have that males want."
THE MATING GAME
A dozen roses, romantic dinners by candlelight, a Tiffany engagement ring: the classic courtship ritual requires lots of time, energy and careful attention to detail. But people are far from unique in that regard: the males of most animal species spend much of their energies attracting, wooing and securing sexual partners. The male woodcock, for instance, performs a dramatic display each spring at mating time, soaring high into the air and then tumbling to the ground. Male fireflies are even flashier, blinking like neon signs. The male bowerbird builds a veritable honeymoon cottage: an intricate, sculpted nest that he decorates with flowers and other colorful bric-a-brac. Male deer and antelope lock antlers in a display of brute strength to compete for females.
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Once a female. s interest is piqued, the male behaves in various ways to make her more sexually receptive. Depending on the species, he dances, fans his feathers or offers gifts of food. In the nursery web spider, the food gift is an attempt to distract the female, who otherwise might literally devour her partner during the sex act. The common thread that binds nearly all animal species seems to be that males are willing to abandon all sense and decorum, even to risk their lives, in the frantic quest for sex. But though most male animals expend a great deal of time and energy enticing females, forced copulation. rape. also occurs, at least occasionally, in a variety of insects, birds, fishes, reptiles, amphibians, marine mammals and nonhuman primates. In some animal species, moreover, rape is commonplace. In many scorpionfly species, for instance. insects that one of us (Thornhill) has studied in depth. males have two well-formulated strategies for mating. Either they offer the female a nuptial gift (a mass of hardened saliva they have produced, or a dead insect) or they chase a female and take her by force. A remarkable feature of these scorpionflies is an appendage that seems specially designed for rape. Called the notal organ, it is a clamp on the top of the male. s abdomen with which he can grab on to one of the female. s forewings during mating, to prevent her escape. Besides rape, the notal organ does not appear to have any other function. For example, when the notal organs of males are experimentally covered with beeswax, to keep them from functioning, the males cannot rape. Such males still mate successfully, however, when they are allowed to present nuptial gifts to females. And other experiments have shown that the notal organ is not an adaptation for transferring sperm: in unforced mating, the organ contributes nothing to insemination. Not surprisingly, females prefer voluntary mating to mating by force: they will approach a male bearing a nuptial gift and flee a male that does not have one. Intriguingly, however, the males, too, seem to prefer a consensual arrangement: they rape only when they cannot obtain a nuptial gift. Experiments have shown that when male scorpionflies possessing nuptial gifts are removed from an area, giftless males. typically, the wimpier ones that had failed in male-male competitions over prey. quickly shift from attempting rape to guarding a gift that has been left untended. That preference for consensual sex makes sense in evolutionary terms, because when females are willing, males are much more likely to achieve penetration and sperm transfer. Human males obviously have no external organ specifically designed for rape. One must therefore look to the male psyche. to a potential mental rape organ. to discover any special-purpose adaptation of the human male to rape.
RAPE AS REPRODUCTIVE STRATEGY
Since women are choosy, men have been selected for finding a way to be chosen. One way to do that is to possess traits that women prefer: men with symmetrical body features are attractive to women, presumably because such features are a sign of health. A second way that men can gain access to women is by defeating other men in fights or other kinds
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of competitions -- thereby gaining power, resources and social status, other qualities that women find attractive. Rape can be understood as a third kind of sexual strategy: one more way to gain access to females. There are several mechanisms by which such a strategy could function. For example, men might resort to rape when they are socially disenfranchised, and thus unable to gain access to women through looks, wealth or status. Alternatively, men could have evolved to practice rape when the costs seem low -- when, for instance, a woman is alone and unprotected (and thus retaliation seems unlikely), or when they have physical control over a woman (and so cannot be injured by her). Over evolutionary time, some men may have succeeded in passing on their genes through rape, thus perpetuating the behavior. It is also possible, however, that rape evolved not as a reproductive strategy in itself but merely as a side effect of other adaptations, such as the strong male sex drive and the male desire to mate with a variety of women. Take, for instance, the fact that men are able to maintain sexual arousal and copulate with unwilling women. That ability invites inquiry, according to the psychologist Margo Wilson of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and her coworkers, because it is not a trait that is common to the males of all animal species. Its existence in human males could signal that they have evolved psychological mechanisms that specifically enable them to engage in forced copulation -- in short, it could be a rape adaptation. But that is not the only plausible explanation. The psychologist Neil M. Malamuth of the University of California, Los Angeles, points out that the ability to copulate with unwilling women may be simply a by-product of men's "greater capacity for impersonal sex."
IS RAPE AN ACT OF VIOLENCE?
More research is needed to decide the question of whether rape is an adaptation or merely a by-product of other sexual adaptations. Both hypotheses are plausible: one of us (Thornhill) supports the former, whereas the other (Palmer) endorses the latter. Regardless of which hypothesis prevails, however, there is no doubt that rape has evolutionary -- and thus genetic -- origins. All traits and behaviors stem from a complex interplay between genes and the environment. If rape is an adaptation, men must possess genes that exist specifically because rape increased reproductive success. If rape turns out to be merely a side effect of other adaptations, then the genes involved exist for reasons that have nothing to do with rape. Either way, however, the evolutionary perspective explains a number of otherwise puzzling facts about the persistence of rape among human males. For example, if rape is evolutionary in origin, it should be a threat mostly to women of childbearing age. And, in fact, young adult women are vastly overrepresented among rape victims in the female population as a whole, and female children and post-reproductiveage women are greatly underrepresented. By the same token, if rape has persisted in the human population through the action of sexual selection, rapists should not seriously injure their victims -- the rapist's
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reproductive success would be hampered, after all, if he killed his victim or inflicted so much harm that the potential pregnancy was compromised. Once again, the evolutionary logic seems to predict reality. Rapists seldom engage in gratuitous violence; instead, they usually limit themselves to the force required to subdue or control their victims. A survey by one of us (Palmer), of volunteers at rape crisis centers, found that only 15 percent of the victims whom the volunteers had encountered reported having been beaten in excess of what was needed to accomplish the rape. And in a 1979 study of 1,401 rape victims, a team led by the sociologist Thomas W. McCahill found that most of the victims reported being pushed or held, but that acts of gratuitous violence, such as beating, slapping or choking, were reported in only a minority of the rapes -- 22 percent or less. A very small number of rape victims are murdered: about .01 percent (that figure includes unreported as well as reported rapes). Even in those few cases, it may be that the murder takes place not because the rapist is motivated by a desire to kill, but because by removing the only witness to the crime he greatly increases his chance of escaping punishment.
Rape is more distressing for women than are other violent crimes, and evolutionary theory can help explain that as well. In recent years research on human unhappiness informed by evolutionary theory has developed substantial evidence about the functional role of psychological pain. Such pain is thought to be an adaptation that helps people guard against circumstances that reduce their reproductive success; it does so by spurring behavioral changes aimed at preventing future pain [see "What Good Is Feeling Bad?" by Randolph M. Nesse, November/December 1991]. Thus one would expect the greatest psychological pain to be associated with events that lower one's reproductive success, and, indeed, emotionally traumatic events such as the death of a relative, the loss of social status, desertion by one's mate and the trauma of being raped can all be interpreted as having that effect. Rape reduces female reproductive success in several ways. For one thing, the victim may be injured. Moreover, if she becomes pregnant, she is deprived of her chance to choose the best father for her children. A rape may also cause a woman to lose the investment of her long-term partner, because it calls into question whether the child she later bears is really his. A variety of studies have shown that both men and women care more for their genetic offspring than for stepchildren. One of us (Thornhill), in association with the anthropologist Nancy W. Thornhill, has conducted a series of studies on the factors that contribute to the emotional pain that women experience after a rape. Those studies confirmed that the more the rape interfered with the women's reproductive interests, the more pain they felt. The data, obtained from the Joseph J. Peters Institute in Philadelphia, came from interviews with 790 girls and women who had reported a sexual assault and who were subsequently examined at Philadelphia General Hospital between 1973 and 1975. The subjects, who ranged in age from two months to eighty-eight years, were asked a variety of questions designed to evaluate their psychological responses to the rape. Among other things, they were asked about changes in their sleeping habits, in their feelings toward known and unknown men,
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in their sexual relations with their partners (children were not asked about sexual matters), and in their eating habits and social activities. Analysis of the data showed that young women suffered greater distress after a rape than did children or women who were past reproductive age. That finding makes evolutionary sense, because it is young women who were at risk of being impregnated by an undesirable mate. Married women, moreover, were more traumatized than unmarried women, and they were more likely to feel that their future had been harmed by the rape. That, too, makes evolutionary sense, because the doubt a rape sows about paternity can lead a long-term mate to withdraw his support. Among the women in the study, psychological pain rose inversely to the violence of the attack. In other words, when the rapist exerted less force, the victim was more upset afterward. Those findings, surprising at first, make sense in the evolutionary context: a victim who exhibits physical evidence that sexual access was forced may have less difficulty convincing her husband or boyfriend that what took place was rape rather than consensual sex. In evolutionary terms, such evidence would be reassuring to a pair-bonded male, because rape is a one-time event, whereas consensual sex with other partners is likely to be frequent, and thus more threatening to paternity. Finally, women of reproductive age reported more emotional distress when the assault involved sexual intercourse than when it involved other kinds of sexual behavior. Among young girls and older women, however, penile-vaginal intercourse was no more upsetting than other kinds of assaults. Again, the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy may be a key factor in the degree of trauma the victim experiences. For all those reasons, the psychological pain that rape victims suffer appears to be an evolved defense against rape. The human females who outreproduced others and thus became our ancestors. were people who were highly distressed about rape. Their distress presumably served their interests by motivating them to identify the circumstances that resulted in the rape, assess the problems the rape caused, and act to avoid rapes in the future.
IS RAPE AN ACT OF SEX?
If women today are to protect themselves from rape, and men are to desist from it, people must be given advice that is based on knowledge. Insisting that rape is not about sex misinforms both men and women about the motivations behind rape -- a dangerous error that not only hinders prevention efforts but may actually increase the incidence of rape. What we envision is an evolutionarily informed program for young men that teaches them to restrain their sexual behavior. Completion of such a course might be required, say, before a young man is granted a driver. s license. The program might start by inducing the young men to acknowledge the power of their sexual impulses, and then explaining why
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human males have evolved in that way. The young men should learn that past Darwinian selection is the reason that a man can get an erection just by looking at a photo of a naked woman, why he may be tempted to demand sex even if he knows that his date truly doesn. t want it, and why he may mistake a woman's friendly comment or tight blouse as an invitation to sex. Most of all, the program should stress that a man. s evolved sexual desires offer him no excuse whatsoever for raping a woman, and that if he understands and resists those desires, he may be able to prevent their manifestation in sexually coercive behavior. The criminal penalties for rape should also be discussed in detail. Young women also need a new kind of education. For example, in today's rapeprevention handbooks, women are often told that sexual attractiveness does not influence rapists. That is emphatically not true. Because a woman is considered most attractive when her fertility is at its peak, from her mid-teens through her twenties, tactics that focus on protecting women in those age groups will be most effective in reducing the overall frequency of rape. Young women should be informed that, during the evolution of human sexuality, the existence of female choice has favored men who are quickly aroused by signals of a female. s willingness to grant sexual access. Furthermore, women need to realize that, because selection favored males who had many mates, men tend to read signals of acceptance into a woman. s actions even when no such signals are intended.
In spite of protestations to the contrary, women should also be advised that the way they dress can put them at risk. In the past, most discussions of female appearance in the context of rape have, entirely unfairly, asserted that a victim's dress and behavior should affect the degree of punishment meted out to the rapist: thus if the victim was dressed provocatively, she "had it coming to her" -- and the rapist would get off lightly. But current attempts to avoid blaming the victim have led to false propaganda that dress and behavior have little or no influence on a woman's chances of being raped. As a consequence, important knowledge about how to avoid dangerous circumstances is often suppressed. Sure-ly the point that no woman's behavior gives a man the right to rape her can be made with-out encouraging women to overlook the role they themselves may be playing in compromising their safety. Until relatively recently in Europe and the United States, strict social taboos kept young men and women from spending unsupervised time together, and in many other countries young women are still kept cloistered away from men. Such physical barriers are understandably abhorrent to many people, since they greatly limit the freedom of women. But the toppling of those barriers in modern Western countries raises problems of its own. The common practice of unsupervised dating in cars and private homes, which is often accompanied by the consumption of alcohol, has placed young women in environments that are conducive to rape to an extent that is probably unparalleled in history. After studying the data on the risk factors for rape, the sex investigators Elizabeth R. Allgeier
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and Albert R. Allgeier, both of Bowling Green State University in Ohio, recommended that men and women interact only in public places during the early stages of their relationships -- or, at least, that women exert more control than they generally do over the circumstances in which they consent to be alone with men.
An evolutionary perspective on rape might not only help prevent rapes but also lead to more effective counseling for rape victims. A therapy program explaining that men rape because they collectively want to dominate women will not help a victim understand why her attacker appeared to be sexually motivated, why she can no longer concentrate enough to conduct her life effectively, or why her husband or boyfriend may view the attack as an instance of infidelity. In addition, men who are made aware of the evolutionary reasons for their suspicions about their wives' or girlfriends' claims of rape should be in a better position to change their reactions to such claims. Unlike many other contentious social issues, such as abortion and homosexual rights, everyone has the same goal regarding rape: to end it. Evolutionary biology provides clear information that society can use to achieve that goal. Social science, by contrast, promotes erroneous solutions, because it fails to recognize that Darwinian selection has shaped not only human bodies but human psychology, learning patterns and behavior as well. The fact is that men, relative to women, are more aggressive, sexually assertive and eager to copulate, and less discriminating about mates' traits that contribute to the existence of rape. When social scientists mistakenly assert that socialization alone causes those gender differences, they ignore the fact that the same differences also exist in all the other animal species in which males offer less parental investment than females and compete for access to females. In addressing the question of rape, the choice between the politically constructed answers of social science and the evidentiary answers of evolutionary biology is essentially a choice between ideology and knowledge. As scientists who would like to see rape eradicated from human life, we sincerely hope that truth will prevail. "
THE AUTHOR Randy Thornhill is an evolutionary biologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Craig T. Palmer is an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. This article was adapted from their forthcoming book, A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion, which is being published in April by MIT Press.
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A Natural History of Rape
A Natural History of Rape
Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion By RANDY THORNHILL and CRAIG T. PALMER
The MIT Press
Read the Review
Rape and Evolutionary Theory
Not enough people understand what rape is, and, until they do ... , not enough will be done to stop it. —rape victim, quoted in Groth 1979 (p. 87)
By one intuitive and relevant definition, rape is copulation resisted to the best of the victim's ability unless such resistance would probably result in death or serious injury to the victim or in death or injury to individuals the victim commonly protects. Other sexual assaults, including oral and anal penetration of a man or a woman under the same conditions, also may be called rape under some circumstances. In one study, 13 percent of the surveyed American women of ages 18 and older reported having been the victim of at least one completed rape—rape having been defined as "an event that occurred without the woman's consent, involved the use of force or threat of force, and involved sexual penetration of the victim's vagina, mouth or rectum" (Kilpatrick et al. 1992, p. i). Other surveys using slightly different definitions or different data-collection procedures have found high rates too, especially when the survey procedures have given researchers access to victims of alleged rapes not reported to the police. Kilpatrick et al. (ibid., p. 6) estimate the percentage of rapes of women not reported at between 66 and 84. Of women who had experienced a rape involving penile-vaginal intercourse, from 37 to 57 percent experienced posttraumatic stress syndrome afterward—a frequency higher than that associated with any other crime against women, including aggravated assault, burglary, and robbery (Kilpatrick et al. 1987; Resnick et al. 1993). We suggest two answers to the question of why humans have not been able to put an end to rape:
· Most people don't know much about why humans have the desires, emotions, and values that they have, including those that cause rape. This is because most people lack any understanding of the ultimate (that is, evolutionary) causes of why humans are the way they are. This lack of understanding has severely limited people's knowledge of the exact proximate (immediate) causes of rape, thus limiting the ability of concerned people to
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A Natural History of Rape
change the behavior. · For 25 years, attempts to prevent rape have not only failed to be informed by an evolutionary approach; they have been based on explanations designed to make ideological statements rather than to be consistent with scientific knowledge of human behavior.
One cannot understand evolutionary explanations of rape, much less evaluate them, without a solid grasp of evolutionary theory. Failure to appreciate this point has caused much valuable time to be wasted on misplaced attacks on evolutionary explanations. Assuming that the main interest of most readers of this book is the subject of rape rather than evolutionary theory per se, we now present some questions about rape that an evolutionary approach can answer:
· Why are males the rapists and females (usually) the victims? · Why is rape a horrendous experience for the victim? · Why does the mental trauma of rape vary with the victim's age and marital status? · Why does the mental trauma of rape vary with the types of sex acts? · Why does the mental trauma of rape vary with the degree of visible physical injuries to the victim, but in a direction one might not expect? · Why do young males rape more often than older males? · Why are young women more often the victims of rape than older women or girls (i.e., pre-pubertal females)? · Why is rape more frequent in some situations, such as war, than in others? · Why does rape occur in all known cultures? · Why are some instances of rape punished in all known cultures? · Why are people (especially husbands) often suspicious of an individual's claim to have been raped? · Why is rape often treated as a crime against the victim's husband? · Why have attempts to reform rape laws met with only limited success? · Why does rape exist in many, but not all, species? · Why does rape still occur among humans? · How can rape be prevented?
The question "What is man?" is probably the most profound that can be asked
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by man. It has always been central to any system of philosophy or of theology. We know that it has been asked by the most learned humans 2000 years ago, and it is just possible that it was being asked by the most brilliant australopithecines 2 million years ago. The point I want to make now is that all attempts to answer that question before 1859 are worthless and that we will be better off if we ignore them completely. —Simpson 1966, p. 472 Intelligent life on a planet comes of age when it first works out the reason for its own existence. If superior creatures from space ever visit Earth, the first question they will ask, in order to assess the level of our civilization, is: "Have they discovered evolution yet?" Living organisms had existed on Earth, without ever knowing why, for more than three billion years before the truth finally dawned on one of them. His name was Charles Darwin. To be fair, others had inklings of the truth, but it was Darwin who first put together a coherent and tenable account of why we exist.—Dawkins 1976, p. 1 Many social scientists (and others) have dismissed claims such as these as evidence of a somehow non-scientific "messianic conviction" (Kacelnik 1997, p. 65). Although these quotes indicate considerable enthusiasm, the important question is whether they accurately describe the implications of the theory of evolution by natural selection. Simpson's and Dawkins's enthusiasm is warranted by the tremendous success of evolutionary theory in guiding the scientific study of life in general and of humans in particular to fruitful ends of deep knowledge.
Cause, Proximate and Ultimate A friend of ours once told us that after a movie she returned with her date to his car in an isolated parking lot. Then, instead of taking her home, the man locked the doors and physically forced her to have sexual intercourse with him. The question addressed in this book, and the question asked us by our friend, is: What was the cause of this man's behavior? In both the vernacular sense and the scientific sense, cause is defined as that without which an effect or a phenomenon would not exist. Biologists study two levels of causation: proximate and ultimate. Proximate causes of behavior are those that operate over the short term—the immediate causes of behavior. These are the types of causes with which most people, including most social scientists, are exclusively concerned. For example, if, when reading our friend's question concerning the cause of the man's behavior, you said to yourself it was because he hated women, felt the need to dominate someone, had been abused as a child, had drunk too much, had too much testosterone circulating in his body, was compensating for feelings of inadequacy, had been raised in a patriarchal culture, had watched too much violence on television, was addicted to violent pornography, was sexually aroused, hated his mother, hated his father, and/or had a rare violenceinducing gene, you proposed a proximate cause of his behavior. You probably didn't ask why your proposed proximate cause existed in the first place. That is, you probably didn't concern yourself with the ultimate cause of the behavior. Because they refer to the immediate events that produce a behavior or some other phenotypic (i.e., bodily) trait, proximate causes include genes, hormones, physiological structures (including brain mechanisms), and environmental stimuli (including environmental experiences that affect learning). Proximate explanations have to do with how such developmental or physiological mechanisms cause something to happen; ultimate explanations have to do with why particular proximate mechanisms exist. Proximate and ultimate explanations are complements, not alternatives. For example, the claim that millions of years of selection caused the human eye to have its current form (an ultimate explanation) is in no way contradictory to the claim that a series of rods and cones enable the eye to relay visual
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information to the brain (a proximate explanation). Similarly, the claim that learning affects men's rape behavior (i.e., that it is a proximate cause) does not contradict the view that the behavior has evolved. Identifying ultimate causes, however, is important, because certain proximate explanations may be incompatible with certain ultimate explanations. This is because certain ultimate explanations specify the existence of certain types of proximate mechanisms. For example, the ultimate explanation that the human eye evolved by natural selection because it increased our ancestors' ability to detect light requires the existence of proximate light-detection mechanisms in the eye. No aspect of life can be completely understood until both its proximate and its ultimate causation are fully known. To understand how ultimate causes can be known, one must understand how natural selection leads to adaptations.
Natural Selection and Adaptations Adaptations are phenotypic features (morphological structures, physiological mechanisms, and behaviors) that are present in individual organisms because they were favored by natural selection in the past. Darwin sought to explain the existence of adaptation in terms of evolution by selection. Initially, he observed the action of selection on living things in nature—a fact of natural history that is inescapable in view of the high rates of reproduction and mortality in all organisms. Later, he realized just how creative selection could be when extended over the long history of life on Earth. This retrospection is evident in the following eloquent passage from On the Origin of Species:
Natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working.... We see nothing of these slow changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the long lapse of ages. (Ridley 1987, p. 87)
The biologist George Williams, in his 1966 book Adaptation and Natural Selection, clarified what Darwin meant when he wrote of natural selection's rejecting all that was "bad" and preserving all that was "good." First, Williams noted, these words were not used in a moral sense; they referred only to the effects of traits on an individual's ability to survive and reproduce. That is, "good" traits are those that promote an individual's reproductive interests. We evolutionists use the term reproductive success to refer to these reproductive interests, by which we mean not the mere production of offspring but the production of offspring that survive to produce offspring (Palmer and Steadman 1997). A trait that increases this ability is "good" in terms of natural selection even though one might consider it undesirable in moral terms. There is no connection here between what is biological or naturally selected and what is morally right or wrong. To assume a connection is to commit what is called the naturalistic fallacy. In addition, Williams clarified that natural selection favors traits that are "good" in the sense of increasing an individual's reproductive success, not necessarily traits that are "good" in the sense of increasing a group's ability to survive. The idea that selection favors traits that increase group survival, known as group selection, had become very popular before the publication of Williams's book—especially after the publication of Animal Dispersion in Relation to Social Behavior, an influential book by the ornithologist V. C. WynneEdwards (1962). Williams's rebuttal of the concept of group selection convinced almost every biologist who read it that Wynne-Edwards was mistaken. However, the idea that selection favors traits that function for the
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good of the group appears to have been too attractive for many non-scientists to give up. Not only does it remain popular among the general public; it continues to have a small following among evolutionary biologists (Wilson and Sober 1994; Sober and Wilson 1998). One cannot grasp the power of natural selection to "design" adaptations until one abandons both the notion that natural selection favors traits that are morally good and the notion that it favors traits that function for the good of the group. Only then can one appreciate the power of natural selection to design complex traits of individuals. The human eye's many physiological structures exist because they increased the reproductive success of individuals in tens of thousands of past generations. Although there are four agents of evolution (that is, four natural processes that are known to cause changes in gene frequencies of populations), selection is the only evolutionary agent that can create adaptations like the human eye. The other evolutionary agents (mutation, drift, and gene flow)—cannot produce adaptations; they lack the necessary creativity, because their action is always random with regard to environmental challenges (e.g., predators) facing individuals. Selection, when it acts in a directional, cumulative manner over long periods of time, creates complex phenotypic designs out of the simple, random genetic variation generated by the three other evolutionary agents. Selection is not a random process; it is differential reproduction of individuals by consequence of their differences in phenotypic design for environmental challenges. An adaptation, then, is a phenotypic solution to a past environmental problem that persistently affected individuals for long periods of evolutionary time and thereby caused cumulative, directional selection. Evolution by selection is not a purposive process; however, it produces, by means of gradual and persistent effects, traits that serve certain functions—that is, adaptations. Adaptations do not necessarily increase reproductive success in current environments if those environments differ significantly from past environments. The seeds of a tree that fall on a city sidewalk are complexly designed adaptations, formed by selection over many generations in past environments, yet they have essentially no chance of surviving or reproducing in the current environment of the sidewalk. Similarly, the North American pronghorn antelope shows certain social behaviors and certain locomotory adaptations (e.g., short bursts of high speed) for avoiding species of large cats and hyenas that are now extinct (Byers 1997). The difference between current and evolutionary historical environments is especially important to keep in mind when one is considering human behavioral adaptations. Today most humans live in environments that have evolutionarily novel components. (Modern contraception is one such component that obviously influences the reproductive success of individuals in an evolutionarily novel way.) Therefore, human behavior is sometimes poorly adapted (in the evolutionary sense of the word) to current conditions. Evolutionary functional explanations also differ from the nonevolutionary functional explanations familiar to most social scientists. In fact, evolutionary functional explanations overcome a problem that has plagued nonevolutionary functional explanations. Non-evolutionary functional explanations are unable to explain why a particular trait has come to serve a certain function when alternative traits could also serve that function (Hempel 1959). For example, Emile Durkheim, one of the founders of sociology, tried to explain religion by stating that it functioned to maintain the social group (Durkheim 1912). That explanation, however, is unable to account for why religion, instead of numerous alternative institutions (e.g., political governments, non-religious social organizations and ideologies), fulfills this particular function. The concept of evolution by natural selection helps overcome this problem. Any gene that happens to arise by random mutation, and happens to have the effect of increasing an organism's reproductive success, will become more frequent in future generations. Eventually, additional random mutations will also happen to occur in future generations
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and will also be favored by natural selection. Over time, this process results in functionally designed traits. Randomness (in the form of mutations) and the non-random process of natural selection combine to answer the question of why a particular trait has evolved instead of other imaginable traits that conceivably could have served the same function. There is also the important fact that selection works only in relation to what has already evolved. The process does not start anew each time. Thus, there are many features that seem poorly designed relative to what might be imagined as a better solution. For example, the crossing of the respiratory and digestive tracts in the human throat can cause death from choking on food. It would be better design—much safer in terms of survival—if our air and food passages were completely separate. However, all vertebrates (backboned animals) from fishes to mammals on the phylogenetic tree (the tree connecting all life to a common ancestor) have crossing respiratory and digestive tracts. The human respiratory system evolved from portions of the digestive system of a remote invertebrate ancestral species, and the food and air passages have been linked in non-functional tandem ever since (Williams 1992). The crossing of passages is a historical legacy of selection's having built respiratory adaptations from ancestral digestive system features. Not itself an adaptation, it is a by-product of selection's having molded respiratory adaptation from what came before. Similarly, any new mutation, through its bodily effect, is assessed by selection in relation to how well it performs in the evolved environment of other individuals in the population as well as in the evolved environment of the various body forms that characterize the developmental pathway of traits. Thus, what has evolved (including the existing developmental adaptations) may constrain what can evolve, or may establish certain evolutionary paths as more likely than others. Because selection is the most important cause of evolution, and because it is the only evolutionary agent that can produce adaptations, the ultimate approach seeks to provide explanations for these seemingly purposefully designed biological traits of individuals in relation to the causal selective forces that produced them. Thus, the adaptationist approach focuses on how an adaptation contributed to successful reproduction of its bearers in the environments of evolutionary history. The challenge in applying an ultimate or evolutionary analysis is not to determine whether an adaptation is a product of selection; it is to determine the nature of the selective pressure that is responsible for the trait. That selective pressure will be apparent in the functional design of the adaptation.
By-Products of Selection Not all aspects of living organisms are adaptations. Indeed, Williams (1966, pp. 4-5) emphasized that "adaptation is a special and onerous concept that should be used only where it is really necessary," and the evolutionists that Williams inspired have been well aware that a trait's mere existence does not mean that it was directly favored by natural selection. Nor is a demonstration that a trait or a character increases an individual's reproductive success sufficient evidence that the trait is an adaptation. Not only may an increase in reproductive success be due to some evolutionarily novel aspect of the environment; an increase in reproductive success in evolutionary environments may be only a beneficial effect rather than an evolutionary function. To illustrate this point, Williams cited a fox walking through deep snow to a henhouse to catch a chicken, then following its own footprints on subsequent visits to the henhouse. This makes subsequent trips to the henhouse more energy efficient for the fox, thus potentially increasing its reproductive success. Following its own footprints back may well involve adaptations in the brain of the fox, but there is no known feature of the fox's feet that exhibits design by natural selection to
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pack snow. The fox's feet are clearly designed for walking and running, but they are not clearly designed for snow packing. Hence, even though snow may have been part of the past environments of foxes, there is no evidence that it acted as a sufficient selective pressure to design the feet of foxes for efficient snow packing. Snow packing and any associated reproductive success appear to be fortuitous effects of the structure of the fox's feet. That is, snow packing is not a function of any known aspect of the fox's feet. Symons (1979, p. 10) noted that "to say that a given beneficial effect of a character is the function, or a function, of that character is to say that the character was molded by natural selection to produce that effect." Williams (1966, p. 209) stated that "the demonstration of a benefit is neither necessary nor sufficient in the demonstration of function, although it may sometimes provide insight not otherwise obtainable," and that "it is both necessary and sufficient to show that the process [or trait] is designed to serve the function." As Williams emphasized, the concept of adaptation should be used only where really necessary; however, it is essential to consider the concept of adaptation in all cases of possible phenotypic design, because only then can it be determined if a trait has been designed by natural selection. Williams (ibid., p. 10) proposed that plausibly demonstrating design by natural selection requires showing that a trait accomplishes its alleged function with "sufficient precision, economy, and efficiency, etc." Following Williams's criteria, Symons (1979, p. 11) stated that "[a] function can be distinguished from an incidental effect insofar as it is produced with sufficient precision, economy, and efficiency to rule out chance as an adequate explanation of its existence." Hence, according to the doctrine of parsimony, "if an effect can be explained adequately as the result of physical laws or as the fortuitous byproduct of an adaptation, it should not be called a function" (ibid.). Similarly, drift and mutation can be ruled out as explanations of the evolutionary history of a trait when the trait shows evidence of functional design. Drift may apply only to traits that do not adversely affect reproductive success: if there are such effects, then selection will determine a trait's fate. Few traits meet the criterion of no cost to reproductive success; thus, as the biologists Richard Alexander (1979) and Richard Dawkins (1986) have explained, drift is a matter of interest primarily in the cases of phenotypic traits that do not attract adaptationists' attention in the first place. Most mutations are deleterious and thus are in a balance with selection (selection lowering the frequency and mutation increasing it). Selection is stronger because mutation rates are very low. Thus, mutation, as an evolutionary cause for traits, may apply only to those traits that are only slightly above zero frequency in the population. Because selection is the most potent of the evolutionary agents, any explanation of the evolutionary history of a trait based on mutation or on drift must be fully reconciled with the potency of selection to bring about trait evolution. Further evidence of adaptation may come from cross-species comparisons. First, "if related species [i.e., those sharing a recent common ancestral species] come to occupy different environments where they are subject to different selection pressures, then they should evolve new traits as adaptive mutations occur that confer a reproductive advantage under the new conditions" (Alcock 1993, p. 222). Variation among the beaks of different species of the finches Darwin found on the Galápagos Islands would be an example of such "divergent evolution." The beak types are different adaptations for eating different, species-typical foods (Weiner 1994). Second, if two distantly related species "have been subjected to similar selection pressures," they "should have independently evolved similar behavioral traits through convergent evolution—if the trait truly is an adaptation to that selection pressure" (Alcock 1993, p. 222). Convergent evolution is responsible for the similar shapes of fishes and marine mammals that have evolved by natural selection in the context of mobility in water. Hence, the diversity of life has two major components: adaptations and the effects of adaptations. The latter are known as by-products. Adaptations are
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traits formed directly by selective pressures; by-products are traits formed indirectly by selective pressures. In addition to snow packing by fox feet, another example of a by-product is the red color of human arterial blood (Symons 1987a,b). This trait did not arise because of selection in the context of blood-color variation among individuals. That is, redness of arterial blood did not cause individuals with arterial blood of that color to become more frequent in succeeding generations. Instead, selection acting in other contexts gave rise to the trait as an epiphenomenon of adaptations. Human arterial blood is red for two proximate reasons: the chemistry of oxygen and hemoglobin in blood, and human color vision. Hence, the ultimate causation of the color of blood lies in the selective pressures that produced the chemical composition of human blood and human color vision. Another example of a by-product is the higher death rate of males relative to females among humans of all ages (Alexander 1979; Trivers 1985; Wilson and Daly 1985; Geary 1998). The higher male mortality is not an adaptation; it is an incidental effect of sex-specific adaptations. The adaptations are in males' and females' bodies, including their brains. For example, various traits motivate male humans, relative to female humans, to engage in riskier activities. The ultimate cause of these male adaptations is a human evolutionary history of stronger sexual selection acting on males than on females. When one is considering any feature of living things, whether evolution applies is never a question. The only legitimate question is how to apply evolutionary principles. This is the case for all human behaviors—even for such by-products as cosmetic surgery, the content of movies, legal systems, and fashion trends. The crucial legitimate scientific debate about the evolutionary cause of human rape concerns whether rape is a result of rape-specific adaptation or a by-product of other adaptations. That is, does rape result from men's specialpurpose psychology, and perhaps from associated nonpsychological anatomy, designed by selection for rape, or is rape an incidental effect of specialpurpose adaptation to circumstances other than rape? We two authors, having debated this question for more than a decade (Palmer 1991, 1992a,b; Thornhill and Thornhill 1992a,b), agree that it may eventually be answered by determining whether or not rape is the result of special-purpose psychological mechanisms that motivate and regulate men's pursuit of rape in itself. We also agree that enough now is known about the ultimate evolutionary causes of human rape that an evolutionary approach can contribute significantly to prevention of the act. But how can an ultimate explanation of why men rape help prevent future rapes? The answer is that ultimate evolutionary explanations have unique power in both a theoretical and a practical sense. In terms of theory, only selection can account for the creation and the maintenance of adaptations. Even complete identification of all proximate causes of an adaptation could not explain the genesis and the persistence of that adaptation. However, an ultimate explanation of a biological phenomenon can account for all proximate causes influencing the phenomenon, whether the phenomenon is an adaptation or an incidental effect of an adaptation. Thus, ultimate explanations are more general in that they are more inclusive of causation. As a result, ultimate explanations have enormous practical potential: if evolution by individual selection is truly the general theory of life, it should lead to the best insights about proximate causes, and identifying proximate causes is the key to changing human behavior (e.g., eliminating rape). That an ultimate evolutionary approach can serve as a guide for research into proximate causes has been shown repeatedly in investigations of nonhuman organisms. Indeed, this approach has revolutionized those investigations (Krebs and Davies 1993; Alcock 1997). It is also revolutionizing the study of human behavior (Alexander 1987; Wright 1994;
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Pinker 1997; Geary 1998; Buss 1999). Evolutionary theory contributes to the study of proximate causation in two ways. First, it leads to the discovery of new biological phenomena whose proximate causes are unknown. For example, the evolutionary psychologists Leda Cosmides and John Tooby (1992) have found that the human brain contains a mechanism designed specifically to detect cheating in social exchanges. The discovery of such a "cheater-detection" mechanism was the result of an understanding of the evolutionary concept of reciprocal altruism originally developed by the biologist Robert Trivers (1971). Similarly, evolutionary theory has led to the discovery of specific patterns of nepotism. This knowledge has resulted from studies directed by the fundamental evolutionary concept of kin selection: individuals perpetuate their genes not only by producing offspring but also by aiding relatives, including offspring (Hamilton 1963, 1964; Alexander 1987; Chagnon and Irons 1979; Betzig et al. 1988; Betzig 1997; Crawford and Krebs 1998). Relatives contain a high proportion of identical genes, and the closer the kinship relationship the higher the genetic similarity. What are the proximate cues by which individuals identify their relatives and distinguish categories of relatives? "Social learning" is the general answer (Alexander 1979; Palmer and Steadman 1997). Children are taught who their relatives are by their parents and their other relatives and through association with them during upbringing, and are encouraged by their adult relatives to be altruistic toward them (especially close kin). But what is the precise nature of the learning schedules involved in the ontogeny (development) of an individual's nepotistic behavior? This question would never have been asked had not evolutionists first successfully predicted the patterns of nepotistic behavior. After the sociallearning aspects of nepotism are understood, the proximate physiological mechanisms in the brain that cause humans to feel closer to and more generous toward close relatives can be investigated. Also, we may someday know the locations of human genes (another category of proximate causation), which, in conjunction with the environment, construct proximate mechanisms of kin recognition and discriminative nepotism. The second way in which evolutionary theory interacts with the identification of proximate causes is even more direct and important. Evolutionary theory can tell investigators what proximate mechanisms are most likely to be found, and therefore where any investigation of proximate causation should begin. For example, evolutionary theory has provided unique directions for investigations of child abuse, child neglect, and infanticide (Daly and Wilson 1988). Evolutionary predictions regarding parental investment have directed researchers to multiple proximate causes of child maltreatment: resources available for successfully rearing offspring; paternity certainty and genetic relatedness of parent to offspring generally; health, sex, and status of offspring; age of parent; birth order. The example of child abuse also demonstrates the ability of an evolutionary approach to identify the proximate causes of both adaptations and byproducts. In this case, it is not child abuse or infanticide per se that was favored by selection in human evolutionary history. The adaptations concern what Daly and Wilson (1988) call "child-specific parental solicitude" or "discriminative parental solicitude," which evolved because they increased the number of surviving offspring in a parent's lifetime relative to parents who invested indiscriminately in children generally. These are species-wide psychological adaptations that cause some parents to show love to all their children more or less equally, or to love some children and neglect (or even abuse or kill) others. The power of an evolutionary approach in identifying these factors is illustrated by Daly and Wilson's observation (1995, p. 22) that "living with a stepparent has turned out to be the most powerful predictor of severe child abuse risk yet discovered, but two decades of intensive child abuse research conducted without the heuristic assistance of Darwinian insights never discovered it." We suggest that the evolutionary approach can make a similar contribution to the identification of the proximate causes of
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rape. Specifically, we suggest that an understanding of the evolved differences between male and female sexuality can lead to identification of the proximate causes of rape. Indeed, the ability of an ultimate evolutionary approach to direct research to the proximate causes of rape may be the key to lowering the frequency of rape.
Adaptations Are Functionally Specific An understanding of the ultimate cause of adaptations can provide specific ways of preventing rape because adaptations are themselves specific. In a paper titled "If we're all Darwinians, what's the fuss about?" Donald Symons (1987a) pointed out that the difference of opinion between traditional social scientists and the evolutionary anthropologists, biologists, and psychologists who were inspired by Williams's book Adaptation and Natural Selection does not concern whether or not the brain is designed by selection. The idea of psychological (brain) adaptation is almost certainly compelling to anyone who accepts that the rest of the human body has evolved by Darwinian selection. Indeed, the notion that the rest of the body could have been designed by selection without selection's simultaneously acting on the brain and the nervous system that control the body is absurd. To those who accept the notion of evolution, it is clear that the human brain must contain evolved structures that process environmental information in a manner that guides feelings and behavior toward ends that were adaptive in past human environments. Similarly, a moment's reflection on the evolution of the human opposable thumb—whose name implies both a structure and the movement (behavior) of that structure—should resolve any remaining controversy as to whether human physical behavior (muscle-induced motion) has evolved. All this means that the explanations of human behavior put forth by the social scientists who accept evolution (the vast majority) are implicitly evolutionary explanations. Hence, according to Symons (p. 126), "perhaps the central issue in psychology is whether the mechanisms of the mind are few, general, and simple, on the one hand, or numerous, specific, and complex, on the other." Symons goes on to say that "for all their differences, theories that purport to explain human affairs in terms of learning, socialization, or culture, and so on seem to have one thing in common: they assume that a few generalized brain/mind mechanisms of association or symbol manipulation underpin human action" (p. 139). We suggest that one reason that many social scientists have not learned evolutionary theory is that they have mistakenly assumed that adaptations are so general as to be of little significance.
Special-Purpose and General-Purpose Adaptations Defined more precisely than above, adaptations are mechanisms that Darwinian selection "designed" because they provided solutions to environmental problems faced by ancestors (Williams 1966, 1992; Symons 1979; Thornhill 1990, 1997a). Providing these solutions is the "function" of adaptations (Williams 1966). Although most people consider physical traits to be distinct from psychological (or mental) traits, this is a mistake. The brain, even if one calls it the psyche, is a physiological component of the body. In fact, the brain is the component of physiology and anatomy that controls the rest of physiology and anatomy via environmental information processing. Hence, when evolutionary psychologists speak of evolved "psychological mechanisms," they are actually postulating physiological mechanisms in the nervous system that, at the present stage of scientific knowledge, can only be inferred from patterns of behavior (Palmer 1991, 1992a,b). Psychological mechanisms can be characterized as either special-purpose or general-purpose on the basis of the kind of information they process to
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accomplish their function. Information that is domain-specific (for example, that will help an individual acquire a proper diet or a mate with high reproductive potential) is, by definition, special-purpose. If the information processed to accomplish a goal is ecologically general, the mechanism is, by definition, general-purpose. Thus, we can imagine a general-purpose mechanism that evaluates a broad range of items (food items, potential mates, rocks) in terms of their quality. Hypothetically, adaptations could range from very general to very specific. For example, a mechanism that used the same information to obtain a good diet and a mate with high reproductive potential would not be as generalpurpose as a mechanism that used the same information to solve those problems and also the problem of finding safe places to sleep. On the other hand, finding a mate with high reproductive potential might involve a number of even more specific mechanisms. For example, among humans there seem to be separate, specific psychological mechanisms that have evolved to discriminate health, age-related cues, and parenting ability in a potential mate (Symons 1979, 1995; Thornhill and Moller 1997; Townsend 1998). Hence, what is at question is not whether psychological mechanisms are general-purpose or special-purpose; it is their degree of specificity. Many social scientists believe that humans possess only a few very general psychological mechanisms; evolutionary psychologists posit many very specific mechanisms. This evolutionary perspective is akin to many cognitive scientists' long-standing assumption of the modularity of mind (Gazzaniga 1995). There are three reasons why evolutionary psychologists argue that the human brain must be composed of many specialized, domain-specific adaptations. The first is that the environmental problems our evolutionary ancestors faced were quite specific. Since adaptations are solutions to these specific environmental problems that impinged on ancestors during evolutionary history, they should be equally specific. Selection should have led to specialpurpose adaptations because such adaptations can better solve specialized problems. Any environmental problem that is typically solved by organisms could be used to illustrate the issue of specificity. Vision, for example, may at first appear to present only the very general problem of viewing one's environment. However, "vision" and "environment" are actually general words for complex phenomena. "Vision" entails solving many specific problems: color, black and white, depth, edges, distance, available light, and so on. Which of these problems an organism solves, and in what manner, will depend on very specific variables in the environment in which the organism's ancestors lived. Hence, the eyes, brains, and nervous systems of various species respond only to certain colors, shapes, and movements, and these vary greatly among species in correspondence to the features of the environments that impinged on the past reproductive success of individuals of the various species. For example, some cells in the European toad's eye "respond most to long, thin objects that move horizontally across the toad's visual field," and this specific design "becomes clear if one imagines how they would respond to a nearby moving worm" (Alcock 1993, pp. 134, 135). Furthermore, an individual animal's environment often is specific not only to the species but also to the individual's age and sex. Vision stems from many specialized psychological adaptations, each designed to process specific environmental information. An eye is a collection of many special-purpose psychological adaptations. Evolutionary psychologists expect the same to be true of an organism's other adaptations. The second reason why human psychological adaptations are expected to be special-purpose is that much of successful human behavior depends on environmental circumstances that are variable (Symons 1987a).
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The existence of environmentally dependent behavioral flexibility is often mistakenly used by social scientists to argue against the existence of specialized brain structures. "Many writers seem to believe that behavioral flexibility somehow implies the existence of simple, amorphous mental structures," Symons (1987a, p. 127) notes. He continues: "There is a litany in the literature of anthropology that goes something like this: Human beings have no nature because the essence of the human adaptation is plasticity, which makes possible rapid behavioral adjustments to environmental variations. This litany, however, has the matter backwards: Extreme behavioral plasticity implies extreme mental complexity and stability; that is, an elaborate human nature. Behavioral plasticity for its own sake would be worse than useless, random variation suicide. During the course of evolutionary history the more plastic hominid behavior became the more complex the neural machinery must have become to channel this plasticity into adaptive action." A facultative response to the environment (that is, a conditional response that depends on specific environmental variables) evolves when the environment changes within the lifetime of an individual in a way that significantly influences reproductive success. The capacity to learn is one such response. The human social environment is one of change, and the portion of human psychology that is involved with social learning is large. This is probably an evolutionary outcome of selection in the context of changing social conditions within the lifetimes of individuals, coupled with an inability to solve a learning task by experimentation or trial-and-error learning; under this scenario, social learning evolves (Humphrey 1980; Alexander 1989). However, learning will generate maladaptive behaviors (behaviors that decrease the reproductive success of the individual) unless special-purpose mental mechanisms guide and bias learning and behavior along paths that are adaptive. We humans are social strategists par excellence (Wright 1994), and our social behavior is apparently unique in the degree of its plasticity. This unique behavioral plasticity requires not only that human psychology consists of many specialized mechanisms but also that it be much more diverse and complex in structure than the psychology of any other organism. The third reason that human psychological adaptations are expected to be special-purpose rather than general-purpose is that our knowledge of the functional design of non-psychological adaptations indicates that they are special-purpose. The human body, for example, is not a single generalpurpose adaptation; it is a bundle of innumerable specific adaptations designed to solve specific challenges to reproduction in past environments. Indeed, those who accept the reality of evolution realize that species-specific non-psychological adaptations are what allow biologists to distinguish species morphologically, physiologically, and developmentally. If adaptations were general-purpose, differences among species (including differences in behavior) would not exist, and thus the discipline of taxonomy (the classification of organisms) would not exist. It is also sex-specific adaptations, psychological and otherwise, that allow researchers to describe sex differences, and it is age-specific adaptations, psychological and otherwise, that make the field of developmental biology possible. Many social scientists apparently fail to realize that it is species-specific psychological adaptations that allow biologists to distinguish species behaviorally. Not only is it unreasonable to think that the human psyche will be an exception to the general pattern of specific adaptations; there is increasing evidence from behavioral studies and from neuroscience that the human psyche is composed of adaptations that process specialized information. In 1989 the cognitive neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga reviewed the evidence that aspects of human cognition are structurally and functionally organized into discrete units ("modules") that interact to produce mental activity. Gazzaniga summarized his review as follows: "... when considering
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A Natural History of Rape
the various observations reported here, it is important to keep in mind the evolutionary history of our species. Over the course of this evolution efficient systems have been selected for handling critical environmental challenges. In this light, it is no wonder there are specialized systems (modules) that are active in carrying out specific and important assignments." (1989, p. 951) As is evident from this summary, Gazzaniga had been led by empirical evidence to the conclusion that the human psyche is made up of many specialized adaptations. Of course, to demonstrate the implausibility of the assumption that there are only a few very general psychological adaptations is not to demonstrate the existence of very specialized adaptations. Similarly, the existence of specialized adaptations in the frog brain is not evidence that similar specialized adaptations exist in the human brain. But evidence of specialized adaptations in the human brain is abundant. Symons (1987b, 1992), Cosmides and Tooby (1987, 1989), Barkow et al. (1992), Buss (1994, 1999), Gazzaniga (1995), Pinker (1997), and many others have amassed human behavioral evidence that the specific nature of ecological problems applies to environmental information-processing problems as much as it applies to other related problems, and thus that human psychological mechanisms appear to be domain-specific in function. Although evolutionists debate the exact degree of specificity of the psychological mechanisms of the human brain (Symons 1987b, 1992; Alexander 1990; Turke 1990), essentially all of them are in agreement that the brain is much more specialized than is implied by a certain class of social scientists. As the evolutionary anthropologist Paul Turke (1990, p. 319) notes, "with the exception of some outdated behaviorists, ... we all have been working towards understanding the nature of the more or less specific mechanisms that constitute the human psyche." (Continues...)
(C) 2000 Massachusetts Institute of Technology All rights reserved. ISBN: 0-262-20125-9
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Survival of the Rapist
April 2, 2000
Survival of the Rapist
Two scientists argue that plain old evolution explains why men rape.
Related Link First Chapter: 'A Natural History of Rape'
By FRANS B. M. DE WAAL
hen the cook of a primatologist in Indonesia was raped by an orangutan, her husband said it was nothing to be concerned about because the perpetrator wasn't human. This peculiar incident is one of the very few real-life descriptions of rape in ''A Natural History of Rape.'' Strikingly, it is the husband's opinion rather than the victim's that is cited. This is symptomatic: in this book, female and feminist voices are dismissed as ideological; scientists -- like the authors -engage in the objective search for the truth.
Rape is sexual violence. There is no doubt in my mind that people who try to reduce rape to either sex or violence miss its complexity. By adopting one biased position -- that rape is primarily sexual -''A Natural History of Rape'' could be seen as providing a necessary antidote to the other dogmatic position, that it's principally about power. Rape (defined as forced copulation) is mechanically impossible in the absence of male genital arousal. Hence the view of rape as a hate crime pure and simple is silly. A penis is no fist. This doesn't imply, however, that rape rests on natural urges, as Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer want us to believe. As sexually reproducing animals, people have sexual urges. But to say that all men will rape under particular circumstances is like saying that all people will eat human flesh when stranded in the Andes. Even if true, does that make us born cannibals? In the young tradition of evolutionary psychology, Thornhill, a biologist, and Palmer, an anthropologist, depict rape as a product of Darwinian selection. As a biologist myself, I am prepared to listen. After all, rape can lead directly to gene transmission. But for natural selection to favor rape, rapists would have to differ genetically from nonrapists and need to sow their seed more successfully, so to speak, causing more pregnancies than nonrapists, or at least more than they would without raping. Not a shred of data for these two requirements is presented. The authors believe that information on modern humans would be irrelevant because the only important effects are in our
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A NATURAL HISTORY OF RAPE Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion. By Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer. 251 pp. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press. $28.95.
Survival of the Rapist
evolutionary past. With this period a firmly closed book, we are left with a storytelling approach in which the usual rules of evidence are suspended. The authors draw parallels with the scorpion flies studied by Thornhill, which have a physical adaptation for rape. Male scorpion flies have a so-called notal organ, a clamp that serves to keep unwilling females in a mating position. Of course, human males have nothing like it, but perhaps they have other specific ''rape adaptations.'' The authors search for them in human psychology, which unfortunately is not nearly as easy to pick apart as insect anatomy. That men are good at detecting female vulnerability or that young men ejaculate without much delay really doesn't prove much. Detecting vulnerability has to do with judgment of people and situations, a multi-purpose capacity also present in women. And premature ejaculation may simply rest on a combination of high arousal and inexperience. None of the examples of human male psychology comes even close to the scorpion fly's notal organ in proving that men evolved to rape. Lots of questions remain. Wouldn't one assume that among our ancestors, who lived in small communities, rape was punished and so may have reduced rather than enhanced a male's future reproduction? If rape is about reproduction, why are about one-third of its victims young children and the elderly, too young or old to reproduce? Why do men rape lovers and wives, with whom they also have consensual sex? Perhaps some of these issues could have been resolved if the authors had not lumped all kinds of rape. Are date rapes on university campuses really comparable to the rapes by Serbian soldiers in Kosovo? Isn't it likely that some rapes are mainly sexually motivated and others mainly acts of hostility and misogyny? Thornhill and Palmer write dryly and obtusely, spending less time on rape itself than on explaining evolutionary biology and blasting feminist scholars like Susan Brownmiller, the author of ''Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape'' (1975). But even though ''A Natural History of Rape'' is highly polemical, it does review relevant information, and the authors, who admit that they themselves disagree, are honest in exposing some of the problems with their line of reasoning. They are also careful not to condone or excuse rape in any way. They make the strongest possible case for their position; it simply isn't strong enough. The greatest flaw of ''A Natural History of Rape'' is that it quotes but then blithely ignores the warning of the evolutionary biologist George Williams that ''adaptation is a special and onerous concept that should be used only when it is really necessary.'' Even common behavior, like smoking or masturbation, isn't necessarily adaptive -- let alone uncommon behavior. If child abuse by stepfathers is evolutionarily explained (an oft-cited example, used again here), or if rape is such a smart reproductive strategy, why do so many more stepfathers lovingly care for their children? And why are there so many more men who don't rape? Let me call this the dilemma of the rarely exercised option: a Darwinian account for an atypical behavioral choice is incomplete without an equally good account for the typical choice. If women feel offended by this book, let me say that I, and with me probably most men, resent the foisting of the crimes of a minority onto us as something that we would just as eagerly do if the opportunity arose. Why can't evolutionary psychology put a little less evolution and a little more psychology into its thinking? We evolved a complex mental life that makes us act in all sorts of ways, the sum of which should enhance reproductive success. But this strategy is by no means required for each and every behavior. To focus on just one, isolated from the rest of the package, is like seeking to understand why the kangaroo has such tiny front legs while ignoring what happened to its hind legs and tail. In the case of rape, I'd suggest looking less at flies and more at our fellow primates for answers. In monkeys and apes there is a clear link between power and sex. High-ranking males enjoy sexual privileges, and are more attractive to the opposite sex. We need only look at recent events in the White
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Survival of the Rapist
House (and at a television spectacular like ''Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?'') to see how much the link exists in us too. This age-old connection may explain how power and sex get mixed up in the minds of men, and occasionally spin out of control together -- not because men are born to have coercive sex, but because power in general is a male aphrodisiac. If all this makes rape prevention seem hopeless, Thornhill and Palmer have a solution: give young men a crash course on how the urge to rape arose in our species (thus implying that the urge has been demonstrated and that science knows where it comes from!) and warn young women to watch how they dress. In other words, if we can make boys see the Darwinian light and girls wear baggy pants, we will rid the world of a lot of nasty male behavior. But there are many societies lacking such measures in which rape is rare. I would have preferred cross-cultural information, because even if rape statistics are notoriously unreliable, the authors are wrong in assuming that the United States is typical. This country is considered one of the most rape-prone among industrialized nations. It is also arguably the most prudish, which raises some interesting questions -- not biological questions but cultural ones. These issues are glaringly absent from ''A Natural History of Rape.'' Instead of belittling the social sciences, as the authors do for about 50 pages, it would have been more productive to join forces and consider a wide range of perspectives on an ugly behavior that has harmed so many.
Frans B. M. de Waal, the author of ''Chimpanzee Politics'' and ''Good Natured,'' is the C. H. Candler professor of psychology and director of the Living Links Center for the Advanced Study of Ape and Human Evolution at Emory University.
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Evolution - April 2000: Jerry Coyne on A Natural History of Ra
Jerry Coyne on A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion
From: John E. Rylander (email@example.com) Date: Tue Apr 04 2000 - 07:41:16 EDT
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Interesting and somewhat critical ;^> article in The New Republic, a leading center-left, neoliberal political-intellectual journal. http://www.thenewrepublic.com/040300/coyne040300.html The fairy tales of evolutionary psychology. Of Vice and Men By JERRY A. COYNE Issue date: 04.03.00 Post date: 03.26.00 A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion by Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer MIT Press, 272pp. Minor excerpts: I. In science's pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics. For evolutionary biology
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Evolution - April 2000: Jerry Coyne on A Natural History of Ra
is a historical science, laden with history's inevitable imponderables. We evolutionary biologists cannot generate a Cretaceous Park to observe exactly what killed the dinosaurs; and, unlike "harder" scientists, we usually cannot resolve issues with a simple experiment, such as adding tube A to tube B and noting the color of the mixture. The latest deadweight dragging us closer to phrenology is "evolutionary psychology," or the science formerly known as sociobiology, which studies the evolutionary roots of human behavior. There is nothing inherently wrong with this enterprise, and it has proposed some intriguing theories, particularly about the evolution of language. The problem is that evolutionary psychology suffers from the scientific equivalent of megalomania. Most of its adherents are convinced that virtually every human action or feeling, including depression, homosexuality, religion, and consciousness, was put directly into our brains by natural selection. In this view, evolution becomes the key--the only key--that can unlock our humanity. Unfortunately, evolutionary psychologists routinely confuse theory and speculation. Unlike bones, behavior does not fossilize, and understanding its evolution often involves concocting stories that sound plausible but are hard to test. Depression, for example, is seen as a trait favored by natural selection to enable us to solve our problems by withdrawing, reflecting, and hence enhancing our future reproduction. Plausible? Maybe. Scientifically testable? Absolutely not. If evolutionary biology is a soft science, then evolutionary psychology is its flabby underbelly. But the public can be forgiven for thinking that evolutionary biology is equivalent to evolutionary psychology. Books by Daniel Dennett, E.O. Wilson, and Steven Pinker have sold briskly, and evolutionary psychology dominates the media coverage of the science of evolution. ...... Thornhill and Palmer's attempts to gain control of rape counseling, laws, and punishments, despite the weakness of their science, reveal their larger goal: the engulfment of social science and social policy by the great whale of evolutionary psychology. This attempted takeover is not new. It was first suggested in 1978 in E.O. Wilson's On Human Nature, and more recently in his Consilience, Wilson extended the program to nearly every area of human thought, including aesthetics and ethics. We are witnessing a new campaign for the Darwinization of Everything. Thornhill's and Palmer's theory of rape is just the most recent attempt at the annexation of all human experience to evolutionary psychology.
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Evolution - April 2000: Jerry Coyne on A Natural History of Ra
After all, if one can give a believable evolutionary explanation for the difficult problem of rape, then no human behavior is immune to such analysis, and the cause is significantly advanced. The apocalyptic tone that pervades Thornhill and Palmer's book reveals the party to which they belong: "The biophobia that has led to the rejection of Darwinian analyses of human behavior is an intellectual disaster." And "in addressing the question of rape, the choice between the politically constructed answers of social science and the evidentiary answers of evolutionary biology is essentially a choice between ideology and knowledge." Let us be clear. It is not "biophobia" to reject the reduction of all human feelings and actions to evolution. Quite the contrary. It is biophilia; or at least a proper respect for science. The "choice between ideology and knowledge" is a real choice; but it is Thornhill and Palmer and the doctrinaire evolutionary psychologists who choose ideology over knowledge. They enjoy the advantage that people seem to like scientific explanations for their behavior, and the certainty that such explanations provide. It is reassuring to impute our traumas and our misdeeds to our savanna-dwelling ancestors. It lessens the moral pressure on our lives. And so the disciplinary hubris of evolutionary psychology and the longing for certainty of ordinary men and women have combined to create a kind of scientistic cargo cult, with everyone waiting in vain for evolutionary psychology to deliver the goods that it doesn't have. Amid this debacle--for A Natural History of Rape is truly an embarrassment to the field--I am somewhat consoled by the parallels between Freudianism and evolutionary psychology. Freud's views lost credibility when people realized that they were not at all based on science, but were really an ideological edifice, a myth about human life, that was utterly resistant to scientific refutation. By judicious manipulation, every possible observation of human behavior could be (and was) fitted into the Freudian framework. The same trick is now being perpetrated by the evolutionary psychologists. They, too, deal in their own dogmas, and not in propositions of science. Evolutionary psychology may have its day in the sun, but versions of the faith such as Thornhill and Palmer's will disappear when people realize that they are useless and unscientific. JERRY A. COYNE teaches in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago.
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THE EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY OF RAPE
THE EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY OF RAPE
german | english
For the last quarter of a century, attempts to prevent rape have been guided by the social science explanation of rape (also commonly referred to as the feminist theory of rape). This explanation holds that the motivation to rape has little, if anything, to do with sexual desire. Instead, it holds that rape is an attempt by men to dominate and control women. It also contends that rape only occurs when males are taught by their culture, directly or indirectly, to rape. In our new book, *A Natural History of Rape*1, we challenge this established social science explanation of rape. We argue that although a given rapist may have numerous motivations for committing a rape, social scientists have failed to prove that sex is not one of these. Nor have social scientists seriously and honestly considered the vast evidence showing that rapists are sexually motivated. Although we agree that culture (= social learning) plays a major role in the cause of rape, we challenge the notion that rape only occurs when males are taught by their cultures to rape. Rape not only appears to occur in all known cultures, but in a wide variety of other species where there is certainly no cultural encouragement of such behavior. We also argue that the best way to obtain a better understanding of the role of culture in the cause of human rape is to approach the subject from the only generally accepted scientific explanation of the behavior of living things: Darwinian evolution by natural selection. Why have we chosen to make such an argument knowing full well the criticisms that challenging such a widely held position would cause to be rained down upon us? The answer is that inaccurate knowledge about the causes of behavior hinder attempts to change behavior, and we want very badly to eradicate rape from human existence. Rape is a horrific act that violates a fundamental civil right of its victims. Sexual autonomy-the right to choose who will have sexual access to one, as well the timing of the accessshould be a freedom that is given highest priority in modern society. This basic freedom depends upon knowledge of the causes of sexual coercion. What Our Book Really Says
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THE EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY OF RAPE
Given the great amount of media attention our book A Natural History of Rape has received, we thought the best way to summarize the book would be to contrast what you may have heard in the media with what the book actually says. You have probably heard that our book says that rape is good because it is a part of the natural, biological world. If so, you might be surprised to find the following statement at the book's outset: "There is no connection here between what is biological or naturally selected and what is morally right or wrong. To assume a connection is to commit what is called the naturalistic fallacy" (p. 56). This fallacy erroneously sees the facts of how nature is organized as moral truths. This fallacy still remains too common today, despite having been discarded in intellectual circles. The pervasiveness of the naturalistic fallacy is seen, for example, in Nancy Pearcey's comments at a recent U.S. Congressional Hearing in which she claimed that *A Natural History of Rape* threatens the moral fabric upon which America is founded2. Modern thinkers emphasize that nature is as nature is, period; right and wrong in the moral sense derive from humans pursuing their interests, not from the facts of nature. To say that rape is biological and natural is simply to state what should be obvious. The word "biological" means of or pertaining to life. Rape is part of the component of nature that is in the domain of biologists' study, which is all of life. We use the term "natural" in contrast to supernatural. As we explain in detail in our book, the social science theory of rape rests on assumptions about the causation of behavior that are supernatural because they are not part of natural reality. For example, the view that learning is all powerful in causing rape is based on ideological faith, not actual knowledge of how traits come to be. Social learning appears to be an immediate cause of rape, but it is just one of a multitude of equally important immediate causes. Also, rape is the result of ultimate or evolutionary causation. You may have also heard that the book excuses rapists for their hideous acts. You will recognize this as another version of the naturalistic fallacy. What we really say is that: "Contrary to the common view that an evolutionary explanation for human behavior removes individuals' responsibility for their actions, . . . knowledge of the self as having evolved by Darwinian selection provides an individual with tremendous potential for free will. Moreover, refusal
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THE EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY OF RAPE
to refrain from damaging behavior in the face of scientific understanding could be seen as a ground for holding irresponsible individuals more culpable, not less so." (p. 154, emphasis in original). This is why, far from claiming that rapists should not be punished, the reader of our book will find that "we have stressed the value of punishment for changing human behavior." (p. 199). Evolution allows the understanding of why certain experiences are punishments and others rewards. We don't suggest particular types of punishment for rape. We leave up to people the hard decision of how much cost to impose for this crime. Knowledge from evolutionary biology, then, cannot tell us that rape is morally good or bad. People decide that distinction and have deemed rape horrific. Our book is about how evolutionary knowledge may be useful for achieving the desirable social goal of reducing rape. Another frequent depiction of our book claims that we say rape is inevitable because it is determined by genes. We are actually in full agreement with the evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith's observation that genetic determinism is "an incorrect idea" 3. We further point out on page 111 that "Most evolutionary works on humans [including ours-see Chapter 1] include an extended discussion of the inseparable and equally important influences of genes and environment . . . ." This is why we can state "[t]he evolutionary approach holds that no behavior is inevitable" (p. 153), and that rape can best be prevented by addressing the "environmental factors" that lead to rape (p. 154). Recent research indicates that these environmental factors include certain learning experiences during boys' upbringing such as the conditions of poverty, limited enduring relationships and father absence. The evolutionary approach focuses attention on specific experiences that would have been correlated with limited social and economic resources when boys achieved adulthood in human evolutionary history. These limitations would have, in the deeptime history of the human past, reduced or eliminated access to consensual female sex partners because recent research has shown that the female evolutionary ancestors of people preferred mates with status and resources. This preference is demonstrated by the vast evidence from evolutionary psychology that women today have a psychological adaptation that functions to guide their romantic interests toward such men. Rape bypasses this preference and thereby circumvents a fundamental aspect of
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THE EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY OF RAPE
female reproductive strategy. The learning experiences that are suggested by recent research to influence men's rape proneness offer promise for reducing rape. The number of boys raised under conditions of poverty in industrial societies could be greatly reduced by taxation policies that lower wealth inequalities, coupled with more taxation revenues being directed at socially disfranchised families. Father-absence rearing environments would decline if fathers, following divorce, were given tax credits when they resided near their sons and provided sons with emotional and financial support4. These are only two of many possibilities that come to mind for attacking the social problem of rape from knowledge of its developmental causes. The reader may also be surprised to find that, contrary to media reports, we do not argue that rapists are driven by an urge to reproduce. As is explained in detail in our book's Chapter 1, this assertion confuses the motivations that form the immediate (what evolutionists call "proximate") causes of a behavior, with the evolutionary (what evolutionists call "ultimate") effects of a behavior during countless past generations of evolutionary history. Rapists may be motivated by many different immediate desires, but a desire for reproduction is probably one of them in only the rarest of instances. Sexual stimulation is a proximate cause of raping and is the common denominator across human rapes of all kinds. Men's strong libido is an ultimate product of selection pressures in human evolutionary history that was favored because it resulted in accessing many mates of fertile ages. In addition to the false claim that we excuse rapists, you have probably heard that we blame victims. This is also not true. Instead, we emphasize that "educational programs aimed at reducing the vulnerability of women to sexual coercion are dependent on the acquisition of information concerning risk factors." (p. 180) We also make a claim (which has been seen by some people as both an insane idea and a mortal sin, but by most others as too obvious to be worth debate) that a woman's appearance and behavior might have some influence on these risk factors. We stress, however, that it is completely "unjustified" to argue that "a victim's dress and behavior should affect the degree of punishment a rapist receives." (p. 182) The identification of risk factors, and the encouragement of women to take these into consideration during their daily activities, has long been an
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THE EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY OF RAPE
established part of rape prevention programs without anyone claiming that it constitutes blaming victims. Despite full awareness of the misguided criticisms that would rain down upon us, we chose to address this issue because "The failure to distinguish between statements about causes and statements about responsibility has the consequence of suppressing knowledge about how to avoid dangerous situations" (p. 182). That a woman's dress may affect risk of rape is eminently reasonable from knowledge of certain of men's sexual adaptations. The combination of men's eagerness to have sex with new sexual partners and impulsiveness in pursuit of such partners, men's sexual motivation upon viewing women's secondary sexual traits (breasts, thighs and buttocks), and men's tendency to conclude that a woman is signaling sexual interest when she is not is expected to, lead some men to rape. This is not to say that all or most rape victims will be wearing mini-skirts or blouses that reveal their breasts. It is to say that dress is anticipated to be a risk factor, especially when coupled with other risk factors that stimulate men's sexual motivation such as youth and other features of physical attractiveness in women. The view that physical attractiveness influences risk factors is consistent with women at the ages of peak attractiveness (late teens and early twenties) being the most frequent victims of rape. It is also consistent with descriptions of rape in other cultures, made by people completely unaware of the political and ideological issues that have come to dominate discussions of rape in our society. For example, consider this statement made by Ongka, a leader among the Kawelka people of Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea, while recalling the rapes that took place during the tribal wars he lived through: "When we left our women behind and went out to fight, they were in danger. Men came to find them, chasing them down to the edges of streams till they seized hold of them, *especially if their bodies were good to look at*" (emphasis added).5 It has also been claimed that our book is not a "study", but only a "theory" with no evidence to support it because we didn't talk to rapists or rape victims. Those making this argument reveal their scientific illiteracy because testing alternative hypotheses against the data collected by others (there are about 600 references in our bibliography) is a very common and valid method in science.
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Further, we have an extended discussion on why the statements made by rapists do not support the social science explanation of rape (pp. 135 - 136), and an entire chapter devoted to the reactions of victims to this horrible crime (Chapter 4). Another common objection to our book is that it is based only on evidence from insects. The reader who has heard such a depiction will be disappointed to find how relatively few of our hundreds of references concern that subject. We do discuss research on insects called scorpionflies that has identified a clamp on the top of the male's abdomen as an adaptation specifically for rape. This illustrates what an adaptation for rape is, but it does not follow that because scorpionfly males, and males of other non-human species, have adaptation for rape, that, therefore, men do too. This is an erroneous extrapolation that modern biologists don't engage in. The existence of rape in many non-human species scientifically falsifies the social science theory of rape, which claims that rape is simply the result of human-specific learning experiences. One hypothesis about how evolution and human rape may be related is that men have rape-specific adaptation, but located in the brain. We outline in the book how further research could test for the existence of six potential rape psychological adaptations. Scientific proof of the existence of a psychological adaptation for rape would be conclusive evidence that men's brains contain an information-processing mechanism(s) that is (are) specifically for promoting adaptive rape in human evolutionary history. Just as the human psychological adaptation for color vision is specifically for assessing color, a rape psychological adaptation would give rise to maximum motivation to rape specifically when evolutionary historical benefits of rape (copulation with a female of fertile age) exceed historical costs of rape (injury, ostracism and punishment of the perpetrator). Readers who have also heard that we assume every aspect of human behavior, including rape, is an adaptation directly favored by Darwinian selection will be surprised also to find an extended discussion in the book of the alternative hypothesis that rape itself is not an adaptation, but instead a by-product or incidental effect of other adaptation such as men's psychological adaptations that motivate their pursuit of partner variety without commitment. Under the by-product hypothesis, Darwinian selection indirectly led to rape as a result of directly favoring men's sexual adaptations that give rise to rape as an incidental effect. The vast evidence that
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rape arises out of evolved sexual psychologies of men and women is discussed in the book. Women are evolved to choose mates carefully and men to be less selective and pursue many partners, including without commitment. Rape is one of the many behaviors resulting from this evolved difference in male and female sexuality. The two hypotheses for rape we have mentioned (the rape adaptation hypothesis and the by-product hypothesis) are attempts to specify how evolution and rape are related. In our book, we discuss why these two hypotheses exhaust ultimate (= evolutionary) explanations of rape. Also there, we examine the copious data on rape, but conclude that more research is necessary to determine which of the two hypotheses best accounts for rape. Jerry Coyne and Andrew Berry describe our consideration of alternative hypotheses, not as the rigorous scientific procedure that it is, but as a "rhetorical trick" 6. They have training in science (biology) and therefore must understand the necessity of alternative hypotheses in scientific investigation. This kind of criticism is a desperate attempt to derogate scientific analysis of rape in the eyes of the many people who lack any understanding of the scientific method. It also indicates that these authors are unaware that determining whether a trait is an adaptation or a byproduct has been a cornerstone of evolutionary theory since the publication of George Williams' book *Adaptation and Natural Selection* in 1966. It is unfortunate that scientists with such a large gap in their own education should present themselves as speaking for evolutionists in general. Even more puzzling is Frans de Waal's criticism of our book for supposedly not even considering any alternative to the rape-asadaptation hypothesis7. We have no explanation of how he could have either overlooked, or consciously ignored, our discussions of both the by-product and other alternative explanations of rape in Chapter 3. Under either evolutionary hypothesis for rape, increased knowledge is the key to reducing rape. If rape is an incidental effect of men's psychological adaptation for obtaining high mate numbers without commitment, reducing the incidence of rape will depend upon complete knowledge of the adaptations involved and of the circumstances under which they give rise to rape as a byproduct. If rape is itself an adaptation, reducing rape will depend
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upon full knowledge of the evolutionary historical cues that stimulated adaptive rape by males during human evolutionary history. Such knowledge, for example, could reduce the high incidence of rape in war, where evolutionary historical benefits of rape are high and corresponding costs are typically trivial. A common media claim is that the evolutionary analysis of rape cannot account for the rape of boys, men and non-reproductiveage females. Although the majority of rapes involve pubescent and young adult females, some rapes involve other victims. As we clearly state on page 60, rape of these other victims is an incidental effect of men's strong libido for obtaining many mates of fertile ages. Every adaptation has incidental effects that are maintained because the adaptation enhanced overall reproductive success of its bearer, even when the adaptation's incidental effects lowered reproductive success in some circumstances. The bone of the human skeleton was directly selected because of its structural strength (thereby increasing survival and offspring production). Bone's by-products involve the maladaptive effects of osteoporosis and certain other bone diseases. Males engaging in nonreproductive rape is widespread across animal species8. Males and infertile females that are of the same species as the rapist are common rape victims across many species. In some species, males rape females of other species. Male seals even copulate with corpses, and living juveniles are also rape victims. Males of every animal species have an evolved preference for fertile females of the same species, but the libido that motivates the dogged pursuit of that preference results in some maladaptive matings. The media often focus on the uninformed criticism that for evolution to apply to human rape, there must be a significant rate of pregnancy associated with rape in modern societies9. It is important to realize that all features of life, including rape, are ultimately the result of the evolutionary process. Even the computer is ultimately a by-product of evolution because certain psychological adaptations give rise to the behaviors and mentations responsible for the computer. It is never a question of whether evolution applies to a feature of living things, including any given human activity. The only question is how to apply evolution to fully understand the feature. The two ultimate hypotheses mentioned are attempts to illuminate rape by connecting it to a more specific evolutionary history.
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Furthermore, some human adaptations are frequently maladaptive now. For example, the consumption of large quantities of refined sugar causes widespread health problems, but the sweet "tooth" (actually a psychological adaptation for pursuing ripe fruit) evolved because it resulted in nourishment in human evolutionary environments. Rape may or may not be currently adaptive, i.e., promote net reproductive success despite its costs. And rape may be currently adaptive in some societies (e.g., in pre-industrial societies without contraceptives), but not others. In the U.S.A., pregnancy follows from rape in about 2.5% of the cases. Rape-pregnancy, however, is much higher during warfare10. The current adaptiveness of rape is an entirely different issue than the evolutionary historical adaptiveness of rape. The claim of the rape adaptation hypothesis is that rape was adaptive in human evolutionary history, but now it may or may not be adaptive. Historically adaptive rape is demonstrated by the existence of an adaptation functionally specialized for rape. The media also have commonly been amazed that we claim in our book that evolutionary biology includes procedures for knowing the deep-time past of the human species. Many erroneously believe that this past is unknowable. Darwin invented the method of historical science and this rigorous method is routine practice in all sciences that explore the past (biology, geology and astronomy). Actual historical causes will have left consequences. Finding these consequences provides the definitive evidence for past causes that cannot be observed directly. This is why the existence of an adaptation in men functionally specialized for rape demonstrates direct selection for rape during human evolutionary history. Our proposal that all men are potential rapists has been interpreted by the media as meaning that all men will rape. Actually, we mean that at conception essentially all human males have genes which might lead to raping behavior if, and only if, those genes interact with certain specific environmental factors during the development of the individual. Hence, we emphasize that "Many men don't rape and are not sexually aroused by laboratory depictions of rape. This suggests that there are cues in the developmental backgrounds of many men that prohibit raping behavior" (p. 173). These cues, in part, may involve boys growing up with adequate resources, father presence, and enduring social
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relationships with others. That all boys are potential rapists is only bad news from science if people continue to ignore the utility of evolutionary biology for understanding rape's proximate causes. The media has presented various inaccurate depictions of the book's treatment of rape victims' psychological pain following rape. This stems from, in part, the uncritical media picking upon a comment in the paper by Coyne and Berry11. Coyne and Berry state that they looked at a reference in our book and that it doesn't contain the information that the book claims it does. They claim (contrary to the book's claim) that the 1990 Thornhill co-authored paper does not contain data showing that reproductive-age female rape victims have more mental pain than post-reproductive-age female victims. However, the data and analysis supporting this pattern are in Table 4 and Appendix 3 of the paper12. We invite readers to take a look for themselves at the data and its analysis and the full discussion of this evidence. Again, Coyne and Berry show their desperation. Rape circumvents female mate choice and lowers the victim's pairbond mate's paternity confidence, which may result in his reduction of investment or complete desertion. Thus, rape is an experience that would have reduced female reproductive success in human ancestral settings. Psychological pain is widely recognized in evolutionary biology as an adaptation that functions as a defense against social losses by aiding in solving the problems involved and avoiding them in the future. As expected, research on rape victims indicates that reproductive-age women have greater mental pain than pre- and post-reproductive-age victims as rape can lead to pregnancy only in reproductive-age women. Also, married women seem to experience more psychological pain than unmarried victims. Raped married women may face a mate's divestment. Knowledge of the causes of rape victims' mental pain could be useful in treating rape victims by focusing therapy where it is needed. Also, given the likely function of mental pain, treating rape victims with psychotrophic drugs to alleviate the pain may have the undesirable effects of reducing rape victims' ability to solve the social problems surrounding the victimization and avoid future rape13. Conclusion Rape generates tremendous misery for all of its victims and their
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mates and families throughout the world. Only knowledge of rape's causes holds promise for reducing rape's incidence. Solutions not based on an understanding of causation can solve nothing. The causes are biological and totally so. Evolutionary theory is the tool for guiding the most productive research on life. Thus, the vigorous study of the evolutionary biology of rape should be a high priority in any truly humane society. But humans have not come very far in understanding the scientific and humanistic value of applying evolutionary analysis to human behavior. This limited progress may reflect an adaptation not to understand, because evolution applied to human behavior threatens the use of ideology as a social strategy14. Cognizance of ideological opposition to scientific study of rape could help in the establishment of scientifically objective review committees to evaluate and fund research dealing with the biology of rape. Until then, such research is too risky, unpopular, and difficult for most scholars' tastes. It is our hope that people will increase their ability to look past ideological considerations and make an objective re-evaluation of the social science explanation of rape. If they do this, they will see that it is not our alleged ideological leanings or our use of evolutionary theory that falsify the social science explanation of rape, it is the actual behavior of males who commit rape. Biologists are in a pivotal position to inform people about evolution as it applies to humans. We are very critical of the biologists who advocate that evolution applies to all life except human behavior and psychology. This pre-Darwinian view of human activity is not scientifically legitimate. It is due to the evidentiary blindness that arises from ideology and political correctness. We invite all biologists to join the effort to create a science for humanity-a science that sees knowledge of humans as its single goal for the sake of helping people, including reducing rape. We also invite educators to join this effort by establishing Darwinism applied to human behavior as the most fundamental knowledge to be gained by students at all levels. Although the media's distortion of our book has been extreme, it is understandable given the high emotions the horrible act of rape produces in all people. This is why we don't begrudge our critics. We only hope that as the initial emotions that have so colored their responses subside, they will take the effort to read our book as it
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is, not as they have feared it was. After all, we all share the same goal of trying to end the immense pain caused by rape. This being the case, let's all get on with the rational view of rape, which will require that it be depoliticized from the master symbol of feminist ideology to a behavior that needs to be prevented through the identification of its causes. This change of attitude hinges upon people understanding that one can't logically be against rape and against the evolutionary approach to rape at the same time. Notes 1 Thornhill, Randy; Palmer, Craig T."A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion." MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. 2000. 2 Ms. Pearcey is with the Discovery Institute, which promotes the teaching of divine creation mythology in U.S. schools as a scientific alternative to Darwinism. 3 Genetic determinism means that genes play an all-important or primary causal role in the development of a given trait of an individual organism. This inaccurately depicts the process of development (= ontogeny) of an individual's features, including its behaviors. In reality, each trait of the individual is equally caused by genes and environment. Thus, environmental determinism-that an individual's features are solely or primarily influenced by environmental causes such as learning-is as scientifically erroneous as genetic determinism. 4 This tax credit could be modeled after the Australian tax credit given to grandparents who reside near or with their grandchildren. 5 Strathern, Andrew; Stewart, Pamela J. "Collaboration and Conflicts: A Leader Through Time," p. 41. Harcourt College Publishers, Fort Worth, TX. 2000 6 Coyne, Jerry, A.; Berry, A.. "Rape as an Adaptation: Is this Contentious Hypothesis Advocacy, Not Science?" *Nature*, Vol. 404, pp.121-122. 9 March 2000 7 de Waal, Frans B.M. "Survival of the Rapist", *N.Y. Times* Book Review, pp. 1-2. 2 April, 2000, 8 Mesnick, Sarah L. "Sexual Alliances: Evidence and Evolutionary Implications", in Gowatry, Patricia A. (ed.), pp. 207-257. N.Y., Chapman and Hall, NY 9 Thornhill, Randy; Palmer, Craig T. "Authors' Response: Just Why do Men Rape?" *The Sciences*, pp. 6 and 46. May/June 2000. See also reference in Note 7. 10 See evidence in Note 1. 11 Reference Note 5 above. 12 Thornhill, Nancy; Thornhill, Randy. "An Evolutionary Analysis of
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Psychological Pain Following Rape: I. The Effects of Victim's Age and Martial Status", *Ethology and Sociobiology*, Vol. 11, pp.155176. 1990 13 See Note 1 above. 14 See Note 1 above; also Thornhill, Randy. "The Biology of Human Rape", *Jurimetrics J.*, Vol. 39, pp.137-147. 1999
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This document is a new preface to A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion, by Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer. It can be downloaded from The MIT Press website at <http://mitpress.mit.edu/thornhill-preface.html>. The book may be ordered from The MIT Press at 1-800-356-0343, at http://mitpress.mit.edu, or from your local bookseller. Copyright (c) 2001 Randy Thornhill.
Rape and Evolution: A Reply to Our Critics
Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer
Rape generates tremendous misery for its victims and for their friends and families throughout the world. Greater knowledge of rape’s causes could reduce rape’s incidence. Evolutionary theory is an indispensable tool for guiding productive research on the causes of human behavior. Thus, vigorous study of the evolutionary biology of rape should be a priority in any truly humane society. For the last quarter of a century, attempts to prevent rape have been guided by a widespread social-science explanation that holds that rape’s causation has little, if anything, to do with sexual desire. Instead, it holds that rape is motivated by men’s attempt to dominate and control women. It also contends that rape occurs only when males are taught (by their culture) to rape. In A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion (MIT Press, 2000), we scientifically criticize this socialconstructionist view of rape. We argue that, although a given rapist may have numerous motivations for committing a rape, social constructionists have not seriously and honestly considered the vast evidence showing that rapists are sexually motivated. Although we agree that culture (that is, social learning, or learning resulting from experience with other members of the same species) plays a significant role in causing rape, we challenge the notion that rape occurs only when males are taught by their
culture to rape. The ethnographic record of anthropology indicates that rape occurs in all known cultures. It also occurs in a wide variety of other species in which there is certainly no cultural encouragement of such behavior. We emphasize in our book that the best way to obtain a better understanding of the role of culture in human rape is to approach the subject from the only generally accepted scientific explanation of the behavior of living things: evolution by natural selection. We then show that rape is definitely caused by men’s evolved sexual psychology, and we discuss why this knowledge may be important to society’s efforts to reduce rape. Why did we choose to challenge existing dogma and examine the evolutionary bases of rape, knowing full well the criticisms that would be rained down upon us? The answer is that fictional accounts about the causes of behavior hinder attempts to change behavior, and we want very badly to eradicate rape from human existence. The social constructionists have fought the message of our book with continued fiction, and we want to refocus the discussion onto the serious issues by correcting the major misunderstandings found in media accounts and reviews of the book. In view of the great amount of media attention A Natural History of Rape has received, we think the best way to summarize the book and respond to its many critics is to contrast what you may have heard about it with what it actually says. It is disheartening that certain individuals who talked to the media about the book, and certain reviewers, so profoundly misrepresented its basic contents, thereby promoting
confusion about the connections between rape, biology, evolution, morality, and determinism. We will start with some of the common misrepresentations made in the media coverage of the book, then examine some of the equally inaccurate portrayals of our book in supposedly scholarly reviews.
You have probably heard in the media that our book says that rape is good because it is a part of the natural, biological world. If so, you may be surprised to find that we state the following on pages 5 and 6:
There is no connection here between what is biological or naturally selected and what is morally right or wrong. To assume a connection is to commit what is called the naturalistic fallacy.
The naturalistic fallacy erroneously sees the facts of how nature is organized as moral truths. Modern thinkers emphasize that nature is as nature is period, and that right and wrong in the moral sense derive from humans’ pursuing their interests, not from the facts of nature. You may have also heard that our book excuses rapists for their hideous acts. You will recognize this as a version of the naturalistic fallacy. What we really say (p. 154) is this:
Contrary to the common view that an evolutionary explanation for human behavior removes individuals’ responsibility for their actions, . . . knowledge of the self as having evolved by Darwinian selection provides an individual with tremendous potential for free will. Moreover, refusal to refrain from damaging behavior in the face of scientific understanding could be seen as a ground for holding irresponsible individuals more culpable, not less so.
This is why, far from claiming that rapists should not be punished, “we have stressed the value of punishment for changing human behavior” (p. 199). Evolution allows the understanding of why certain experiences are punishments and others are rewards. We don’t suggest particular types of punishment for rape. We leave up to voters the hard decision of how much cost to impose on this heinous crime. Knowledge from evolutionary biology, then, cannot tell us that rape is morally good or bad. People, including us, have deemed rape to be immoral. Our book helps explain why people have evolved to abhor rape. Rape reduced female reproductive success throughout human evolutionary history because it interfered with their ability to choose their offspring’s father. Because women’s interests are thwarted by rape, so too are the interests of their significant others—that is, of people in general. More basically, our book is about how evolutionary knowledge may be useful for achieving the desirable social goal of reducing rape. The naturalistic fallacy remains too common today, despite having
been discarded in intellectual circles. The pervasiveness of the naturalistic fallacy is evident, for example, in Nancy Pearcey’s suggestion in a recent congressional hearing that A Natural History of Rape threatens the moral fabric of the United States. (Ms. Pearcey is with the Discovery Institute, which promotes the teaching of divine creation mythology in U.S. schools as a scientific alternative to Darwinism.) On his radio show, the ultraconservative Rush Limbaugh implied that we wrote A Natural History of Rape to morally justify President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. Limbaugh suggested that the book was part of a Democratic effort to improve Clinton’s reputation. (Clinton’s behavior should be excused because his biology motivated it.) Henry Gee, an editor of the web site of the journal Nature, committed the naturalistic fallacy in his comment (July 6, 2000) that “to propose that [rape] serves some evolutionary function is distasteful.” Gee apparently doesn’t understand that the falsity of a scientific hypothesis can be determined only by scientific methodology, not by whether it is politically incorrect. This misunderstanding is seen commonly in people with limited knowledge of science. To say that rape is biological is to state the obvious. Rape involves living beings. In biology and in English dictionaries, the word “biological” means of, or pertaining to, life; all life. Human behavior is not an exception. “Biological” is not synonymous with “genetic,” as is sometimes assumed. Genetics is just one of many subdisciplines of biology. All features of all living things are developmental products of complex interaction between genes and environmental factors such as
nourishment; for many behavioral features, learning is a causal environmental factor too. It should be obvious that rape is an aspect of nature. Each of the three natural sciences—biology, chemistry, and physics—uses the scientific method in order to know a component of the natural world; biology’s component is all life. In our book, we use the term “natural” in contrast to supernatural. The social-constructionist theory of rape rests on assumptions about the causation of behavior that are transcendental—that is, are not part of empirically verified reality. For example, the view that learning is all-powerful in causing rape is based on ideology, not actual knowledge of how behavior comes to exist. Social learning appears to be an immediate (proximate) cause of rape, but it is just one of a multitude of equally important immediate causes. Also, in addition to the many proximate causes, rape is the result of ultimate (= evolutionary) causation as well. Another frequent depiction of our book claims that we say rape is inevitable because genes determine it. But in fact on page 110 we emphasize modern evolutionary biology’s conclusion that genetic determinism is, in the words of John Maynard Smith, “an incorrect idea.” We go on to explain that genetic determinism means that genes play an all-important or primary causal role in the development of the behaviors of the individual, a grossly inaccurate depiction of the process of biological development. In scientific reality, genes and environment equally cause each and every trait of the individual. Thus, environmental
determinism—the idea that an individual’s features are solely or primarily influenced by environmental causes such as learning—is as scientifically erroneous as genetic determinism. Modern biology’s conclusion that the influences of genes and environment are equally important in the developmental creation of all of every human’s features, and therefore that both are necessary and neither alone is sufficient, is why we can state that “the evolutionary approach holds that no behavior is inevitable” (p. 153) and that rape can best be prevented by manipulating the “environmental factors” that lead to it (p. 154). We emphasize two reasons why manipulating the genetic underpinnings of rape is not an option: (1) it is immoral to artificially select (selectively breed) people; and (2) such breeding probably wouldn’t work at all, and if it could be made to work the effort would take too long. The media also have interpreted our proposal that all men are potential rapists as meaning that all men will rape. Actually, we mean that at conception essentially all human males have genes that might lead to raping behavior if, and only if, those genes interact with certain specific environmental factors during the development of the individual. On p. 173 we state: “Many men don’t rape and are not sexually aroused by laboratory depictions of rape. This suggests that there are cues in the developmental backgrounds of many men that prohibit raping behavior.” Recent research by Neil Malamuth and his colleagues, detailed in our book, suggests that these cues or environmental factors may include growing up with adequate resources, father presence, and enduring social
relationships. At the same time, this research identifies “rape proneness” in men as arising from developmental backgrounds that include poverty, father absence, and limited enduring relationships. The recent research on developmental factors in rape proneness in men was inspired by evolutionary theory. The evolutionary approach focuses on the specific environmental factors mentioned because they would have correlated in human evolutionary history with limited social status and economic resources at the time a boy reached adulthood. In the deep-time history of the human past, these limitations would have reduced access to consensual female sex partners. As other research has shown, female evolutionary ancestors preferred high-status mates with resources to low-status males without resources, everything else being equal. The vast evidence from evolutionary psychology that women today have psychological adaptation that functions to guide their romantic interests toward men with resources and status demonstrates this ancient preference. Although we emphasize that additional scientific investigation is needed to fully clarify how social learning during a boy’s development affects a man’s rape proneness, current knowledge may offer promise for reducing rape through new social policy. Though we are not policy experts and cannot formulate concrete social programs, we can imagine numerous avenues for the exploration of possible policy directions. For example, to reduce the number of boys raised under conditions of poverty in industrial societies, some people might advocate taxation policies that
lower wealth inequalities, coupled with more taxation revenues directed at socially disfranchised families. Others might instead suggest that divorced fathers be given tax credits when they reside near their sons and provide the sons with support. These are just a few of many possibilities that come to mind for using knowledge of rape’s developmental causes to attacking the problem. Contrary to numerous media reports, we do not argue that rapists are driven by desire to reproduce. As we explain in detail in chapter 1, this assertion confuses the motivations that form the immediate or proximate causes of a behavior with the evolutionary or ultimate effects of a behavior during countless past generations of evolutionary history. Rapists may be motivated by many different proximate desires, but a desire for reproduction is probably one of them in only the rarest of instances. We argue that a desire for sexual stimulation, not a desire to produce offspring, is a proximate cause of raping and is the common denominator across human rapes of all kinds. Men’s sexual ardor is, in ultimate terms, a product of past selection pressure that favored it because it increased sexual access to many females of reproductive age. In addition to the false claim that we excuse rapists, you have probably heard that we blame victims. This is also not true. We emphasize on page 180 that “educational programs aimed at reducing the vulnerability of women to sexual coercion are dependent on the acquisition of information concerning risk factors.” We also claim that a woman’s appearance and behavior might have some influence on these
risk factors. Camille Paglia introduced this same reality into the discussion of rape on page 50 of her book Sex, Art, and American Culture (Vintage, 1992): “Feminism keeps saying the sexes are the same. It keeps telling women they can do anything, go anywhere, say anything, wear anything. No, they can’t. Women will always be in sexual danger . . . feminism, with its pie-in-the-sky fantasies about the perfect world, keeps young women from seeing life as it is.” On page 182 of our book, we characterize assertions that “a victim’s dress and behavior should affect the degree of punishment a rapist receives” as “unjustified.” We also feel that women should be free to decide to dress in whatever way they wish. All we are suggesting is that their decisions should include consideration of the possible risk associated with certain manners of dress in certain situations. Identifying risk factors and encouraging women to take these into consideration during their daily activities have been elements of sex education for some time and have not been subjected to accusations of “blaming the victim.” Many popular textbooks on human sexuality address this matter—see, for example, Elizabeth Allgeier and Albert Allgeier, Sexual Interactions, third edition (Heath, 1991). Fully aware that we would be condemned for it, we chose to address the risk factor associated with appearance because, as we say on page 182, “the failure to distinguish between statements about causes and statements about responsibility has the consequence of suppressing knowledge about how to avoid dangerous situations.” That a woman’s manner of dress may affect her risk of rape is
eminently reasonable in view of what is known about certain sexual adaptations of men. The following combination of sexual adaptations is expected to lead some men to rape: eagerness to have sex with new partners, impulsiveness in the pursuit of such partners, sexual motivation upon viewing women’s secondary sexual traits, and tendency to conclude that a woman is signaling sexual interest when she is not. This is not to say that most rape victims will be wearing miniskirts, or blouses that reveal their breasts. It is to say that dress is anticipated to be a risk factor in some situations, especially when coupled with other risk factors that stimulate men’s sexual motivation. That physical attractiveness increases risk of rape victimization is consistent with women at the ages of peak attractiveness (the teens and the early twenties) being the most frequent victims of rape. It is also consistent with descriptions of rape in other cultures—descriptions made by people completely unaware of the political and ideological issues that have come to dominate most discussions of rape in our society. An illustrative example is the following statement made by Ongka, a leader among the Kawelka people of Mount Hagen in Papua New Guinea, while recalling the rapes that took place during the tribal wars he lived through: “When we left our women behind and went out to fight, they were in danger. Men came to find them, chasing them down to the edges of streams till they seized hold of them, especially if their bodies were good to look at.” (Andrew Strathern and Pamela J. Stewart, Collaboration and Conflicts, Harcourt, 2000, p. 41) Because rape is motivated at least in part
by sexual attraction, our book summarizes the recent research that has identified the body features that affect female attractiveness (bilateral symmetry, sex-hormone markers, and age). Although we sometimes have been portrayed as anti-feminist in the media, we emphasize that there is nothing anti-feminist in our arguments. We are only against inaccurate explanations of rape, such as the “not sex” argument. Therefore, if our arguments must be cast in opposition to some specific category, they can probably be most accurately described as antigender-feminist. This is because the social-constructionist explanation of rape is at the foundation of what Christina Hoff Sommers, in Who Stole Feminism? (Simon and Schuster, 1994), calls “gender feminism”: feminism that is based on inter-gender conflict, with virtually all that is male denounced as domineering, evil, untrustworthy, out-group, and enemy. Sommers demonstrates the philosophical and ideological schism between gender feminism and liberal, traditional feminism (“equity feminism”). “There are sexual differences that are based in biology,” Camille Paglia, an outspoken critic of gender feminism, writes in Sex, Art, and American Culture (p. 50). “Academic feminism,” Paglia continues, “is lost in a fog of social constructionism. It believes we are totally the product of our environment.” Of academic feminists, Paglia says (ibid., p. 51): “[Their] view of sex is naive. . . . [They] have drilled their disciples to say, ‘Rape is a crime of violence but not of sex.’ This . . . nonsense has exposed young women to disaster.” Wendy McElroy’s book Sexual Correctness (McFarland, 1996) documents that gender feminism began to strongly
influence the feminist movement in the 1970s and that it is the dominant ideology among most of the movement’s leadership. Gender feminism’s “sexual correctness” is an intolerant hostility, an almost religious bigotry, that hears no criticism or alternative viewpoints. We ask all those who have endorsed the “not sex” explanation of rape, regardless of what label they apply to themselves, to reevaluate their position in the light of the arguments we make in our book. It has also been claimed that A Natural History of Rape is not a “study” but only a “theory” with no evidence to support it, since we didn’t talk to rapists or rape victims. Those making this argument reveal their limited understanding of scientific procedure. Testing alternative hypotheses against the data collected by others (there are about 600 references in our bibliography) is a common, valid method in science. Further, A Natural History of Rape contains an extended discussion of why the statements made by rapists do not support the social-constructionist “not sex” explanation of rape (pp. 135–136) and an entire chapter devoted to the reactions of victims to this horrible crime (chapter 4, titled “The Pain and Anguish of Rape”). Another common objection to A Natural History of Rape is that it is based only on evidence from insects. Readers who have heard this objection and who are interested in insects will be disappointed at how few of our hundreds of references concern insects. We do discuss research on scorpionflies that has identified a clamp on the top of the male’s abdomen as an adaptation specifically for rape. This illustrates what an
adaptation for rape is. It does not follow that, because scorpionfly males (and males of other non-human species) have adaptation for rape, men do too. This is erroneous extrapolation of the sort that modern biologists don’t engage in. The significance of rape’s occurrence in many non-human species is that it scientifically falsifies the social-constructionist theory of rape, which claims that rape is solely the result of human-specific learning experiences that are capricious. Another common media claim is that the evolutionary analysis of rape cannot account for the rape of boys, men, and non-reproductive-age females. Although the majority of rapes involve pubescent and young adult females, some rapes do involve other victims. As we clearly state on page 60, rape of these other victims is a maladaptive incidental effect of men’s strong libido for obtaining many mates of fertile ages. Every adaptation has incidental effects, or by-products, that are maintained because the adaptation enhanced the overall reproductive success of its bearer, even when the adaptation’s incidental effects lowered reproductive success in some circumstances. The bone of the human skeleton was directly favored by natural selection because of its structural strength, which increased survival and offspring production, despite bone’s maladaptive by-products (osteoporosis and certain other bone diseases). Non-reproductive rape is widespread across animal species— see Sarah L. Mesnick, “Sexual Alliances: Evidence and Evolutionary Implications,” in Feminism and Evolutionary Biology, ed. P. Gowaty (Chapman and Hall, 1997). Across many species, males and infertile
females of the same species as the rapist are common rape victims. In some species, males rape females of other species. Adult male seals rape juvenile seals and even copulate with seal corpses. Males of every animal species have an evolved preference for fertile females of the same species, but the libido that motivates the dogged pursuit of this preference results in some maladaptive matings. Being aware of the limited evolutionary knowledge of media personalities, we discussed all the above points in detail in our book. We assumed that people in the media would read the book and consider these points before pontificating. Obviously we were naive when we made that assumption. For the most part, we were also wrong in our assumption that the explanation of our book we provided to reporters would be objectively considered and presented. Much more disreputable and shameful than the statements of some media personalities, however, are those made by some scholarly reviewers who are supposedly educated in evolutionary theory.
Many of the scholarly reviews of A Natural History of Rape are astounding in the way they ignore much of its content and distort its fundamental argument. Indeed, much of the criticism of our book in scholarly reviews is directly traceable to a single gross misrepresentation about its central scientific goal.
Frans de Waal (“Survival of the Rapist,” New York Times Book Review, April 2, 2000) and Craig Stanford (“Darwinians Look at Rape, Sex and War,” American Scientist, July–August 2000) assert that the book is exclusively an argument for the hypothesis that human rape is an adaptation, then accuse us of forcing the data to fit this position. In doing so, these reviewers, despite obviously having access to the book, evidently failed to read, or chose to ignore, much of the book’s content. This failure can be seen in de Waal’s claim that “the greatest flaw of A Natural History of Rape is that it quotes, but then blithely ignores the warning of the evolutionary biologist George Williams [in his 1966 book Adaptation and Natural Selection] that ‘adaptation is a special and onerous concept that should be used only when it is really necessary.’” This portrayal of our book as arguing that human rape is an adaptation, and ignoring all other possibilities, is a classic “straw man” argument. In fact, we consider no fewer than ten distinct evolutionary hypotheses about rape. We then describe why eight of these (rape as a phylogenetic holdover, rape as a result of mutation-selection balance, rape as a result of genetic drift, rape as a result of evolutionarily novel environments, rape as an unusual pathology, rape as an adaptation for male dominance, rape as a product of psychopathy, and rape as a female mate choice adaptation) can be rejected on scientific grounds because they suffer from fatal logical flaws and/or are clearly inconsistent with available data on rape. We then examine the two remaining evolutionary hypotheses (rape as an adaptation for reproduction through increasing the number of reproductive-age female
mates by force and rape as a by-product of various evolved differences in men’s and women’s sexuality). Most important, we do not conclude that human rape is an adaptation. Instead, we conclude “the question whether rape is an adaptation or a by-product cannot yet be definitively answered” (p. 84). This is a position perfectly in line with the approach that George Williams endorsed in 1966, as is the fact that we then outline how further research could test for the existence of six hypothetical psychological adaptations for rape. Scientific proof of the existence of a psychological adaptation for rape would be conclusive evidence that men’s brains contain an informationprocessing mechanism (or multiple mechanisms) that was (were) specifically for promoting rape in human evolutionary history. Just as the human psychological adaptation for color vision is specifically for assessing color, a rape psychological adaptation would be functionally specific for raping. To put this differently: The adaptation would give rise to maximum motivation to rape when evolutionary historical benefits of rape (copulation with a female of fertile age) exceed evolutionary historical costs of rape (injury, punishment of the perpetrator). The failure to find such evidence would scientifically falsify the adaptation hypothesis. Jerry Coyne (“Of Vice and Men,” New Republic, April 3, 2000, pp. 27– 34) dismisses evolutionary hypotheses about rape as “untestable,” but in fact the deep-time past is scientifically knowable. It is well known to biologists that Darwin invented the method of historical science, and this
powerful method is routinely practiced in all sciences that explore the distant past, including biology, geology, and astronomy—see Michael Ghiselin’s widely known book The Triumph of the Darwinian Method (University of California Press, 1969). Actual historical causes will have left consequences. Proof of these consequences provides the definitive evidence for past causes that cannot be observed directly. This is why the existence of a psychological adaptation in men functionally specified for rape would demonstrate effective, direct selection for rape during human evolutionary history. We also stress that, whether or not evidence of a psychological rape adaptation is found in the future, there is already vast evidence that rape arises out of evolved sexual psychologies of men and women. Women are evolved to choose mates carefully, men to be less selective and to pursue many partners (including without commitment). Rape is one of the many behaviors that result from this evolved difference in male and female sexuality. The two reasonable hypotheses for rape (the “rape adaptation” hypothesis and the “by-product hypothesis”) are attempts to specify how evolution and rape are related. It is a given that rape is evolved. The same can be said of every biological trait. The only question is “What was rape’s specific evolutionary history?” Under either of these reasonable evolutionary hypotheses for rape, increased knowledge may contribute to reducing rape. If rape is an incidental effect of men’s psychological adaptation for obtaining a high number of mates without commitment, reducing the incidence of rape would depend upon complete knowledge
of the adaptations involved and of the circumstances under which they give rise to rape as a by-product. If rape were itself an adaptation, reducing rape would depend upon full knowledge of the evolutionary historical cues that stimulated reproductively successful rape by males during human evolutionary history. Such knowledge, for example, could reduce the high incidence of rape in war, where the evolutionary historical benefits of rape are high and the corresponding costs are typically trivial; the policy implication is to increase costs (e.g., by punishment). Jerry Coyne, in his attacks on our book in media interviews, also portrayed the book as an argument that rape is an adaptation. After we pointed out the inaccuracy of Coyne’s assertion, he and Andrew Berry acknowledged our consideration of the by-product hypothesis in their review in the scientific journal Nature (“Is This Contentious Hypothesis Advocacy, Not Science?” Nature 404, 2000: 121–122). Astonishingly, they described our consideration of alternative hypotheses, not as the rigorous scientific procedure that it is, but as a “rhetorical trick.” This indicates that these authors may be unaware that determining whether a trait is an adaptation or a by-product has been a cornerstone of evolutionary theory since 1966, when Williams’s Adaptation and Natural Selection was published. However, Coyne and Berry must surely be aware that Steven Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, in their widely known paper “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Program” (Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 205:
581–598) also emphasized the importance of considering by-product hypotheses. “Rape is a spandrel” is the way Gould and Lewontin would phrase the by-product hypothesis of rape. A spandrel is an architectural by-product. Other criticisms also suggest a disingenuous selectivity in the reading, or at least in the acknowledging, of the rest of our book by reviewers. Not only does Craig Stanford portray the book as an argument that rape is an adaptation; he seems to be under the impression that this question can be settled by determining whether rape is currently biologically adaptive (i.e., whether it currently leads to net reproductive success despite its costs to reproductive success). (Here we are using “adaptive” in a technical biological sense, not in the vernacular sense of “salubrious, healthy.”) Hence, in addition to skipping or ignoring our consideration of alternative evolutionary explanations, Stanford evidently missed our discussion on page 7 of why current reproductive success is not a means of determining whether a trait is an evolved adaptation (basically, because by-products are sometimes currently adaptive). That current reproductive success is not the criterion for distinguishing adaptation has been established for more than 30 years, beginning with Williams’s 1966 book. As we explain in detail in our book, rape may or may not be currently biologically adaptive. Actually, rape may be currently adaptive in some societies (e.g., in pre-industrial societies without modern contraception) but not in others. In the United States, pregnancy follows
from rape in about 2.5 percent of cases. During warfare, however, the rate of rape-induced pregnancy is much higher. The current adaptiveness of rape is an entirely different issue than the evolutionary historical adaptiveness of rape. The claim of the “rape adaptation” hypothesis is that rape was adaptive in human evolutionary history but now may or may not be adaptive. Adaptive rape during evolutionary history would be demonstrated by the existence of an adaptation functionally specialized for rape. Stanford further claims in his review that rape may or may not have “biological” causes. This suggests that he may have skipped our discussion of the meaning of “biological” in chapter 1. Similarly, de Waal’s claim that we dismiss the female perspective suggests that he may have skipped chapter 4, which is based almost entirely on the reports of female victims. De Waal’s claim that we failed to address the rape of a spouse indicates he may have missed our section on marital rape (pp. 77– 78). His statement that he would have preferred “cross-cultural information” may have been due to his failure to read our section titled “cross-cultural evidence” (pp. 140–143). An even more interesting example of selective reading is provided by criticisms of our analysis of the psychological pain experienced by rape victims. Coyne and Berry’s review asserts, in a statement that was repeated frequently in the media, that they looked at a reference in our book and that it doesn’t contain the information that the book claims it does. They claim (contrary to the book’s claim) that the 1990 paper by
Nancy Thornhill and Randy Thornhill (“An Evolutionary Analysis of Psychological Pain Following Rape. I. The Effects of Victim’s Age and Marital Status,” Ethology and Sociobiology 11: 155–176) does not contain data showing that reproductive-age female rape victims have more mental pain than post-reproductive-age female victims. In fact, data and an analysis supporting this pattern are to be found in table 4 and appendix 3 of the paper. Evidently, Coyne and Berry didn’t read the entire paper.
We have not yet mentioned the more reasonable, informed, and productive discussions of our book in book reviews. For example, Geoffrey Miller’s review (“Why Men Rape,” Evening Standard, March 6, 2000) agrees with our general evolutionary approach, and Miller finds the widespread denial of the role of male sexuality in the etiology of rape “incomprehensible.” He proposes, however, that essentially all rape is committed by the small percentage of men (about 3 percent) who have clinically definable psychopathic personality. We discuss this possibility in the book, and we agree that psychopaths commit some rapes. However, as we show in the book, rape is too widespread to be explained generally by this hypothesis. In the context of war, across pre-industrial and modern societies, many men adopt rape. Date rape is also widespread in modern societies. The data support our view that rape is conditionally adopted by
many men when its unconsciously perceived benefits exceed its costs. Still, we strongly support future research to find the exact extent of the role that psychopathy may play in some rapes. Other examples are the reasonable reviews by Todd Shackelford and Gregory LeBlanc (to be published early in 2001 in Journal of Sex Research ) and Robin Dunbar (Trends in Ecology and Evolution, vol. 15, p. 427, 2000 ). We also respect the opinions of many generally positive reviewers who have criticized us for being too dry in our writing style and too harsh in our attacks on the currently dominant explanation of rape. Our style is admittedly dry, and our criticisms are admittedly harsh. But, as we explain in the book’s preface, this was intentional, and we were fully aware that there would be a backlash. The reason we took the tone we did is simple: Rape is no laughing matter, and sugar-coated arguments that leave fiction as the basis of attempts to prevent rape may be diplomatic but we do not find them ethical. Though we are uncertain about how future research will answer the question of whether human rape is an adaptation or a by-product, we expect future historians of science to draw certain conclusions from the response to our book. First, the response will stand as clear evidence of the widespread misunderstanding of evolutionary principles. Second, it will demonstrate the apparent inability of the academic system to consistently produce individuals capable of objective, fair, thorough critical analysis of controversial topics. The poor showing made in this area by many reviewers of our book is tragic because the acceptance of
criticisms that are based on “straw man” arguments creates an atmosphere in which research on important but controversial topics is too risky, unpopular, and difficult for most scholars’ tastes. It is our hope that people will increase their ability to look past ideological considerations and make an objective reevaluation of the social-constructionist explanation of rape. If they do this, they will see that it is not our alleged ideological leanings or our use of evolutionary theory that falsifies this explanation of rape; it is the actual behavior of males who commit rape. Biologists are in a pivotal position to inform people about evolution as it applies to human behavior and associated social problems. We are very critical of the biologists who advocate that evolution applies to all life except certain aspects of human behavior and psychology, or except all aspects of human behavior and psychology. This pre-Darwinian view of human activity is due to the evidentiary blindness that arises from ideology and to selfish political goals. We invite all biologists to join the effort to create a science for all humanity—a science that sees knowledge of humans as its single goal for the sake of helping people, including reducing rape. We also invite educators to join this effort by establishing Darwinism applied to human behavior as fundamental knowledge to be gained by students at all levels. People have the choice between ideology and knowledge. Perhaps the only hope for knowledge to replace ideology in the study of human behavior is for teachers of all types to stress critical, knowledge-based
thinking and how to avoid logical fallacies. In college, students could be given the opportunity to consider situations likely to tempt them into making the naturalistic fallacy. Starting in high school, students could be informed about the difference between arguing to win and arguing so that the evidence reveals the truth. Unless such an educational process takes place on a large scale, no amount of explaining will work. Although the distortion of our book in the media and in certain published reviews has been extreme, it is understandable in view of the intense emotions the horrible act of rape produces in all people. This is why we don’t begrudge these critics. We only hope that, as the initial emotions that so colored their responses subside, they will make an effort to read our book as it is, not as they feared it was. After all, we all share the same goal of trying to end the immense pain caused by rape. This being the case, let’s all get on with the rational view of rape, which will require that it be depoliticized from the master symbol of gender-feminist ideology to a behavior that needs to be prevented through the identification of its causes. This change of attitude hinges upon an understanding that one can’t logically be against rape and against the evolutionary approach to rape at the same time.