October 12, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Evolutionary Guru Deceives Himself

Maybe you’ve had this experience: you’re in class, taking notes, and after a long lecture, the teacher realizes something wrong, and announces, “Forget everything I just said.”  Frustrating, isn’t it?  That’s what a recent article on evolution did.  An evolutionary psychologist explained the origin of lying, then admitted he is self-deceived.

The irony of the situation was apparently lost on Graham Lawton, reporter for New Scientist, who interviewed evolutionary psychologist Robert Trivers about the evolution of self-deception.  It’s intuitive that both parties must speak honestly to discuss such a subject, or else one or both could be deceiving the other.  Trivers undercut his own credibility in two ways.  First, he ascribed deception as a pervasive trait in the living world, something that evolved to increase the number of offspring.  Second, he said this at the end of the interview:

Are you a self-deceiver?
I end the book with a chapter on fighting our own self-deception. I've been remarkably unsuccessful in my own case. I just repeat the same kinds of mistakes over and over. If you ask me about my self-deception, I can give you stories, chapter and verse, in the past. But can I prevent myself doing the same damn thing again tomorrow? Usually not, though in my professional life as a scientist, I feel that I probably practice less self-deception, I'm more critical of evidence, a little bit harder nosed.

You could be deceiving yourself about that.

Forget everything he just said. We must leave him as he shows himself in the photo accompanying the article, asking a lizard, “Tell me the truth, lizard; am I deceiving myself?”

Update 10/20/2011: In a Nature review of the book, (478, 20 October 2011,  pp. 314–315, doi:10.1038/478314a] Stuart West believed Trivers implicitly, never doubting for a moment the author’s complete honesty and trustworthiness. He said, “he [Trivers] conveys a powerful and focused message: if we can learn to recognize and fight our own self-deception, we can avoid negative consequences at levels from the individual to the national, and live better lives.”

Shiver me Trivers, this is too funny.  Both interviewer and interviewee are holding fast to the Absolute Truth of Evolution, the pinnacle of man’s efforts to overcome their own self-deception, only to realize they have no guarantees that they are not deceived about the Absolute Truth they have chosen.  On what basis, Dr. Trivers, are we to grant you any credibility?  Let us put forth the hypothesis that your own apostasy from the Presbyterian Church has caused you to deceive yourself and accept evolutionary theory because it lets you sin with impunity.  What are you going to say in response?  That you now have found Absolute Truth in Darwin, when Darwin himself preaches a gospel of self-deception?

You pad your own self-deception with statements that “I stand back and I read the creed that I was taught as a child and it's utter, utter nonsense.”  Maybe you are deceiving us about the way you really feel.  How could we know?  You just told us that “Religion has been selected for. It has given many benefits to people – health benefits, cooperative benefits.”  So why would you go against what evolution has selected?  Why would you choose Darwinism, that glorifies deception as a good thing?  If evolution selected nonsense, then nonsense is good.  Why fight it with science?  Do you believe that science is a path to Truth?  What is truth?

None of this "I take an intermediate position" escapism, occasionally attending your old church but calling the creed nonsense.  This is not about creeds; it’s about issues of truth and deception.  Evolution glorifies deception and provides you with no way to know you are being self-deceived.  You replied “Absolutely” to Lawton’s question that you could be deceiving yourself about scientists practicing less self-deception than other people.  How can you defend yourself from our charge that you are, in fact, deceived?  This is not an accusation; it’s an exercise in philosophy so that we can see whether or not your position is self-refuting (see Brett Miller cartoon).  Even your word Absolutely implies truth, unless you want us all to believe you are not really a scientist but a walking stick on a grander scale, trying to outcompete us for resources or hide from our predatory philosophical jaws (see another Brett Miller cartoon).

New Scientist’s article shows why you can never trust a Darwinist.  For them to preach their theory as if it is true, they have to steal the Judeo-Christian values of truth and honesty.  That’s deception on the one hand, because they don’t believe those values are real.  For them to teach that evolution favors self-deception is deception on the other hand, because it undermines their own credibility.  It’s deception all around.  Don’t be deceived.  Lawton and Trivers just gave you another performance of Flimflam for the Common Man, by Error Catastrophe.

Encore: Dr. Trivers has a new book coming out called The Folly of Fools.  He should have given the whole proverb by Solomon (Proverbs 14:8): “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way, but the folly of fools is deceit.”  Now, Dr. Trivers tell us about the evolution of prudence.  This should be fun because we already know you’re deceiving us.

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  • tjguy says:

    Some interesting comments from his interview:

    Showing the starting point for their ideas, Trivers says….

    Trivers: “A functional view of self-deception has to come out of evolutionary logic. It has to be a pay-off in terms of reproductive success.”

    On why we deceive ourselves:

    Q: You argue that we deceive ourselves all the time, but why do we do it?

    Trivers: “One reason is to better deceive others. Deceiving consciously is cognitively demanding. “

    Q: So believing the lie yourself can help with this cognitive burden?

    Trivers: “Yes. If I can render all or part of the lie unconscious I can remove the cues that I’m deceiving you. So that’s one kind of general reason to practice self-deception: to render the lie unconscious, the better to hide it.”

    Q: So we self-deceive in order to give ourselves an ego boost?

    Trivers: “The ego boost, again, is in order to deceive others. There is little intrinsic value in deceiving yourself without deceiving others.”

    Q: What are the benefits of deceiving other people? the interviewer asks.

    Trivers: “There are many, many situations in which you gain personal benefit.”

    So, contrary to what our hearts tell us and what we know to be true, if evolution is true, then deceiving ourselves and deceiving others are both “good” things.  Hmmm. 
    Then why is it necessary to deceive oneself to hide the telltale signs of a lie from others?  Why can’t we just naturally lie without giving it away?  If it is really a good thing, if it is not a sin, then why do we all feel guilty when we lie?  Why do our bodies give telltale signs that we are lying?  That doesn’t fit with evolution it would seem.

    Then you have articles like this, put out by The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford, to contend with:

    Is Being Compassionate Healthy?


    Although I can think of some cases where people might think that deceiving others is compassionate, USUALLY it is not compassionate at all – rather downright evil and mean.  So here we have scientists claiming that evolution can explain two very different and even contradictory moral principles.  Is this science?!

    Some more gems from the article:

    Trivers: “Self-deception would not have evolved if the costs always outweighed the benefits.”

    Q: Is it right that self-deception is correlated with intelligence?

    Trivers: “Yes, at least for deception. THE SMARTER YOUR CHILD IS, THE MORE HE OR SHE LIES.

    So let’s get this clear.  It sounds like he is saying that as far as evolution is concerned, it would be helpful for them if we would teach them that lying is a good thing! 

    Lying comes naturally to us all, but I doubt too many of us really think it is a good thing.  I suppose, there are some pointers we could give our kids to help them do it more effectively so they can get ahead in life. 

    But how can we teach them to lie to others and not to their parents?

    Sounds like a great world to live in, don’t you think?


  • Shawn says:

    I know I’ve never felt good about any lie I’ve ever told, however, if it is a “good” thing and it increases my chances for survival, why don’t I feel cunning or satisfied when I lie? Shouldn’t there be a rewarding sensation for lying succesfully, or maybe we aren’t teaching our children the right things!

    Whenever someone asks me why it matters to fight evolutionary dogma, I point out articles like this. A world governed solely by materialism will fall to death and destruction quickly. If you doubt that, look at the way things are going.

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