May 18, 2013 | David F. Coppedge

Evolutionists Confess to Lying

If lying evolved as a fitness strategy, can we believe anything an evolutionist says?

In his blog entry “The Evolution of Lying” on The Conversation, Rob Brooks, a professor of Evolutionary Ecology and Director of the Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at University of New South Wales, gave half-hearted credit to a new theory on deception as a by-product of the evolution of cooperation.  The open-access paper by two Irish evolutionists, Luke McNally and Andrew L. Jackson, was published by the Royal Society this week.  It posits lying as an evolutionary strategy:

Our results suggest that the evolution of conditional strategies may, in addition to promoting cooperation, select for astute cheating and associated psychological abilities. Ultimately, our ability to convincingly lie to each other may have evolved as a direct result of our cooperative nature.

Brooks agrees that lying evolved, but feels the model of McNally and Jackson is too simplistic.  “I would like to see if it can help us understand the fine-scale tensions between cooperation and dishonesty in human affairs,” he said.  “There is a lot more to lying than simply misrepresenting the world.”  The liar can deceive himself as well, for instance, in order to make the lie more believable.

From there, Brooks considered Sam Harris’s short e-book Lying, in which Harris advocates we all try to do better at overcoming our evolutionary tendencies, “arguing we can both simplify our own lives and build better societies by telling the truth in situations when we might be tempted to lie.”  Here’s how Brooks concludes all this discussion about lies and truth (bold added, italics in original):

Harris gets bottom-up processes and the conflict between individual benefits and group functioning. His book is worth a read for his impassioned argument that each of us, as individuals, would benefit from resisting the urge to lie.

I’m not convinced. What would help right now is some theoretic and empirical evidence that showed the conditions under which Harris’ prescriptions might work. And that’s the beauty of papers like today’s one from McNally and Jackson.

Irrespective, a better understanding of how lying evolves, no matter how simple, might do enormous social good.

For one thing it might help constrain the worst dishonesties in politics, public relations and propaganda.

The question none of them are considering is, if lying evolved, and if self-deception is possible, and if deception can be very convincing, how are the readers to know who is telling the truth?

Imagine a liar so skilled, he convinces his listeners that he is 100% against the worst dishonesties in politics, public relations and propaganda.  He tells you he wants to achieve enormous social good to provide a better understanding of how lying evolves.  Now, add to it that he is self-deceived.  Doesn’t his credibility implode?  How could one possibly believe a word he says?

Brooks has the Yoda complex.  So do McNally and Jackson.  They believe they can look down on the rest of humanity from some exalted plane free of the evolutionary forces that afflict the rest of humanity.  No; they need to climb down and join the world their imaginations have created.  In the evolutionary world, there is no essential difference between cooperation and deception.  It’s only a matter of which side is in the majority at the moment.

To see this, consider a majority of humans in a population that are self-deceived and believe that by giving magic Kool-Aid to the defectors, laced with cyanide, they will help them become cooperators.  The few defectors in that situation who try to stop them would be perceived by the majority as the real liars and non-cooperators.  By what standard would anyone in this Darwinian world know the difference between truth and lies?

Having no eternal standard of truth, the evolutionary world collapses into power struggles.  The appeals by Brooks and Sam Harris to try to “resist our temptations to lie” are meaningless.  How can anyone overcome what evolution has built into them?  How can either of them know what is true?

Since all these evolutionists believe that lying evolved as a fitness strategy, and since they are unable to distinguish between truth and lies, they essentially confess to lying themselves.  Their readers are therefore justified in considering them deceivers, and dismissing everything they say, including the notion that lying evolved.

An even stupider notion came out of the Association for Psychological Science.  This is the evolutionary story that “political motivations may have evolutionary links to physical strength”  (see also Science Daily with its photo of a guy flexing his bicep).  A group of Darwine-drunk psychologists are trying to convince the world that “Men’s upper-body strength predicts their political opinions on economic redistribution.”  According to them, “an evolutionary perspective may help to illuminate political motivations, at least those of men.” Strong men oppose redistribution of wealth, namby-pamby men and women support it, they claim.  It’s not clear if they intended to impugn Obama’s masculinity this way, and those of all his staff, but it doesn’t really matter how many biceps they measured in their survey of political opinions. (Exercise: list exceptions to their “rule” from world history.)   You know their whole premise is false from their comment, “This is among the first studies to show that political views may be rational in another sense, in that they’re designed by natural selection to function in the conditions recurrent over human evolutionary history.”  OK, their point is?  If physical strength is a measure of fitness “designed” by natural selection, then anti-redistributionism is a measure of fitness, too.  Get the wimps out of the way!  They’re impeding evolutionary progress.  Isn’t “self-interest” the highest good in Darwinism?  We won’t belabor the misconception of conservatism they presented, because they already defeated their credibility by calling natural selection “rational.”  Readers are justified in dismissing everything these quacks say, too, if they had any inclination left to trust the word of “evolutionary psychologists” about anything.



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  • justme says:

    The insanity increases exponentially!

  • Editor says:

    Andrew did us the kindness of posting our entire response on his blog, so we will return the favor and post his 5/23/13 response here:

    So… predictable as always, the mysterious anonymous Editor of the creationist website has responded with the deftness of a politician in evading the argument.

    I am only keeping this ruse going as its something of a cathartic exercise for me, but also to draw attention to the impossibility of holding a sensible argument, or even hold a train of thought for any length of time, with groups like this. Of course, they say the same about us, but hey… in the end you just have to pick a side.

    They conclude with : “We hope Brooks, Jackson, or McNally will provide a response, but our experience with evolutionists when confronted with this argument is that they give the silent treatment or run off with a string of ad hominems. Let’s see if one of these can do better.”

    I would reply to their argument, but I cant for the life of me see what it is. Yes, I am a materialist (or a physicalist as you like but I fail to see how that means that I have “no grounds to assume that evolution would produce logic or truth”. Whats the mechanism or process that leads to this conclusion? The “state of the world” or truth if you like, is independent of the existence of any living organism, so I cant see how accepting evolution (or religious beliefs) somehow taints that.

    “For all we know, therefore, he is lying to us–even about his model and the evidence for it. ”

    I guess i could be lying about my model, but its all open for them to check the maths, check the data we collected, and check the statistical analyses we applied. That is where science wins every time over un-testable and indefensible opinion-based arguments such as those made from a religious perspective.

    They still havent actually read our paper. They still havent challenged any single assumption, equation, analysis, finding, interpretation. The maths is right, the model stands, cooperation can beat defection, and deception can invade a society of cooperators. Whats the big deal?

    Why do they think some humans cooperate, some cheat, and some lie? Im not even sure i want an answer to this….

    But, against my better judgment, I’ve gone and been sucked into side-line arguments again. Duck and swerve, and throw another tangential argument my way, and then eventually when i get tired of it, i will get accused of giving them the silent treatment. Im already pretty bored at this stage.

  • Editor says:

    We hate to bore Mr. Jackson, but we are trying to stay on point. We are not trying to suck him into a sideline argument, but asking him to respond to a criticism that is central to his claim that lying evolved. And yes, I have read his paper. It’s not the math that is wrong, but the assumptions.

    He admitted that he does not understand my point, so let me pose it as a simple yes or no question:
    Q: Does truth evolve?
    — If he says yes, then we are justified in calling him a deceiver, because anything he says today could evolve to be false tomorrow, including the claim that lying evolves.
    — If he says no, then he is agreeing with non-materialists that some immaterial things in the universe (like truth and the laws of logic) are timeless, universal, necessary and certain. He admits to being a supernaturalist in spite of himself.

    Jackson may not realize we’re calling checkmate on him. He cannot “argue” a logical point (and math is an extension of logic) without refuting his own materialist assumptions. A self-refuting position is a very serious trap to be in. It cannot possibly be right, no matter how much math is used to try to support it. No scientific discovery or mathematical derivation will ever make it right. It was wrong, is wrong, and will always be wrong.

    By saying, “The ‘state of the world’ or truth if you like, is independent of the existence of any living organism,” Mr. Jackson (or Dr. Jackson, whichever he prefers), is helping himself to the correspondence theory of truth (the belief that our senses correspond to external reality, as opposed to being mere perceptions in our own personal experience). That begs the very question at issue. How can he possibly know that, if his mind, and all that it does, arose from a monkey’s brain by unguided processes? Darwin confessed to having a “horrid doubt” about this the year before he died (

    Begging the question is not an argument–it’s the duck and swerve move Jackson complained about. It’s like the joke of three men on a desert island trying to open a can of tuna. After various suggestions, the scientist offers a scientific solution, beginning, “Assume a can opener.” No amount of subsequent maths or modeling, no matter how profound, are going to help his friends eat.

    One cannot respond, “Well, everybody just knows that our sensations correspond to reality” (the bandwagon argument), or “Most scientists agree that our sensations correspond to reality” (argument from authority). Those are more question-begging fallacies.

    Evolutionary epistemology doesn’t work, either (the idea that we evolved to sense truth to survive). Self-deception is just as likely an outcome of an unguided process; there is no way to know. Natural selection is at best pragmatic, not factive. Dr. Jackson, how would you escape the charge that you are engaged in the very tactical deception your paper discusses? By claiming your arguments are true? More question-begging. By claiming they are supported with math and observation? More question-begging. You cannot even define the terms in your paper (fitness, cost, deceiver, cooperation, honesty) without reaching beyond evolution into the realm of concepts that must be timeless and certain (i.e., incapable of evolving).

    So, Dr. Jackson, does truth evolve? Thanks for two attempts to respond already. You can ignore this if you want to. But we believe our checkmate stands; readers are justified in considering your paper muddled at best, a pack of lies at worst.

  • Editor says:

    So, Rob Brooks found himself in the Yoda Complex hole. First, he needs to define Yoda Complex the way we do, not the way the Urban Dictionary does, because we thought of it independently. The Yoda Complex on CEH means imagining oneself on an exalted plane that exempts oneself from the evolutionary forces to which other humans are subject. Secondly, when he had no way out of his self-refuting position, he committed the predictable Darwinist ploy: go ad hominem with name-calling. Show us how your rationality evolved, Rob.

  • Editor says:

    In his blog post, Andrew L. Jackson (a.k.a. EcoEvo) made a better attempt than Brooks did at answering our claim that his thesis is self-refuting. He even took on @YodaComplex as his new Twitter name, wearing that mantle proudly as a kind of “sticks and stones” response. We are also glad he noted the difference in our definition from the one in the Urban Dictionary. The problem, though, is that he still does not see the point of the Yoda Complex label. He is happily engaging in logic, and speaking of truth, as if those concepts have any evolutionary meaning.

    Let us clarify it again: if Jackson is a materialist, and believes that all human behavior arrived by unguided processes of natural selection, he has no grounds to assume that evolution would produce logic or truth. If logic and truth are not tied to absolutes, they could evolve into their opposites by the same unguided processes that supposedly produced them. It is self-refuting, therefore, for Jackson to make arguments based on logic, and to appeal to “science” or “evidence” or “truth” (undefined terms in the Darwin dictionary), and expect his disciples to believe him.

    He cannot assume the correspondence theory of truth for the same reason. For all we know, therefore, he is lying to us–even about his model and the evidence for it. He cannot step out of his evolved skin onto an exalted plane with Yoda and speak wisdom to the earthlings. He evolved, too! Evolution provides no grounds for trusting in, or believing in, anything he said. Therefore our conclusion stands.

    We are glad he got a chuckle out of this so far, we regret his feeling annoyed, and we do thank him (not Brooks) for trying to avoid ridicule and ad hominem. Perhaps he would like to step off his exalted plane and tell us how his reasoning evolved such that we should assume he is telling the truth and not lying. This has nothing to do with majorities in his models. It has everything to do with justification of one’s assumptions. Since he cannot assume science and logic are immune to evolution, his arguments are self-refuting, which is another way of saying they are deceptions. Another way of saying this is that he uses logic because in his heart he knows logic has an immaterial reference frame that doesn’t evolve, so he is being inconsistent. But the moment he tries to be consistent, he will defeat evolution, because he will be using logic again without justifying it.

    We hope Brooks, Jackson, or McNally will provide a response, but our experience with evolutionists when confronted with this argument is that they give the silent treatment or run off with a string of ad hominems. Let’s see if one of these can do better.

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