Are evolutionary explanations unfalsifiable? Evolutionary psychology and the Lakatosian philosophy of science

Timothy Ketelaar, Bruce J. Ellis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

130 Scopus citations


Are the methods and strategies that evolutionary psychologists use to generate and test hypotheses scientifically defensible? This target article addresses this question by reviewing principles of philosophy of science that are used to construct and evaluate metatheoretical research programs and applying these principles to evaluate evolutionary psychology. Examples of evolutionary models of family violence, sexual jealousy, and male parental investment are utilized to evaluate whether the procedures for developing and testing evolutionary psychological models are consistent with contemporary philosophy of science. Special attention is paid to the generation of competing theories and hypotheses within a single evolutionary framework. It is argued that this competition is a function of the multiple levels of scientific explanation employed by evolutionary psychologists, and that this explanatory system adheres to the Lakatosian philosophy of science. The charge that evolutionary theories and hypotheses are unfalsifiable is unwarranted and has its roots in a commonly accepted, but mistaken, Popperian view of how science operates. Modern evolutionary theory meets the Lakatosian criterion of "progressivity," based on its ability to digest apparent anomalies and generate novel predictions and explanations. Evolutionary psychology has the hallmarks of a currently progressive research program capable of providing us with new knowledge of how the mind works.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalPsychological Inquiry
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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