By Scott Atran
Strong adaptationists explore complex organic design as task-specific adaptations to ancestral environments. This strategy seems best when there is evidence of homology. Weak adaptationists don’t assume that complex organic (including cognitive and linguistic) functioning necessarily or primarily represents task-specific adaptation. This approach to cognition resembles physicists’ attempts to deductively explain the most facts with fewest hypotheses. For certain domain-specific competencies (folkbiology) strong adaptationism is useful but not necessary to research. With group-level belief systems (religion) strong adaptationism degenerates into spurious notions of social function and cultural selection. In other cases (language, especially universal grammar) weak adaptationism’s ‘minimalist’ approach seems productive.
Appeared in Mind and Language, February 2005 - Vol. 20 Issue 1 Page 1-139
Related to the Fitch, Hauser and Chomsky versus Jackendoff and Pinker Polemic