Randy Thornhill

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Randy Thornhill
Randy Thornhill.png
Born Randy Thornhill
Alabama, United States
Nationality American
Fields Evolutionary psychology, entomology
Alma mater Auburn University,
University of Michigan
Thesis Evolutionary Ecology of the Mecoptera (Insecta) (1974)
Known for A Natural History of Rape, The Evolution of Insect Mating Systems
Influences George C. Williams, Margo Wilson, W. D. Hamilton[1]
Notable awards Humboldt Prize (1989)[2]
Spouse Nancy Thornhill (divorced)

Randy Thornhill (b. 1944) is an American entomologist and evolutionary biologist. He is a professor of biology at the University of New Mexico, and was president of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society from 2011 to 2013.[3] He is known for his evolutionary explanation of rape and his work on insect mating systems.[4]


Thornhill was born in Alabama in 1944.[5] When he was 12, his mother introduced him to Charles Darwin's The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, which encouraged his later interest in human evolution.[1]

He received a B.S. in Zoology from Auburn University in 1968, an M.S. in Entomology from Auburn University in 1970, and a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Michigan in 1974. His doctoral thesis discussed the evolutionary ecology of Mecoptera insects.[6] He was formerly married to fellow researcher Nancy Thornhill.[7] He believes that conservative ideologies are the principle barrier to scientific progress.[1]


Thornhill's interests lie in the evolution and ecology of animal social psychology and behavior, as well as human behavioral ecology and evolutionary psychology.[6] In 1983, Thornhill published The Evolution of Insect Mating Systems, a book journalist Ethan Watters described as "groundbreaking".[4] He considers this his most important work.[1] As of 2014, he has published four books and over 150 papers, which have been cited more than 17,000 times.[3] His work has been featured in many newspapers, magazines, television shows and radio programs,[6] including an interview on The Today Show.[4]

Together with anthropologist Craig T. Palmer, Thornhill authored A Natural History of Rape in 2000. Thornhill and Palmer proposed that rape should be understood through evolutionary psychology,[8] and criticized the argument that rape is not sexually motivated.[9] They argue that the capacity for rape is either an adaptation or a byproduct of adaptive traits such as sexual desire and aggressiveness.[8] The work provoked a major controversy. Thornhill received several death threats, and was assigned a campus police officer to escort him to and from class.[4] A compendium of academic criticism was published,[10] to which Thornhill responded.[11] Bioethicist Alice Dreger concluded that the majority of the criticisms against Thornhill and Palmer were unfounded.[12]

Since 2005, Thornhill has proposed that many human values evolved to protect against pathogens.[3] He believes that morality, political systems and religion are all influenced by regional variations in pathogen levels. In particular, Thornhill and colleagues have suggested that collectivism and xenophobia serve to ward off infectious disease. In support of this, they reported that collectivist cultures had a higher prevalence of pathogens than individualist ones. Thornhill has also suggested that pathogen defense could help explain civil and ethnic warfare, homicide, patriarchal family structures, and social suppression of female sexuality.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d Salmon, Catherine; Thornhill, Randy. HBES Interview Series - Randy Thornhill. Human Behavior an Evolution Society Founders Videos (YouTube). 
  2. ^ "Faculty Highlights" (PDF). Newsletter of the Biological Society of New Mexico 5: 1. July 1989. 
  3. ^ a b c Springer (2014). "The Parasite-Stress Theory of Values and Sociality: About the authors". Springer.com. Retrieved 21 March 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Watters, Ethan (3 March 2014). "The Germ Theory of Democracy, Dictatorship, and All Your Most Cherished Beliefs". Pacific Standard. Retrieved 21 March 2015. 
  5. ^ Thornhill, R.; Fincher, C. L. (2014). The Parasite-stress Theory of Values and Sociality. Springer. p. viii. 
  6. ^ a b c Thornhill, R. (January 2015). "Curriculum Vitae". Retrieved 21 March 2015. 
  7. ^ Rosenfeld, Megan (20 February 2000). "Rape a natural behavior? Theory causes an unnatural uproar". The Washington Post. Retrieved 21 March 2015. 
  8. ^ a b LeVay, Simon and Baldwin, Janice (2009). Human Sexuality, Third edition. Sinauer Associates, Inc. pp. 598, 602. ISBN 978-0-87893-424-9. 
  9. ^ Thornhill, R.; Palmer, C. T. (2000). A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion. MIT Press. pp. 126, 133–135, 138–139. 
  10. ^ Travis, Cheryl Brown (2003). Evolution, Gender, and Rape. MIT Press. 
  11. ^ Palmer, C. T., & Thornhill, R. (2003). "A posse of good citizens brings outlaw evolutionists to justice. A response to Evolution, Gender, and Rape. Edited by Cheryl Brown Travis. (2003). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press." (PDF). Evolutionary Psychology 1: 10–27. 
  12. ^ Dreger, Alice (2015). Galileo's middle finger: heretics, activists, and the search for justice in science. New York: Penguin Press. p. 118. ISBN 9781594206085. 

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