Did Charles Darwin get it wrong?
By PETER FORBES - THE INDEPENDENT (BOOKS)
Added: Fri, 29 Jan 2010 00:00:00 UTC
Thanks to Quine for the link.
The Darwin anniversary celebrations last year were the most lavish ever for a British scientist. Now, with the garlands and bunting stored away, comes the party pooper, in the form of Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini's book What Darwin Got Wrong (Profile, Â£20). Richard Dawkins's friend, the US philosopher Daniel Dennett, once noted to him that if he ever fell on hard times he could make a million dollars in a week by proposing to author a book entitled "Confessions of an Ex-Darwinian". Hence the inflammatory and tendentious title of this book.
Perhaps there was a risk in making such a fuss of the great man that what is known about evolution now and what Darwin wrote 150 years ago should become confused in the popular mind. Darwin was writing speculatively, before there was any scientific knowledge of genetics or the chemistry of life.
We are living in the golden age of biology, with discoveries pouring from the genome projects and even the prospect of personal, consumer genomes available at a modest price within five to ten years. Science honours Darwin as a pioneer, at the very beginning of modern biology, not the man who brought the holy tablets and whose writ must run for evermore.
So why would Jerry Fodor (philosopher) and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini (cognitive scientist) be so concerned to refute aspects of Darwin's theory? Their book makes it very clear that an academic turf war lies behind it all. The stimulus was the outrage Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini felt for what they see as the misuse of Darwinism in the social sciences. Evolutionary psychology, in particular, gets their goat.
Thanks to NewEnglandBob below that Jerry Coyne has a post on this as well.
An attack on evolution, from our side
A little over two years ago, Jerry Fodor, a well-known and respected philosopher of mind, wrote an article in the London Review of Books, âWhy Pigs Donât Have Wings,â criticizing the concept of natural selection because it was both philosophically incoherent and empirically untenable.
The high tide of adaptationism floated a motley navy, but it may now be on the ebb. If it does turn out that natural selection isnât what drives evolution, a lot of loose speculations will be stranded high, dry and looking a little foolish. Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon. In science, as elsewhere, âhedge your betsâ is generally good advice.
Many of us, philosophers and scientists alike, responded by writing letters to the LRB pointing out Fodorâs empirical and philosophical errors (scroll down below his article to see all the exchanges). Fodor was intransigent, refusing to give quarter and continuing to maintain that natural selection is erroneous and outmoded.
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