So I just put up this lengthy gripe about Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini, and there were a bunch of other things I wanted to say that I couldn’t squeeze in, so here are a few left-over comments.
The best take-down so far is Block and Kitcher’s review — go read that. Basically, they approach the book from the perspective of both biology and philosophy, and Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini got ’em both wrong.
Larry Moran takes on the one-sidedness of the Ruse review. Ruse panned Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini, but he also threw out the baby with the bathwater: don’t neglect the role of chance in order to promote selection as paramount.
Salon has a truly awful interview with Fodor. I don’t know why they do this, but Salon always gets these suck-up interviewers:
But unlike most of these attacks, “What Darwin Got Wrong,” a new book by Jerry Fodor, a professor of philosophy and cognitive sciences at Rutgers University, and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, a professor of cognitive science at the University of Arizona, comes not from the religious right, but from two atheist academics with — surprise — a nuanced argument about the shortcomings of Darwin’s theories. Their book details (in very technical language) how recent discoveries in genetics have thrown into question many of our perceived truths about natural selection, and why these have the potential to undermine much of what we know about evolution and biology.
Wrong all the way through. It’s not technical: it’s a couple of non-biologists writing way outside their discipline. I’ve heard nothing about “recent discoveries in genetics” revealed in their book, and I’ve seen nothing that calls selection and evolution into question. The interviewer simply gives away the game and accepts Fodor’s premises right there in the introduction.
In that same Salon interview, Fodor gripes about blogs.
Most of the backlash to the book so far has been on blogs, which have been pretty obscene and debased. What’s upsetting is that they tell you that they think you’re an idiot, but they don’t tell you why — people who aren’t part of the field or who may not, in many cases, know much about Darwin. I’m not sure that all people who have been blogging about it are very sophisticated. It’s frustrating because you don’t know who you’re talking to.
How odd. There hasn’t been that much of a response to Fodor on the blogs, and I’ve been looking. Is he complaining about Brian Leiter? The Nature Network? Brian Switek? Jerry Coyne, perhaps? I don’t think any of those people match his description of his critics as “obscene,” “debased,” or unsophisticated. I’d only apply those terms to the reviewers at the Discovery Institute, but they all seem to love his book.
Is anybody else marveling at the irony of the philosopher Fodor complaining that his critics aren’t part of the field that he is criticizing?
I left out one of the most inane paragraphs in the New Scientist summary.
…the internal evidence to back this imperialistic selectionism strikes us as very thin. Its credibility depends largely on the reflected glamour of natural selection which biology proper is said to legitimise. Accordingly, if natural selection disappears from biology, its offshoots in other fields seem likely to disappear as well. This is an outcome much to be desired since, more often than not, these offshoots have proved to be not just post hoc but ad hoc, crude, reductionist, scientistic rather than scientific, shamelessly self-congratulatory, and so wanting in detail that they are bound to accommodate the data, however that data may turn out. So it really does matter whether natural selection is true.
That is simply unbelievable. Is Fodor really trying to argue that natural selection, in all of its demonstrations and instances, is FALSE? Simply because he doesn’t like selectionist implications and because some authors have been overzealous in making up just-so stories? That’s insane. Selection is a fact. It’s a well-established part of evolution. That some examples have not been soundly supported doesn’t mean that the good evidence is going to disappear from biology.