What Darwin Got Wrong

Review of What Darwin Got Wrong by Jerry A. FodorMassimo Piattelli-Palmarini

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Part I: Lewontin Strikes Back (Literally, the authors thank and quote Lewontin so often that it feels like he wrote this section.) – “Everything’s oh so complex, with epigenetics and stuff, you gotta stop being so modernist and reductionist and respect the pluralities and relativities… Leave all your theories and come to the Continent where there is no Grand Narrative…” Okay the last part may be reflecting my personal protest at Lewontin; Fodor and the Italian guy with the long name (this didn’t turn out to be as short as I expected – okay now I’m at loss, I should have just written his name damn it) don’t sound as continental as Lewontin. At least in this part; they actually say at the end of the book that “there is no theory of evolution; all there is, is natural history.”

Part II: The Philosopher’s Stone – “Natural selection could have just as well selected hearts for the sounds they make! I mean, not really; of course the hearts are there to pump blood, but your theory of natural selection cannot specify that! Because to distinguish between the real function and the free-riders, it should be able to use counterfactuals (“what if there was pumping without sound / sound without pumping?”) and this requires a mind, and natural selection doesn’t have a mind! But scientists have… Sooo, the theory of natural selection can make use of counterfactuals and generate accurate explanations… And the process of natural selection doesn’t need to pin down free-riders; they only concern it if they are beneficial or harmful; then they’re more than free-riders and selected-for or -against accordingly… Okay, nevermind. I thought I was on to something…” The second part where Fodor realizes his mistake was added by me. I wish it needn’t be. (And the reason I engage with only Fodor here is that I don’t know the other guy. I read the whole book with the voice of Fodor in my mind. Sorry Mario.)

This book is written by self-proclaimed atheists who ask for revisions in the theories that explain the fact of evolution, although it’s so full of clumsy inferences (from biological data) and bad arguments that it’s a treasure house for creationists. It is sad that it hasn’t got much to offer on real science/philosophy to compensate for that toxic by-product. Samir Okasha has made the ultimate one-sentence definition: “What Darwin Got Wrong makes for entertaining and engaging reading, but is the sort of thing that gives philosophy of science a bad name.”

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