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What Darwin Got Wrong 1St Edition Edition

36 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0374288792
ISBN-10: 0374288798
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The authors of this scattershot treatise believe in evolution, but think that the Darwinian model of adaptationism—that random genetic mutations, filtered by natural selection, produce traits that enhance fitness for a particular biological niche—is fatally flawed. Philosopher Fodor and molecular-biologist-turned-cognitive-scientist Piattelli-Palmarini, at the University of Arizona, launch a three-pronged attack (which drew fire when Fodor presented their ideas in the London Review of Books in 2007). For one thing, according to the authors, natural selection contains a logical fallacy by linking two irreconcilable claims: first, that creatures with adaptive traits are selected, and second, that creatures are selected for their adaptive traits. The authors present an ill-digested assortment of scientific studies suggesting there are forces other than adaptation (some even Lamarckian) that drive changes in genes and organisms . Then they advance a densely technical argument that natural selection can't coherently distinguish between adaptive traits and irrelevant ones. Their most persuasive, and engaging, criticism is that evolutionary theory is just tautological truisms and historical narratives of how creatures came to be. Overall, the scientific evidence and philosophical analyses the authors proffer are murky and underwhelming. Worse, their highly technical treatment renders their argument virtually incomprehensible to lay readers. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

Remaining staunchly atheist all the while, philosopher Fodor and cognitive scientist Piattelli-Palmarini challenge Darwinism more effectively than the entire creationist/intelligent-design movement has. Their short, deliberate, and—for readers consulting (and reconsulting) their dictionaries about the philosophical and scientific vocabulary the authors decline to dumb down—slow-reading tract lays out biological and conceptual arguments against natural selection. Natural selection as the driver of speciation has become decreasingly explanatory as research continues to appreciate the complexity of internal and external processes impinging on development. For one thing, inherent physical limitations of developing organisms nullify blind selection; adapt as they may, pigs will never grow wings. Conceptually, natural selection is faulty because it necessarily implies intentionality (selection is made by something), never mind that how something with adaptive effect is chosen is utterly elusive logically. There is a great deal more to Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini’s arguments, which ordinary general readers won’t be able to articulate afterward but will gratefully refer others—and themselves—to again and again. Many may find this the hardest, absolutely essential reading they’ve ever done. --Ray Olson

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1St Edition edition (February 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374288798
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374288792
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,176,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

76 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Tam Hunt on June 20, 2010
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This gutsy but overly pugnacious book is aimed at biologists, philosophers and educated laymen. I fall into all three of these categories but have never actually worked as a biologist after taking my undergraduate degree in evolutionary biology. As some reviewers have noted, this can be a difficult book and is definitely not dumbed down for wide accessibility.

It is unfortunate that no summary of the authors' arguments is presented, requiring that you read the whole book to get the argument. This may have been intentional, however, as it does force the reader to actually read the whole book and not just the introduction. I've provided below a quick summary of the main arguments and my reactions.

The first half of the book is a great overview of evolutionary forces and theories other than neo-Darwinian natural selection. It's a great update to Jablonka and Lamb's Evolution in Four Dimensions, which is an eye-opening expansion of neo-Darwinism (which is, strangely, never discussed by F&P-P, or even cited, I suspect because F&P-P didn't want to face the additional hurdle of criticisms that they were flirting with neo-Lamarckism, as Jablonka and Lamb do). This section of What Darwin Got Wrong is quite convincing in that it shows that natural selection (NS) is certainly not the only force at work in evolution, and nor is it the case that NS plus genetic drift (the standard sub-theories in neo-Darwinism) are the only forces in evolution. Rather, there are a tremendous number of other factors, far beyond the four dimensions discussed by Jablonka and Lamb (though it may be the case that all of the items discussed by F&P-P can be categorized in the four dimensions)

Much of the second half of the book is an extended argument about the fallacies behind adaptationism and NS.
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161 of 203 people found the following review helpful By Philosophickle on February 20, 2010
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Here's the thing. I like reading Fodor. I had high hopes for this book, not so much because I have any particular axe to grind with contemporary evolutionary thought, but because the topic is interesting and Fodor is an extremely entertaining author. Unfortunately, this books is written in a highly inaccessible style, and some of the directions they take are confusing and detrimental to their cause. For example, it took me about 5 seconds to see some kind of surface similarity between strong-adaptationist models of evolution and B. F. Skinner's behaviorism, but they milk out odd conclusions from comparing those two for a whole chapter. I'm not buying it. And the chapter on natural selection itself? Nowhere was a clear statement of what natural selection actually is in the first place. In fact, it doesn't seem like they understand what it really is. They point out things like the flaws of genotypic grab-bags, but then suggest that it is incompatible with natural selection. Of course, adaptationists have always known that natural selection can only work with heritable traits that are visible to the world (whether by behavior or otherwise). No one thinks natural selection predicts that humans have fiber-optic nerves in their body because that would be more useful that our biochemical makeup. That's because this trait was probably never available for natural selection in the first place. It's a real constraint on natural selection. Adaptationists might be wrong, but they aren't stupid.

They have a strange view of behavior that comes out of Fodor's earlier reaction to evolutionary psychology (see The Mind Doesn't Work That Way). For some reason, Fodor thinks that the mind and conscious behavior can operate outside the reach of natural selection. This just seems wrong.
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25 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Spellman on October 1, 2010
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I found the text somewhat difficult to plow through at first. This is definitely an easier read for someone with a strong background in behavioral science, rather than in the wet sciences. Drawing on lessons from the Skinnerian model of behavior, Fodor and Palmarini embark on a journey to show not that the science behind evolution is incorrect, but that the rationale behind the conclusions from that science is faulty. Highlighting areas of evidence where adaptationism is simply not applicable to the overall scheme of evolution, Fodor and Palmarini argue that natural selection has provided no more than a historical narrative of what was and is rather than acting as a descriptive mechanism of the generation of phenotypic traits. They argue that the ecologic niche an organism occupies may be nothing more than circumstantially linked to the phenotypic outcome of the organism rather than being causative to that phenotype. One area of evidence they provide for their argument is in the inability of natural selection to distinguish between traits that provide fitness as opposed to accompanying traits that may not add to the organisms fitness in that ecologic niche. The authors also review newer data from the realm of molecular biology to illustrate the endogenous constraints on random mutation that exist within the organisms biochemical structure. I found this work interesting from a number of viewpoints. First, I am not used to philosophers engaging in the mechanism of science to the depth that these authors attempt to do. This personally, has provided fresh insight into the ramifications of analyzing data from a different perspective. It also has highlighted for me an undercurrent of fear of confrontation within the scientific community as "Holy Icons", like natural selection, are questioned for their legitimacy and validity.
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