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What Darwin Got Wrong Paperback – March 1, 2011
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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top customer reviews
However, the style is sometimes rather complex, and the authors seem to give a great importance to establish some parallelism between the Darwin's theory and the work of somebody called "Skinner", which deals with the mechanism of learning. This link is not very useful and could have been omitted without any loss of information.
My main critiscism is that, in an heavy style, the authors repeat again and again with various presentations the same argument (which is right) that the Darwin 's theory is a tautology , briefly : "The natural selection selects the fittest organisms . The fittest organisms are defined as the ones which can survive. The natural selection is thus the selection of the organisms that can survive ..." ... which is obviously circular. This argument has been previously developped by Popper, who is only marginally quoted by the authors. There are only few other arguments. The argument about the "irreductible complexity" (which, according to me, is also very serious) is only very shortly presented. The scientific inconsistencies, which seems nowadays arising in many fields of biology related to the theory of evolution, are almost not seriously considered. At the end, I think that the old book of Denton, "Evolution, a theory in crisis" is still more comprehensive that this book.
Incoherent because calling a natural process "selection" repeats the very error of the religionists that Darwinism supposedly exploded, namely, that there is purposiveness in the physical universe. But aside from the name, the process of trait survival via a mutation's superior suitability for a given environment turns out to be only one of many, maybe very very many, mechanisms that biology has discovered to be instrumental in producing the creatures who inhabit the Earth. None of this throws any cold water on science or on physical determinism, only on the claims that (1) (so-called) natural selection is the primary mover of evolution and (2) this process merits the name (natural) "selection." As I say, (2) is a somewhat esoteric point (albeit exquisitely interesting to folks like me), while (1) is no news at all to practicing biologists, according to the authors of this book.
I share the authors' amazement and distress that this book has been pilloried by so many people who should know better. However, the authors do not help their case by having written this book in such a shorthand way. It's really quite sloppily, even illogically organized in places, and makes little to no effort to explain various technical material for the lay reader, especially the biology, instead relying on catalogs of quotations of dubious value or import. I am now impatient for a better writer to make the same case.
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Fodor's argument is as follows:
A review of "What Darwin Got Wrong" by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini.Read more