Darwinism Evolution

What Darwin Got Wrong

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New book by Jerry Fodor Jerry Fodor has been a critic of Darwinism for a few years now (see this article he wrote against it). Here is his latest in book form (go here to purchase). Amazon.com includes the following description:

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.)

Review
Praise for What Darwin Got Wrong
“Philosopher Fodor and cognitive scientist Piattelli-Palmarini challenge Darwinism more effectively than the entire creationist/intelligent-design movement has . . . Many may find this the hardest, absolutely essential reading they’ve ever done.” —Ray Olson, Booklist

“A challenging, intriguing argument that poses important scientific and philosophical questions about evolution . . . Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini take a brave stance that will likely draw reaction . . . from across the scientific and theological spectrum. A dense, scholarly, engaging testament to modern scientific thinking and its ability to adapt and evolve.” —Kirkus Reviews

“From the shocking title onward, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini have set the cat among Darwin’s pigeons. In arguing why the operation of natural selection says nothing about the causal mechanisms underlying the evolution of coextensive traits in an organism, they take us to the conceptual fault line at the heart of Darwin’s theory. My prediction is that Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini’s book will raise hackles galore wherever the theory of natural selection is all too glibly misused, not only in studies of the ontogeny and phylogeny of biology, but also in those great overlapping disciplines of philosophy, psychology, linguistics, and behavior—in short, human nature. This book will set the agenda for years to come. It cannot be ignored if the study of evolution is to be honest with itself.” —Gabriel Dover, Professor of Evolutionary Genetics, Universities of Leicester and Cambridge, and author of Dear Mr. Darwin: Letters on the Evolution of Life and Human Nature

“Evolution needs a persuasive theory if the struggle for public acceptance is to be won. Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini’s bold treatise, What Darwin Got Wrong, convincingly shows that natural selection is not that theory. Drawing on scientific literature spanning the molecular, behavioral, and cognitive scales, with sophisticated excursions into evolutionary-developmental biology and the physics of complex systems, the authors perform a philosophical dismantling of the standard model of evolutionary change that is likely irreversible. Their unambiguous grounding in the factuality of evolution renders this work a service to science and a setback for its opponents.” —Stuart Newman, Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy, New York Medical College

“In this provocative, enlightening, and very entertaining book, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini argue that natural selection (NS) cannot explain how evolution occurs. The argument is largely conceptual and proceeds in two steps: (1) that theories of NS are conceptually parallel to Skinnerian theories of learning and so share most of the same debilitating problems, and (2) that NS is actually in worse conceptual shape when its central explanatory notion, ‘selecting for,’ is properly unpacked. This argument will annoy a lot of important people, both for its conclusion and for the evident delight the authors display in getting to it. The ensuing fireworks should be delightful, and (possibly) enlightening.” —Norbert Hornstein, Professor of Linguistics, University of Maryland

“This highly informative and carefully argued study develops two central theses. First, there are alternatives to classical neo-Darwinian adaptationist theories that are plausible, and very possibly capture principles that are the rule rather than the exception even if the basic adaptationist account is accepted. Second, that account cannot be accepted. The two theses are sufficiently independent so that they can be evaluated separately. Whatever the outcome of intellectual engagement with this stimulating work, it is sure to be a most rewarding experience.” —Noam Chomsky

27 Replies to “What Darwin Got Wrong

  1. 1
    O'Leary says:

    The Publisher’s Weekly review was enough to convince me to get and read this book.

    I shall see if I can get copies from the publisher for our Uncommon Descent contests.

    As a lay person, I am understandably suspicious as soon as I am informed that an argument is too dense for me to understand = we peons are too stupid to understand.

    The fact is, we already understand that Darwinism is a tax-funded, court-supported crock. The key question is what to do.

  2. 2
    andyjones says:

    From the first article linked, Fodor hits the nail on the head:
    “quite likely there aren’t laws of selection. That’s because who wins
    a t1 v. t2 competition is massively context sensitive. (Equivalently, it’s massively context sensitive whether a certain phenotypic trait is conducive to a creature’s fitness.)”

    In other words, Natural Selection is not a Law that can make predictions; it is nothing but a truism. What actually happens depends on circumstances, and the “Law” of Natural Selection itself gives us no information about that. It only says “what will be will be good at being”.

    Actual information/predictions would have to come from elsewhere.

  3. 3
    van says:

    The question for me is, at what point are the evolutionists finally going to drop this pig. ToE is an embarrassment to the human intellect.

  4. 4
    JPCollado says:

    andyjones @ #2:

    It only says “what will be will be good at being”.

    ….and/or, “nature selects because traits are selected” or “traits exist, therefore they were selected,” etc.

  5. 5
    VMartin says:

    I can just comment the link to pdf article by Fodor:

    Its’ fine that Fodor has put natural selection construct in connection with narratives how and why Napoleon lost at Waterloo (I have heard that Napoleon had strong diarrhoea and couldn’t control the battle – so another story). One really can see that all darwinian narratives are of the same kind and anyone can present his narrative how natural selection operated on a given phenotype. So far good.

    On the other hand Fodor spreads unintentionaly – at least I hope, using his beloved word “intention” popularized by Brentano and Husserl – one of darwinian fantasies. He wrote that frogs eating flies would avoid bees. Actually it is not the case and it has been observed that frogs eat them even after being stung. Franz Heikertinger uses this and many other observations against darwinists who claimed that wasps signals their unpalatability by aposematism to warn their predators. Actually predators eat them as readily as other insects and this fact turn the whole concept of darwinian mimicry on its head.

  6. 6
    Seversky says:

    Also from the end of the first article cited Against Darwinism

    None of this should, however, lighten the heart of anybody in Kansas; not even a little. In particular,I’ve provided not the slightest reason to doubt the central Darwinist theses of the common origin and mutability of species.Nor have I offered the slightest reason to doubt that we and chimpanzees had (relatively) recent common ancestors. Nor I do suppose that the intentions of a designer, intelligent or otherwise, are among the causally sufficient conditions that good historical narratives would appeal to in order to explain why a certain kind of creature has the phenotypic traits it does (saving, of course, cases like Granny and her zinnias.) It is, in short, one thing to wonder whether evolution happens; it’s quite another thing to wonder whether adaptation is the mechanism by which evolution happens. Well, evolution happens; the evidence that it does is overwhelming. I blush to have to say that so late in the day; but these are bitter times.
    [My emphases]

    Not, perhaps, the crushing attack on evolution or ringing endorsement of ID we might have expected.

  7. 7
    uoflcard says:

    Seversky (6):

    That sounds like one of two things we’ve heard and read many, many times over the years. He either is confusing common descent with natural evolution, or it’s just another statement of pure faith… “Evolution is true. We have no idea how it happened by law and chance, but it happened by law and chance. 100% fact. That is science, and if you disagree you are a creationist science-hater.”

  8. 8
    Heinrich says:

    The question for me is, at what point are the evolutionists finally going to drop this pig.

    As soon as it grows wings and flies.

  9. 9
    William J. Murray says:

    Seversky,

    Common descent and mutability of species are not things that ID theory has a problem with. ID doesn’t claim that evolution doesn’t occur.

    If the author was attempting to guard his article against being conflated with ID, he either misunderstood ID theory, or he correctly understands how most of the scientific community misunderstands ID theory.

    In any event, nothing he said actually conflicts with ID theory, and everything he said conflicts, one way or another, with Darwinism, even if not with all of it.

  10. 10
    van says:

    Seversky,

    adaptationism is the naturalistic explanation for common descent. The claim for all these years is that natural selection is the “Blind Watchmaker,” which provides a naturalistic alternative for those who wish to not be created. RMNS is the only biological mechanism that can truly claim to have chance at its root. Chance doesn’t regulate…it doesn’t swap genes, it doesn’t change colors or grow longer tails in response to predators, it doesn’t do anything. Evolutionists have put all their marbles in RMNS for good reason — because all other biological mechanisms seem to be responsive, intelligent, goal-oriented, mindful mechanisms that produce saltational events that fit right in line with the idea that God created animals in an intelligently-adaptive way to fit into a myriad of environments. He did not make animals adapted to a single environment.

    But the real kicker is, all these internal biological mechanisms (epigenetics HGT) are simply novel ways in which animals adapt themselves; they are not mechanisms that allow a bacteria, for example, to morph into a rat or human, which is why bacteria are always bacteria and humans are always humans; they may alter their traits slightly here or there, but these physiological changes in no way are evidence of being “on the way” to some other kind of animal.

  11. 11
    Cabal says:

    As a lay person, I am understandably suspicious as soon as I am informed that an argument is too dense for me to understand = we peons are too stupid to understand.

    I am a lay person too and all he time when reading science I find things I have a hard time trying to understand. Seems a high IQ is not sufficient.

    Current problem is “The Emergence of Life on Earth” by Iris Fry.
    I also have read R. B. Laughlin’s “A Different Universe” several times and still feel I haven’t been able to understand all of it.

    IMHO, for much scientific stuff it takes wholehearted, dedicated study to really learn. Just reading simply isn’t enough, even when reading with an open mind. But that’s only my personal experience.

  12. 12
    Granville Sewell says:

    UofLCardinal (#7), I was about to write almost exactly the same thing, so I’ll just quote you:
    ——————————–
    Seversky (6):

    That sounds like one of two things we’ve heard and read many, many times over the years. He either is confusing common descent with natural evolution, or it’s just another statement of pure faith… “Evolution is true. We have no idea how it happened by law and chance, but it happened by law and chance. 100% fact. That is science, and if you disagree you are a creationist science-hater.”

  13. 13
    JPCollado says:

    “Well, evolution happens; the evidence that it does is overwhelming.”

    And Darwinists have been saying the same thing about their very own “model of adaptationism.”

  14. 14
    Seversky says:

    There is little doubt that animals change over time. That was observed long before Darwin by animal breeders. What is in question is how this happens and the extent to which this happens.

    Within biology, there is extensive debate about which processes affect evolution and the proportion which each process contributes to the overall changes.

    Selection has vigorous proponents who contend that it should be regarded as being pre-eminent since it is responsible for adaptive change which, for them, is the most interesting part of evolution.

    Others argue that random genetic drift is actually responsible for a much greater proportion of evolutionary change than adaptation.

    Intelligent Design can also mean different things to different people. For some, perhaps all, it holds “that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural election” and are clearly looking to it to provide evidence for the existence of their God.

    Others, as has been argued here, take the narrower view that ID is only concerned with finding ways of reliably identifying evidence of design and that the nature of the designer is irrelevant.

    On these bases, there is no direct conflict between evolution and ID nor do they contradict each other provided both sides agree that evolutionary change occurs to some extent.

    From an evolutionary perspective there is nothing in the theory that precludes some extraterrestrial intelligence from having influenced the course of life on Earth or even having started it. Both Dawkins and Dembski have allowed that it is possible. As yet, however, we have no evidence for it.

    Equally, from a design perspective, there is nothing to prevent the designer, whoever it might be, from having started the evolution of life on Earth and/or having influenced its course once it had begun.

    To those who object that neither of these accounts provide a satisfactory explanation of how life originated the answer is simply that neither was intended to, as stated.

    Returning to the vexed question of methodological naturalism (MN, it is concerned with studying the nature of Nature. This means different things to different people.

    For me, it means the methodical investigation of anything that can be observed, however indirectly or whose existence can be inferred from what is observed. Note that observation means, broadly, acquiring data about by any means and need not be direct. For example, we can observe the orbits of stars at the center of a galaxy by the radiation of various wavelengths received by our telescopes. From the nature of that motion we can infer, but not observe directly, the presence of a supermassive black hole because only an object with such a powerful gravitational effect could account for the observed motion.

    MN does not preclude the possibility of extraterrestrial life. The fact that it has already happened once, here on Earth, means it could happen elsewhere and it would be as much a part of the natural order of things as we are.

    Coming to the supernatural, then, from a scientific perspective, the only definition which makes any sense is that it refers to anything beyond Nature – which means the observable, even if only in principle – Universe. By this definition the supernatural is not so much excluded by fiat as by definition. If it is unobservable, if it has no detectable or even actual effects on what we can observe then not only is it irrelevant but it raises the question of whether it can be said to exist at all.

    Most people would describe ghosts as supernatural entities but if we were able to obtain reliable data about their existence – such as repeatable photographs, infrared images, or EM effects – then they would be natural phenomena and fit subjects for MN investigation. If we ever obtain such data.

    The same could be said of a God who is continually, or even continuously, influencing the the course of events in our Universe. In the broadest sense, such a deity could also be said be part, or perhaps the whole, of the natural order.

    However, to infer such a being we would need both a hypothesis and evidence. Returning to black holes as an analogy, their existence was hypothesized long before more recent observations of stellar motions. The hypothesis both suggested what to look for and made sense of what was observed. We have nothing like that for any deity. There is no clear agreement on the hypothetical nature of such a being nor what signs, if any, of its existence we might expect to observe. MN doesn’t have to exclude such a being. There is simply no reason, as yet, to think there is anything there to work with.

  15. 15
    Collin says:

    Seversky said,

    “For some, perhaps all, it holds “that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural election” and are clearly looking to it to provide evidence for the existence of their God.”

    You are absolutely right. And yet if they find truth does it matter what their motivation was? I’m sure that if a creationist had discovered the big bang theory that scientists would not disbelieve it merely because of the motive of the creationists in trying to find a “creation.”

    Seversky said,

    “Selection has vigorous proponents who contend that it should be regarded as being pre-eminent since it is responsible for adaptive change which, for them, is the most interesting part of evolution.”

    I’m one of those dumb people who can just never understand how selection can cause adaption. I understand that it culls bad forms/mutations/attributes from a population, but I don’t see how it can be the genesis of forms, good or bad.

  16. 16
    Seversky says:

    Collin @ 15

    You are absolutely right. And yet if they find truth does it matter what their motivation was? I’m sure that if a creationist had discovered the big bang theory that scientists would not disbelieve it merely because of the motive of the creationists in trying to find a “creation.”

    A scientist’s faith does not matter in the slightest provided it does not influence the science.

    As we discussed in another thread, men like Newton and Maxwell, for example, had strong religious convictions. They believed that God created everything that they studied but their explanations of how it worked were purely naturalistic.

    I’m one of those dumb people who can just never understand how selection can cause adaption. I understand that it culls bad forms/mutations/attributes from a population, but I don’t see how it can be the genesis of forms, good or bad.

    A mutation is a mutation is a mutation.

    Whether it is beneficial or detrimental or has no effect at all depends on the environmental context in which it occurs.

    To take the classic bear illustration, a mutation which causes a bear to grow a white coat might have a mildly harmful effect for an individual that lives mostly in temperate forests because his intended prey can see him coming that bit sooner so it makes it that bit harder to eat. Or it might have no detectable effect at all.

    But suppose some bears head north in search of better hunting. They find themselves in a landscape that is covered in snow for much of the year. All of a sudden a white coat would come in very handy seeing as how it would make it easier to sneak up on intended prey. The same mutation as before but in this environment it’s good.

    The lucky bear with the white coat eats better and has a better chance of producing offspring that inherit the white coat. The offspring, in their turn, do better and produce another generation of white bears and so on down the generations until there are only white bears.

    Add in some geographical isolation maybe and make allowances for all those other mutations that are popping up all over the place and white and brown bears could just drift apart genetically to the point where they can no longer interbreed. At this point, you could have separate species.

    I have no idea whether it really happened that way, it’s only meant to illustrate the point, but you get the general idea.

  17. 17
    Heinrich says:

    I haven’t read Fodor’s book, but in his articles he’s building a strawman of evolutionary theory. His criticisms seem, at best, to be pointing out what is already known and accepted, e.g. that there are constraints on evolution because of the way a body develops.

    I predict evolutionary biologists will slam the book (I’m quite looking forward to Jerry Coyne’s review, just for the entertainment). No doubt people here will laud it as a great book, and say that we’re just defending the evolution industry from outsiders.

    Ah well, we’ll be fine as long as nobody learns that we’re all part of the same big conspiracy, run by the entertainment industry.

  18. 18
    Collin says:

    Seversky,

    Thanks for the explanation. I guess I still don’t understand the difference between selection and genetic drift then. It seems like selection works both when you’ve got mutations that pop up in a population where that trait never existed and when the trait (white or brown fur) already does exist as a variation and gets selected for. It seemed to me that at 14 you were saying selection is one thing and genetic drift is another. Maybe I misread. I guess you could say that random genetic drift doesn’t necessarily have selection working on it. It probably does, but genetic drift may be just slow change due to random factors without any type of culling mechanism. Do I understand you correctly now?

  19. 19
    van says:

    sorry to barge in here with an unrelated question…..but I thought someone here might know…….. I’ve been told by darwinists that there is a mutation involved with this two-chambered heart thing:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....094021.htm

    “When the scientists blocked Ets1/2 activity (either by inhibiting the Ets1/2 gene, itself, or its upstream modulators), Ciona heart specification was likewise blocked. Alternatively, the over-expression of Ets1/2 in caudal cells caused the cells to switch their fate from tail to heart.”

    “The expanded cardiac field in Ets1/2-activated mutants results in a proportion of animals having a functional, two-chambered heart. “The conversion of a simple heart tube into a complex heart was discovered by chance, but has general implications for the evolutionary origins of animal diversity and complexity”, says Mike Levine, a co-author of the paper.”

    does blocking ETS 1/2 activity actually considered a mutation? thanks!

  20. 20
    Rude says:

    “The fact is, we already understand that Darwinism is a tax-funded, court-supported crock. The key question is what to do.”

    O’Leary, you always put it so well! Would that Darwin critics like Fodor had the same chutzpah. But they’ve got prestige and career to worry about and no one ever said that courage was common in the academy.

    Still—it’s heartening to see cracks in Darwin’s facade. Will Fodor et al add to the origins debate, or simply rehash some common critiques from another perhaps foggier perspective—I don’t know but I’m curious. There is always room for us to learn.

  21. 21
    Joseph says:

    Seversky:

    To take the classic bear illustration, a mutation which causes a bear to grow a white coat

    An albino? (polar bears do not have a white fur- their fur is clear and colorless- it scatters the light making it appear white)

    But all that misses the point- the fur does not make the bear and the survival of the fittest does not explain the arrival of the fittest.

    A mutation is a mutation is a mutation.

    In the current evolutionary scenario all mutations are genetic accidents.

    In a design sceanrio most mutations would be built-in responses- ie part of targeted searches.

  22. 22
    Collin says:

    Joseph,

    And I might add that almost all mutations observed have been harmful to the organism, and every mutation observed has added a cost to the organism.

  23. 23
    Joseph says:

    Collin:

    And I might add that almost all mutations observed have been harmful to the organism,

    I wouldn’t add that.

    Most appear to be neutral.

    But I would say that beneficial is relative.

    and every mutation observed has added a cost to the organism.

    I wouldn’t add that either-

  24. 24
    Collin says:

    Joseph,

    I’ll admit that my knowledge is second hand. But here is the justification for my comments.
    1. Richard Dawkins said that “most mutations are deletrious, most mutations are bad.” I can’t find the video but it’s on one of these old posts.

    2. I remember reading a study that showed that bacteria that had evolved a resistence to a drug were weaker when placed in a neutral environment (drug free) than the unadaptive strain. After a few hours the adaptive strain was totally replaced by the adaptive strain. I think that this example goes well with Mr. Fodor and Mr. Pimatelli-Palmarini’s book.

  25. 25
    Collin says:

    that is “the adaptive strain was totally replaced by the UNadaptive strain.”

  26. 26
    Nakashima says:

    Mr Collin,

    I remember reading a study that showed that bacteria that had evolved a resistence to a drug were weaker when placed in a neutral environment (drug free) than the unadaptive strain.

    That is like Mr Seversky’s white bear traveling south again. It only proves that the advantages which are selected are very context dependent.

  27. 27
    Joseph says:

    Collin,

    That is interesting about Dawkins seeing his position requires an almost infinite supply of magical mystery mutations that not only build new complex protein machinery but also produce new body plans.

    That said I still believe my original claim is correct- most are neutral…

    And I think I understand the “cost” argument- sickle-cell anemia is good in mosquito-ridden areas but it comes at a cost- pain and agony. IOW organisms become specialized to some specific selection pressure but are of little use in a “normal” environment.

    Like going down a one-way dead-end street.

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