In a provocative article in the latest London Review of Books (18 October 2007), philosopher of science and cognitive scientist Jerry Fodor of Rutgers University argues that “the classical Darwinist account of evolution as primarily driven by natural selection is in trouble on both conceptual and empirical grounds.” As he elaborates,
The high tide of adaptationism floated a motley navy, but it may now be on the ebb. If it does turn out that natural selection isn’t what drives evolution, a lot of loose speculations will be stranded high, dry and looking a little foolish. Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon. In science, as elsewhere, ‘hedge your bets’ is generally good advice.
Fodor has long been a critic of the use of natural selection in explaining human cognitive architecture. I recall as a graduate student hearing him lecture (as a visiting professor) on the topic, and was stunned by his blunt dismissal of adaptive accounts of human psychology. Now, Fodor doesn’t think much of intelligent design, and he isn’t challenging common ancestry: see, for instance, the last couple of paragraphs of this paper.
But lately his critique of Darwinian reasoning has expanded well beyond the boundaries of cognitive science, where he mainly policed runaway adaptive storytelling in the old days. Nightstick in hand, Fodor has recently been bopping heads right in biology itself:
In fact, an appreciable number of perfectly reasonable biologists are coming to think that the theory of natural selection can no longer be taken for granted….The ironic upshot is that at a time when the theory of natural selection has become an article of pop culture, it is faced with what may be the most serious challenge it has had so far. Darwinists have been known to say that adaptationism is the best idea anybody has ever had. It would be a good joke if the best idea that anybody has ever had turned out not to be true.
Bop. Solid ash nightstick, glossy black finish.