Why What Darwin Got Wrong is wrong

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Misunderstanding Darwin: Natural selection’s secular critics get it wrong:

Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini take the role of philosophy to consist in part in minding other people’s business. We agree with the spirit behind this self-conception. Philosophy can sometimes help other areas of inquiry. Yet those who wish to help their neighbors are well advised to spend a little time discovering just what it is that those neighbors do, and those who wish to illuminate should be sensitive to charges that they are kicking up dust and spreading confusion.What Darwin Got Wrong shows no detailed engagement with the practice of evolutionary biology, nor does it respond to the many criticisms that have been leveled against earlier versions of its central ideas. In this latter respect, the authors resemble the creationist debaters who assert that evolution is incompatible with the second law of thermodynamics, hear detailed refutations of their charge, and repeat their patter in the next forum.

The essay is enjoyable, but as I was reading it I did start to think that one of the resemblances between What Darwin Got Wrong and standard Intelligent Design works is that they serve to tie up scholars in refuting their arguments.


  1. The intelligent design story is wrong because it was developed by another storytelling man. Thats just one story. So I think God exists. How else can I explain the other unexplainables? :)

  2. what are you trying to say?

  3. Not a bad review by Block and Kitcher. That I gave virtually the same argument when this topic was last brought up here, with the bonus of tying Fodor’s problems all the way back to the Twin Earth mania that has gripped analytic philosophy for too long, warms my heart. Too bad I can’t have Block and Kitcher’s feather light teaching loads, release time, ginormous travel budgets, and all that comes with philosophical rock stardom as well. Oh well. I’ve got my health.

  4. I did start to think that one of the resemblances between What Darwin Got Wrong and standard Intelligent Design works is that they serve to tie up scholars in refuting their arguments.

    Kitcher is a philosopher and this is the kind of thing he does. To me, this is the kind of thing philosophers should do. Too many of them pretend to be scientists, something which only works, to a degree at least, in a small area of AI and psychology of mind.

  5. Wow, Ned Block making sense. Just don’t let him near any of the recent Nature papers on the missing heritability. He “debunked” heritability back in 1995 dontchaknow :)

  6. I’m not sure exactly what the arguements Fodor puts forth in his book, but if he just stuck to attacking the notion that what evolutionary theorist types do is ‘science’ or more to the point can be, and therefore will ever be, science, that would work quite well, given that the theory of evolution isn’t scientifically demonstratable at all.

    I wouldn’t think that being a philosopher type in theis instance, and not a biologist, would hamper them at all, examining chains of inference is philosophy, not biology, and if one had to pick out one group of people who’s thinking on what a scientific chain of inference looks like being really really bad, evolutionist theorists who think they’re doing science would do just fine.

  7. OMG, j mct the god-of-philosophy strikes again, putting fear in the hearts of all ‘scientists’ by fiat assertion!

  8. I haven’t read the book and Razib’s assessment may be very accurate but let me briefly address the whole science-philosophy debate from the angle of another controversial book.

    I have two doctorates in anthropology, which I think makes me enough of a scientist. My latest book “The Genius of Kinship: the phenomenon of human kinship and the global diversity of kinship terminologies” challenges (using linguistics and kinship studies as a starting point) the out of Africa model of human dispersals. And it challenges it within the single-origin paradigm. It would be very easy to dismiss my critique and my alternative theory (out of America via Asian Homo erectus) as falling somewhere between philosophy and illusion. However, science per se, without philosophical and creative “filters” will devolve (or has been devolving) either into crude materialism or into disguised idolatry, which is a philosophical and cultural problem in and of itself. Or, one could argue, that science hasn’t established itself as the method to comprehend reality in all the areas of human knowledge. And such emotional territory as “human origins” is still steeped in pre-1492, pre-scientific stereotypes.

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