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Michael Flannery: Where Jerry Fodor’s critique of Darwinism misses the boat

What Darwin Got Wrong

Wallace scholar Michael Flannery responded recently to Terry Scambray’s review of Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini’s What Darwin Got Wrong in New Oxford Review:

Manifesto of the Mundane

It should be said that Fodor has long been a critic of Darwinism, especially its applications to the cognitive sciences. (See, for example, his hard-hitting essays on cognition and philosophy of mind in his book In Critical Condition.) A quick read of that and some of his other work might incline one to think that his skepticism of the rather rank materialism that undergirds all such reductionist accounts of the complexity of the mind or the diversity of life would be equally in his crosshairs. But alas, as Scambray observes, this is not the case, and in What Darwin Got Wrong the omission is manifest.

Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini’s analysis comes down to a single, rather mundane, point: While Darwin’s theory of natural selection is utterly vacuous, it does have a sort of modest heuristic value in that it indicates that evolution really is a mindless process. For this we needed a book? James Lovelock and the recently departed Lynn Margulis have been saying much the same for over thirty years, and while both champions of the Gaia hypothesis have leveled some telling charges against the Darwinian paradigm, their thesis winds up as little more than materialism wrapped in a numinous veneer. Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini have now offered a Darwinian critique of less substance and far less imagination.

From a marketing standpoint it’s the old bait-and-switch: Make a grand and potentially interesting claim and then withdraw the most interesting part – i.e., maybe Darwin really was wrong to construct a theory of biological life based on methodological naturalism by invoking only the processes of chance and necessity – to suggest “endogenous forces” as little more than “accidental and tandem genetic factors.” It’s like watching the old murder mystery only to find out that in the end the butler really did do it. Ho hum. The authors are at least to be commended for giving the world a non-habit-forming sleep aid. (You scroll down here to see the rest, at the NOR site.)

However, in fairness, when a book provokes articles and correspondence, it must have something going for it.

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One Response to Michael Flannery: Where Jerry Fodor’s critique of Darwinism misses the boat

  1. OT: New video upload:

    Objections So Bad I Couldn’t Have Made Them Up (Worst Objections to Kalam Cosmological Argument) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtfVds8Kn4s

    Description: (Biola University, 2010) This is perhaps one of William Lane Craig’s most popular and entertaining lectures where he deals with some of the worst objections to the Kalam Cosmological argument ever! These objections come from pseudo-intellects and shallow-thinkers: namely, youtube atheists and internet skeptics.

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