A couple weeks ago I picked up Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini’s What Darwin Got Wrong (New York: Picador, 2010, 2011). Both Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini (henceforth F&P) are atheists. They deny that any intelligence was involved in the formation of life on earth. And they accept the common origin of all life forms. What they deny is that the mechanism of natural selection provides an explanation for the origin of all these life forms. F&P explain:
“there is at the heart of adaptationist theories of evolution, a confusion between (1) the claim that evolution is a process in which creatures with adaptive traits are selected and (2) the claim that evolution is a process in which creatures are selected for their adaptive traits.” (xvii)
According to F&P, Darwinists errantly infer (2) from (1), thereby committing the intensional fallacy. As they observe, one result is that defenders of Darwin frequently lapse into appeal to various pseudo-agencies to explain the Darwinian process:
“We think that this situation has given rise to the plethora of spooks by which Darwinist accounts of evolution are increasingly haunted: Mother Nature, selfish genes, imperialistic memes and the like…. But the roots of free-rider problems go all the way back to Darwin’s preoccupation with the putative analogy between the way that natural selection manipulates phenotypes and the way that breeders do.” (xx-xxi)
What Darwin Got Wrong makes significant demands upon the reader. Those without a solid background in both the philosophy of science and contemporary Darwinism will find it a difficult book (count me in that camp). I am placated, however, by the fact that many highly intelligent critics of the book failed to grapple with the argument. The appendix to the new edition has an extended reply to various errant criticisms by luminaries like Douglas Futuyama and Jerry Coyne.
In the new afterword F&P lament the reception the book received:
“Our arguments and our conclusions were both widely and wildly misrepresented. Many suspected that we are covert Theists, committed to undermining the foundations of the Scientific World View (of which they took themselves to be the anointed custodians).” (167)
It certainly is disappointing how true exemplars of free thought like F&P are immediately marginalized through the imputation of false motives. But perhaps they shouldn’t have been so surprised about this reception, especially after they wrote the following passage in the introduction to the book:
“we’ve been told by more than one of our colleagues that, even if Darwin was substantially wrong to claim that natural selection is the mechanism of evolution, nonetheless we shouldn’t say so. Not, anyhow, in public. To do that is, however inadvertently, to align oneself with the Forces of Darkness, whose goal it is to bring Science into disrepute.” (xxii)
Forces of Darkness?!
Apparently the pursuit of science as a theist constitutes the Forces of Darkness while the pursuit of science as an atheist constitutes the Forces of Light. Alas, lost somewhere in the midst of this deeply polarized ideological struggle between the pursuit of theistic-friendly science and atheistic-friendly science is the pursuit of science simpliciter.