What Darwin Got Wrong

Jerry Fodor, Author, Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, Author
Jerry Fodor, Author, Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $25 (264p) ISBN 978-0-374-28879-2
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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.)

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