Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Did Darwin Get it Wrong?

There have been many different postings in the last year attacking the core of "Darwinism." Most of them have been somewhat peculiar in that they have criticized the science that Darwin practiced, as though there has been no advancement in the discipline of evolutionary theory in the last 150 years. Hence the pejorative: "Darwinism." A new book is out called Did Darwin Get It Wrong, a title that is sure to raise the hackles of evoluionary biologists everywhere and get the ID folks dancing in the streets. But is that what the book is about? As the Independent writes:
So why would Jerry Fodor (philosopher) and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini (cognitive scientist) be so concerned to refute aspects of Darwin's theory? Their book makes it very clear that an academic turf war lies behind it all. The stimulus was the outrage Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini felt for what they see as the misuse of Darwinism in the social sciences. Evolutionary psychology, in particular, gets their goat.

Evolutionary psychologists claim that the human mind was essentially formed by our life as hunter-gatherers in the Pleistocene ice age: we were adapted to that so aren't very well adapted to life in the shopping mall. These stories are fascinating, maybe true in some cases, but are untestable. The book includes a 15-page dossier of quotes from the culprits, the star turn being Steven Pinker.

Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini think that the best way to clear these pesky theorists from the campuses is to attack the idea of adaptive evolution at its root. Their title suggests that it is Darwin himself they are gunning for but, in fact, their target is an updated Darwinism enshrined around 50 years ago as the Modern Synthesis or Neo-Darwinism.
While it is certainly true that we have learned as much since the new synthesis was erected in the 1930s and 1940s as they had since the time of Darwin, the basic core ideas of mutation, selection, drift and flow still drive the vast majority of evolution. This, as well as much of the theory itself is, apparently, lost on the authors:
Fodor is a philosophical flâneur: he loves cheap jokes and affects a kind of provocative insouciance. His 2003 book on Hume states at the outset that he "could even write a book on Hume without actually knowing anything about him," and then claims to have done so. Philosophers and scientists could not be further apart. For geneticist and science writer Professor Steve Jones, "philosophy is to science what pornography is to sex."
The notions of evolutionary development and horizontal gene transferral, as well as new discoveries such as retrotransposons are certainly some areas that the evolutionary giants of the 30s and 40s did not know anything about and it has been fascinating to see how those have been worked into the modern theory (not avoided or swept under the rug, as some would contend). Read the whole thing.

Now playing: Steve Hackett - The Vigil
via FoxyTunes

No comments:

Post a Comment