Fodor Follow-Up

In my blog entry of a few days ago regarding Jerry Fodor’s poorly argued essay in The London Review of Books, I remarked that Fodor divided his criticisms of natural selection into both an empricial and a conceptual criticism. I focused entirely on the empricial side of his essay. Happily, Bob O’Hara has taken care of business on the conceptual side of things:

The latest “fun” on the evolutionary (pro and anti) parts of the web has been discussion of an article in the London Review of Books by Jerry Fodor. In it he proclaims that natural selection is on its way out. Alas for him, his argument is based on an impressive ignorance of evolutionary biology.

I recommend the whole post. Fascinating stuff!

Meanwhile, over at William Dembski’s blog, Paul Nelson gushes about Fodor’s essay. Sadly, I can’t accuse him of taking Fodor’s remarks out of context. The only reason I mention the post is to take note of comment four, in which UD contributor GilDodgen gives us this:

The notion that natural selection ever produced anything or has any creative power is simply absurd on its face. Natural selection throws stuff out. New things are not created by throwing old things out. Natural selection is death, and death has never created anything new.

It seems to me that this should not be difficult to understand — except, apparently, for those who are philosophically committed to a certain ideology.

Somehow I don’t think anyone reading this needs me to explain precisely how stupid that is.

Returning now to planet Earth, Larry Moran has a more favorable take on the Fodor essay, describing it as an excellent read. He also takes note of my post, writing:

Read Jason Rosenhouse’s take on the Foder essay [Fodor on Natural Selection]. Jason makes some good points but I think he misses the main idea; namely that many scientists (and philosophers) have an inordinate confidence in natural selection as the explanation for almost everything in biology that’s important (to them).

Well, at least I made some good points!

But with all due respect to Larry, I don’t think I missed Fodor’s point. I understand that he thinks that devotees of adaptationism are too quick to see selection’s hand in every feature of modern organisms, and I explained this clearly in my blog post. But the essay in which adaptationists are taken to task for emphasizing selection to the exclusion of other possible mechanisms was written in 1979 by Gould and Lewonton. Fodor’s novel contribution was to add a lot of wildly overblown rhetoric about how natural selection is both conceptually and empirically flawed, and then to back it up with a lot of garbled and incoherent arguments.

In other words, he wrote, “Natural selection is both conceptually and empirically flawed and is on its way out as the centerpiece of evolutionary biology,” when what he meant was, “What Gould and Lewonton said.” Hence my vexation with Fodor.


  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    October 17, 2007

    Fodor is one of those people who gives me the feeling I could get paid more for doing less.

    Off-topic: all the posts on EvolutionBlog prior to “An Evening at the CFI” (27 February 2007) appear to be broken.

  2. #2 Anna Dapta
    October 18, 2007

    I certainly agree with Bob O’Hara that Fodor brings an impressive ignorance to the discussion, but Fodor also strengthens the brew with immense arrogance. He burbles on about Darwinists, which makes alarm bells ring — the correct term is biologists!

    The funniest bit is at the end where it says that Fodor is currently co-authoring a book with some another linguistics guy on evolution without adaptation. That will be philosophy without insight, science without knowledge, words without meaning, pure grey goo.

    Unfortunately, just as some people with good ideas have difficulty explaining them, other people with rubbish ideas (like Fodor) mask their vacuity with fluent prose.

    Has any professor of philosophy of science ever said anything worth listening to?

  3. #3 Blake Stacey
    October 18, 2007

    OK, now it’s Shuffling off to Buffalo and before which doesn’t show up right. Does anybody else have this problem?

  4. #4 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 18, 2007

    It appears to be a problem with Firefox. When I view things in Internet Explorer it seems everything works fine. Can anyone think of a reason why that is?

  5. #5 Mathew Goldstein
    October 18, 2007

    Dawn Of Animal Vision Discovered

    By peering deep into evolutionary history, scientists have discovered the origins of photosensitivity in animals. The researcher said that anti-evolutionists often argue that mutations, which are essential for evolution, can only eliminate traits and cannot produce new features. He goes on to say, “Our paper shows that such claims are simply wrong”

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