Has anyone read the book WHAT DARWIN GOT WRONG?
The authors are Jerry Fodor, a professor of philosophy and cognitive sciences at Rutgers University, and Massimo Piattelli-PalmaRini,a professor of cognitive science at the University of Arizona,
The first red flag for me was that the authors don’t appear to have any training in biology or anything else really related to evolution.
This in and of itself doesn’t necessarily mean they have no insight to impart. Their lack of insight into evolution however is amply demonstrated by what they actually say about evolution.
Let’s get then to to the crux of their argument
Jerry Fodor states the following:
“It’s a main claim of our book that, when phenotypic traits are endogenously linked, there is no way that selection can distinguish among them: selection for one selects the others, regardless of their effects on fitness.”
This means the following…say 200,000 years ago, those humans that were faster survived longer to pass on their fast genes. Natural selection then selected for this adaptive trait, right? But what if fast genes were linked with big ear genes. If you have one trait you will almost invariably get the other. They come together as a genetic package. The environment then selects for one trait that helps with survival but brings along one or more separate traits that do not necessarily help with survival.
Wikipedia describes Natural Selection as “…heritable traits that make it more likely for an organism to survive….It is a key mechanism of evolution.”
But if Fodor and PalmaRini are right, and natural selection cannot distinguish between adaptive traits linked to non-adaptive traits; it therefore cannot be an important mechanism for evolution.
Have they then discovered a fatal flaw for the theory of natural selection?
Fodor and Palmarini are correct about linked traits of uneven benefit being passed on. The rest of their argument about natural selection though reminds me of a the following scenario:
A botanist writes an astronomy book claiming that spectrosscopy needs to be rethought because objects moving towards or away from us would affect the frrequency of radiation we receive. In other words…redhsift and blueshift
The answer to both books then would be the same: “NO DUHHHHHHHH”
This concept is called Linkage and has been a key part of genetics for a century. Sturtevant and Morgan worked this idea out last millennia….1913 to be exact.
From the mid 1930’s to the mid 40’s, modern evolutionary thought was fused together from various biological disciplines that had drifted apart such as paleontology, botany, morphology, and genetics. This was called the modern evolutionary synthesis or neo-darwinian synthesis. Linkage was a core part of genetics even back then and it was therefore part of the modern synthesis.
These guys have not discovered something new. In fact, they’re 97 years out of date.
Do they really think that evolutionary biologists believe every trait is selected for? This makes their book one huge Straw Man.
You may be wondering how natural selection works then with linked traits.The general idea is that natural selection evaluates the traits as they were presented…. as a package. If the sum of a suite of traits raises fitness level, then that suite is adaptive. It doesn’t matter if only one trait among several actually had any real benefit.
I’ll end with a great PZ Meyers quote on this topic
“This is what makes Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini’s ideas so embarrassingly bad. They seem to know next to nothing about genetics, and so when they discover something that has been taken for granted by scientists for almost a century, they act surprised and see it as a death-stroke for Darwinism.”