I had been looking forward to Jerry Fodor's What Darwin Got Wrong (co-authored with Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini), not because I have anything against Darwin but because Fodor is a superb writer, the well-respected cognitive scientist who "laid the groundwork for the modularity of mind and language of thought hypotheses," and a worthy opponent of the idiocy of evolutionary psychologists who seem to think that every phenotypic trait must have been subject to selective pressure (no).
The book is extremely disappointing, and I don't have the heart a the longer post analyzing it. It's enough to read Ned Block (fantastic philosopher of mind guy) and Philip Kitcher's review--that is, complete dismantling of a thesis that just seems bizarrely wrong. F&PP's response and B&K's reply are also very interesting. I will say that B&K's accusation that the book shows "no detailed engagement with the practice of evolutionary biology" is an ad hominem overreach. The book gives a competent (and extremely informative) overview of the field, even if it is mistaken about its implications. Earlier in the review, F&K merely call it "biologically irrelevant"--an accurate claim if the relevance is to F&PP's philosophical argument. But this merely highlights the fact that the book's problems are philosophical, not biological.
(I'm going to apologize in advance for the intemperance of the rest of this screed).
These claims are particularly unfortunate in that they have encouraged an outpouring of zealous and anti-intellectual scientism by reviewers (not to mention comment section trolls) who make no claims even to have read the book and assume its flaws must be scientific rather than philosophical. The they-just-don't-understand-science claim has become a rationale for berating philosophers for their pie-in-the-sky impracticality (historically inducing in a certain species of self-hating philosopher the kind of it's-not-science insecurities that lead to patently self-inconsistent theories as verificationism, not to mention the bevy of other views amounting to: "I've found the solution to all philosophical problems! There are none!" (Premise: any problem that threaten to limit the domain of scientific inquiry must not be a problem for science)).
So let me say this (first thesis): that you are a scientist does not mean he understands what your endeavor entails, any more than being a soccer player means understanding the physics and anatomy involved in the playing of soccer. That understanding requires reflection on the doing of science, not merely the accumulation of laboratory hours. Further, Ruse and others seems not understand or even be curious about issues in the philosophy of science or mind about which they are emboldened to spew by virtue of a kind of diplomatic immunity involved in calling themselves "scientist" (Ruse absurdly accuses Nagel, for instance, of being a "vitalist," and assumes that physicalism is an easy solution to the mind-body problem--it would help him to familiarize himself with the literature and the fact that Nagel wrote the seminal anti-reductionist paper on the subject, What is it Like to be a Bat? If he thinks its claims are absurd, he ought to produce an argument, not a mere "that don't sound scientific."). So, second thesis: being a scientist does not immunize you from the requirement to think. Nor is being a scientist relevant to the soundness of your claims--it is not a slam-dunk in every science-related dispute. The (ad hominem) concept of that immunization is itself highly anti-rational (many scientists, of course, make no bones of their anti-intellectualism beyond the boundaries of the petri dish--and arguably this motivates some reductionist accounts).
I'm now going to apologize again for the intemperance of my screed, and I'd like to point out that I have a longstanding love of science (one of my undergraduate majors is the history of science). I have no truck with creationists/intelligent design adherents on the one hand or post-modern relativists on the other. But just as love of country entails honest self-critique ... well you get the picture. This sort of credential-offering shouldn't be necessary--it's just a kind of preparation for being called the kinds of names that members of a loyal opposition get called. Suffice it to say that I simply believe scientism and anti-philosophical zealotry do nothing for science, any more than teabagging with a sign saying "freedom" does something for freedom. And in general, reductionism is just bad philosophy and has no bearing on the everyday practice of science or its esteemed status, except insofar as recognizes a limit to the domain of empirical scientific inquiry based on ... whether or not the relevant data is susceptible to empirical scrutiny. Whether or not a neuroscientist believes that brain states are identical to mental states (as opposed to having some other sort of relation) will make no difference to his everyday work; but it will be relevant to his extra-curricular spoutings on God and Mind and Free Will and the rest--spoutings which which lead the dumb reductionist mythologies that pervade popular culture.
F&PP are wrong regarding many if not most of the petty quibblings that their book included about natural selection (NS), evolution by natural selection (EBNS), and about what empirical studies of NS and EBNS can and cannot disentangle; but they got the most important thing right:
Game theory (GT) is mathematics and by definition it cannot be a scientific theory. GTal themes may show up in scientific theories as can a lot of math of course (albeit some great math cannot possibly show up despite its being great!), but it’s not the math what makes a model “scientific” but the direct and indirect experimental support for the ontological entities assumed by the model and for their predicted behavior and consequences. Abstract generalizations with abstract GT entities are not science but rather math.
A scientific theory like that of gravitation does include math but not only. Natural selection (NS) narratives fall between these two extremes: they mobilize a firework of circumstantial natural-historical details that are GTally relevant (in ceteris-paribus or dynamically positive ways), but abstractly speaking the winners are always “the result” of the Bauplan’s potential to be altered (due to mutation, etc) so that modified “units” show up that deal with the specific selective agent/regime better than existing units do.
This *non-exhausted* Bauplan’s potential is part of the unifying “gravity-like” force driving evolution by natural selection (EBNS), and existing GT-oriented evol.bio narratives have nothing “ontologically” comparable to offer (i.e., they have no obligate links to a unifying natural force or entity).
This potential of Bauplaene is part of what Van Valen went after when he proposed what he called “the 3rd law of natural selection” (1976; he meant EBNS when writing “natural selection”).
No need to say that the unifying “gravity-like” force driving NS (as opposed to that driving EBNS) cannot be studied in the same way and time scales as that driving EBNS…
All in all, the trailer-park-level understanding of what a scientific theory should be that has been put on display by most of the phil.of biol and evol.biol establishment frauds who have commented on F&PP’s “idiots-savants” book rivals non-necessarily favorably with that of the peddler of puerilo-retarded animistico-suggestive anthropomorphizations, Dawkins; and their arguments are barely less misguided and heuristically less pernicious that D’s syllogistic imbecility about “DNA with intentionality”.
Like many others before, F&PP had the gut feeling that the unifying “gravity-like” forces driving NS and EBNS are unknown and neglected, and that available NS and EBNS stories are “different for each case” (let’s celebrate diversity!) because these narratives are ontologically truncated: Imagine people discussing cases of selection imposed by a predator and hearing them talk non-stop about faster muscle fibers, better camouflage, favorable shifts in activity pattern, better olfactory detection of the predator, etc, i.e., seeing them list a litany of sufficient but *not* necessary things under selection, but never witnessing anybody mention the necessary thing which is “to avoid being killed by the predator” (but note that a narrative organized around the latter statement would still be “ontologically truncated” because it would not apply to all living systems!).
Yes, in a tired recent NYRB piece on this affair, Lewontin mentioned that F&PP have stated that they are not asking for such a unifying force/unified narrative, but the real question is whether they would have anything to grumble if the unified force/narrative were already a highly visible central concern and *the* main research focus in evol.bio.
Truly, it’s shocking to see –among “professional” philosophers of science– such ignorance of the deep epistemological canons that distinguish better-developed scientific theories from crude best-intentioned “early” narratives, and so is to see –-among “professional” evolutionary biologists– such ignorance of deep evolutionary biology.
This whole debate shows one more time what kind of charade the american system of promoting self-complacent paper-churner/grant-chaser hybrid frauds has generated…