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What Darwin Got Wrong [Hardcover]

Jerry Fodor , Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Feb 2010
Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini, a distinguished philosopher and scientist working in tandem, reveal major flaws at the heart of Darwinian evolutionary theory. They do not deny Darwin's status as an outstanding scientist but question the inferences he drew from his observations. Combining the results of cutting-edge experimental biology with crystal-clear philosophical argument they mount a devastating critique of the central tenets of Darwin's account of the origin of species. The logic underlying natural selection is the survival of the fittest under changing environmental pressure. This logic, they argue, is mistaken. They back up the claim with evidence of what actually happens in nature. This is a rare achievement - the short book that is likely to make a great deal of difference to a very large subject. What Darwin Got Wrong will be controversial. The authors' arguments will reverberate through the scientific world. At the very least they will transform the debate about evolution.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (4 Feb 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846682193
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846682193
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 13.6 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 461,345 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"powerful... sure to be contested by those at whom it is aimed... an overdue and valuable onslaught on neo-Darwinist simplicities" --Mary Midgley, Guardian

`Formidable' --Michael Kerrigan, Scotsman

`Makes for entertaining and engaging reading' --Samir Okasha, TLS

`Explosively exciting' -- Richard Mabey, Guardian

Book Description

A groundbreaking attack on the most influential scientific orthodoxy of the last 150 years.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Talk about sticking your neck out! 4 April 2010
By Hud955i
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
'What Darwin Got Wrong' is a critical analysis of the theory of natural selection by a philosopher and a cognitive scientist. The writers fully accept the fact of evolution but argue that natural selection, the primary mechanism by which Darwin thought evolution took place, is logically untenable.

Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini are two highly regarded senior academics in their own fields - or at least, they were until they published this book. Since then all kinds of curses have been rained down upon their heads and all kinds of vegetables have been thrown at them. As their argument attacks the theory of natural selection at a time when it is fighting a fierce action against the massed ranks of creationists, that is hardly suprising.

Given the controversy this book has stirred up I think I should say very briefly where I am coming from. I have no professional or academic expertise in evolutionary biology, I have always accepted natural selection as a fact and I call myself an atheist. I also have a very rusty degree in philosophy which has been useful in reading this book. I have given it five stars, not because I am bowled over by its arguments or committed to its point of view but because I believe that in science challenges are good and controversy is generally productive. A second reason is that 'What Darwin Got Wrong' is also a very enjoyable read: one of the most genial and well-written - I didn't say 'easy' - philosophy texts I have read in a long time.

So, why would you want to read this book?
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55 of 68 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Staggering hubris 2 Mar 2010
By Jonathan Birch VINE VOICE
Ever since Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin launched their attack on the "Panglossian paradigm" of adaptationism, biologists have been cautious about claiming some well-adapted trait was shaped by selection for its current function. An adaptive trait, Gould and Lewontin argued, could simply be a lucky by-product of selection for some other trait.

They drew an analogy with the spandrels of San Marco: at first glance, these features linking the dome and arches look to have been designed for the sake of the beautiful images that adorn them. But further reflection reveals otherwise: they were actually a by-product of resting a dome on arches! The moral for biologists: take care to distinguish the real products of selection from the "free-riders".

In their provocative new book, Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini want to draw a different moral from this story. What it really shows, they argue, is that the idea of a trait being "selected for" is incoherent. To say the spandrels were put there to hold up the dome is, after all, to make a claim about what the architect had in mind. Since, by contrast, there is no mind in charge of natural selection, it makes no sense to say that some trait was "selected for" while another was a "free rider". Though they add a lot of complicated extras, this is the core of their master argument against Darwinism, as set out in Chapter 6.

So here's the obvious reply: the difference between selected-for traits and their free riders is a causal difference. Selected-for traits causally contribute to the reproductive success of organisms, whereas free riders don't. To say some trait is a "free rider" is to say that, regardless of its current function, it evolved without contributing to the success of its bearers.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dissapointing and Irritating 10 Mar 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
When I started reading it I was genuinely interested, but as I read on I became less interested and more irritated- my criticisms are as follows:

1)Too many words that are clearly used to make the aurthors feel superior and constantly having to consult a dictionary is incredibly annoying.

2)None of the arguments made are either new or convincing in the radical way they are made (though they are right to point out evolutionary constraints etc, just not to make the absurd leap to the conclusion that natural selection is unimportant).

3)They constantly quote Ernst Mayr from 1963 (I thought we were in 2010) and they seem to suggest that real scientists believe in bean bag genetics. Nobody believes in bean bag genetics, it is just a way of explaining an idea.

4)As I understand it they argue that because you can't tell which trait is being directly selected for and which is a hitchhiking trait, then by some logic it means that selection can't be important. They raise an interesting point (though it's been around for over 30 years) but the degree to which they take the argument is absurd.

5)Their criticisms of game theory are weak. Game theory is a way of simplifying interactions between individuals/species and is thus a model. No model is taken as literal truth.

6)They seem unable to explain their argument in simple terms. The second half (the harder of the two parts) seems to be full of philosophical smugness at their own power of reasoning and as such comes across as elitist (not helped by the continual use of latin, french phrases and Jerry Fodor's jacket photograph)

I have to say the more I read the more I found myself shouting "that's not an argument against natural selection".
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A risky book to write
The authors are very brave, stupid or calculating and I can't decide which. They challenge a central belief in evolutionary theory, and I assume knowingly, that will either open... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Phil Jazz
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning
You need to be very alert to read this book, but it is worth it. The title is a bit misleading; Darwin cannot be held to account.
Published 15 months ago by Dr. F. Arnold
2.0 out of 5 stars Very little to recommend it
This is a relatively short book with an additional "Afterward and reply to the critics". The authors repeatedly say that they think natural selection is wrong, and in the afterward... Read more
Published 18 months ago by JamesJohnson
4.0 out of 5 stars What Else is New?
Why on earth is this book attracting such a mountain of criticism?

Professor Brian Goodwin came to a similar conclusion in his book "How the Leopard Changed His Spots"... Read more
Published on 12 May 2011 by A. J. Bradbury
4.0 out of 5 stars A criticism of Darwinism
Certain Biblical fundamentalists, supporting Seven-Day Creationism at related in the Bible criticized Darwin for his failure to observe signs of design in things and attributed... Read more
Published on 4 April 2011 by Desmond J. Keenan
2.0 out of 5 stars Pigs might fly?
This book was hard work to get through. In my view, it had no flow (until the close of part 2), or level of engagement, that you get from the best of the popular science writers,... Read more
Published on 19 Jan 2011 by Jonathan Green
3.0 out of 5 stars After Darwin
Last year saw the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the origin of species which was commemorated with the appearance of any number of articles, books, TV programmes etc... Read more
Published on 12 April 2010 by Moon Michael
4.0 out of 5 stars What Jerry and Massimo got wrong
From a layman's perspective this book is hard going at times but worth persisting with. However, I think that the authors went too far in their proposition that the theory of... Read more
Published on 30 Mar 2010 by Jim Beam
5.0 out of 5 stars If you want to get your science right, get the logical foundations...
When Erasmus Darwin proposed that natural selection (a term he borrowed from contemporary animal breeders)could account for evolution among wild species, he replaced the God of... Read more
Published on 29 Mar 2010 by A reader
1.0 out of 5 stars Unqualified
I have a huge problem with non-specialists "debunking" facts/theories etc in fields in which they have no discernible expertise. Read more
Published on 2 Mar 2010 by Duncan Fraser
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