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What Darwin Got Wrong Hardcover – 4 Feb 2010

3.3 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 4 Feb 2010
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (4 Feb. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846682193
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846682193
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 2.9 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 828,182 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


an overdue and valuable onslaught on neo-Darwinist simplicities (Mary Midgley Guardian)

[the authors] make a persuasive case that the role of natural selection in evolution is ripe for reassessment. To say so should not be seen as scientific heresy or capitulation to the forces of unreason - it is a brave and welcome challenge. (Philip Ball Sunday Times)

makes for entertaining and engaging reading (Samir Okasha TLS)

Whatever the outcome of intellectual engagement with this stimulating work, it is sure to be a most rewarding experience (Noam Chomsky)

A convincing case ... It looks like it's back to the drawing board. (The Scotsman, *****)

Book Description

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

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Hardcover
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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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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