I just finished reading an article in The Guardian by Oliver Burkeman regarding the changing face of evolutionary theory.  He discusses a book by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini (What Darwin Got Wrong) that challenges the coherency of natural selection.  Fodor notes that Darwin assumed natural selection “selects for” specific traits in an organism.  He finds two problems with this.  First, natural selection is a mindless, blind process, so it cannot “select for” anything. 

Second, there is no way to determine that a specific trait was “selected for,” rather than merely “selected.”  Traits are correlated together in an organism, and thus one cannot single out a specific trait to say “X was selected for by natural selection.”  Not every trait is adaptive, and thus not every trait will be “selected for.”  Some will merely be selected by default.  For example, why think the Cheetah’s spots were “selected for” by natural selection?  It very well could be that the Cheetah was selected by natural selection because of its speed, and its spots were merely “selected” in the process – coming along for the ride if you will.  Organisms qua organisms are selected, not specific traits. 

Burkeman reached out to evolutionist and philosopher of science Daniel Dennett for a response.  This is what Dennett said: “Jerry Fodor’s book is a stunning demonstration of how abhorrence of an idea (Jerry’s visceral dislike of evolutionary thinking) can derange an otherwise clever thinker . . . a responsible academic is supposed to be able to control irrational impulses, [but] Fodor has simply collapsed in the face of his dread and composed some dreadfully bad arguments. … [What Darwin Got Wrong is] a book that so transparently misconstrues its target that it would be laughable were it not such dangerous mischief.” 

So why is Fodor wrong?  Reading Dennett, one is left wondering.  He did not respond with a critique of Fodor’s ideas, but a critique of Fodor himself.  This is textbook ad hominem fallacy.  All Dennett managed to come up with in response to Fodor’s argument is a bunch of put-downs and name-calling.  

Whether Fodor is wrong or not is not the issue.  The issue is that when someone raises challenges to the reigning evolutionary paradigm, the knee-jerk response by so many committed Darwinists is to attack the person raising the objections rather than answer the objections themselves.  Granted, Burkeman did not publish Dennett’s full response, so it may very well be that Dennett provided some sort of substantive response to Fodor’s argument.  If so, Dennett should be excused, and Burkeman should be placed on the hot seat for choosing to print an ad hominem attack on Fodor rather than a substantive response.  Either way, this is another instance in which a prima facie good objection to Darwinism is shouted down rather than answered by Darwin’s disciples.

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