Synopses & Reviews
With a New Afterword
What Darwin Got Wrong is a remarkable book, one that dares to challenge the theory of natural selection as an explanation for how evolution works--a devastating critique not in the name of religion but in the name of good science. Combining the results of cutting-edge work in experimental biology with crystal-clear philosophical arguments, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini mount a reasoned and convincing assault on the central tenets of Darwins account of the origin of species. This is a concise argument that will transform the debate about evolution and move us beyond the false dilemma of being either for natural selection or against science.
“[The] work acts as an important warning to those of us who think we understand natural selection.” —Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian
“What Darwin Got Wrong is a trenchant, entertaining assault on the very basis of contemporary evolutionary theory.” —Kenan Malik, Literary Review
“[Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini] 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, The Sunday Times (London)
“[A] powerful little book . . . This book is, of course, fighting stuff, sure to be contested by those at whom it is aimed. On the face of things, however, it strikes an outsider as an overdue and valuable onslaught on neo-Darwinist simplicities.” —Mary Midgley, The Guardian
“Philosopher Fodor and cognitive scientist Piattelli-Palmarini challenge Darwinism more effectively than the entire creationist/intelligent-design movement has . . . Many may find this the hardest, absolutely essential reading theyve ever done.” —Ray Olson, Booklist
“A challenging, intriguing argument that poses important scientific and philosophical questions about evolution . . . Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini take a brave stance that will likely draw reaction . . . from across the scientific and theological spectrum. A dense, scholarly, engaging testament to modern scientific thinking and its ability to adapt and evolve.” —Kirkus Reviews
“From the shocking title onward, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini have set the cat among Darwins pigeons. In arguing why the operation of natural selection says nothing about the causal mechanisms underlying the evolution of coextensive traits in an organism, they take us to the conceptual fault line at the heart of Darwins theory. My prediction is that Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarinis book will raise hackles galore wherever the theory of natural selection is all too glibly misused, not only in studies of the ontogeny and phylogeny of biology, but also in those great overlapping disciplines of philosophy, psychology, linguistics, and behavior—in short, human nature. This book will set the agenda for years to come. It cannot be ignored if the study of evolution is to be honest with itself.” —Gabriel Dover, Professor of Evolutionary Genetics, Universities of Leicester and Cambridge, and author of Dear Mr. Darwin: Letters on the Evolution of Life and Human Nature
“Evolution needs a persuasive theory if the struggle for public acceptance is to be won. Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarinis bold treatise, What Darwin Got Wrong, convincingly shows that natural selection is not that theory. Drawing on scientific literature spanning the molecular, behavioral, and cognitive scales, with sophisticated excursions into evolutionary-developmental biology and the physics of complex systems, the authors perform a philosophical dismantling of the standard model of evolutionary change that is likely irreversible. Their unambiguous grounding in the factuality of evolution renders this work a service to science and a setback for its opponents.” —Stuart Newman, Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy, New York Medical College
“In this provocative, enlightening, and very entertaining book, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini argue that natural selection (NS) cannot explain how evolution occurs. The argument is largely conceptual and proceeds in two steps: (1) that theories of NS are conceptually parallel to Skinnerian theories of learning and so share most of the same debilitating problems, and (2) that NS is actually in worse conceptual shape when its central explanatory notion, ‘selecting for, is properly unpacked. This argument will annoy a lot of important people, both for its conclusion and for the evident delight the authors display in getting to it. The ensuing fireworks should be delightful, and (possibly) enlightening.” —Norbert Hornstein, Professor of Linguistics, University of Maryland
“This highly informative and carefully argued study develops two central theses. First, there are alternatives to classical neo-Darwinian adaptationist theories that are plausible, and very possibly capture principles that are the rule rather than the exception even if the basic adaptationist account is accepted. Second, that account cannot be accepted. The two theses are sufficiently independent so that they can be evaluated separately. Whatever the outcome of intellectual engagement with this stimulating work, it is sure to be a most rewarding experience.” —Noam Chomsky
About the Author
Jerry Fodor is a professor of philosophy and cognitive science at Rutgers University.
Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini started his academic career as a biophysicist and molecular biologist and is now a professor of cognitive science at the University of Arizona.