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Fodor and Sober on Natural Selection

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2010 by Randy

Following a firestorm of commentary on the new book by Fodor and  Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, What Darwin Got Wrong, Fodor and Eliot Sober share the screen at something called bloggingheads.tv. The video can be seen here. Luckily, I have had a great deal of caffeine…

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3 Responses to “Fodor and Sober on Natural Selection”

  1. Hello everyone! André invited me to join your discussion, and this is as good a place as any. I’m interested to hear what everyone thinks of Fodor’s argument against natural selection as a mechanism of evolution. The video linked to above has (in my opinion) Fodor’s most concise and clear explanation of his argument, and Sober’s comments really help to sharpen things up.

    Personally, I think Fodor’s correct (which seems to be the minority position), and the right way to characterize evolutionary biology is as a kind of rigorous natural history (which is consistent with how Sober seems to conceive of evolutionary biology’s reliance on mathematical models). Fodor has made the following kind of analogy before: that evolutionary biology relies on historical explanations that are much like other historical explanations, say those given in history. A historian might be able to give you a perfectly reasonable, even causal account, of why something happened the way it did (and maybe, if she collaborates with a game theorist, augment this explanation with some mathematical models). But that’s not going to generalize very well at all beyond that particular situation, and as such, we’re not going to get useful theories of history. However, I’m also not as familiar with current evolutionary biology as I probably should be.

    Anyway, I’d love to hear what others think. And thanks to André for inviting me to join!

  2. I haven’t seen the video yet. My take is very general (from what I’ve read from Fodor). Distinguish between the characterization of natural selection theory and from the activity of providing evolutionary explanations (the practice, among biologists). Fodor is right–for some of the reasons Corey mentions–that natural selection is a statistical idealization. And, for that, it isn’t biological. But that doesn’t mean one cannot apply–in various ways– natural selection idealizations to try to explain particular evolutionary events. There, the application of natural selection idealizations offer some information about possible causes. This is, in essence, the “hierarchical” view of natural selection that Mohan Matthen and I have been arguing for a long time. Fodor’s co-author– Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini–and I discussed these issues some years ago (though obviously, they ignored almost all of it–only thing cited in the book is a paper I wrote with Lewontin).

  3. For more self-promotion, see this: “Natural Selection Doesn’t Work That Way”: http://web.missouri.edu/~ariewa/vsFodor.pdf

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