At this point, the idea of somebody publishing an attack on Charles Darwin isn’t exactly surprising. The 19th-century naturalist, and the man behind the theory of evolution, has never been a particularly popular figure among conservative Christians, and, these days, the anti-Darwin movement is a cottage industry. In the last year, which marked the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth and 150 years since the publication of “The Origin of the Species,” the man was even subjected to the peculiar indignity of an assault by former “Growing Pains” star Kirk Cameron.
But unlike most of these attacks, “What Darwin Got Wrong,” a new book by Jerry Fodor, a professor of philosophy and cognitive sciences at Rutgers University, and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, a professor of cognitive science at the University of Arizona, comes not from the religious right, but from two atheist academics with — surprise — a nuanced argument about the shortcomings of Darwin’s theories. Their book details (in very technical language) how recent discoveries in genetics have thrown into question many of our perceived truths about natural selection, and why these have the potential to undermine much of what we know about evolution and biology.
Salon spoke to Fodor over the phone from his home, about the problems with Darwin’s ideas, bloggers’ “obscene” comments on his work, and why Darwinism might be as unreliable as creationism.
Do you think people are defending Darwinism because they think any attack on Darwinism gives power to creationists, and they don’t want creationists to get the upper hand?
I think there’s the sense that if you think that there’s something wrong with the theory you’re giving aid and comfort to intelligent design people. And people do feel very strongly about whether you want to do that.
When you do science, you try to find the truth. The problem with creationism, even if you’re not a hardcore atheist, as I am, is that anything is compatible with creationism. If God created the world, he could have created it any way he liked. So creationists, when faced with evidence of evolution, are happy to say that that’s the way God created the world. If it turns out that there is no process of evolution, they’d say OK, that’s fine too. Whatever turns out to be the case it’s compatible with God having created the world, so you can’t argue with their position or you throw your shoulders out.
As you explain in the book, one of the problems with Darwinism is that Darwin is inventing explanations for something that happened long ago, over a long period of time. Isn’t that similar to creationism?
Creationism isn’t the only doctrine that’s heavily into post-hoc explanation. Darwinism is too. If a creature develops the capacity to spin a web, you could tell a story of why spinning a web was good in the context of evolution. That is why you should be as suspicious of Darwinism as of creationism. They have spurious consequence in common. And that should be enough to make you worry about either account.
Of course this would come from a Philosopher.
ht: Rod Dreher