Two Atheist Academics Take On Darwinism

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If I could count how many times I’ve been told that only ignorant, fundamentalist Christians doubt the truth of Darwinian evolution, I would be a rich man!  Alas, the worst nightmare of Darwin defenders occurs when non-Christians, and non-theists at that, write books criticizing Darwin’s ideas.

In their new book, What Darwin Got Wrong, Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini do exactly that.  I have often told people that my doubts about Darwin have little to do with my religious beliefs, but from what I know of science.  Here are two atheists that likewise find the science to be lacking. interviewed Fodor recently and asked several provocative questions.  In one exchange, they ask Fodor about the standard evolutionary story about giraffes evolving long necks because they needed to adapt to food high up in trees.  Here is Fodor’s response:

The inference runs that there’s this creature that has a long neck, so this creature was selected for having a long neck. That inference is clearly invalid. A creature that has a long neck may have that neck because a different trait was selected, and the long neck came along with it.

And in a sense, there are no such things as traits. The environment selects creatures. Animals can have long necks and toenails, but if you try to break such creatures apart into traits and you say, OK, “What selected this trait?” and, “What selected that trait?” you’ve made a mistake right from the beginning. The disintegration of the organism into traits is itself a spurious undertaking. Biologists have said for a long time that organisms aren’t like Swiss apples, you can’t tap them on a table and have them fall apart into distinct wedges. Selection is operating on whole organisms.

In another exchange the interviewer asks what the implications are for Darwinism being wrong.  Fodor answers:

If this is true, then we need to rethink the implications of Darwinism. Maybe the right question to ask is not what environmental variables are doing selection, but what kinds of complexes are they selecting on. One sees, even without God, how this Darwinian story could turn out to be radically wrong. You could see a massive failure of the evolutionary project, because wrong assumptions were made.

Again, these guys aren’t fundamentalist creationists, but they recognize that the Darwinian story of the origin of species just does not work.  There are far too many holes in it.  Make sure you read the entire interview with Fodor.  It’s well worth it.

10 thoughts on “Two Atheist Academics Take On Darwinism”

  1. Meyers rails against non-biologists wading into this arena, but has no hesitation involving himself in a Catholic debate over the Eucharist. This is hypocrisy.

    Meyers teaches freshman biology at a podunk college and has a lab on campus and is somehow an expert. Why? Because his personality, anti-religous bias, and the internet medium make a great team in this age of humanism. And his blog gets a lot of hits.

    In what academic journals has Meyers published? That is the first question asked of ID scientists. Given the time spent blogging one wonders how much research he puts in a week.

    He blogs a lengthy entry on a book review he proudly claims he has not and will not read. And this is an academic?

    How laughable to see both these reviews begin by stating ‘the authors are not biologists’ – yet such men won’t listen to a Christian biologist who denies evolution, because they say his religion biases his science. Nor do they hesitate to pontificate on theology, though they are not theologians.

    I’m not debating the book’s merits or failings, just the general perspective of those like Myers who project such a double standard as to be laughable.

  2. If one were to only read your blog entry and the first couple of paragraphs of the links within, one would conclude that these two scientists – ATHEIST scientists at that – are anti-evolution. I must assume that you meant to leave that impression and that is egregiously dishonest.

    Both authors and this book are absolutely 110% positive in their conclusions of natural evolutionary processes explaining the diversity of life. You’ve left the opposite conclusion because:

    1) You conflate “Darwin”, “Darwinism”, “Darwinian” and evolution, which is a standard and ubiquitous creationist disinformation ploy. The slowly evolving “modern evolutionary synthesis”, which couples Darwin’s natural selection with Mendelian inheritance and results 150 yrs of scientific investigation, is many decades old. That is what scientists are working with.

    2) You cherry picked an incendiary quote from authors that are prone to trying to make a splash – as witnessed by the title they chose.

    Here’s a quote from further down in one of your links that I can only assume you knew most people would not read:

    “… 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.”

    That’s right, it’s about the shortcomings of a 150 yr old theory that is only one portion of the current evolutionary model, based on evidence from disciplines that did not exist then. No supernatural agents or baffling questions that one might insert a “God of the gaps”.

    It’s about recently understood NATURAL processes like genetic assimilation, genotypic and phenotypic plasticity, contingency, transposable elements, epigenetic regulation and a de-emphasis of selection for individual traits and a greater emphasis on selection for complexes of traits, which yield “free riders” – traits that are selected for though not adaptive – that may then become variation fodder for later adaptations – contingencies.

    You should apologize to your readership for the misleading entry.

  3. Bill concluded his blog entry “Make sure you read the entire interview with Fodor. It’s well worth it”

    Kyle, you write “Here’s a quote from further down in one of your links that I can only assume you knew most people would not read:”

    You should apologize to Bill.

  4. Kyle,
    When people come on to the blog and start psychoanalyzing me, I get concerned. That you are able to discern my attempts at trickery and deceit, while never having even met me or even discussed much of anything with me is very disappointing. Instead of building some sort of caricature of me in your mind, and then writing comments addressed to that caricature, why don’t you actually deal with what I write and give me the benefit of the doubt. Why not presume me innocent until I prove myself to be a liar and a cheat?

    Back to the issue at hand. I perfectly understand that the two writers believe in evolution, just not the Darwinian mechanism. I have written extensively on that subject. I pointed my readers to the interview so that they could read the whole thing for themselves. If I wanted to trick everyone, I would not have included links to the book or the interview, but I did. Again, let me repeat, I have scientific issues with Darwinian evolution, not religious issues.

    As I have said many times in the past, I do not have time or space in every blog entry to go through a thorough definition of terms and survey all the pertinent arguments on a topic. It seems that people like you would have me write 2,000 word posts where I cover every possible nuance of an issue. I assume that my readers are familiar with the topic and that I don’t have to cover old ground. This is not deception or trickery, but mere practicality.

    I wish I could fulfill your need for a lying creationist blogger, but you’ll have to look elsewhere.

  5. Bill,

    I am sorry if I misunderstood your position. That said, I defy you to reread your entry from the viewpoint of a stranger reading someone else’s words. Can you honestly say that you would not conclude exactly what I concluded?

    It’s not just a matter of you not taking the time to clarify your position; far from it. Almost every iota of it appears as if it was written as it was for the purposes of conveying the impression that I accused you of conveying. I won’t bother to detail them, but if you insist on denying that it reads exactly as I described, I will do so in excruciating detail.

    Having to already apologize once, I’m loath to accuse you of being disingenuous now, but to claim that the entry reads the way that it does merely because you did not “cover every possible nuance” appears to be like Pat Robertson claiming that his comments on Haiti only seem to accuse the Haitians of being God-smacked because he didn’t cover every nuance of his position.


  6. Steve,

    I did read that statement, but, considering the way the rest of the entry read, I thought it the equivalent of Brear Rabbit begging not to be thrown in the brier patch.

    Please read my above response to Bill, reread his entry, and tell me honestly whether it reads exactly as I said. Perhaps it is all unintentional, but then Bill is guilty of extremely poor self-editing, if nothing else.


  7. Kyle,

    Even if I grant the argument that most people don’t read through all the links – we certainly can’t blame Bill for anyone not reading the actual blog entry in its entirety.

    And anyone who does so will clearly see by the two lengthy quotes that the authors embrace natural selection and reject God. They discuss selection over and over.

    And besides, Bill did not write the title of their book.

    FWIW – I don’t know Bill, so I am not a knee-jerk loyalist. If I thought he had written a misleading post, I would say so. I do feel that the internet medium allows for us to overlook what we read based on our assumptions going in. I have had many times someone respond to me in opposition, when we were in full agreement, because they just assumed my position and did not read what I wrote carefully. I have done the same, though I try not to post before reading slowly and carefully.

Comments are closed.