For many years, Jerry Fodor has been an outspoken critic of Darwinian reasoning in cognitive science and the philosophy of mind / language. As a graduate student, I saw him present a colloquium on these topics, in front of a semi-hostile audience, and admired his bravado in refusing to kneel before the Altar of Darwin. Sorry if that language seems over the top, but after the end of the Darwin Year, the steady worshipful attitude towards old Charles has finally got to me.
Now, in the wake of his controversial and much discussed London Review article, Fodor — along with cognitive scientist Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini — has made his arguments fully general in What Darwin Got Wrong.
It’s interesting to read the publisher’s advertising copy (i.e., book description), which reveals the very strong cultural stigma, at least among the likely academic audience for Fodor’s book, still attached to dissent from Darwinism:
This is not a book about God, or about intelligent design. Rather, here is a remarkable book, one that dares to challenge natural selection–not in the name of religion but in the name of good science. Most scientists are so terrified of religious attacks on the theory of evolution that it is never examined critically.
But there are major scientific and philosophical problems with the theory of natural selection.
Well, yes — and it’s possible to discuss those problems only if one is not intimidated by the C word: “What are you, some kind of creationist? No? Well, you’re giving aid and comfort to them!” The abuse heaped by Brian Leiter on Thomas Nagel, for the latter’s recommendation of Signature in the Cell, is an example of what Fodor can expect in 2010.
But, from my firsthand experience of Fodor’s courage in high-pressure academic settings, he’s more than up to the challenge.