Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini

Pub Date: Feb. 23rd, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-374-28879-2
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Academic account of how Darwin’s theory of natural selection might not be the evolutionary paradigm after all.

Fodor (Philosophy and Cognitive Science/Rutgers Univ.; LOT 2: The Language of Thought Revisited, 2008, etc.) and former molecular biologist Piattelli-Palmarini (Cognitive Science/Univ. of Arizona; Inevitable Illusions: How Mistakes of Reason Rule Our Minds, 1994, etc.) are neither for creationism nor against evolution. However, they take the controversial stance that the popular notion of natural selection—that traits are selected for their ability to ensure a creature’s survival—is provably false, even though the related theory of the genealogy of species is very likely true. Their thesis is comprised of two parts: 1) when biologically broken down and analyzed, natural selection cannot explain evolution and 2) the conceptual core, especially relating to trait selection, of natural selection is inherently weak. The authors do not provide an answer to this problem, but they attempt, despite the unpopularity of the subject, to present a cogent argument that disputes the Darwinian premise of phenotype evolution. The authors admit that they “don’t know what the mechanism of evolution is,” but their point is to present information that supports alternative theories that differ from “the current adaptationist consensus.” The result is a challenging, intriguing argument that poses important scientific and philosophical questions about evolution and also frames the biological implications in rigorous cognitive context. Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini take a brave stance that will likely draw reaction—positive and negative—from across the scientific and theological spectrum.

A dense, scholarly, engaging testament to modern scientific thinking and its ability to adapt and evolve.