Saturday, April 24, 2010

Necessary rebuttal

In my article of 8 February 2010 entitled Mystery as philosophy [display], I deplored the announcement of a book (which I'm not at all keen to read) entitled What Darwin Got Wrong by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, in which they apparently contend that Darwin's idea of natural selection is illogical and unsupported by empirical evidence.

Like countless Darwinists, I was shocked that distinguished academics would dare to write such stuff today. I was aware, though, that their arguments were technically complex, and would require some serious unraveling. Fodor (professor of philosophy at Rutgers) and Piattelli-Palmarini (professor of cognitive science at the University of Arizona) are far removed from the arena of crackpot creationists. One had the impression that they were thoughtless renegades rather than declared enemies. In any case, it was clear that it would take a talented heavyweight scholar to bring these deserters to their senses.

Fortunately, Jerry Coyne (professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago) has set himself the task of cleaning up the mess. Click the banner to read his excellent article in The Nation entitled The Improbability Pump. Before his rebuttal of the groundless ideas put forward by the philosopher and the cognitive scientist, there's a bonus: a beautiful review of The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins. Please allow me to quote Coyne quoting Dawkins quoting the DNA of a tiger:

Dawkins describes selection as an "improbability pump," for over time the competition among genes can yield amazingly complex and extraordinary species. Here's how he describes the evolution of tigers:

A tiger's DNA is also a "duplicate me" program, but it contains an almost fantastically large digression as an essential part of the efficient execution of its fundamental message. That digression is a tiger, complete with fangs, claws, running muscles, stalking and pouncing instincts. The tiger's DNA says: "Duplicate me by the round-about route of building a tiger first."

Only Dawkins could describe a tiger as just one way DNA has devised to make more of itself. And that is why he is famous: absolute scientific accuracy expressed with the wonder of a child—a very smart child.

Tiger building! What a splendidly imaginative way to produce new stocks of a chemical product known as deoxyribonucleic acid...

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