In the latest Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Ruse describes the excitement of modern evolutionary biology and then takes out after those academics who, lately, have their knickers in a twist about evolution. These include the philosopher/theologian Alvin Plantinga and the philosophers Jerry Fodor (co-author of What Darwin Got Wrong) and Thomas Nagel (endorser of Stephen Meyer’s intelligent-design book, Signature in the Cell). Ruse faults them all, correctly, for their ignorance of the field they’re criticizing.
But rather than work over the details, I want to draw attention to the way this crop of critics ignores evolutionary biology—aside from the kind of cherry-picking in which Fodor engages. Nagel may sneer about the failure to find “accessible literature” that answers his worries. In what part of the library was he doing his literature search? Where, for example, is any discussion of the Grants’ work on the Galápagos finches? What about a detailed look at the new scholarship that is challenging earlier thinking about the evolution of bipedalism? What about the discoveries of molecular biology and of the similarities (homologies) between humans and fruit flies? And why no mention of Marc Hauser and his work uncovering the secrets of moral thinking? There is a deafening silence on those and other issues. Fodor, Nagel, and Plantinga don’t need to turn themselves into biochemists, but some awareness of the issues and advances would not be entirely misplaced.
Good for Ruse. It’s especially helpful when a philosopher goes after fellow Darwin-bashing philosophers; otherwise they can claim, as Fodor has, that we simply don’t understand what they’re saying.