Is Natural Selection in Trouble? When Emotions Run High in a Philosophical Debate

Argumentation 36 (4):541-567 (2022)
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This paper deals in detail with a fairly recent philosophical debate centered around the ability of the theory of natural selection to account for those phenotypical changes which can be argued to make organisms better adapted to their environments. The philosopher and cognitive scientist Jerry Fodor started the debate by claiming that natural selection cannot do the job. He follows two main lines of argumentation. One is based on an alleged conceptual defect in the theory, the other on alleged empirical problems in it as well as empirical alternatives to it. Four philosophers and two biologists respond in a way that displays what might easily be described as fallacious. The paper relies on the ideal model of critical discussion of pragma-dialectics to offer a step-by-step analysis of the whole debate, which extended for four issues of the _London Review of Books_, from October 2007 through January 2008. This pragma-dialectical analysis is carried out by constant reference to the various questions (problems, issues) that arise in the debate. The analysis includes as much detail as possible both in Fodor’s original argument and in the critics’ various comments as well as Fodor’s replies along two rounds of debate. Since a simple negative evaluation in terms of fallacies is out of the question in view of the proved argumentative accomplishments of the participants, an alternative explanation is offered: the undeniable derailments in strategic maneuvering are due to the fact that, whilst ostensibly discussing the theory of natural selection, Fodor’s detractors are worried by an underlying issue, namely, the dangers of discussing the merits and demerits of natural selection as a theory of evolution in a venue as exposed to the general public as the _London Review of Books_, given the religiously inspired movements that threaten the teaching of evolutionary biology in schools.



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Two Dogmas of Empiricism.Willard V. O. Quine - 1951 - Philosophical Review 60 (1):20–43.
Two Dogmas of Empiricism.W. V. Quine - 1951 - Philosophical Review 60 (1):20-43.
Fallacies.C. L. Hamblin - 1970 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 160:492-492.
Multi-modal argumentation.Michael A. Gilbert - 1994 - Philosophy of the Social Sciences 24 (2):159-177.

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