A number of folks have called attention to Jerry Fodor’s recent LRB columns in which he criticizes the theoretical coherence of adaptationism as an explanation. The exchange of letters in the most recent edition has Fodor writes that his critics “admit that the theory of natural selection can’t distinguish among locally coextensive properties while continuing to claim that natural selection explains why polar bears are white.” He then goes on to suggest that adapative phenomena will likely be explained by “endogenous constraints on phenotypes.” Developmental pathways are constrained.
That was the title of my introductory writing course this semester, and I’m now beginning to assess what worked well and what didn’t. There was an impressive amount of often insightful discussion from the students, which is hidden away behind a proprietary message board, unfortunately, but I’ll try to transfer it over before long. I had them read in the third section a couple of semi-technical articles: “Spandrels of San Marco” and Gould’s “Is a New and General Theory of Evolution Emerging?” in the third section of the course, and, while I think the issues raised therein were not too difficult for the students, who had vastly different levels of preparation in biology, to follow, they might have been.