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January 15, 2008


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Tee hee.

I agree and disagree. Nothing Fodor says makes natural selection any different to a regular everyday causal explanation, and all his "objections" would apply to any causal explanation.

*However*, I think Fodor is coming at this with the view that when scientists talk about "natural selection" explaining, they think they mean more than that they can give the causal history behind trait X. They think they are citing a law or force.

What I think Fodor is getting at (through some really terrible writing) is that natural selection can't be a force or law. Because we don't how it pushes. We can't analyse how the so-called law is instantiated through "selection for".

Q the Enchanter

Hi Jonathan, well, if that were what scientists meant, Fodor would have a point. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that this is what scientists mean.


Frankly all those blogs suggest there's considerable debate about this. Many posts agree natural selection (NS) isn't a 'law', but few say in any detail what it *is*!

Many say it's a theory. In this context 'theory' just seems to mean 'socially accepted way of interpreting the facts'. I'd say NS is a name for a form of causal history, much like 'car accidents'. It doesn't subsume events under a law or common cause.

If this is so, an ID proponent would gleefully say: 'But my theory gives causal histories too!'

Q the Enchanter

Well, the posts show at least that the notion that biologists talking about natural selection categorically "think they are citing a law or force" doesn't quite hold water. Right?

More can be said about what makes a theory scientific, but I don't take Fodor to be raising this issue. Sure, an ID proponent might offer her own "causal history," but so what? If an Intelligent Driver ("ID") theorist offered her causal history of car accidents ("Jesus was not at the wheel!"), I'm sure it would be "socially accepted" by her peers, but I don't expect it would put any failure analysts out of work.


Presumably a lot of ID theorists *do* think all phenomena, including car accidents, are part of some great design! One doesn't like to pre-empt them. But while we may have no reason to convert to their way of seeing things, it's hard to say what makes it 'unscientific' without resorting to name-calling. I think one thing the Fodor controversy shows is how far we are from a justifiable demarcation criterion.

Q the Enchanter

"[I]t's hard to say what makes [intelligent design] 'unscientific.'"

? Parsimony. Falsifiability. Predictive utility. Productivity. Consistency with other sciences. Corrigibility. Provisionality. Progressivity.

Yep, tough call.

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