Dennett v. Gould [ was: RE: BISCA-97. ]

Joe Barrera (
Thu, 28 Aug 1997 09:55:04 -0700

> I'd recommend taking a look at Daniel Dennett's _Darwin's Dangerous
> It's an interesting book on Evolution. I bring it up mainly because
> spends an entire chapter slamming Gould.

A good review of Dennett's book
.html) covers Dennett's critique of Gould:

"This is followed by a chapter devoted almost solely to Stephen Jay
Gould. Dennett continues his argument for the power of adaptionism with
an attack on its most famous critique, Gould and Lewontin's famous
'Spandrels of San Marco' paper. Dennett's basic argument is that Gould
and Lewontin's arguments are misaimed, that 'genuine' Darwinians have
always shunned both panadaptionism and preadaptionism, and that 'good
adaptionists are always on the lookout for hidden constraints'.
Punctuated equilibrium is next against the wall, along with Gould's
analysis of the Burgess Shale (in Wonderful Life) and his arguments for
the contingency of evolution.

"Dennett's conclusion from all of this is that Gould is 'searching for
skyhooks to limit the power of Darwin's dangerous idea'. This prompted a
bit of soul-searching on my part and some rereading of Gould's works,
but I think that Dennett is wrong about this. While there are passages
in Gould's writings and passages that can be read to support Dennett's
view, it seems clear to me that Gould's overriding drive is not a search
for skyhooks but rather an insistence on the complexity and diversity of
the cranes involved in evolution. All the different forms of
heterochrony Gould discusses in Ontogeny and Phylogeny, for example, are
clearly cranes, and if he is more complimentary than some to historical
figures who were clearly looking for skyhooks, that says more about his
historiographical sensibilities than his own philosophy. Gould is no
closer to any form of vitalism or mysticism than someone like Dawkins is
to 'greedy reductionism'. Perhaps Dennett sees things from too high
above the fray of actual biology: while he assents that cranes come in
many types and that they interact in complicated ways, his cranes versus
skyhooks abstraction subsumes the whole of biology into 'cranes',
leaving plenty of room for major disagreements which are simply
invisible at this level."

- Joe

Joseph S. Barrera III (
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