•  40573
    New Atheism and the Scientistic Turn in the Atheism Movement
    Midwest Studies in Philosophy 37 (1): 142-153. 2013.
    The so-called “New Atheism” is a relatively well-defined, very recent, still unfold- ing cultural phenomenon with import for public understanding of both science and philosophy. Arguably, the opening salvo of the New Atheists was The End of Faith by Sam Harris, published in 2004, followed in rapid succession by a number of other titles penned by Harris himself, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Victor Stenger, and Christopher Hitchens.
  •  10546
    Prove it! The Burden of Proof Game in Science vs. Pseudoscience Disputes
    with Maarten Boudry
    Philosophia 42 (2): 487-502. 2014.
    The concept of burden of proof is used in a wide range of discourses, from philosophy to law, science, skepticism, and even in everyday reasoning. This paper provides an analysis of the proper deployment of burden of proof, focusing in particular on skeptical discussions of pseudoscience and the paranormal, where burden of proof assignments are most poignant and relatively clear-cut. We argue that burden of proof is often misapplied or used as a mere rhetorical gambit, with little appreciation o…Read more
  •  9881
    Gould on Morton, Redux: What can the debate reveal about the limits of data?
    with Jonathan Kaplan and Joshua Banta
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 52 22-31. 2015.
    Lewis et al. (2011) attempted to restore the reputation of Samuel George Morton, a 19th century physician who reported on the skull sizes of different folk-races. Whereas Gould (1978) claimed that Morton’s conclusions were invalid because they reflected unconscious bias, Lewis et al. alleged that Morton’s findings were, in fact, supported, and Gould’s analysis biased. We take strong exception to Lewis et al.’s thesis that Morton was “right.” We maintain that Gould was right to reject Morton’s an…Read more
  •  6988
    The Value of Public Philosophy to Philosophers
    with Massimo Pugliucci and Leonard Finkelman
    Essays in Philosophy 15 (1): 86-102. 2014.
    Philosophy has been a public endeavor since its origins in ancient Greece, India, and China. However, recent years have seen the development of a new type of public philosophy conducted by both academics and non- professionals. The new public philosophy manifests itself in a range of modalities, from the publication of magazines and books for the general public to a variety of initiatives that exploit the power and flexibility of social networks and new media. In this paper we examine the phenom…Read more
  •  5641
    What are we to make of the concept of race? Thoughts of a philosopher–scientist
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (3): 272-277. 2013.
    Discussions about the biological bases (or lack thereof) of the concept of race in the human species seem to be never ending. One of the latest rounds is represented by a paper by Neven Sesardic, which attempts to build a strong scientific case for the existence of human races, based on genetic, morphometric and behavioral characteristics, as well as on a thorough critique of opposing positions. In this paper I show that Sesardic’s critique falls far short of the goal, and that his positive case…Read more
  •  4501
    What, if anything, is an evolutionary novelty?
    Philosophy of Science 75 (5): 887-898. 2008.
    The idea of phenotypic novelty appears throughout the evolutionary literature. Novelties have been defined so broadly as to make the term meaningless and so narrowly as to apply only to a limited number of spectacular structures. Here I examine some of the available definitions of phenotypic novelty and argue that the modern synthesis is ill equipped at explaining novelties. I then discuss three frameworks that may help biologists get a better insight of how novelties arise during evolution but …Read more
  •  4484
    An Extended Synthesis for Evolutionary Biology
    Annals of the New York Academy of Science 1168 218-228. 2009.
    Evolutionary theory is undergoing an intense period of discussion and reevaluation. This, contrary to the misleading claims of creationists and other pseudoscientists, is no harbinger of a crisis but rather the opposite: the field is expanding dramatically in terms of both empirical discoveries and new ideas. In this essay I briefly trace the conceptual history of evolutionary theory from Darwinism to neo-Darwinism, and from the Modern Synthesis to what I refer to as the Extended Synthesis, a mo…Read more
  •  4042
    The Fake, the Flimsy, and the Fallacious: Demarcating Arguments in Real Life
    with Maarten Boudry and Fabio Paglieri
    Argumentation 29 (4). 2015.
    Philosophers of science have given up on the quest for a silver bullet to put an end to all pseudoscience, as such a neat formal criterion to separate good science from its contenders has proven elusive. In the literature on critical thinking and in some philosophical quarters, however, this search for silver bullets lives on in the taxonomies of fallacies. The attractive idea is to have a handy list of abstract definitions or argumentation schemes, on the basis of which one can identify bad or …Read more
  •  3788
    The demarcation problem: a (belated) response to Laudan
    In Massimo Pigliucci & Maarten Boudry (eds.), Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem, University of Chicago Press. pp. 9. 2013.
    The “demarcation problem,” the issue of how to separate science from pseu- doscience, has been around since fall 1919—at least according to Karl Pop- per’s (1957) recollection of when he first started thinking about it. In Popper’s mind, the demarcation problem was intimately linked with one of the most vexing issues in philosophy of science, David Hume’s problem of induction (Vickers 2010) and, in particular, Hume’s contention that induction cannot be logically justified by appealing to the fac…Read more
  •  3148
    What makes weird beliefs thrive? The epidemiology of pseudoscience
    with Maarten Boudry and Stefaan Blancke
    Philosophical Psychology 28 (8): 1177-1198. 2015.
    What makes beliefs thrive? In this paper, we model the dissemination of bona fide science versus pseudoscience, making use of Dan Sperber's epidemiological model of representations. Drawing on cognitive research on the roots of irrational beliefs and the institutional arrangement of science, we explain the dissemination of beliefs in terms of their salience to human cognition and their ability to adapt to specific cultural ecologies. By contrasting the cultural development of science and pseudos…Read more
  •  2784
    This paper outlines a critique of the use of the genetic variance–covariance matrix (G), one of the central concepts in the modern study of natural selection and evolution. Specifically, I argue that for both conceptual and empirical reasons, studies of G cannot be used to elucidate so-called constraints on natural selection, nor can they be employed to detect or to measure past selection in natural populations – contrary to what assumed by most practicing biologists. I suggest that the search f…Read more
  •  2680
    The so-called ‘‘species problem’’ has plagued evolution- ary biology since before Darwin’s publication of the aptly titled Origin of Species. Many biologists think the problem is just a matter of semantics; others complain that it will not be solved until we have more empirical data. Yet, we don’t seem to be able to escape discussing it and teaching seminars about it. In this paper, I briefly examine the main themes of the biological and philosophical liter- atures on the species problem, focusi…Read more
  •  2659
    Mind uploading: a philosophical counter-analysis
    In Russell Blackford & Damien Broderick (eds.), Intelligence Unbound: The Future of Uploaded and Machine Minds, Wiley. pp. 119-130. 2014.
    A counter analysis of David Chalmers' claims about the possibility of mind uploading within the context of the Singularity event
  •  2527
    We are addressing this letter to the editors of Philosophical Psychology after reading an article they decided to publish in the recent vol. 33, issue 1. The article is by Nathan Cofnas and is entitled “Research on group differences in intelligence: A defense of free inquiry” (2020). The purpose of our letter is not to invite Cofnas’s contribution into a broader dialogue, but to respectfully voice our concerns about the decision to publish the manuscript, which, in our opinion, fails to meet a r…Read more
  •  2259
    The mismeasure of machine: Synthetic biology and the trouble with engineering metaphors
    with Maarten Boudry
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (4): 660-668. 2013.
    The scientific study of living organisms is permeated by machine and design metaphors. Genes are thought of as the ‘‘blueprint’’ of an organism, organisms are ‘‘reverse engineered’’ to discover their func- tionality, and living cells are compared to biochemical factories, complete with assembly lines, transport systems, messenger circuits, etc. Although the notion of design is indispensable to think about adapta- tions, and engineering analogies have considerable heuristic value (e.g., optimalit…Read more
  •  2052
    Do we need an extended evolutionary synthesis?
    Evolution 61 (12): 2743-2749. 2007.
    The Modern Synthesis (MS) is the current paradigm in evolutionary biology. It was actually built by expanding on the conceptual foundations laid out by its predecessors, Darwinism and neo-Darwinism. For sometime now there has been talk of a new Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES), and this article begins to outline why we may need such an extension, and how it may come about. As philosopher Karl Popper has noticed, the current evolutionary theory is a theory of genes, and we still lack a theor…Read more
  •  1882
    Dying (every day) with dignity: lessons from Stoicism
    The Human Prospect 5 (1). 2015.
    Stoicism is an ancient Greco-Roman practical philosophy focused on the ethics of everyday living. It is a eudaemonistic (i.e., emphasizing one’s flourishing) approach to life, as well as a type of virtue ethics (i.e., concerned with the practice of virtues as central to one’s existence). This paper summarizes the basic tenets of Stoicism and discusses how it tackles the issues of death and suicide. It presents a number of exercises that modern Stoics practice in order to prepare for death (one’s…Read more
  •  1738
    Why Machine-Information Metaphors are Bad for Science and Science Education
    with Maarten Boudry
    Science & Education 20 (5-6): 471. 2011.
    Genes are often described by biologists using metaphors derived from computa- tional science: they are thought of as carriers of information, as being the equivalent of ‘‘blueprints’’ for the construction of organisms. Likewise, cells are often characterized as ‘‘factories’’ and organisms themselves become analogous to machines. Accordingly, when the human genome project was initially announced, the promise was that we would soon know how a human being is made, just as we know how to make airpla…Read more
  •  1720
    Is evolvability evolvable?
    Nature Reviews Genetics 9 75-82. 2008.
    In recent years, biologists have increasingly been asking whether the ability to evolve — the evolvability — of biological systems, itself evolves, and whether this phenomenon is the result of natural selection or a by-product of other evolutionary processes. The concept of evolvability, and the increasing theoretical and empirical literature that refers to it, may constitute one of several pillars on which an extended evolutionary synthesis will take shape during the next few years, although mu…Read more
  •  1670
    Why the Demarcation Problem Matters
    with Maarten Boudry
    In Massimo Pigliucci & Maarten Boudry (eds.), Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem, . 2013.
    Ever since Socrates, philosophers have been in the business of asking ques- tions of the type “What is X?” The point has not always been to actually find out what X is, but rather to explore how we think about X, to bring up to the surface wrong ways of thinking about it, and hopefully in the process to achieve an increasingly better understanding of the matter at hand. In the early part of the twentieth century one of the most ambitious philosophers of sci- ence, Karl Popper, asked that very qu…Read more
  •  1498
    Twenty years have passed since Gould and Lewontin published their critique of ‘the adaptationist program’ – the tendency of some evolutionary biologists to assume, rather than demonstrate, the operation of natural selection. After the ‘Spandrels paper’, evolutionists were more careful about producing just-so stories based on selection, and paid more attention to a panoply of other processes. Then came reactions against the excesses of the anti-adaptationist movement, which ranged from a complete…Read more
  •  1428
    Between holism and reductionism: a philosophical primer on emergence
    Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 112 (2): 261-267. 2013.
    Ever since Darwin a great deal of the conceptual history of biology may be read as a struggle between two philosophical positions: reductionism and holism. On the one hand, we have the reductionist claim that evolution has to be understood in terms of changes at the fundamental causal level of the gene. As Richard Dawkins famously put it, organisms are just ‘lumbering robots’ in the service of their genetic masters. On the other hand, there is a long holistic tradition that focuses on the comple…Read more
  •  1389
    Public discussions of science are often marred by two pernicious phenomena: a widespread rejection of scientific findings (e.g., the reality of anthropogenic climate change, the conclusion that vaccines do not cause autism, or the validity of evolutionary theory), coupled with an equally common acceptance of pseudoscientific notions (e.g., homeopathy, psychic readings, telepathy, tall tales about alien abductions, and so forth). The typical reaction by scientists and science educators is to decr…Read more
  •  1359
    Mayr’s proximate–ultimate distinction has received renewed interest in recent years. Here we discuss its role in arguments about the relevance of developmental to evolutionary biology. We show that two recent critiques of the proximate–ultimate distinction fail to explain why developmental processes in particular should be of interest to evolutionary biologists. We trace these failures to a common problem: both critiques take the proximate–ultimate distinction to neglect specific causal interact…Read more
  •  1320
    It is an unfortunate fact of academic life that there is a sharp divide between science and philosophy, with scientists often being openly dismissive of philosophy, and philosophers being equally contemptuous of the naivete ́ of scientists when it comes to the philosophical underpinnings of their own discipline. In this paper I explore the possibility of reducing the distance between the two sides by introducing science students to some interesting philosophical aspects of research in evolutiona…Read more
  •  992
    ‘‘Theoretical biology’’ is a surprisingly heter- ogeneous field, partly because it encompasses ‘‘doing the- ory’’ across disciplines as diverse as molecular biology, systematics, ecology, and evolutionary biology. Moreover, it is done in a stunning variety of different ways, using anything from formal analytical models to computer sim- ulations, from graphic representations to verbal arguments. In this essay I survey a number of aspects of what it means to do theoretical biology, and how they co…Read more
  •  987
    Evolutionary biology is a field currently animated by much discussion concerning its conceptual foundations. On the one hand, we have supporters of a classical view of evolutionary theory, whose backbone is provided by population genetics and the so-called Modern Synthesis (MS). On the other hand, a number of researchers are calling for an Extended Synthe- sis (ES) that takes seriously both the limitations of the MS (such as its inability to incorporate developmental biology) and recent empirica…Read more
  •  981
    A muddled defense of New Atheism: on Stenger's response
    Science, Religion and Culture 1 (1): 10-14. 2014.
    Victor Stenger (this issue) has responded to my recent criticism of the so-called New Athe- ism movement (2013). Here I endeavor to counter Stenger’s note and highlight several of the ways in which it goes astray. To begin with, however, let me summarize the main points of my earlier paper.
  •  977
    Down with Natural Selection? (review)
    Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 52 (1): 134-140. 2008.
    Biologists are increasingly reexamining the conceptual structure of evolutionary theory, which dates back to the so-called Modern Synthesis of the 1930s and 1940s. Calls for an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES) cite a number of empir- ical and theoretical advances that need to be accounted for, including evolvability, evo- lutionary novelties, capacitors of phenotypic evolution, developmental plasticity, and phenotypic attractors. In Biological Emergences, however, Robert Reid outlines a the…Read more
  •  819
    Are ecology and evolutionary biology “soft” sciences?
    Annales Zoologici Finnici 39 87-98. 2002.
    Research in ecology and evolutionary biology (evo-eco) often tries to emulate the “hard” sciences such as physics and chemistry, but to many of its practitioners feels more like the “soft” sciences of psychology and sociology. I argue that this schizophrenic attitude is the result of lack of appreciation of the full consequences of the peculiarity of the evo-eco sciences as lying in between a-historical disciplines such as physics and completely historical ones as like paleontology. Furthermore,…Read more