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Dogma and Doubt

R. H. Brady

This paper was originally published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 1982, vol. 17, pp. 79-96.


The theory of natural selection has been re-examined in recent years by a number of critics concerned with the possibility of tautological formulation (Himmelfarb, 1962; Smart, 1963; Manser, 1965; Flew, 1967; Barker, 1969; Macbeth, 1971; Lewontin, 1972; Grene, 1974; Bethell, 1976; Peters, 1976). These criticisms have been dismissed, sometimes with impatience, by more authors than it is practical to cite here. Yet upon reading both critics and defenders it is easy to detect a deficiency in the exchange for communication is far from complete. The defenders have answered this ineffective complaint whenever they found it (and sometimes imputed it where they did not), but have spent little or no effort finding out what the critics might actually have in mind. Perhaps such problems are to be expected.

When a theory becomes part of the common working knowledge of an entire community it becomes the context within which that community understands the world. Doubt comes to be regarded as something less than legitimate, and critics find themselves talking only to each other. The critic is,