Saturday, November 12, 2005

This is what I driving at ...

... in a post last month, when I wondered if books such as Evolution in Four Dimensions : Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life, by Eva Jablonka and Marion C. Lamb or Lamarck's Signature : How Retrogenes Are Changing Darwin's Natural Selection Paradigm by Edward Steele, Robyn A. Lindley, and Robert V. Blanden would be banned from classrooms because they challenge what historian Paul Johnson calls Darwinian orthodoxy.

Yesterday, over at Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds posted the following:

I'M DEEPLY UNIMPRESSED WITH "INTELLIGENT DESIGN," but this NPR story on the harassment, firing, and intimidation of scientists and academics who support intelligent design, or even seem like they might, is pretty appalling. (More accurately, the story is very good, but what it reports is appalling). This is pretty much scientific McCarthyism, and it ought to be stopped.

Listen to the story, and read this letter from the office of Special Counsel on the Smithsonian Institution's behavior in a particularly disgraceful episode.

Of course, with with friends like Pat Robertson, Intelligent Design hardly needs enemies.

Evolution, considered as a process of directional change in nature, from simpler to more complex, seems to me pretty much indisputable (though I know there are some who dispute it). But the mechanism of change, how such change has taken place -- and presumably continues to -- seems far from settled. One problem with intelligent design is that it doesn't address this. It isn't enough to say that an intelligent entity of some sort or another caused something to happen. What we want to know, to the extent that we can, is how it was caused to happen. The best that ID proponents have to offer, it seems, is that it was not caused to happen the way Darwinians say it was.
Now, like it or not, Darwinism is not without problems of its own. The theory of punctuated equilibria proposed by Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould to explain, among other things, abrupt appearance of species after long periods of biologial stability, amounts to positing a theory of evolution that doesn't involve evolution, if by evolution one means gradual, incremental change.

Over at Tech Central the other day, Uriah Kriegel had a very interesting article pointing out the unfalsifiability of intelligent design theory:

To win in the game of science, a theory must be submitted to many tests and survive all of them without being falsified. But to be even allowed into the game, the theory must be falsifiable in principle: there must be a conceivable experiment that would prove it false.

If we examine ID in this light, it becomes pretty clear that the theory isn't scientific. It is impossible to refute ID, because if an animal shows one characteristic, IDers can explain that the intelligent designer made it this way, and if the animal shows the opposite characteristic, IDers can explain with equal confidence that the designer made it that way. For that matter, it is fully consistent with ID that the supreme intelligence designed the world to evolve according to Darwin's laws of natural selection. Given this, there is no conceivable experiment that can prove ID false.

I think this is pretty sound myself. But I have just sent an email to Professor Kriegel, bringing to his attention these two papagraphs from Robert Winston's new book The Story of God:

It is possible that strong levels of belief in God, gods, spirits or the supernatural might have given our ancestors considerable comforts and advantages. Many anthropologists and social theorists do indeed take the view that religion emerged out of a sense of uncertainty and bewilderment - explaining misfortune or illness, for example, as the consequences of an angry God, or reassuring us that we live on after death. Rituals would have given us a comforting, albeit illusory, sense that we can control what is in fact ultimately beyond our control - the weather, illness, attacks by predators or other human groups.

However, it is equally plausible that the Divine Idea would have been of little use in our prehistoric rough-and-tumble existence. Life on the savannah may have been in the open air, but it was no picnic. Early humans would have been constantly on the lookout for predators to be avoided, such as wolves and sabre-tooth tigers; hunting or scavenging would be a continual necessity to ensure sufficient food; and the men were probably constantly fighting among each other to ensure that they could have sex with the best-looking girl (or boy) or choose the most tender piece of meat from the carcass. Why would it be necessary, in the daily scramble to stay alive, to make time for such an indulgent pursuit as religion?

It looks to me as if you could use this to demonstrate the unfalsifiability of Darwinism. If Professor Kriegel sends me a reply, I'll ask him if I can share it here.

In the meantime, my own inchoate notion is that intelligence is a concomitant of life and has evolved and adapted along with the organisms in which it is -- in varying degrees obviously -- always present.

No comments:

Post a Comment