Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Very interesting ...

... No Chance.

Yet, given these shared assumptions, Behe and Dawkins come to radically different conclusions. Dawkins' argument in The Blind Watchmaker goes like this: "There are probably more than a billion billion available planets in the universe. If each of them lasts as long as Earth, that gives us about a billion billion billion planet-years to play with." He then adds with obvious satisfaction, "That will do nicely!" However, he also warns that "we haven't the faintest hope of duplicating such a fantastically lucky, miraculous event as the origin of life in our laboratory experiments." Thus, he argues that purely theoretical arguments become scientifically justifiable.
Perhaps, but what for Dawkins is a scientifically justifiable piece of theoretical reasoning is a "just-so story" for Behe. Why? Because Behe doesn't share Dawkins' pessimism about what can be demonstrated in the laboratory. While scientists cannot be expected to carry out a billion billion billion years' worth of experiments, nature can and has.

It is interesting that their disagreement centers on what can and cannot be learned in the laboratory. Behe is often depicted in the media as being an off-the-wall sort. I interviewed him a number of years and found that not to be the case at all.


  1. Anonymous5:11 AM

    Hmm. The link from which the quote comes is from "a christian review", therefore hardly likely to be wanting to put Dawkins in a good light (note the little digs in the post, eg "obvious satisfaction" - value judgement).
    Also, of course, Dawkins is a biologist and Bethe was a physicist.
    However, what I write is not going to stop these digs at Dawkins so I suppose I should stop being irritated by them. (I also get irritated at digs against climate research and stem cell research and other digs at scientific research and thoughts - often in the form of short reviews and comments by people who have not delved into these issues very seriously, but who have some preconceived view they want to make, hence select their quotes and so on.

    This is not a defence or attack on anyone's argument, just a note with sadness about these shallow judgements or opinions that one sees so often.

  2. I think, Maxine, that Dawkins invites the sniping. After all, he started this fight. Given that The God Delusion averages about a sneer per page aimed by the good professor at those whose views diverge from his, he can hardly complain about being answered in kind. Moreover, many of the issues he has chosen to address are outside his field. So we should hardly be surprised if journals in a field outside his own, which he has chosen to enter, should discuss what he has had to say about issues in that field. Christianity and Culture is an intellectually respectable publication and this article should be viewed as one would, say. an article on religion in Scientific American.
    I have had three courses in lab science in my life. They were tough courses, good courses, and I did well in all of them. But I am no more than minimally literate scientifically. On the other hand, I am a good deal more than minimally literate when it comes to philosophy. I have read widely in the field over many decades and I was well trained in it, well enough to qualify for graduate study in it. I reviewed The God Delusion and in my view Richard Dawkins is not only not trained in philosophy, but also displays no particular aptitude for it.
    Michael Behe is a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University. The point I was making in this post is that it would seem that Behe is arguing in favor of the primacy of observation and experiment, in the instance cited at least, and Dawkins is arguing otherwise. If so, Dawkins is doing a great disservice to science. Speculation based upon deductions from accepted notions is a defining characteristic of the pre-scientific era.
    Science is not philosophy. It is not religion. It is not politics. This is not say it may not have some bearing on all of these, but only to point out that it is different - essentially - from them. Science studies the mechanics of nature. To employ science to discover whether or not there is a God is a fundamental category error, since God by definition would not be included in the category "nature." The study of nature may provide evidence that some may construe as pointing to beyond nature. The same evidence may suggest no such thing to others. But once you go beyond nature - meta physis - you are also beyond science as we have come to understand it. This is why our mutual friend Henry Gee is so dismissive of HWMNBN.
    For an example, by the way, of one long sneer substituting for argument and evidence, read the review of Behe's recent book that Dawkins wrote for the NYT. At least Behe does do lab work. I continue to think it is important to note that Dawkins apparently has not done any for decades - especially when he has the gall to dismiss as "unscientific" the religious beliefs of those who have made scientific advances precisely by doing - lab science.
    Georges Lemaitre, the Benedictine monk who noticed the Big Bang, was working one night in an observatory with an atheist colleague who at one point remarked that, given the grandeur of the heavens, he could see why Lemaitre might believe in God. Whereupon Lemaitre told him that he did not look to the sky for evidence of God's existence. He looked to the human heart.

  3. "I also get irritated at digs against climate research and stem cell research and other digs at scientific research and thoughts - often in the form of short reviews and comments by people who have not delved into these issues very seriously, but who have some preconceived view they want to make, hence select their quotes and so on."

    Here's where someone in the know can be extremely valuable to those of us who are ignorant of science and are likely to be taken in by the impressive looking "credentials" of the writers and by their authoritative sounding rhetoric, if that someone in the know would just take the time to correct, amend, or point out the selective nature of their quotations and also point out the faultiness of the rest of their "digs." I take the time to do this in areas I know something about (admittedly nothing as deeply consequential as science, usually just things like bibliographic errors) and someone is usually grateful, though not always the author of the error or misrepresentation. And I find that you don't always have to make a public comment to effect a correction; sometimes a nice e-mail to the author, or to a commenter who seems to have misapprehended something, does the trick. Of course, the topics of my expertise are not often highly charged with invested emotion or political ramifications, but sometimes you'd be surprised what will get people riled up. That's why a nice polite e-mail really is sometimes better than a public comment of chastisement.