Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Blind Watch Maker - chapter 5.

Galileo sparked a frenzy when he wrote his book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. Both the Copernican and Ptolemaic systems are presented together, although Galileo's character who presents the Ptolemaic system is named Simplicio, which roughly means simpleton. If we have a discussion of capitalism vs. socialism, democracy vs. monarchy, free-will vs. predestination, cable vs. DSL, we expect at least to be treated to a caricature of the competing viewpoint.

At almost half-way through the book, Dawkins has yet to formally acknowledge the competing viewpoint: The one of design. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the design argument? I am left with the impression that Dawkins is only comfortable participating in a competition of one.

This chapter focuses on DNA, but as usual, ID analogies are everywhere: Computers, programs, floppy discs, compact disks, ROM, RAM, machines, blueprints. Similar to molecular biology textbooks, ID paradigms are fundamental to understanding what is going on. Then with a sudden wave of the hand, all is evidence for evolution! This is not at all like quantum mechanics. In quantum mechanics, we are compelled to accept a non-intuitive paradigm because none of the evidence can be related to anything familiar and intuitive. Dawkins tries to argue that we should accept a non-intuitive paradigm because everything can be related to things we are familiar with. The fact that these familiar things all run according to the conflicting, ID paradigm is completely ignored. Probably this is the reason that 1/3 of college graduates consistently reject the theory of evolution.

One thing that Dawkins notes is that the DNA vision of biology is new. When we were children, it was all about protoplasm. A hundred years before The Blind Watchmaker was written, however, evolution was proclaimed to be just as obvious, just as firmly established by science and just as compelling based on the evidence, in spite of a completely erroneous understanding of how life worked. Not only was evolution universally accepted in secular environments, but even religious institutions were purging recalcitrants who refused to accept. By the end of the 19th century, evolution was triumphant. The point here is that there is no correlation between the conviction of the Darwinist and the strength and/or availability of his data.

Links: Chapter 1 & 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 4b,


bunc said...

A lot for me to pick up on here potentially but just a couple fo points. (its getting late here and work beckons tommorrow)

You say 1/3 of college graduates reject evolution. You can bet first of all that very few of these will be science graduates.

Second this figure may apply in the US where fundamentalism religion is sadly rife but it certainly doesnt apply in countries where we don't indoctrinate our children so heavily.

I think the real reason that fundamentalists are trying to present ID as legitimate science ( which it ain't because it is experimentally unprovable as it postulates intervention by a supernatural force) is that there is a fear that scientific biological education ( ie the modern synthesis as it is known)leads many to question the literal interpretation of the Bible.

Ill be back. Take care.

Looney said...

Bunc, have a good sleep.

The "Salem Hypothesis" is anecdotal, but says that most of those who oppose evolution are engineers, not scientists. The definiton of engineering is science+ID, so this isn't surprising. Another incident in the news was with regard to prof. Michael Dini in Texas discriminating against creationist students who were applying for medical school.

Medical students and engineers are generally higher in technical ability than scientists. Thus, I am not surprised that scientists lean more towards evolution. Groups which lean heavily towards evolution include Christian theologians (yep!), anthropology, and the humanities.

Looney said...

Bunc, here is one more item: My semi-fundamentalist church has about 600 people show up on Sunday. I am not sure of the number, but I would guess we have at least 50Ph.d's in the bunch. Physics, chemistry, architecture, biology, medicine, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, architecture, ... It is the usual Silicon Valley high-tech mix. Then there are the tech-oriented B.S. and Masters degrees. My Sunday School helper has a Masters degree in Computer Engineering from UCLA. We will send perhaps a dozen kids off to top ranked universities for majors ranging from pre-med to chemical and biological engineering.

I know the notion that fundamentalism and science are incompatible is quite commonplace. When you get into the middle of what is going on here, however, the perpective is completely different.

Bunc said...

Hi looney - Oh I am completely able to accept that fundamentalism and a science education can co-exist in the same person. There were after all some extremely well educated Nazi scientists.

My point was about the difference between education and indoctrination and between rational thought and blind faith.

Looney said...

The issue of faith and science is one that I have talked about before. Faith is believing in something that you can't physically touch or directly experience. Science is all about abstractions. The abstract entity of "scientist" is actually someone who is hyper-specialized and interacts with the rest of his peers through faith. Quantum mechanics brings faith and science into a much closer coupling. Faith and science are, in my experience, hopelessly linked.