Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Paleobiologist Reviews What Darwin Got Wrong

Simon Conway Morris, professor of evolutionary paleobiology at the University of Cambridge, reviews the "provocative new book [that] challenges a key element of Darwinian orthodoxy" — Mindless Evolution. Authors Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, he notes, "are central figures in cognitive science and its philosophical implications" and "both possess not only formidable intellects but certainly some command of evolutionary theory."

Suggesting that "if Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini are in any way correct, not only do cherished notions of adaptation crash to the ground, but the entire Darwinian edifice begins to totter," Professor Conway Morris' "own concern is that, quite unwittingly, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini have dragged in a Trojan Horse that will give comfort to exactly the wrong people."

Rather than natural selection, Professors Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini hint at "law-like principles, or a 'nomology,' of evolution." Professor Conway Morris' conclusion [with my fisking in brackets]:
    Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini declare their secular credentials and are adamant that God, like Mother Nature and the Tooth Fairy, is a dispensable fantasy. [Utterly irrelevent; one of the gems of postmodern literary criticism is that the text stands apart from the author.] But suppose they are correct in arguing that there really are nomological principles that underpin what evolution can and cannot achieve? If such principles are inherent to the universe, one is led inevitably to inquire why they are constructed that way. Pure accident. [Such dogmatism, even if in the name of materialism, is unbecoming of a scientist.]

    In describing the remarkable way in which a parasitic wasp employs two venoms — the first to lead its docile victim to a grisly fate, the second to leave it alive but paralyzed — the tenor of their argument is uncomfortably reminiscent of “intelligent design.” Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini would be horrified at such a comparison, but if evolution is indeed akin to physics in being constrained by deep laws, even fine-tuned deep laws, then how do we prevent the machine from being re-occupied by a divine strategist? [Professor Conway Morris admits his theological motivation.] Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini rightly reject ID as vacuous [begging the question], but even so, do not be surprised if What Darwin Got Wrong begins to appear on creationist reading lists. [It will be on mine.]

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10 Comments:

Blogger setnaffa said...

see icr.org.

12:54 AM  
Blogger Baron Korf said...

I really just don't get it. How can there be "fine-tuned deep laws" without a lawmaker?

I'd be content with a conjecture about us being a laboratory for ET over this idea than a complex and seeming intentional system is a pure accident.

6:44 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Baron, I agree. One would think that scientists would merely say, "We've found some 'fine-tuned deep laws' and don't quite what to make of them," rather than, "We've found some 'fine-tuned deep laws' but 'pure accident' is the only way they could have come about.'"

Funny who it is who's injecting their theology into science. There was a time when the physical sciences (then called "natural philosophy") were not considered to be the highest matter of study.

4:25 PM  
Anonymous van said...

I seriously hope this isn't being posted with the assumption that the authors support intelligent design implicitly.

Legitimate science generally agrees on the tenability of invoking ideas from complexity theory for example, along with the neo-Darwinian mechanism. This is not about God.

Funny who it is who's injecting their theology into science. There was a time when the physical sciences (then called "natural philosophy") were not considered to be the highest matter of study.

What makes you think God (and specifically Yahweh, and specifically your interpretation of Yahweh out of who knows how many there are is a legitimate object of science? How would hypotheses invoking an omnipotent God make non-trivial predictions or be falsifiable?

3:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paging Teilhard.

3:06 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

van, a "Bright" like should read more carefully.

It was clearly stated that the authors reject intelligent design and nothing was said about God being "a legitimate object of science."

When a scientist states "pure accident," he is injecting his theology into science. Personally, a scientist can be a theist, an atheist, or an agnostic, but science itself should be agnostic, no?

4:12 PM  
Blogger love the girls said...

Western Confucian writes : "but science itself should be agnostic, no?"

No. To do so would be to deny that which is better known. Theists, agnostics, and atheists are at a disadvantage because they come to the sciences ignorant of principles which would otherwise lead to solutions to problems they puzzle over.

Of course we also find Catholics commonly doing the same because they to unthinkingly accept atheism's first principles.

7:58 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

I see your point, and agree with it, but if we can get atheists to recognize their biases when it comes to natural phenomena and turn them into agnostics, it will be a step in the right direction.

Let scientists investigate and let theologians and philosophers interpret. We have nothing to fear.

10:38 PM  
Blogger love the girls said...

Western Confucian : "I see your point, and agree with it, but"

No. The object of science is not to compromise truth in order to drag atheists out of the error.

11:16 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

But, if her aim is what she says it is, pure objectivity, then Science can never compromise the truth, even when performed by athiests.

The book discussed is a great example of this. We have two scientists, all too eager to "declare their secular credentials and [who] are adamant that God, like Mother Nature and the Tooth Fairy, is a dispensable fantasy," give us a book which has the materialist fundamentalists running scared.

11:32 PM  

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