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July 27, 2005

Bishop Dawkins' Priest Holes - or what are the evolutionists afraid of?

Posted by Myles Harris

When historian Prof. William D. Rubinstein shared his doubts about the theory of evolution on this site the response was vituperative. Writer and London GP Dr Myles Harris argues that the response to those who question evolution is very different from the response to those who question, say, the theory of the big bang. Is it because the theory of evolution is being transformed - and in some ways challenged - by new scientific insights and new thinking about consciousness? Dr Harris suggests that the work of Oxford quantum physicist and philosopher David Deutsch - himself an ardent admirer of Richard Dawkins - challenges many of the assumptions underpinning the traditional understanding of evolution.

In 1963 I was an exchange student at a West Berlin medical school. I had made several visits through Check Point Charlie to East Berlin. Once you stepped out of the East German customs shed on the other side of the Berlin wall with its machine guns, mines, sand strips and attack dogs running on 50 metre chains, you found yourself in what seemed like a black and white film of the city a few months after its capture by the Russians. Badly dressed people in grey, their eyes fixed on the pavement jerked past. What shops were open were almost empty, but huge queues still stood outside them waiting to buy the few tins of Bulgarian tomatoes or Chinese prunes off dust covered shelves. There were cafes, but they had an Orwellian greyness about them, each table occupied by a solitary Winston Smith staring straight ahead. If you sat down and said "Guten Tag" Smith got up and left. Everywhere giant posters exhorted the workers of this perfect state to work even harder to make it more perfect still. You could taste the fear.

One evening I returned to the West Sector and sat drinking a beer on the Kurfurstendam. Pretty girls in the latest fashions walked past, the shops were packed with goods. People laughed and talked as they made their way to restaurants, theatres or the cinema. Sitting opposite me was a twenty year old West German girl - an ardent Marxist from a comfortable middle class family. I asked her how she could reconcile her beliefs with the horror of life in East Germany. Soon after I had arrived in the city an eighteen year old student had been shot trying to cross the Berlin wall. The Vopos had left his body hanging in the wire for eight hours.

Her face lighting up as though she had seen a lover at the other end of the street, she said:

Once you apply Marxist Leninist theory to the situation in East Berlin you will see there are no contradictions. The government in East Germany is a democratic government.
I exploded with:
They can only vote for one party!
She become very angry, replying:
How can you be so stupid? Why should anybody want any other party than a Communist party? The East German people would never vote in a reactionary fascist government, that is why they vote for Walter Ulbricht and the SED. You may think that East Berlin is poor and horrible, but that is because you are blinded by false consciousness. East Berliners are poor because they wish to demonstrate their solidarity with the working classes of other countries in the world. They choose to live like they do for the sake of freedom. The Berlin Wall is there to protect the democratic peoples of East Germany from capitalism. Once you understand this you too will feel free.
It was all so simple. All you had to do was to reduce the huge complexities of the market to a few "scientific" rules. Then not only could you interpret the past, but you could predict the future. No wonder Marxists became so furious when people resisted their theories. Anybody who did so was either stupid or had a hidden agenda. They were the peoples' enemies.

Forty years on, with Marxism dead and buried, I was reminded of that conversation as I read the attacks on a contributor to these columns who had written on the subject of Evolution. Two months ago Professor William D Rubinstein challenged Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection. He made no claim to scientific expertise, denied being a creationist and declared himself quite happy with the idea that the earth is around 4.5 billion years old. His objections to the theory were that there were gaps in the fossil record, very few transitional forms and that he found it hard to believe in species transformation. These are doubts often expressed by lay people, much as they express doubts about the theory of Big Bang or confess themselves unable to understand quantum theory.

But while those who cannot understand quantum mechanics or Big Bang are tolerated, those who attack Darwin's theory are not. He was described as "stupid", that the article was a form of subtle British humour, that he was a covert creationist, that he should be stripped of his professorship, that he was incompetent as a scholar. Attacks on him revealed a world of radical Darwinists on the web, exchanging ideas and signalling dissent like members of an intellectual police force, or, as I am sure they regard themselves, keepers of the eternal flame. Indeed some evolutionists would go further. Michael J Behe in a full frontal attack on Darwinism in a book entitled Uncommon Dissent, relates how Daniel Dennett in his book Darwin's Dangerous Idea:

compares religious believers to wild animals who may have to be caged, and would like to see parents prevented, presumably by coercion, from misinforming their children about the truth of Darwinian evolution.
It took me back to the girl in the Berlin cafe. Why was Marxism so important to her? Why was she prepared to defend a theory whose tragic results were being enacted only a mile away from where we were sitting? Her arguments, that I was somehow blinded to reality by false consciousness, that once I saw the truth my world would fill with the light of Marxist truth, that evil detractors went about trying to subvert the innocent, seemed very similar to the ones deployed against Professor Rubinstein. Darwinism is the truth, and anybody who attacks it, or even doubts it, is either intellectually dishonest, stupid or has a secret agenda. That agenda being Creationism or even worse, Intelligent Design. In the academic world opposition to Darwin is silenced in a manner reminiscent of the Holy Office. Dissenters are deprived of their livings.

Here is Warwick Collins writing in The Spectator in 1994 ["The Fatal Flaw in the Great Theory", The Spectator, 31st December 1994] describing what happened to his university career when he revealed he had doubts about Darwin. His persecutor was not some bigoted obscurantist in an academic backwater, but a leading light in British biology, John Maynard Smith, who died canonised by the evolutionary establishment for his intellectual honesty and pursuit of the truth:

My own introduction to the practice of Darwinism occurred when I was a Biology undergraduate at Sussex University. My tutor was the brilliant theorist Professor John Maynard Smith and - like Haldane - a Marxist. I liked Maynard Smith, but when I raised certain objections to the Darwinian theory I was told I would not be permitted to air them publicly, and that he would personally block publication of a paper which I had written on the subject. If I continued my status as one of his inner group of researchers would be withdrawn.
Eventually Collins found he could now:
not function in the pervading university atmosphere and left my studies for a wider world.
Things have got worse. Nowadays people are not only terrified of attacking the theory of natural selection, (it is professional suicide to do so in a university biology department) but even fear mentioning the possibility that it might not be a complete description. Listen to any discussion of Darwinism on the radio or TV and sooner or later you'll hear on of the participants hastening to assure us that they believe 100%, (perhaps 200%?) in the theory of natural selection, and that nobody of any repute in the biological sciences doubts it.

It is as if there is somebody looking over their shoulder. There is. Belief in natural selection has become the sine qua non of entry to much of polite society. In America anybody who does not is intellectually the equivalent of somebody who eats with his fingers, admires George Bush and is in desperate need of cosmetic dentistry. The same is true in England. The Pope of Darwinism,Oxford University's Richard Dawkins - in a book review for the New York Times [9th April, 1989] - pronounced:

It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that).
Dawkins later suggested that to believe in evolution is to belong to a elite, and such elitism should be encouraged. He argued - in article in The Guardian [21st June, 2003] - that a new word should be coined:
A triumph of consciousness-raising has been the homosexual hijacking of the word "gay". I used to mourn the loss of gay in (what I still think of as) its true sense. But on the bright side (wait for it) gay has inspired a new imitator, which is the climax of this article... Those of us who subscribe to no religion; those of us whose view of the universe is natural rather than supernatural; those of us who rejoice in the real and scorn the false comfort of the unreal, we need a word of our own, a word like "gay". You can say "I am an atheist" but at best it sounds stuffy (like "I am a homosexual") and at worst it inflames prejudice (like "I am a homosexual")...

Bright? Yes, bright. Bright is the word, the new noun. I am a bright. You are a bright. She is a bright. We are the brights. Isn't it about time you came out as a bright? Is he a bright? I can't imagine falling for a woman who was not a bright.

You can now register as a "bright" on a dedicated website: The Brights' Net. I would like to think that Dawkins was being ironic when he first proposed this new coinage, but among evolutionists paranoia about creationists is widespread. In The Scientist [28th February, 2005] evolutionists discussed if they should use the design metaphor in their papers. One stated:
We should chose our words carefully...The enemies could take that and say "see, biologists recognise design".
Here is Richard Dawkins [The Times, May 21st, 2005]:
It is therefore galling to say the least when the enemies of science turn those constructive arguments around and abuse them for political advantage.
Enemies? Reading this you get the impression of an organised conspiracy against evolution, a world in which the lights are going out on rational thought, a world in which evolutionists are an embattled minority. In fact, rather than being embattled, the evolutionists are winning the argument and the battle for the public mind.

But if for some bizarre reason either Creationism, or Intelligent Design, was to become an "official" dogma, an "official" creed (how on earth could that happen?), what do the evolutionists believe would happen? Would evolutionists be arrested for teaching Darwinism? Would evolutionary hedge schools, as there were in Ireland during the English persecution, spring up in America where the young were taught the evolutionary faith in the fields? Maybe there would be "Dawkins holes" like priest holes in England under Henry VIII, hiding places behind false walls or in cellars in which liberal families hid itinerant preachers (ordained by Dawkins?) and landed secretly in America to keep the faith alive? I think not.

My feeling is that Creationism is evolution's straw man. There is a good reason why some of Darwinism's more obsessed and insecure defenders feel it necessary to set it up. Like Marxism, the attraction of the theory of natural selection is that it can imprison thought in an epistemological straight jacket. Marxists tried to imprison economics in a rather similar mechanical, reductionist formula. Darwinists - terrified of the implications of modern discoveries in biology and physics - long for the comforting certainties of Victorian science.

Never mind that it will lead them into a blind alley, that it might only be a partial description or a verbal sleight of hand. After all what do you do after you have described every fossil in the book, carefully traced the descent of every species that can be traced and written a set of circular theories on socio-biology? What use is natural selection apart from telling us that we are the creatures of blind chance? Where does it go from here? My belief is that many Darwinists hope it is going nowhere, except in a nit picking, reductionist sort of way. We now have a watertight theory of how life is created: it blindly creates itself. Morally neutral, indifferent, blind, the development of life is as unconscious as a stream flowing across a bed of pebbles.

But the elephant in the room is human consciousness. Humans are not blind but self aware. We now know how to damn the stream of life and direct it. Just taking a casual glance at your daily newspaper, you will read stories like the one of how gene selection is being used to weed out haemophilia [Daily Telegraph, 11th July 2005]. It is one of an increasing number of such stories you can read almost any day. Now we are doing our own selecting, is selection natural anymore? Is it even evolution?

The problem of consciousness demonstrates how modern science poses philosophical and scientific questions that cannot be answered using the reductionist approach of those Victorian Darwinians still amongst us. It was one of the Huxleys who said that the trouble with evolution is that everybody thinks they understand it. It is especially true now. Traditional evolutionists should remember that pursuing a few frightened clergymen (or a brave historian in the case of this web site) offer few answers to the questions posed by modern biology - or science in general.

There are however enlightened Darwinists who don't run for cover when they are obliged to think. Some take an "emergent" view of science, (comprehensible explanations that are not simply deducible from lower level theories) which we need if we are to understand the broader implications of many of the puzzling things modern science confronts us with: discoveries such as the impossibility of understanding quantum theory, the extraordinary complexity of the cell, or what came before Big Bang.

Evolution may indeed be going somewhere. Far from being blind, it may see more by the second. In his book The Fabric of Reality the Oxford quantum physicist and philosopher David Deutsch in defining and discussing "emergence" challenges two out of date views in science, Instrumentalism and Reductionism, (both vices of many Darwinists). He defines Instrumentalism as the view that the purpose of a scientific theory is to predict the outcomes of experiments. Reductionism the belief that scientific explanations are inherently reductive. Instrumentalists do not think explanations of scientific phenomena are necessary. As long as you can predict an outcome from a measurement, then that is all that is necessary. Explanations are mere props for the intellectually lame.

Deutsch says such a view of science fails when you consider the following statement about a wall:

This wall was built to keep out a strong and determined enemy.
Scientists can describe the wall's exact make up down to the last atom, (reductionism) or can make predictions, based on measurements, (instrumentalism) of what a similar wall might look like if it was built to the same specifications, but neither of their explanations are a complete description.

Deutsch says:

For example, the wall might be strong because its builders feared that their enemies might be able to force their way through it. This is a high level explanation of the wall's strength, not deducible, but compatible with, the low level explanation of how it was built.
He describes as an emergent statement, the statement:
A wall built to keep out a strong and determined enemy.
Deutsch defines an emergent phenomena:
as one (such as life, thought or computation) about which there are comprehensible facts or explanations that are not simply deducible from lower level theories, but which may be explicable or predictable by higher level theories referring directly to that phenomenon.
Deutsch believes that as knowledge widens it deepens. Where evolution was once a sterile reductionist theory, (what I would describe as a "Victorian steam engine" model) that reduced us to automatons without willpower, new insights into computing and genetics offer a much more hopeful picture. One that even the most ardent Darwinist should not feel uneasy over.

Deutsch, who has absolutely no quarrel with the theory of natural selection, and admires Dawkins greatly, believes that life is about the physical embodiment of knowledge. He examines the ways in which our senses receive information from our surroundings. What we read is a type of virtual reality, no different in kind to what you see on a computer screen, on TV, at the cinema or indeed in a picture in an art gallery. This is because all information has to pass through our sense organs. The eye might be sophisticated, but it is nothing more than a natural camera, the ear an earphone, our other senses positioning, warning devices, refuelling and reproductive devices. Each renders reality into electrical currents in our brains.

Different species render things differently. If for example you had eyes that saw infra-red the world would look different from what it does now. If like a dolphin 1000 meters under the sea you saw through sound images, (sonar whistles) it would be different again.

However before readers accuse me of rehashing the plot of the film The Matrix we need to be careful about the words "virtual" and "real". They are not synonymous with imaginary. Whatever is out there is out there is real. We can, like Dr Johnson, feel reality when we kick a stone. It kicks us back, it hurts. It is how accurately we receive it – or render it - that matters.

The most successful animals have sense organs that offer the greatest and most accurate information possible about our surroundings. How good an animal's sense organs are depends on its genes. If you inherit bad eyes and don't see a tiger coming, your genes will be lunch. This means that life, through genes, is engaged in a competition to learn as much about the environment as it can. The "purpose" of life therefore is to embody knowledge. As long as genes exist, knowledge is set to increase without limit. As genes constantly "quarry" their environment for better niches through natural selection, the rendering of the universe as knowledge proceeds. We are part of the universe and we think, therefore part of the universe thinks. As life expands more and more of the physical world will think.

Such a description may seem remote from everyday experience, an arcane theory that may or may not be borne out millions of years from now. Yet knowledge is embodied in the physical world every day, and as it does so it grows, powerfully and swiftly, moving from generation to generation and expanding.

Hold an infant in your arms and talk to it. Each sound you make is burnt as a tiny physiological circuit in its brain. The more you talk the more its circuits grow. Even when you stop talking the child's brain goes on forming connections between one circuit and another so that when you talk to it again, it interprets and processes new information you give it in the light of what it has already learnt. Eventually a whole complex social world is written on the child's cortex. When we die the wiring perishes. But as each child grows into an adult and talks to another child, the world of knowledge is passed on. Even though each brain, a yellow blob that looks like a wrinkled mushroom, dies, before it perishes it adds more to the complex world of ideas that has grown steadily since our days on the prehistoric savannah. It is why a mere 230,000 years - a blink of an eye in astronomical time - since we first began to grunt at each other in the trees, we can now study positron emission tomograms of our own brains and watch as ideas burn themselves on its surface. Knowledge contemplating knowledge. Darwin's critics have a right to raise doubts. Evolution is not simple.

Myles Harris is a doctor and a journalist. He has worked in England, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Canada and Africa. He has written for The Spectator, Daily Telegraph, The Independent, Evening Standard and Daily Mail. He is the author of Breakfast in Hell (Simon & Schuster New York, Picador London), an account of his work as a doctor in a relief camp during the Ethiopian famine of 1984.


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Unlike Dr Myles Harris, I as a practising physicist-chemist do not think that quantum physics will even begin to shake the rug underneath the Theory of Evolution. But when he asks "what are the evolutionists afraid of?", the answer is simple – God. We are "by nature children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3) so this is only to be expected.

One does not have to be an atheist or agnostic to accept the theory of evolution. One writer who is both a fervent believer in God and a worker at the forefront of evolutionary palaeontology is Simon Conway Morris of Cambridge University, and if you want to read about evolution I recommend his book Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe which treats the subject without the miserific vision of Richard Dawkins and friends.

If I were to attempt to explain formally how one can be a Christian believer who has no problem with the Theory of Evolution, I would not do a good job, and I would be both tedious and pompous. But following the example of Sir Arthur Eddington, who used delightful evolutionary parables to show how we naturally tend to a Newtonian view, and have such trouble with Relativity and Quantum Theory, let me finish with one of my own, in the form of a conversation between a Tyrannosaurus and a Triceratops.

Tyr: You’ve been pretty unhappy lately. It’s all that religion, isn’t it?

Tri: But don’t you see what’s written on the rock wall over there – ‘The Mammals shall inherit the Earth’?

Tyr: You don’t want to pay any attention to that. Getta load of this instead!

Tri: What’s that you’re reading?

Tyr: ‘The Origin of Species’ by Charles Darwin. Survival of the Fittest – that’s me! – and you too, in your veggie old way.

Tri: I suppose you’re right, but ….

Tyr: Oh, come along! You don’t think God’s going to wipe us all out with a bolt from Heaven, do you?

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at July 27, 2005 08:28 PM
•••

Perhaps there would be less argument if the convention of referring to theories were different. It would, after all, be better termed Darwin's theory about evolution; evolutionary change had already come to be widely accepted among natural historians, geologists and biologists well before Darwin. Just as it had been determined change occurred to geographers, but it had not been determined how, awaiting first the discovery of ice-ages, then plate tectonics.

Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection merely explained this via a mechanism for species development via variation and variable reproductive success.
Darwin became identified, erroneously, as proposing the existence of evolution, rather than explaining it. Largely due to the controversy that arose when it was realised that humans could be included in this system.

Actually, a challenge to the (well supported) Big Bang hypothesis, without a compelling alternative that explained the evidence, would meet with dismissal. There is plenty of debate about how to explain it; competing hypotheses of the Big Bang abound; but at present "bangless" explanations appear moribund.

Similarly with other evidentially well-supported theories; you may question Einstein’s theories of gravitation and relativity. Or quantum theory.
But you'd better be sure you can provide an alternative, coherent, and preferably falsifiable explanations for the well observed phenomena of light and gravity and atomic-scale interactions, or people will just laugh at you. An argument from personal incredulity is insufficient to undermine these as the best explanations we have in science.

If you wish to propound these as reasons for scepticism within philosophy or theology, fine. Those concerned with science will merely shrug and let you get on with it.

A particular problem arises, though, in reference to science education, rather than science as such. A lot of people have attempted to smuggle rather irrelevant philosophical, theological or political issues into science teaching, rather than keeping them in other classes where they might be pertinent. For example, multiculturalist critics of objective truth and impartial knowledge attempting to "problematize" science with regard to "gender", or the "equal validity of different cultural explanations".

Another example, and a particularly persistent one, is the regular upsurge of resistance of Biblical literalistic fundamentalist Christians in America to evolutionary bio-history as "contradicting Genesis".
Why they have seized on this rather than many other aspects of science which contradict Biblical literalism is uncertain. Most likely because it is the most obvious, and in respect of the origins of humanity the most theologically objectionable.

At any rate, they have persistently attempted to insert their views into science education in schools, in the guise of legitimate scientific objections, as Scientific Creationism in the 1980's and Intelligent Design Theory today. The problem being, that as alternative explanation of the evidence they are on a far worse footing than even the Steady State Universe.
Their response to this is "we criticise - teach the controversy!" Meanwhile displaying remarkably little enthusiasm for "teaching the controversy" when it comes to heretical theologies, or the multiple designers hypothesis variant of Intelligent Design Theory as a support for polytheism.

That is why “those who question evolution” tend to arouse a sharp response.
Incidentally, I would suggest that Dennett, a philosopher rather than a biologist, tends to extend the Darwinian paradigm beyond the limits of biology. Which is thoroughly questionable as philosophy.
And as regards consciousness, and culture, their workings are likely beyond the bounds of explanation by genetics-based species natural selection, though their origins as a biological-based adaptation may not be. And consciousness may be conditioned, sub-consciously, by behavioural patterns arising through selection and studied in evolutionary biology; such human “universals” as tendency to mate and pair-bond, reciprocal favours, kin preference, language capability, sex-role differences, concepts of personal property, and so on.

Posted by: John Farren at July 29, 2005 03:18 PM
•••

Heres the reply of a biologist: pharyngula.org/index/weblog/comments/dim_academics_and_anti_evolutionism/

Posted by: guthrie at July 31, 2005 07:26 PM
•••

This is an article about politics. About human nature, about social behavior, about conspiracy. About purpose, materialism, philosophy, featuring comments such as:
"Blind chance"
"Morally neutral, indifferent"
"automatons without willpower"
"modern science poses philosophical and scientific questions that cannot be answered using the reductionist approach of those Victorian Darwinians still amongst us."

See, here's the thing: That's not science. That's certainly not evolution. Your concern is with the social, moral and philosophical implications you see in evolution, but that simply has nothing to do with science. None of that changes the hard, demonstrated fact of evolution. If you could convince me that evolution does indeed make us all mindless, purposeless automatons, that would change nothing of my acceptance of the fact, much like convincing me that the fact that the sky is blue means I'm going to die next thursday. Bummer, but what am I gonna do? They sky is, by and large, blue. But then, I don't think evolution does make us purposeless steam engines.

If your argument is aimed precisely at the non-scientific implications and interpretations of evolution, fine. But, do correct me if I'm wrong, it certainly doesn't seem so. And I'm so dreadfully tired of, and saddened by, the constant onslaught of those seeking to destroy evolution because they don't like what they think it means about themselves.

I find it ironic that the greatest champions of the "dogmas" of evolution are its opponents.

Posted by: rrt at August 1, 2005 05:08 PM
•••

Despite our sophisticated science we still remain religious creatures at heart, none more so, judging by a few of the replies to my article about 'Bishop' Dawkins, than supporters of Darwin's theory. The irrational fury of their response is extraordinary, especially when viewed from this side of the Atlantic. Unlike America, Britain is a profoundly secular society. Very few people go to church or believe in God. In consequence intelligent design, which is now openly debated in Britain, does not cause the furore it does in America. Here people do not think if you criticise Darwin you have set your feet on the road to the local gospel hall.

In this light it is easier to understand why the American academic P. Z. Myers at the mere mention of doubts about Darwinism worked himself into such a state. He lards his criticism of my article with insults and appeals to authority, but this only weakens his case. Indeed he was in such a state he was not able to focus on the entirety of my argument. If he had he would have noticed that the last third supports the theory of evolution. He dismisses as “rambling“ (in fact his insults were far more juvenile) my discussion of the research done by David Deutsch at the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford about whose book “The Fabric of Reality” the physicist and writer wrote.

“One of Britain‘s most original thinkers. In this major work David Deutsch confronts the deepest questions of existence head on. I haven’t been so inspired since I read Douglas Hofstadter’s ‘Godel, Escher, Bach.‘“

Deutsch’s work is difficult stuff - although I think most people with a decent first level science degree would be able to follow it - so it may be my fault for not expressing myself clearly. Then again there are those who will always find new ideas difficult.

More often it is simple bigotry. What is interesting about Darwin cultists is that at the first sign of opposition they fly to Darwin support sites to seek confirmation of their views. Religious fundamentalists do the same. They need group support to reinforce their convictions, which is why they are always looking for converts, and cannot abide criticism.

Being primates we like to beat the floor in unison, which is why new ideas upset people so much. There is an awful lot of floor beating in science, none more so than in biology. One thing the internet and the Darwin debate has done is to expose to the general public just how much coercion can go on in science, and how, especially in biology, the principles of free enquiry have been abandoned. Readers can imagine what it must be like to be a student at an American university whose ideas differ from the mainstream, or worse, a member of staff. Little wonder so much US scholarship is timid, conventional and weak. Thank God Darwin (If ever there was a stuffy old English eccentric of the type vilified by Mr Myers, he was it) did not conceive his idea in an American provincial university in the 21st century. The world would never have heard of natural selection.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


“threepwood76@aol.com“ thinks I am dodging the unalterable facts of evolution. This is not true. I have no quarrel with Darwin’s theory of natural selection, as far as it goes. However I, like Behe, am unconvinced of its application at cell level. And, judged by their frantic abuse, there is no doubt modern discoveries in cell chemistry have left those I call ‘Paleo - Darwinists” feeling extremely threatened. But it is a controversy that avoids the next big question about evolution which is not whether Darwin was right or wrong but the problem of consciousness. Once a species is conscious, and can make design choices, is it still on the evolutionary ladder? If a century on we can design a human being with an average life expectancy of 150 years, can we still say that human evolution is subject to blind selection, or are we doing the selecting? Thus my article is not primarily about the social, moral or political aspects of Darwinism, but about how consciousness may allow us to step off the evolutionary ladder. To be able to alter a species at will is a situation Victorian scientists could never have conceived of. If that happens – and Dolly the sheep seems an early example - then unimaginable moral, political and cultural consequences will follow.

A separate but related issue, as Deutsch points out, is that evolution appears to be a process, which he calls ‘rendering’, that reveals more and more information about the universe. This is because as the living world becomes more complex it understands more and more. A carbon atom does not understand the nuclear physics of a star but an astrophysicist does. Yet an astrophysicist is only a complex, evolved arrangement of carbon atoms (and other atoms). At what stage will this process stop? When everything is known about the nature of the universe? Who knows, perhaps elsewhere in the universe others have rendered a huge amount of information before us. Perhaps digital software, DNA, is the result?

Posted by: Dr Myles Harris at August 2, 2005 01:31 PM
•••

Dr. Harris:

I appreciate your comments, and the clarification of your points. I disagree strongly with you on the matter of cellular complexity indicating design--that argument still stems from incredulity and offers no actual evidence for design. Further, its general formulation, the "mousetrap" example, is fundamentally flawed. There are reasonable methods for complex cellular systems to evolve that IDists ignore, preferring to view cells as an "all or none" functional whole. Evolution doesn't work that way. But I'm not really seeking to argue that particular point here.

What still bothers me is your insistence on discussing matters of consciousness as if they were relevant to the mechanisms of evolution. They are not.

Regarding your question of human intelligence taking us off the evolutionary ladder: First, evolution is not equivalent to natural selection. If you could remove selection from the equation, as you are implying consciousness can do, evolution still occurs. Second, consciousness probably will not remove selection anyway because the organism still exists in a material environment. Aside from, I think, overestimating our ability to eradicate various human diseases and "imperfectons," you're focusing too much on those issues. Selection affects every aspect of our physical being, not just those things we see as "problems." It is also worth noting that what we value and reject are irrelevant to evolution, it doesn't "care" what we think is desirable. If we eliminate disease and enable ourselves to enhance our characteristics--increasing intelligence, strength, etc.--we are still physical creatures existing in and interacting with a physical world. It will take far more than typical applications of consciousness to extricate organisms from evolution.

Finally, I take issue with your comments about evolution as a progressive process, gaining information. You seem to be advocating another version of an "arrow" to evolution, echoed in your characterization of it as a ladder. There is no evidence for a direction inherent to evolution, and not for lack of trying to find one. Evolution does reflect the environment to a degree, but the idea that this reflection will trend ever onward toward increasing complexity has not been borne out.

Posted by: rrt at August 2, 2005 03:31 PM
•••

First - what has East German Communism or "Marxism" (A religious belief-system complete with thought police) go to do with evolution?
Secondly- evolution is the BEST answer many generations of scientists have come up with - and it fits into out "other" knowledge, such as the genetic code.
The writer seems to forget, or not know, that scientific knowledge fits together - you cannot abstract one small part of it.
Thirdly - our response is not irrational fury - it is rational:
That the writer refuses to look at the evidence, calims darwinism/evoultion is a religious belief, which it is not, and finally asks what the evolutionists are araid of.
Well. I'll tell you.
We are afraid of liars, and the ignorant and the stupid, and those who seek to twist what is (or is understood to be) for their own religious and political ends.
It is entirely possible, that the theory of Evolution as we understand it, is wrong - but no-one has yet found ANY suitable, better alternative. "Intelligent Design" or creationism are known to be false - they are falsifyable (Suprisingly enough) - if creationism/ID were true, the the Intelligent Designer/Creator should be detectable.
No-one's seen anything yet .....

The original author is lying. All the priests, of all the religions are blackmailers - "Do as we say and you'll go to heaven - dont do as we say and you'll go to hell"
Ask Salman Rushdie or Theo van Goch.

Posted by: G. Tingey at August 18, 2005 07:29 AM
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Darwinism and Marxism go hand in hand. So have Darwinism and Nazism.

No. I don't think we creationists would force the evolutionists into hiding away in priest holes even though they certainly contend for a faith without an empirical foundation and should be called priests of their religion.

I've examined evolution and found it to be bankrupt in explaining most everything we see around us. The evidence leans everywhere for the flood theory and for the fiat of creation. All the howling down of God as creator and sustainer, I believe, is a deep insecurity on the part of evolutionists who know their ship is going down.

The point is, let's not obscure the real issue. Let's examine the evidence all around us without lying or appealing to authority, without making up a missing link out of a pig's tooth or turning a fragment of skull or jawbone into a complete neanderthal. Let's get at the truth without presuppositions. When we do that, we will know the truth which will set us free from the ignorance of evolution.

I have a blogspot at www.commissioned1.blogspot.com which has a growing evalutation for evolutionists. I predict that most evolutionists, including theistic evolutionists, will flunk badly when confronted with the evidence.

Please visit me.

Posted by: Don R. Daniels at December 30, 2005 03:42 PM
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