February 20, 2008
Several readers responses to my last article demand that I engage them on turf of their choosing, ranging from the specifically doctrinal to the broadly metaphysical. The same is true elsewhere in the Blogosphere, this articles self -evident connection to Ben Stein having ignited brushfire science wars on sundry Pro and Contra Darwinista biology sites, much to the amusement of this soi-disant geophysicist, whose closest approach to Biblical disputation arises from occasionally looking at , or for , rocks for archaeologists and publishing the results in dry journals like Antiquity
But as several have asked politely why I should chose the Party of BioWhiggery over the IDiotarians in this catfight, the answer is twofold. First , Darwin was a hot shot, whether after high pheasant in Gloucestershire, or finch in Galapogos, while the Expelled crew aim ludicrously low, often hitting their own feet without first troubling to remove them from their mouths. The second reason touches on lower-case philosophy of science:
From roughly the discovery of the violation of Ohm’s law by natural semiconductors by Braun ( yes, the coffee grinder guy who made the first crystal radio possible ), in 1876, to the emergence of quantum mechanics in the ‘20’s, ‘classical’ physics was in crisis because additions to electromagnetic and thermodynamic theory that had vast macroscopic predictive power collapsed into gibberish when applied to phenomena at the atomic level.
But confronted with such things as radioactive decay and the ‘ultraviolet catastrophe’, physicists did not fall to their knees and proclaim “It’s a Miracle!”
They manifested something at once akin to religious conviction , and moral courage , and persevered in laboring to develop theories encompassing the evidence. In the process they revealed an horizon of material existence alien to the world of macroscopic events, that challenged metaphysical assumptions about causality and certainty antedating science. We are now in the formative period arising from that extension – real systems of simple sorts have been built that perform quantum computation and ‘teleport’ information and identities in ways as grossly transgressive of the way Einstein wanted the universe to be as relativity was of Newton’s clockwork cosmos.
These developments have occurred in the inorganic realm of physics , and it is still unclear how they will transform our biological understanding of the relationship of consciousness and information. But his much is clear – transform it they will, just as earlier , and current systems of biological investigation have eroded the opacity of nature- including the erasure of much of the fossil record by the sheer depth of time.
What ID has singularly failed to adduce is a formalism resembling Godel’s work in rigor , that plausibly demonstrates why what biologists do not know should forever remain unknowable. A desire to re-enchant the world, however attractive its appeal to nostalgia at best or – kudos to religion for its catalogs of vice, as well as its articulation of the meaning of moral authority, , mere intellectual sloth.
It is in the nature of metaphysics that time can neither erode its coherence or connect it to the material world. Science has no authority to compel those who have invested their consciousness in metaphysical systems to abandon the objects of their inculcated fascination, but neither do metaphysicians have any power to command science to cease and desist from discovering things they maintain must be unknowable.
Like how complexity happens of its own mindless accord to the utter despair of teleologists. When that happens what is a philanthropic physicist to do, other than gently remind metaphysicians that there is merit in the view that despair is a sin, and suggest they should shun it if the bottom drops out of metaphysics, and take up science instead. Because as a famous Victorian pietist observed , while it may have no vestige of a beginning ,it has no prospect of an end.
Given what physics did to itself in a scant century, might it not be an act of charity ( said to be a Virtue) to give post-modern biology a century’s worth of rope to see whether it uses it to hang itself- the confident ID position, or just perhaps, pull itself up by the bootstraps as amazingly as the quantum mechanics did, even as Edwardian amateur metaphysicians were warming up to pronounce them hoist on their own petard ?