It seems the silly season is beginning early – I’m expecting a rash of ‘letters to the editor’ as the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth gets closer (what are you doing for Darwin Day?), but this seems a little premature. The writer begins:
We’ve weathered a fair few scientific broadcasts lately authenticating Charles Darwin’s findings. Effectively they explain how all life is the handiwork of animated primitive cells that inadvertently regrouped as butterflies, flowers, elephants, etcetera, which apparently proves there’s no God and we should abandon that idea.
Hmmm, where shall I start?
Suggesting that ‘animated primitive cells… inadvertently regrouped’ into more complex organisms has got to be one of the best (?) misrepresentations of how natural selection operates that I’ve heard for a long time! But I’ll deal with the next leap of illogic – the suggestion that evolutionary biology ‘proves there’s no God’. This is what’s called a ‘straw man’ – setting up a propostion that those you are arguing with have, in fact, never made.
The concept of a god/designer/creator – call it what you will – is of something that acts outside the constraints of the natural world. In other words, it’s bringing the supernatural into the equation. But science doesn’t deal with the supernatural, and so has nothing to say either way on what are effectively issues of faith. Except, perhaps, to suggest how humans’ propensity to believe in something might have itself evolved.
The writer then goes on to make a rather confused statement of what’s known as the anthropic principle – the suggestion that the Earth, & perhaps even the universe, have been designed specifically for our use & wonderment:
When you study the fascinating artistry of it, a coincidental universe is remarkably unlikely, because after some fair counterarguments we still have an interesting situation, a revolving rock, spiraling through space at astonishing speed, yet standing still, incapable of ideas, yet full of imaginative design concepts, too technically intricate to authoritatively pronounce ‘self occurring’.
It had never occurred to me that a rock is technically intricate… But, slightly more seriously, if humans manage to wipe themselves out – whether it be through disease, climate change, or nuclear conflagration – I suspect that if the cockroaches that take over ever gain sentience, they too will regard the Earth as having been made specially for them.
And then we get:
There’s the Darwinian dilemma. Intelligent input is denied. Ideas must happen naturally. A bug would say ‘eyes’d help’ and evolution would reply, ‘we’ll see what happens’.
!!! We do actually have a reasonably good understanding of how eyes evolved. And it certainly wasn’t by the method suggested here, as you’ll know if you’ve followed some of my earlier posts. We’re also told that evolution can’t explain
how flowers program seeds with millions of complex instructions, including the scent the flowers must have and amazingly, also instruct them to download these directives into their own future seeds.
Umm – genes & chromosomes, anyone? Biologists do have quite a good idea of how inheritance works, of the mechanisms that affect gene expression, & of the interplay between genes and environment. That’s not the same as saying we know everything about the process – far from it! All we can ever hope to offer is the best possible explanation based on the evidence available at the time.
I really should write a letter to the editor myself (although my Significant Other feels that it is Not Nice to wind people up…)