19 February 2006

Less So Intelligent Design

On the positve side, advocates of Intelligent Design try to use concepts from Information Theory that are divorced from physical reality. That is, information is physical - physical interactions must take place for information to be created, moved, or destroyed. And, contrary to the assertions of at least one ID supporter (William Dembski), all three things can happen to information. But that's the positive side. In this post, I want to look at the negative side: the arguments made by the IDers against Evolution.

First, they try to use the notion of irreducible complexity. This is the notion that if you take a part away from a machine, and it stops functioning at all, then that part could not have evolved from nothing through a series of small changes. They try to apply this to biological systems, heedless of its fallacy. For one thing, consider that a substitute, but inferior, part could make the machine work almost as well. There could be a whole sequence of such parts, stretching back into the past. Indeed there could be such sequences for every part of the machine, such that at some prior time, the machine looked and functioned rather differently. Such is the case with living things and their multiplicity of subsystems and parts, many of which are redundant, and many of which are flawed. (Indeed, the theory of systems with multiply redundant, flawed parts seems to account well for the phenomenon of aging.)

Second, they try to show that there simply hasn't been enough time since the beginning of the biosphere (about 4 billion years ago) for life as we know it to have arisen. They note the billions of parts of a DNA molecule, and point out that, given known mutation rates, random mutations could not account for the diversity of life that we now see. However, as I pointed out in my previous post on ID, mutations do not occur randomly. On this planet they are constrained by the stereochemistry of carbon compounds in solution in water. The process of change by mutation is neither random, nor even Markov. DNA , RNA, and their precursors, interacting with their environment are essentially computers with memory. Thus evolution proceeds far faster than the IDers (or most advocates for evolution) give it credit.

So, while evolution is an observed process, and people have testable theories concerning how it happens, ID is not yet one of those theories. It is instead an intellectual and political power-grab by people who would rather believe a comforting myth than stare into the abyss of uncertainty. In particular, by trying to force its way into school curricula, it is an attempt by my fellow believers to co-opt the temporal power of the state to shore up the weakness of their faith.

Well, we in Western Civilization have been down that road before. We have fought our way through the Protestant Reformation and the bloody wars of religion that followed. We should all know by now that when the power of Faith gets in bed with the power of the Government, their union breeds monsters. This is a simple fact of the Human Condition, and it applies to all religions, whether, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Secularist.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm all for the political disenfranchisement of conservative Christianity. Perhaps even a little outright persecution. It might be good for us.

However, ID is not an homogenous movement, and whatever "power grabbing" you discern is most certainly a fringe phenomenon.

I say this because most of the crudely political conservative Christianity I have encountered is staunchly young-earth creationist in outlook, and tends to be very mistrusting of the intellectualizing and "compromising" in the ID movement.