Tuesday, July 25, 2006

George Gilder vs. Darwin

“The pretense that Darwinian evolution is a complete theory of life is a huge distraction from the limits and language, the rigor and grandeur, of real scientific discovery.” –George Gilder

George Gilder, Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute takes aim at Darwinian Theory in this National Review article. Fair warning: if you assay to read Gilder’s article, you’d better put on your thinking cap and be prepared to concentrate. It is not light, breezy reading.

Gilder quotes Robert Laughlin of Stanford as saying, “The Darwinian theory has become an all-purpose obstacle to thought rather than an enabler of scientific advance.” In essence, Gilder argues that Darwin-informed “materialist superstition” has become what many have long claimed religion to be: a set of blinders or chains that prevent pursuit of truth.

At times Gilder seems to be slamming Darwin altogether. For example, he lampoons some of the dichotomies and tautologies presented by strict adherence to Darwin. He says, for example, “Materialism generally and Darwinian reductionism, specifically, comprise thoughts that deny thought, and contradict themselves.” At other times Gilder seems to be suggesting that Darwin isn’t bad; just incomplete or inadequate.

Gilder’s thesis is that information “is manifestly independent of its material substrate.” This is easy to understand for computer programmers. You’ve got hardware (the mechanism for handling information), and you’ve got software (the actual information). Gilder posits that information necessarily comes first, existing independent of its later physical manifestation.

What we used to write on a sheet of paper, we now type into a word processing program. But in either case, the information exists independent of the sheet of paper or the word processor (or the computer that runs the word processor, which doesn’t know what to do with the information without other information that makes up the word processing program).

Gilder says, “In a computer, as information theory shows, the content is manifestly independent of its material substrate. No possible knowledge of the computer’s materials can yield any information whatsoever about the actual content of its computations. In the usual hierarchy of causation, they reflect the software or “source code” used to program the device; and, like the design of the computer itself, the software is contrived by human intelligence.”

And there you have it. The mechanism means nothing without the information, which exists independent of the mechanism. Take that one step further, and you have Gilder’s thought on the matter: information cannot exist without a pre-existing intelligence that generates the information. There must be a “mind” of some sort behind the intelligence. “Wherever there is information, there is a preceding intelligence.” (ellipsis original) “Mind can generate and lend meaning to words, but words in themselves cannot generate mind or intelligence.”

Gilder takes issue with Darwinists that focus on subsets of the mechanism in an attempt to show that the mechanism is in fact the information. Moving from computers to biology, Gilder says that “the deoxyribonucleic acid that bears the word is not itself the word. Like a sheet of paper or a computer memory chip, DNA bears messages but its chemistry is irrelevant to its content.”

Gilder claims that this information flow is necessarily a one-way road. That is, the information can force a physical representation, but not vice versa. He backs this claim up with known DNA science, and shows how Darwinian Theory violates this “Central Dogma” of molecular biology. In a thinly-veiled suggestion that Darwinism is itself a dogmatic superstition, Gilder derides “all “magical” proteins that morph into data, all “uppity” atoms transfigured as bits, all “miracles” of upstream influence.”

Gilder sees intelligent creationism everywhere: in computers, biology, human relationships, finance and economics, politics, quantum physics, etc. He suggests that pretty much everything in the universe is hierarchical. “[I]t turns out” says Gilder, “that the universe is stubbornly hierarchical.”

Gilder derides Darwinism as unrelentingly reductionist in violation of what we actually know about the universe. He says, “The universe of knowledge does not close down to a molecular point. It opens up infinitely in all directions.” He says that “scientists attempt to explain the exquisite hierarchies of life and knowledge through the flat workings of physics and chemistry alone,” but they fail because “biology as a field is irreducibly complex.”

Gilder cites IBM mathematician Gregory Chaitin’s demonstration “that biology is irreducibly complex in a … fundamental way: Physical and chemical laws contain hugely less information than biological phenomena.” He says that biology “is above physics and chemistry on the epistemological ladder and cannot be subsumed under chemical and physical rules. It harnesses chemistry and physics to its own purposes.”

Gilder notes, “Science still falls far short of developing satisfactory explanations of many crucial phenomena, such as human consciousness, the Big Bang, the superluminal quantum entanglement of photons across huge distances, even the bioenergetics of the brain of a fly in eluding the swatter. The more we learn about the universe the more wide-open the horizons of mystery.” But Gilder also criticizes scientists that are “drifting away from … technological foundations, where you have to demonstrate what you invent — and now [seek] to usurp the role of philosophers and theologians.”

Gilder admits that he leans toward Intelligent Design. “All right, have a tantrum. Hurl the magazine aside. Say that I am some insidious charlatan of ‘creation-lite,’ or, God forfend, ‘intelligent design.’” But he issues a challenge that he believes is necessary. “Transcending its materialist trap, science must look up from the ever dimmer reaches of its Darwinian pit and cast its imagination toward the word and its sources: idea and meaning, mind and mystery, the will and the way. It must eschew reductionism — except as a methodological tool — and adopt an aspirational imagination.”

I doubt that the political scientific community will be quick to accept Gilder’s challenge. Rather, it is more likely to grab the pitchforks and torches on the way to heretic’s house.

1 comment:

Travis said...

It's nice to read some intelligent thought on ID for once. So often people get into the Intellegent Design is just a mask for religion, that they ignore such real intelligent thought.

I haven't read the Gilder article yet, but you have tempted me.