Friday, January 06, 2006

Whatever gets you through the night is alright

Evolution Philospher Daniel Dennet makes an interesting point in Der Spiegel:
Dennett: I think it is because evolution goes right to the heart of the most troubling discovery in science of the last few hundred years. It counters one of the oldest ideas we have, maybe older even than our species.

SPIEGEL: Which is what exactly?

Dennett: It's the idea that it takes a big fancy smart thing to make a lesser thing. I call that the trickle-down theory of creation. You'll never see a spear making a spear maker. You'll never see a horse shoe making a blacksmith. You'll never see a pot making a potter. It is always the other way around and this is so obvious that it just seems to stand to reason.

Interesting, never quite thought about it that way. So since we're smart, smarter I assume than our envirnment, like, you know, rocks and trees, then something larger and grander than us made us.
SPIEGEL: You think this idea was already present in apes?

Dennett: Maybe in Homo Habilus, the handyman, who began making stone tools some 2 million years ago. They had a sense of being more wonderful that their artifacts. So the idea of a creator that is more wonderful than the things he creates is, I think, a very deeply intuitive idea. It is exactly this idea that promoters of Intelligent Design speak to when they ask, 'did you ever see a building that didn't have a maker, did you ever see a painting that didn't have a painter.' That perfectly captures this deeply intuitive idea that you never get design for free.

SPIEGEL: An ancient theological argument...

Dennett: ... which Darwin completely impugns with his theory of natural selection. And he shows, hell no, not only can you get design from un-designed things, you can even get the evolution of designers from that un-design. You end up with authors and poets and artists and engineers and other designers of things, other creators -- very recent fruits of the tree of life. And it challenges people's sense that life has meaning.

Hmmm. I suppose it should logically follow that humans create that which is less than them. This 'Trickle-down' theory of Intelligent Design seems to be contradicted by everyday human behaviour, though. Parents raise children and then set them free, and as adults, children no longer need parents. Are such children then less than the parents? Depends on the kids, one might say. But this behavior happens throughout the animal kingdom, each generation moving forward, at the very least becoming equal to the generation before. In humans, each generation creates greater achievments, however, so one can argue that each generation supercedes the previous. Except for the guy who invented the "Baby On Board" sign for car windows. Clearly an evolutionary setback.


In this vein, Dennett goes on:
Dennett: One has to understand that God's role has been diminished over the eons. First we had God, as you said, making Adam and making every creature with his hands, plucking the rib from Adam and making Eve from that rib. Then we trade that God in for the God who sets evolution in motion. And then you say you don't even need that God -- the law giver -- because if we take these ideas from cosmology seriously then there are other places and other laws and life evolves where it can. So now we no longer have God the law finder or the law giver, but just God the master of ceremonies. When God is the master of ceremonies and doesn't actually play any role any more in the universe, he's sort of diminished and no longer intervenes in any way.

SPIEGEL: How is it, then, that many natural scientists are religious? How does that go together with their work?

Dennett: It goes together by not looking too closely at how it goes together. It's a trick we can all do. We all have our ways of compartmentalizing our lives so that we confront contradictions as seldom as possible.

This also is interesting:
SPIEGEL: Do successful religions have similar features?

Dennett: They all have to have features for prolonging their own identity -- and a lot of these are actually interestingly similar to what you find in biology, too.

SPIEGEL: Can you give an example?

Dennett: Many religions started before there was writing. How do you get high fidelity preservation of texts before you have texts? Group singing and recitation are efficient mechanisms for maintaining and spreading information. And then we have other features too, like you really want to make sure there are some parts of religion that are really incomprehensible.

Look, if you need to believe in ID, fine. But so many in the Creationism and ID communities get something very wrong, sometimes with intentional dishonesty, and that's really quite disturbing:
In layman’s terms, if something is said to be “just a theory,” it usually means that it is a mere guess, or is unproved. It might even lack credibility. But in scientific terms, a theory implies that something has been proven and is generally accepted as being true.

Here is what each of these terms means to a scientist:

Scientific Law: This is a statement of fact meant to explain, in concise terms, an action or set of actions. It is generally accepted to be true and univseral, and can sometimes be expressed in terms of a single mathematical equation. Scientific laws are similar to mathematical postulates. They don’t really need any complex external proofs; they are accepted at face value based upon the fact that they have always been observed to be true.

Some scientific laws, or laws of nature, include the law of gravity, the law of thermodynamics, and Hook’s law of elasticity.

Hypothesis: This is an educated guess based upon observation. It is a rational explanation of a single event or phenomenon based upon what is observed, but which has not been proved. Most hypotheses can be supported or refuted by experimentation or continued observation.

Theory: A theory is more like a scientific law than a hypothesis. A theory is an explanation of a set of related observations or events based upon proven hypotheses and verified multiple times by detached groups of researchers. One scientist cannot create a theory; he can only create a hypothesis.

In general, both a scientific theory and a scientific law are accepted to be true by the scientific community as a whole. Both are used to make predictions of events. Both are used to advance technology.

The biggest difference between a law and a theory is that a theory is much more complex and dynamic. A law governs a single action, whereas a theory explains a whole series of related phenomena.

An analogy can be made using a slingshot and an automobile.

A scientific law is like a slingshot. A slingshot has but one moving part--the rubber band. If you put a rock in it and draw it back, the rock will fly out at a predictable speed, depending upon the distance the band is drawn back.

An automobile has many moving parts, all working in unison to perform the chore of transporting someone from one point to another point. An automobile is a complex piece of machinery. Sometimes, improvements are made to one or more component parts. A new set of spark plugs that are composed of a better alloy that can withstand heat better, for example, might replace the existing set. But the function of the automobile as a whole remains unchanged.

A theory is like the automobile. Components of it can be changed or improved upon, without changing the overall truth of the theory as a whole.

Some scientific theories include the theory of evolution, the theory of relativity, and the quantum theory. All of these theories are well documented and proved beyond reasonable doubt. Yet scientists continue to tinker with the component hypotheses of each theory in an attempt to make them more elegant and concise, or to make them more all-encompassing. Theories can be tweaked, but they are seldom, if ever, entirely replaced.

Those who know this, especially scientists, who persist in claiming "Evolution is only a theory" are alarmingly duplicitous. Heck, I remember this point from High School & college science classes, and almost everyone took at least one of those classes, yet so many seem to have forgotten this.

Believe what you need to, just be honest about it, and don't lie to me about it.

1 comment:

open365dayz said...

Hi #NAME#. Just found your site via pc. Although I was looking for pc I was glad i came upon your site. Thanks for the read!