Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Darwin Bicentenary Part 10: Uncivil Civil War

This post on Uncommon Descent quotes with approval Philip S Skell, Professor of Chemistry at Penn State University. The professor rightly warns against the oversell of evolutionary theory:

The essence of the theory of evolution is the hypothesis that historical diversity is the consequence of natural selection acting on variations. Regardless of the verity it holds for explaining biohistory, it offers no help to the experimenter–who is concerned, for example, with the goal of finding or synthesizing a new antibiotic, or how it can disable a disease-producing organism, what dosages are required and which individuals will not tolerate it. Studying biohistory is, at best, an entertaining distraction from the goals of a working biologist.

Yes, this puts evolution is perspective; likewise a good engineer doesn’t necessarily need to know the history of engineering with its twists, turns, reversals and change. Evolution is a theory of origins as is ID theory, a theory of what was attempting to explain what is.

Professor Skell also says:

It is unseemly and scientifically unfruitful that a major focus in biology should have turned into a war–between those who hold that the history of those unique organisms is purely a matter of chance aggregation from the inorganic world and those who hold that the aggregation must have been designed for a purpose. It is surely not a matter that must or can be settled within the provenance of experimental biology. Above all, declaiming orthodoxy to either of those propositions promotes incivility and draws energy and resources away from the real goal–advances in experimental biological science.

Good, we have here someone who isn’t prepared to sell his soul to a theory of origins. This letter to the Daily Telegraph from a group of academics echoes Professor Skell’s sentiment, if not content:

Evolution, we believe, has become caught in the crossfire of a religious battle in which Darwin had little interest. Despite his own loss of Christian faith, he wrote shortly before his death: “It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist.”

However Denyse O’Leary on Uncommon Descent is none too pleased. She also quotes the above portion of the letter - which is ironic as it follows shortly after the post quoting Professor Skell! Denyse refers to the signatories of the letter as “a bunch of well meaning idiots” and addresses them thus:

So we’re just supposed to be stupid unquestioning churchgoers, hollering for Jesus in a damp, smelly tabernacle somewhere? But, toffs, what if we are, um, not. What if we are smarter than you, and much more numerous - but not nearly as privileged, at present? Did you ever think of that? Did you ever think of what it means for the future?

Now that’s a fine example of cross fire for you, really cross…

STOP PRESS 28/2/2008
This post on Uncommon Descent shows that both sides of the debate can engage constructively in discussion if they try. I'm very pleased to see this.

Coming soon .. William Dembski's "Active Information".

1 comment:

fatir_21 said...

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