Alan Boyle has posted a review/commentary of the Intelligent Design movie Expelled on his ‘Cosmic Log’. Alan’s always posting great stuff over there, and this is another example of that – but I thought I’d give it a mention here as it served (passively) as a bit of a fulcrum to my reading this week.
Firstly, Alan talked to evolutionary biologist Sean B. Carroll about the movie, and coincidentally I had just finished reading Steve Talbott’s Antimatters article “Can the New Science of Evo–Devo Explain the Form of Organisms?”. The article references Carroll as an authority on new developments in evolutionary theory, in discussing the ‘design’ aspects of living creatures and whether orthodox science really does explain how ‘form’ imposes itself upon physical creations.
When evolutionary biologists hear someone express wonder over the mammalian eye or peacock’s feathers, and when this wonder shades into incredulity about the usual sort of explanation for such things, all too often the biologists’ immediate assumption is that they’re up against an antagonist who doesn’t believe the eye or feather can be understood scientifically and who therefore wants to invoke some extra-scientific, and perhaps miraculous, explana-tion. And in fact some of the critics of evolution want to do exactly this.
More promisingly, we can step out of that fractious dispute and view the battlefield from a new level, where it becomes possible to grant the legitimate concerns of both sides. The scientist is absolutely justified in demanding unexceptioned respect for lawful, normal physical and biological process. Any attempt to introduce violations of this process leads immediately to nonsense.
But at the same time the incredulity the critic feels when contemplating the wonders of biological form is fully and emphatically justified. We should look at the eye and feather with disbelief in the usual manner of explanation. This, however, is not because we need miracles or violations of physical law. No, what we are disconcerted about is the claim that form has been explained by a description of processes from which considerations of form have been excluded as far as possible. Our unease is with the incommensurability between the explanation and what it is supposed to explain. The incommensurability, as I’ve tried to show above, results from the attempt to explain form by reference to mechanisms assumed to be both independent of form and the causes of it — when in fact we can make sense of the so-called “mechanisms” only by reference to the form we are supposedly explaining.
Secondly, another of the key points in Alan’s article – disputing the portrayal in Expelled of a link between evolutionary thinking and Nazism/fascism – was also discussed in another article I read this week, “The Atheist Delusion” by John Gray (which I linked to yesterday). Gray took the ‘new Atheists’ to task for ignoring obvious historical instances of atheism being at the centre of evil deeds, and made some good points.
I found both these articles (and Alan’s as well) to be balanced, insightful and thought-provoking, but also critical at appropriate times. In short, intelligent articles well worth reading and discussing.