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Two Gifts for Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins’s recent piece titled Creationism: God’s Gift to the Ignorant has not met with full acceptance among UK scientists. Here are two letters by UK scientists who aren’t buying his latest attack on ID:

From Professor Andy McIntosh

Sir, By building a straw man of creationists (supposedly) misquoting Darwin and Lewontin, Professor Dawkins labels the lot as “ignorant” and skirts the big issue — there is no hard evidence for molecules-to-man evolution.

Dawkins has long touted stories on how the eye and other organs came into being by supposed slow evolutionary processes, but there is no experimental evidence, even if one did accept the fossils as a record of such changes. Any serious thinker knows that the fossils of the “Cambrian Explosion” period, near the base of the geological column, include some of the most sophisticated eyes ever known to have existed — the compound eyes of trilobites have double calcite lenses, which defeat any slow evolutionary explanation, and, what is more, they have no precursor in the rocks.

The non-evolutionist side of the argument is growing not because of ignorance, but because of the rise of knowledge about the real facts of science without the fairytale additions of evolutionism. A growing number of academics on both sides of the Atlantic are attracted to the straightforward logic of scientific reasoning.

The logical, coded machinery of DNA and the information system it carries shout design to an unprejudiced mind. Dawkins’s defence is based not on scientific facts, but on ideology. Evolutionary thinking is teetering as a way of looking at the evidence, not because of some isolated problems here and there, but because the whole structure is scientifically wrong.

Yours faithfully,
ANDY C. McINTOSH,
(Professor of Thermodynamics and Combustion Theory),
Energy and Resources Research Institute,
Houldsworth Building,
University of Leeds,
Clarendon Road, Leeds LS2 9JT.
May 23.

=-=-=-=-=-

Evolving theory of intelligent design
From Dr Milton Wainwright

Sir, Like many biologists, Richard Dawkins (Weekend Review, May 21) views the theory of intelligent design merely as an attack on evolution when, being essentially identical to the anthropic principle, it has far wider implications.

Such ideas should not be dismissed simply because they have been hijacked by creationists. Despite Dawkins’s relentless propaganda, rational criticism of evolution and a distaste for biological reductionism do not equate to religious fundamentalism; bigotry should be resisted from whichever direction it comes.

Yours faithfully,
MILTON WAINWRIGHT,
Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology,
University of Sheffield,
Sheffield S10 2TN.
May 21.

These letters are available here.

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10 Responses to Two Gifts for Richard Dawkins

  1. It looks like Richard C. Dawkins is getting a beating from his very own U.K colleagues. When the
    time comes Richard Dawkins will be dead and all his theories will go asuder. As ID gains a
    stronghold within the scientific community, Richard Dawkins will be sitting down wondering how
    useless and uneventful was his crusade against religious believers, theistic scientist and
    others who believe life was some how created by a higher order. Then and only then will he feel
    defeated and will feel the onslaught of nihilism. Dawkins is 64 years old! Only time will tell
    where his convictions will end up.

  2. My last post was by no means a judgement on Richard Dawkins. Although, it might come across
    that way. Nonetheless, I respect Dawkins as a scientist. I’m sure he is a man of insight and
    probably is a good husband or father. However, his attacks on believers are unwarranted and
    in many cases false. When you go the distance to push your idealogy, in the end you will just
    end up hurting yourself and others.

  3. If Rush Limbaugh were refereing this situation, he would conclude that the howls and screams of the evolutionists is simply a sign that they are losing, and in losing, hurling more and more invective. In other words, the louder they shout, the stronger the arguments they’re shouting against.

  4. Howls and screams, indeed. I am amazed at how such an intellectual pursuit degenerates into playground insults. I note this much: When I perceive nonsense I ignore it completely and get on with life. I don’t howl and scream about it. Why draw attention to something that by one’s own viewpoint is absurdity? Is anybody screaming at those who think Elvis lives?

  5. I’m reminded of G.K. Chesterton:

    “They cannot get out of the penumbra of Christian controversy. They cannot be Christians and they cannot leave off being anti-Christians. Their whole atmosphere is the atmosphere of a reaction: sulks, perversity, petty criticism. They still live in the shadow of the faith and have lost the light of the faith…

    An iconoclast may be indignant; an iconoclast may be justly indignant;
    but an iconoclast is not impartial. And it is stark hypocrisy to pretend that nine-tenths of the higher critics and scientific evolutionists and professors of comparative religion are in the least impartial. Why should they be impartial, what is being impartial, when the whole world is at war about whether one thing is a devouring suspicion or a divine hope?”

  6. The second letter you post confuses me. ID is essentially identical to the anthropic principle? Huh? They say two quite different things. Now, someone who makes a design inference from organic molecules would almost certainly make such an inference from any of the stronger (“strong,” “final,” etc.) versions of the anthropic principle, but the anthropic principle itself says nothing about intelligent design. In fact, it works in the opposite direction, discussing the existence of intelligence itself. To revert to a design inference in a discussion of the anthropic principle is, then, open to the criticism that it explains nothing, because the designer requires the conditions for its existence as well. It’s designers all the way down, so to speak (while this objection is often made against ID arguments in biology, that is largely because IDers, including Dembski, do not give us any indication of the properties of the designer, and thus give us no real predictive power).

    Anyway, it only hurts the ID cause when you post (and seemingly endorse) letters from scientists who make blatantly false statements about science, such as that ID and the anthropic principle are identical.

  7. Chris,

    How so? The Anthropic Principle seeks the nexus where the absense of design would negate life as we know it. While the two are not essentially identical in method, they most certainly are in premise.

    Consider this: “The first popularizer of the [Anthropic] principle American physicist John Wheeler, describes it in this way, ‘A life-giving factor lies at the centre of the whole machinery and design of the world.’.”

    That “factor” is what precisely?

    Intelligence?

    -Nick

  8. “ID is essentially identical to the anthropic principle? Huh.”

    I share your concern to a slight extent.

    Barrow and Tipler’s Final Anthropic Principle (FAP) says intelligence is at the root of reality. Tipler was more blunt about the Final Anthropic Principle:

    “I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I would be writing a book purporting to show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact true, that these claims are straight-forward deductions of the laws of physics as we now understand them. I have been forced into these conclusions by the inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics.”

    Wheeler’s Participatory Antropic Principle (PAP) is a bit milder, where human intelligence bascially is at the root of a self-starting the universe. That is close to Morowitz’s view.

    Thus both (FAP and PAP) are seen to be ID theories. They are Anthropic-ID theories. To be fair, they are at variance with (for lack of a better term) Theistic-ID where the Intelligence is more inline with a traditional Deity who was the Prime Mover before time began.

    Theistic-ID is also derivable from interpreations of QM, but it is not usually called an Anthropic Principle. Some Theistic-IDists see Anthropic Principles supportive if Theistic-ID (like Patrick Glyn, perhaps Dave Heddle), others do not (like Dean Overman).

    The spectrum of opinions has lead to some concluding ID = Anthropic Priniples, and many others not. ID=Antrhopic Principles is a reasonable position, but not universally accepted, especially when arguing biological origins. I suppose in the end, it depends on the IDist you talk to.

    However, definitional difficulties aside, at the end of the day, the great questions over Darwinian evolution still remain.

  9. I emailed Dr. Wainwright to thank him and ask for clarification on his views of ID. To be clear, he said he doesn’t support ID. But he is open and interested in any “rational” scientific inquiry, examples of which he considers to interface with ID–namely, the anthropic principle. By AP he means Barrow and Tipler’s version of it (FAP), which does draw ID implications, as scordova points out. This is how and why he equated the two in his letter, apparently. If he gives permission and anything interesting comes from the email discussion, I put it forth.

  10. scordova (and this applies to Nick as well):

    The formulation of the FAP implies nothing about a designer. It simply states:

    “Intelligent information-processing must come into existence in the Universe, and, once it comes into existence, it will never die out.”

    That’s hardly identical with a design inference, and Barrow and Tipler are quite clear on this. In fact, the only version of the AP that they believe may be interpreted (wrongly, in their view) as implying a designer is the Strong AP (perhaps in combination with the FAP). The Strong AP, according to B&T, states that the conditions of the unvierse that allow for the existence of intelligence are necessary. Some (not all) feel that this implies a designer. In their book, Barrow and Tipler take pains to distinguish the AP from design inferences, but Tipler later seems to take the view that the SAP does imply design.

    Of course, the SAP, FAP, and the PAP (which only seems to work if you hold a particular interpretation of QM, or are on some serious hallucinogenics) are all highly controversial. The WAP is trivially true, and widely accepted. The others are not science, but philosophy built on science. Only the FAP make a real prediction, and one that is completely untestable (that life will continue forever). Of course, that’s what Intelligent Design theories ultimately are, as well, and hence one of the primary arguments against it: it makes no testable predictions.

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