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Monday, August 14, 2006

Voice from the audience: "So when will Darwinism be history?"

Last night I was out giving a talk on the origin and development of the intelligent design controversy, when an engineer audience member asked me, "How long do you give Darwinism before it collapses?"

I found providing an answer difficult because I am not psychic, so I must rely on near term, high impact information when making predictions.

(For example, I figured that ID would become big news in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century because events recorded around 1991-2001 in the United States could have no other outcome - absent a nuclear holocaust or some other "all-bets-are-off" scenario, but you can't let unlikely events distract you when you are making predictions based on the flow of normal events.)

At some point, I pointed out that the Catholic Church is now spreading the news on prayer cards in many languages around the world that we are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution Each of us is the result of a thought of God". That is certain to have impact, but I am uncertain how to evaluate its strength.

So finally, I told him, "Look, I don't think we are going to get anywhere understanding the origin of life or of species until we understand what information is and how it relates to the other factors in the universe. Information in life forms clearly does not arise the way Darwin thought it did. Even species don't seem to arise the way Darwin thought they did. The recent challenge to demonstrate it on this blog did not turn up much. And that was supposed to be Darwin's big contribution.

But aw, it's been worse. The Washington Post was reduced to claiming that the introduction of Ontario squirrels to the Washington area by an ill-advised naturalist in the early twentieth century was an instance of natural selection at work, when the evidence for that is decidedly poor.

This reminded me of someone I quoted in By Design or by Chance?:
The key to a scientific understanding of design is not theology, but information theory. If design is a part of nature, then the design is embedded in life as information. But many people are not used to thinking in terms of an immaterial quantity like information. As G.C. Williams writes:

Information doesn’t have mass or charge or length in millimeters. Likewise, matter doesn’t have bytes. You can’t measure so much gold in so many bytes. It doesn’t have redundancy, or fidelity, or any of the other descriptors we apply to information. This dearth of shared descriptors makes matter and information two separate domains of existence, which have to be discussed separately, in their own terms. (G.C. Williams, "A Package of Information" in J. Brockman, ed., The Third culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1995) , p. 43.)


Williams' two separate domains unite in life forms. But how separate are the domains? Have we misunderstood the history of life because we are blinded by the influence of materialist theories. Do we look for a materialist explanation for information when it doesn't and can't exist?

So I told the questioner that I can predict this far: Scientists will not find serious answers by trying to prop up Darwinism but by looking more closely at information theory. When we understand the history of life better, Darwin's natural selection will be shown to play at best a minor, conservative role in maintaining fitness. We have yet to discover the patterns that govern the history of life.

I now wish I had remembered to point out that, historically, scientists have spent a lot of time and energy defending failing theories, before entertaining better ones.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove’s critique of Darwinism.

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being denied tenure at Baylor.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
Blog policy note:Comments are permitted on this blog, but they are moderated. Fully anonymous posts and URLs posted without comment are rarely accepted. To Mr. Anonymous: I'm not psychic, so if you won't tell me who you are, I can't guess and don't care. To Mr. Nude World (URL): If you can't be bothered telling site visitors why they should go on to your fave site next, why should I post your comment? They're all busy people, like you. To Mr. Rudeby International and Mr. Pottymouth: I also have a tendency to delete comments that are merely offensive. Go be offensive to someone who can smack you a good one upside the head. That may provide you with a needed incentive to stop and think about what you are trying to accomplish. To Mr. Righteous but Wrong: I don't publish comments that contain known or probable factual errors. There's already enough widely repeated misinformation out there, and if you don't have the time to do your homework, I don't either. To those who write to announce that at death I will either 1) disintegrate into nothingness or 2) go to Hell by a fast post, please pester someone else. I am a Catholic in communion with the Church and haven't the time for either village atheism or aimless Jesus-hollering.

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