Monday, April 11, 2011

Evolving Doubts about Evolution

The number of biologists who are beginning to think that Darwin got it at least partly wrong continues to swell. Lyn Margulis is a prominent scientist who has had doubts for some time and expresses them in a recent piece in Discover Magazine which Jonathan M. discusses at Uncommon Descent.

In the interview Margulis says the following:
All scientists agree that evolution has occurred...The question is, is natural selection enough to explain evolution?...This is the problem I have with neo-Darwinists: They teach that what is generating novelty is the accumulation of random mutations in DNA, in a direction set by natural selection....Natural selection eliminates and maybe maintains, but it doesn’t create....I was taught over and over again that the accumulation of random mutations led to evolutionary change — led to new species. I believed it until I looked for evidence....There is no gradualism in the fossil record....‘Punctuated equilibrium’ was invented to describe the discontinuity....The critics, including the creationist critics, are right about their criticism. It’s just that they’ve got nothing to offer but intelligent design or ‘God did it.’ They have no alternatives that are scientific....The evolutionary biologists believe the evolutionary pattern is a tree. It’s not. The evolutionary pattern is a web....
Prof. Margulis is correct that ID advocates can't explain how an intelligent agent might have engineered life, but I don't see why that should be an impediment to believing that one did. There are lots of things, after all, that scientists believe even if they can't explain how those phenomena came to be. For example, no one can explain how an electron can be in two places at the same time when it's not being observed, or how the universe came into being out of nothing, or how the material brain produces the sensations of color and flavor, etc., or how matter generates gravity, or how magnets repel, or how radioactive decay occurs, and on and on. Nevertheless, despite our inability to explain how these phenomena happen, scientists all believe they do.

The same is true with the origin and diversity of life. It may be that we'll never know exactly how life was originally created, but that's no reason to doubt that it somehow required intelligent input.

Put another way, if the first astronauts to land on the moon had found an American flag already there, they may have had no idea how it could have happened, but that doesn't mean they would doubt that it was placed there by an intelligent agent. They wouldn't think that it was the product of a chance accident of some sort.

It'd be foolish to resist believing that an intelligent agent was responsible for the flag being there just because we cannot explain how the agent did it. Likewise, so much of life points beyond chance to intelligent agency that it's foolish to rule this possibility out simply because no one knows how the agent would, or could, have acted.

I'm reminded of the wise words of William James who wrote that "a rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth, if these kinds of truth were really there, would be an irrational rule."

So it would.

Buy a Hybrid

Mark Steyn has a funny column over at National Review Online on the Democrats' apparent indifference to the economic peril our country faces. In the course of his column he tosses in some biting criticism of Mr. Obama's response to a man who asked him at a recent Town Hall if gas prices would ever go back down:
For a sense of Democrat insouciance to American decline, let us turn to the president himself. The other day, Barack Obama was in the oddly apt town of Fairless Hills, Pa., at what the White House billed as one of those ersatz “town hall” discussions into which republican government has degenerated. He was asked a question by a citizen of the United States.

The cost of a gallon of gas has doubled on Obama’s watch, and this gentleman asked, “Is there a chance of the price being lowered again?” As the Associated Press reported it, the president responded “laughingly”: “I know some of these big guys, they’re all still driving their big SUVs. You know, they got their big monster trucks and everything. . . . If you’re complaining about the price of gas and you’re only getting eight miles a gallon — (laughter) . . .

That’s how the official White House transcript reported it: Laughter. Big yuks. “So, like I said, if you’re getting eight miles a gallon you may want to think about a trade-in. You can get a great deal.”

Hey, thanks! You’ve been a great audience. I’ll be here all year. Don’t forget to tip your Democrat hat-check girl on the way out: At four bucks a gallon, it’s getting harder for volunteers to drive elderly voters from the cemetery to the polling station. Relax, I’m just jerking your crank, buddy! And it’s not four bucks per, it’s only three-ninety-eight. That’s change you can believe in!...

America, 2011: A man gets driven in a motorcade to sneer at a man who has to drive himself to work. A guy who has never generated a dime of wealth, never had to make payroll, never worked at any job other than his own tireless self-promotion literally cannot comprehend that out there beyond the far fringes of the motorcade outriders are people who drive a long distance to jobs whose economic viability is greatly diminished when getting there costs twice as much as the buck-eighty-per-gallon it cost back at the dawn of the Hopeychangey Era.

So what? Your fault. Should have gone to Columbia and Harvard and become a community organizer.
The fact is President Obama doesn't want lower gas prices. He said during the campaign that $4.00 a gallon gas is just fine with him, presumably because it will force us away from fossil energy sources toward windmills and such. Windmills aren't going to help the folks who have a thirty mile commute to work every day. Nor is paying $30,000 to $40,000 for a hybrid much of an answer for workers barely able to meet their bills each month. And what does he suggest to those who heat their homes with fuel oil? Switch to electricity or solar panels?

Of course, maybe a man who has never had a real job in his life, who has always been provided for by political cronies and taxpayers, can not be expected to understand the circumstances in which most people live.

Might As Well Just Shut Up

In a recent post on the murders of U.N. workers in Afghanistan by a mob of Muslims outraged that a Florida pastor had burned a Koran, I argued that we cannot follow those like Senator Lindsey Graham who wish to conform our freedom of speech to Muslim standards of blasphemy and to whatever violent, crazed mobs will tolerate.

Paul Marshall and Nina Shea have a related piece at National Review Online that shows the folly of suggestions such as Graham's by enumerating the sorts of things that have been deemed blasphemous in the Islamic world:
Muslim blasphemy has recently been defined to include: denouncing stoning as a human-rights violation (Sudan), opening girls’ schools (Bangladesh), criticizing the Guardianship of the Jurists (Iran), petitioning for a constitution (Saudi Arabia), use of the word “Allah” by Christians (Malaysia), rejecting an order for violent jihad (Sudan), praying at the graves of relatives (Saudi Arabia), translating the Koran into Dari (Afghanistan), accidentally tearing a calendar page containing a Koranic verse (Pakistan), naming a teddy bear after a boy named Mohamed (Sudan), urging that the Koran be understood in its historical and cultural context (Indonesia), teaching Shiism (Egypt), and calling for a ban on child brides (Yemen). Mob violence, intimidation, court trials, and penalties accompany these cases.
It appears there's little one can say or do with respect to Islam that some Muslim somewhere wouldn't take as an intolerable insult. If we're to refrain from saying anything that might give offense, as Graham and even General Petraeus have suggested, then we might as well take a vow of silence, which, I suppose, is precisely what a lot of Muslims, not to mention Senator Graham, would like us to do.

Thanks to Byron for the tip on the Marshall/Shea article.