Friday, January 13, 2006

Dennett, Darwin & Denial

Great SPIEGEL interview with Daniel Dennett in which he argues that a proper understanding of evolution obliterates the idea of Intelligent Design.
The very best evidence we have for the truth of Darwin's theory is the evidence that arrives every day from bioinformatics, from understanding the DNA-coding. The critics of Darwinism just don't want to confront the fact that molecules, enzymes and proteins lead to thought. Yes, we have a soul, but it's made up of lots of tiny robots.
Of course, you don't have to have read too much Darwinian thought to know the man himself refuted the chief argument proffered by the ID movement long before "intelligent design" became a buzzword with an air of apparent sophistication about it.

Much of ID's superficial impact, of course, lies in the tantalizing but malnourished idea of "irreducible complexity." The basic idea being that a particular system is so complex that it could not have functioned in a state previous to the one in which it exists. In other words, take out one part of a functioning structure and it won't work any more - so how could it have possible have evolved to that point? For example, a structure as small but as seemingly complex as a flagellum is composed of parts, without any one of which, it wouldn't work. Only, that's not true.

So, where's Charles Darwin come into this? Well, some proponents of ID today like to believe they've pulled a trump card when they use the eye as an example of irreducible complexity. Take out any one part of the human eye and this amazing organ won't work any longer, right? Well, that may be a failure to understand what "work" means, but it's not a compelling argument against evolution. In fact, Darwin himself dismissed this very example way back when, well, when he wrote Origin of the Species. He opens the sixth chapter, rather reverently entitled "Difficulties of the Theory: Organs of Extreme Perfection and Complication," with the following:
To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory.
And he continues in much greater detail. So Darwin anticipated this argument well in advance of its, um, evolution into "irreducible complexity," and it's been handily dismissed ever since--a point that even irreducible complexity's greatest adovate Michael Behe has had to admit: "I quite agree that my argument against Darwinism does not add up to a logical proof." Whoops.

Wish he'd make that clear to his acolytes.

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