Friday, December 21, 2007

I've made no secret of my adoration for Peter Watts' luminously cerebral dystopian science fiction novels. It turns out he writes a mean book review, too. Check out this shrewd indictment of Francis S. Collins' "The Language of God," which has been getting some major shelf-exposure (at least here in Jesusland):

The God-Shaped Hole

Collins' understanding of natural selection appears to be a woefully-ignorant caricature in which every organism always behaves optimally to promote its own fitness, and every instance in which this doesn't happen constitutes a failure of evolutionary theory calling out for Divine intervention. What he doesn't seem to understand (or perhaps, what he's hoping his readers won't understand) is that the whole basis of natural selection is variation. Organisms don't all behave identically; some do better than others; the losers die out. Nature, in other words, is chock-full of organisms who do not selfishly spread their genes, who benefit others at their own expense. Conspecifics might call such organisms "unsuccessful competitors". Parasites would call them "hosts". Predators would call them "food". The Archdiocese calls them "parishioners".

Perhaps you're thinking that's a cheap shot. I don't think so: this guy needs to be taught the basics -- not just of biology, but of elementary logic. To claim that the existence of non-selfish acts defies evolutionary theory is like claiming that blow jobs disprove the orgasm's relevance to reproduction.

1 comment:

W.M. Bear said...

Creationism is wrong not because it's religious, nor because it's "unscientific," nor even because it's dogmatic but because it's bad metaphysics. To say this is to imply that there's such a thing as good metaphysics and there is. During the 18th and 19th centuries, German thinkers developed metaphysics to a fine logical pitch that left room for God without coercing belief, not even "logically."

Creationism is a bad retread of some of the doctrines, namely the so-called "argument from design," that these thinkers (Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, to name but a few)convincingly refuted on purely philosophical rather than so-called "scientific" grounds.

To see a rehash of all these old bad arguments getting such play is depressing. There IS no counterargument except to say to people who write this crap, go read some Kant, go read some Hegel, go read some Schopenhauer, go read some Alfred North Whitehead, for God's sake! Read something! Read some philosophy. It's all been done to death.

The fact is that a convincing philosophical case (NEVER a "proof," note) can be made for a Supreme Being in some conceptualization or other but Creationism is not that case. Been there done that, ran it up the metaphysical flagpole, no serious philosopher saluted.