Saturday, October 22, 2005

Not in My Name

A few days back a collection of important scientific type people issued a statement condemning the so-called theory of 'Intelligent Design'. As their letter appeared in El Pais de Murdoch, it was followed by a postscript saying that they headed societies representing 70,000 scientific type people, including, er, me. Was issuing this statement really a scientific thing for them to do?

Let's say that we keep probing the origins of life, and every possible mechanism for kicking the process off requires some fantastically entropically unfavourable combination of highly complicated molecules that we can easily produce in a test tube, but can't envision surviving long enough to reach the required concentrations in any plausible environment on the primitive earth. Do we:

(a) Keep on asserting that this highly thermodynamically-disfavoured process must have happened, nevertheless, in some highly implausible and forever unobservable environment?

(b) Apply Ockham's Razor and say that if we can make life in a test tube, then, maybe, life as we know it was made in a test tube?

Maybe it was Trurl and Klapaucius after all.
This is not what the Intelligent Design people really mean by Intelligent Design, but it is perfectly consistent with what they say they mean, so we shouldn't just jump up and down and say that Inteligent Design is pseudo-scientific rubbish. It is many orders of magnitude more scientific than homeopathy, which my blinkered, insane-with-greed univeristy prostitutes its good name to support.

Everything we have discovered over the last 500 years has taken us further and further from the idea that the Earth is the centre of the Universe. We are nowhere special; why should life have happened to start here? There might be all sorts of chemistries that are not at all like the life we know that started out in environments not at all like the ones we know: you just need to get life started somewhere, sometime, and sooner or later it will come up with iPods and weird new organisms based on different chemistry than itself.
This version of Intelligent Design is a perfectly valid scientific theory. We can think of things we could do to test it. For instance, we could search for the aliens' fossilised iPods.

5 comments:

Marco said...

I couldn't agree with you more. This statement is not as much science as a condemning anything remotely connected with one or another religious type. I vote for there being "dna" based life dormant or otherwise all over the galaxy. These "scientists" are perpetuating the dogma that the Earth is "unique", and that humans are the pinnacle of evolution.

Marco said...

where is my comment?

Marco said...

Why have the "scientists" taken over from religious types in perpetuating the idea that the earth is the centre of the universe? (ie. life started *here* from non-life) and on a further point evolution was only useful in creating humans - all the other living things are just waypoints. Even the box jellyfish, to me, is as much an endpoint in evolution as humans.

Dr. Clam said...

I don't know where you got the 'humans are the pinnacle of evolution' bit- I don't know of any scientists who believe that. That is just 19th century pop science. Evolution is a bush, not a ladder...

Jenny said...

I was thinking about statistical analysis when I read this. In stats you have a null hypothesis which you must go back to when you can't prove something is different/changed.

Some of the quotes by scientists recently saying that they won't believe in a created universe - even if all the evidence says this must be so - simply because that would be faith not science, seems to me to be unscientific - or at least unstatistical.
Now if they had said, all evidence so far shows no natural cause for the universe and either left it at that or said that they were waiting on advances in science to examine the cause further - then I'd think they were thinking a little more scientifically (though a null hypothesis of "the universe was not created naturally" with an alternate of " the universe was created naturally" seems more thorough).

I'm also always a little skeptical of those who need to use science to underwrite their faith that God exists and created the universe. I'm not saying you can't, but if you read a bit of history of science, you can see that scientists have gotten things wrong over and over again.
In science, dropping what you believe in favour of something else when new data shows you have something wrong is good practice.
However, if you use science to prove your faith and then your pet scientific theory falls over...where does it leave you?
As a scientist, I take all science with a grain of salt...sometimes a ruddy great rock of salt...I know our understanding changes, sometimes very fast, so I'm not that concerned when people say, "God doesn't exist and I can prove it with science".

Thats the thing about faith, I don't have to know how, I just have to have faith that God created the universe. (please note; not talking about blind faith in its entirity, just in an area I really don't think is that central to my beliefs).