Design without a Designer 05/10/2007 Apparently Francisco Ayala (UC Irvine) thinks that just stating something dogmatically is enough to end all discussion. The scope of his paper in PNAS is grandiose and sweeping, enough to keep philosophers and theologians from around the world busy for years, but Ayala just put out his opinions without any hint of dispute, and stamped it with the seal of the National Academy of Sciences. Here is the abstract from his paper, “Darwin’s greatest discovery: Design without a designer” –
Darwin’s greatest contribution to science is that he completed the Copernican Revolution by drawing out for biology the notion of nature as a system of matter in motion governed by natural laws. With Darwin’s discovery of natural selection, the origin and adaptations of organisms were brought into the realm of science. The adaptive features of organisms could now be explained, like the phenomena of the inanimate world, as the result of natural processes, without recourse to an Intelligent Designer. The Copernican and the Darwinian Revolutions may be seen as the two stages of the one Scientific Revolution. They jointly ushered in the beginning of science in the modern sense of the word: explanation through natural laws. Darwin’s theory of natural selection accounts for the “design” of organisms, and for their wondrous diversity, as the result of natural processes, the gradual accumulation of spontaneously arisen variations (mutations) sorted out by natural selection. Which characteristics will be selected depends on which variations happen to be present at a given time in a given place. This in turn depends on the random process of mutation as well as on the previous history of the organisms. Mutation and selection have jointly driven the marvelous process that, starting from microscopic organisms, has yielded orchids, birds, and humans. The theory of evolution conveys chance and necessity, randomness and determinism, jointly enmeshed in the stuff of life. This was Darwin’s fundamental discovery, that there is a process that is creative, although not conscious.
There is hardly a line in this paragraph that is not disputed by some of the greatest minds of this and past ages, yet Ayala stated it all as a fact of science and a “discovery” of Charles Darwin. The paper mostly summarized the history of mechanistic science and construed the Darwinian Revolution as supplanting natural theology. Ignoring the Cambrian explosion, he judiciously began his tale of gradualism after the sudden appearance of all the animal phyla: “Several hundred million generations separate modern animals from the early animals of the Cambrian geological period (542 million years ago).... we can readily understand that the accumulation of millions of small, functionally advantageous changes could yield remarkably complex and adaptive organs, such as the eye,” he said. He also attributed mental and moral qualities – aesthetics, rationality and even free will – to matter in motion: “organisms that populate the Earth, including humans who think and love, endowed with free will and creative powers, and able to analyze the process of evolution itself that brought them into existence,” he said, not blinking a philosophical eye. ”This is Darwin’s fundamental discovery, that there is a process that is creative although not conscious.” He did not ask whether a product of unconsciousness could determine the presence or absence of consciousness in another, nor how a product of irrational forces could rationally defend the truth of such a claim. Apparently this was all intuitively obvious and needed no defense:
And this is the conceptual revolution that Darwin completed: the idea that the design of living organisms can be accounted for as the result of natural processes governed by natural laws. This is nothing if not a fundamental vision that has forever changed how mankind perceives itself and its place in the universe.
Ayala’s paper was one of a dozen from a colloquium held by the Academy last December in Irvine, California, on the subject, “In the Light of Evolution I: Adaptation and Complex Design.” The papers just became available today (May 10) on the PNAS website. Of course, no one from an Intelligent Design movement was allowed to publish a contrary view or rebuttal.
1Francisco J. Ayala, “Darwin’s greatest discovery: Design without designer,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 10.1073/pnas.0701072104, published online before print May 9, 2007.
They just aren’t learning, are they? How these people, with Eugenie Scott and Nicholas Matzke and all the other Darwin Party hacks present, can continue to spew out their unchanged rhetoric after years of debates, books, documentaries, conversions and international movements is a measure of their incorrigibility. It would be honorable if they acknowledged the criticisms and strove to address them in a scholarly way. Then, at least, we could have a discussion about the evidence. But they don’t even admit the existence of challenges to their views. When they stoop briefly to admit the existence of critics, they just sweep them away with the same old talking points devised in the 19th century. It’s always one-way communication. They act like wooden dolls with fake ears and prerecorded voices, complete with halitosis. Where have they been? This is the Information Age, the age of molecular machines and biomimetics and rational design. The Science Wars and the collapse of logical positivism have shown one cannot assume a fact/value distinction, a science/religion dichotomy, a demarcation criterion for science, or an objective/subjective posture. Presuppositions matter. It’s not the early 19th century any more. We have paradigms, webs of belief, social and historical influences on science, redefinitions of scientific explanation, deep debates about empiricism vs rationalism, no consensus on what constitutes scientific explanation, and a host of other worries that do not allow one to merely assume science is progressive and true to reality. Even then, Ayala cannot just assume that Darwinism is better aligned with science (whatever it is) than are other world views. Darwinian claims go far, far beyond anything that can be subjected to scientific investigation. Claims this broad need warrant, not assumption. None of the worn-out Darwinist propaganda could stand up to a minute’s worth of hard questioning by an undergrad in philosophy of science or intellectual history. His Copernicanism is all wrong, his history of science could be shredded by even secular historians of science, and his terminology begs numerous questions about what is science, what is design, what is natural law, and whether chance and necessity can produce rationality. No problem, thinks Ayala. I’ll just speak the talking points and let them come true. I’ll use my rationality to disprove rationality. Well, he succeeded on that last point – but only within the boundaries of his own skull. So. If they aren’t going to listen, we shouldn’t listen to them (as if we hadn’t heard their reruns long enough to have them memorized). Tune out of the flat black-and-white Darwin Party propaganda machine, and tune in to the 3-D, stereo, fresh, live broadcasts of the information age. The only value of this paper is a lesson in hindsight. Modern students should study this to learn what the Old Guard of the Darwin Party was saying right before their regime collapsed. It would be like reading Mein Kampf or studying the Sayings of Mao in a 20th century history class – weird, but thank God nobody still believes that.
Exercise: Find all the errors of fact and propaganda techniques Ayala used in the abstract quoted above. For an advanced exercise, read his entire paper and search for any actual scientific evidence he used to prove that chance and necessity could produce orchids, birds and humans (remember, microevolution cannot be extrapolated recklessly, and he cannot assume what he needs to prove). Among his historical and scientific references, see if there are observations that are actually relevant to this grandiose claim (e.g., bacterial resistance is limited to bacteria – it does not follow that humans evolved from bacteria). A successful graduate should also be able to describe some of the havoc these ideas have wrought on civilization.