Friday, February 13, 2009

render unto Darwin what is Darwin's (and that's it)

Aside from the parenthetical addition, that's the title of Chris Hedges' essay at

The German chemist August Kekulé fell asleep in his study after a fruitless struggle to identify the chemical structure of benzene. He dreamed of a snake eating its own tail and awoke instantly. The dream gave him, through the ancient language of symbolism, the circular structure of the benzene ring that had eluded his conscious mind. The dream may have had its basis in Kekulé‘s experiments, but it was the nonrational that brought him his discovery.

Many physicists see “string theory”—in which the structure of the universe is made up of resonating, one-dimensional submicroscopic strings—as plausible. Yet no scientist has ever seen a string. No direct experimentation has established a firm ground for strings. Cosmology routinely bases arguments on things that cannot be seen in order to explain things that can, as in the case of "dark matter" whose effects can be seen. Quantum physics demolished the assumption that physical elements are governed by fixed laws.

From there, Hedges turns to a discussion with which I became more familiar through Ken Miller's useful book.

Science is often as inexact and intuitive as theology, philosophy and every other human endeavor. A mirror demonstrates the randomness of nature. A mirror reflects about 95 percent of light hitting it. The other 5 percent passes through the mirror. Photons, which are invisible, are either reflected or pass through the mirror’s surface. But there is no way of knowing which photons will be reflected and which will be absorbed. Electrons are also subject to these quantum effects. This led Werner Heisenberg to formulate his “uncertainty principle.” This principle states that we cannot know everything about a particle. If we can determine a particle’s position we cannot determine its momentum. We can measure momentum, but in this measurement we lose the particle’s exact position. We can know a particle’s momentum or its position. We cannot know both with definitive accuracy.

Science is not always directly empirical. Science is not governed by absolute, immutable laws. Science, and especially quantum mechanics, far from telling us we can know everything, tells us there will always be things we cannot know....Science affirms the complexity and mystery of the universe. Science, like the religious impulse, opens us up to a world where we face mystery....

The New Atheist writers from Richard Dawkins to E.O. Wilson to Sam Harris have become the high priests not of science but the cult of science....

When Darwin published “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life” in 1859, he named natural selection as the mechanism that drives and defines life. Evolutionary science, however, swiftly became for many a surrogate religion. It was used to promote racism and pseudo-science, such as eugenics, a theory of biological determinism invented by Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin. It was turned like a club on religion and used to justify exploitation and neglect of the poor and disadvantaged.

There are unfortunate implications in Darwin’s theory of evolution....

The atheists, while they do not endorse the hierarchy of races or espouse the crude racist doctrines of earlier Social Darwinists, continue to argue that natural selection is social selection....

[The] leap by Wilson and Dawkins is not science. It certainly is not Darwinian science...


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home