Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pournelle III

while many “Intelligent Design Theorists” are in fact fundamentalist creationists, not all of them are, and some like the late Sir Fred Hoyle are not creationists at all.

Dawkins wrote, “All the leading intelligent design spokesmen are devout, and, when talking to the faithful, they drop the science-fiction fig leaf and expose themselves as the fundamentalist creationists they truly are.”

First of all, Fred Hoyle was never an “Intelligent Design Theorist,” nor is he in anyway referred to in the Dawkins editorial that I can see. In the candid moments I quoted above, the prominent ID proponents all reveal their true goals and opinions which are undistinguished from “scientific creationism.” In her Dover testimony, Prof. Barbara Forest demonstrated that the founding IDC textbook, “Of Pandas and People” had been simply altered by replacing “Creator” with “designer.” Available but not employed at the trial was an early manuscript where the deletion/insertion was incomplete and the neologism “cdesignproponentist.”It is a perfect literary “transitional fossil.” ID creationists hope to take advantage of language games in an applied post-modern relativism that is breath taking and to a degree successful.

Intelligent Design Creationism is unrelated to the natural theology of William Paley, as has been insisted on by William Dembski. Paley assumed the existence of a creator and sought in the expression of nature clues to the attributes of that deity. IDC assert that there is a method by which they can demonstrate that a deity exists, and all talk about space aliens and time travel is a smoke screen (references as above).

Pournelle wrote,
The panspermia hypothesis, which asserts that life originated on a planet other than Earth and was brought here by either natural or intelligently directed actions, is hardly ludicrous, has at least some unexplained evidence in its favor, and holding it as an hypothesis is hardly evidence of buffoonery. The late Robert Bussard was well known to believe in panspermia. Several of my science fiction novels make use of this hypothesis, and I have yet to see any definitive refutation.

There are two sorts of “panspermia” hypotheses. One might be called a “global” panspermia where life is ubiquitous wherever possible conditions exist, and that a feature of life is to transfer from one planetary system to another. There are two accessible books,“Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe” by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee, and “Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe” by Simon Conway Morris. Even though neither take a positive view of the global panspermia idea, neither invoke magical creators nor argue that the existence of life implies a magical creator.

Another would be a “local” version where the ability of life as microorganisms to migrate is limited to single planetary systems. These do certainly provide possible tests and as such are scientific rather than religious. For example, here are three papers that examine this later version;

Hornbeck, Gerda et al
2001 “Protection of Bacterial Spores in Space, a Contribution to the Discussion on Panspermia” Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere v.31(6):527-547

Kirchvink, Joseph, L, Benjamin P. Weiss
2001 "Mars, Panspermia, and the Origin Of Life: Where Did It All Begin?" Palaeontologia Electronica vol.4 No.2

Line, Martin A.
2002 "The Enigma of the Origin of Life and its Timing." Microbiology 148, 21-27

No matter how great a physicist Bussard was, this does not translate into an expert in biology, let alone the origin of life. This was the same problem Hoyle had, success in one area of science does not simply leap into other areas. Another good example would be physicist Lee Spetner, who authored “Not By Chance: Shattering the Modern Theory of Evolution” (1997, New York: The Judaica Press). This problem is suffered by Hubert Yockey to the extent that, were I still a professor of medicine, I would propose defining a “Yockey syndrome” characterized by the delusion that a physicist knows all things about all things and even if there was knowledge they lacked it would be trivial. The acute form is expressed by physicists writing about biology.

The “directed” seeding of life by natural intelligent beings has no empirical literature that I know of, and has no part to play in IDC at any rate. (This is not mere repetition as Pournelle has objected to earlier- the references have been given). Forty years ago I wrote a story (influenced by “Childhoods End”) in which an accident in a fusion experiment transported a hapless fellow back to the Hadean. His internal population of bacteria and viruses started life on earth. My high school teacher liked it, as far as I recall. But this was fiction, and outside of a creative writing class, has no place in school curricula.

My favorite part of the Dover Panda’s Trial begins with Eric Rothschild asking Mike Behe, “We're going to look at chapter 8 of that book (“Why Intelligent Design Fails”), if you could pull up the chapter heading there? And it's titled “The Explanatory Filter, Archaeology and Forensics,” and it's written by somebody named Gary S. Hurd. Are you familiar with Dr. Hurd?”

It ends with Rothschild’s comment, “Science fiction movies are not science, are they, Professor Behe?”

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