Wednesday, June 29, 2005

clearly, physics is a bankrupt science

Did you know that physicists really don't have a clue about time? Yes, that time. Like 'it's 12:20 in the pm' time. There's lots of arguments about what it actually is and how it actually works. Nobody's quite sure if you can travel through time. And listen to what this very well respected philosopher of science has to say about it:

"At stake, said Dr. Albert, the philosopher and author of his own time book, 'Time and Chance,' is 'what kind of view science presents us of the world.'

'Physics gets time wrong, and time is the most familiar thing there is,' Dr. Albert said."

Good lord. Well, clearly the only reason modern physics is still taught in high schools and colleges is because of the liberal bias in academia. Or wait, no, I mean because of the hegemony of the scientific priesthood. I mean, listen to what Billy 'god did it' Dembski has to say about science:

"Professors are therefore no longer the sole repository of answers for students. Accordingly, the scientific priesthood is undergoing a shake-up. This is all to the good of ID, which thrives as the subversive instrument par excellence for exposing priestcraft dressed in a scientific lab coat."

Clearly physics is the next priestcraft to fall. Where do they get off not knowing what time is? I mean, clearly time is simply God's way of keeping track of things. Let's see, I created the universe, then I did some smiting, then after that I made HIV and the Marburg virus. Then I ensured that George Bush was elected president and Terrel Owens caught a lot of passes this past season. See, time is just the way to keep things straight in God's mind.

Sorry. Bit of a tangent there. Anyway, the NY Times published a great article on time the other day. They portray physics a lot like ID folks like William Dembski want to portray evolutionary biology. If physics is in such bad shape, and the goal of ID folks is to 'expose the priestcraft dressed in a scientific lab coat', why does evolutionary biology get all of the attention?

Oh that's right, because that's not actually their goal at all.

So what does all this mean? I think the upshot is that there is often not a fine grained consensus among scientists. And more importantly, this isn't a bad thing. Modern physical theory still provides us with knowledge about the world, knowledge that allows us to do things like build computers, atomic bombs and fusion reactors. There's also fairly wide spread consensus among physicists about how the world works on a rough grained scale.

Similarly, evolutionary biologists all tend to agree about the coarse grained theory. Namely, evolution happened through completely naturalistic processes, namely selection, drift, mutation, migration, recombination etc. They agree that all life shares one or a maybe a couple common ancestors. They agree that evolution is the only way to account for the vast majority of all observations ever made of living things, namely geographic distribution, shared genetic systems, homologous traits, embryological similarities, paleontological evidence, development of antibiotic resistance, egg production in chicken farms and the list could go on and on. They might not agree on exactly how all of this stuff played out, maybe developmental canalization shapes organisms by constraining selection in some cases, maybe endosymbiosis and lateral gene transfer were more or less important in the history of life on earth, maybe selection always acts on the individual allele, maybe it sometimes acts on the individual genotype or at the population level. Whatver.

Much like physicists, just because there isn't consensus on these fine grained issues doesn't mean evolutionary biology isn't a fruitful science. And more importantly, it doesn't mean that we need to invoke a designer to explain the presence of complex, purposeful traits in nature. This invocation simply isn't the best explanation for all the disparate observations that modern evolutionary biology can make very good sense of.

And until a better way of explaining all of these observations comes along, evolutionary biology should clearly not be deigned bankrupt.

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