Maybe the most fascinating part of Derbyshire’s article is the candor with which he evaluates the strength of Gilder’s arguments. Derbyshire states clearly that “[Gilder’s metaphysic] refutes evolution, which has high-information-bearing substrates arising out of low-information-bearing ones… [and] As metaphysics go, [Gilder’s is] a pretty good schema… a good metaphysic for our age…” Thus it seems that Derbyshire affirms one of Gilder’s central points!
In an attempt to not sell the entire farm, Derbyshire assures his fellow naturalists that we are “getting along just fine… discovering new things about the world, pushing the wheel of knowledge forward a few inches every year.” But Darwinist biologist Franklin M. Harold wrote that while “[w]e should reject, as a matter of principle, the substitution for intelligent design for the dialogue of chance and necessity” we “must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical system, only a variety of wishful speculations.” (from The Way of the Cell, pg. 205 (2001)) It sounds like Derbyshire’s team is still stuck behind the 20 yard line, and they reject ID a priori on philosophical grounds. The main difference between Derbyshire and Franklin Harold is that Harold honestly acknowledges the reality of the long distance his team has to go.
But what does philosophy say? Have developments in philosophy reinforced the foundations of naturalism? Unfortunately for Derbyshire, the facts seem to be saying just the opposite. As Quentin Smith points out, “the vast majority of naturalist philosophers have come to hold (since the late 1960s) an unjustified belief in naturalism. Their justifications have been defeated by arguments developed by theistic philosophers, and now naturalist philosophers, for the most part, live in darkness about the justification of naturalism.” (Smith, “The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism“)
Derbyshire taunts George Gilder with some questions. First Derbyshire asks, “If, five years from now, one of these innumerable teams of researchers develops a really good computer simulation of protein synthesis, will George discard that metaphysic of his, that told him it couldn’t be done?”
Yet a retired Microsoft software architect we consulted wrote us the following on this point:
The factual data is on George’s side. There are two fundamental problems that made it very unlikely we’ll ever successfully model protein folding and interaction (which Derbyshire somewhat misleadingly calls “protein synthesis”): First, the shear amount of data is overwhelming. You need to capture the physical state, including charge, location, etc., of every atom to properly model the protein. Even a simulation that captures molecule data still has its work cut out for it. Then you must factor into the model the properties of the surrounding material – these things don’t live in a vacuum. We know that our computers are reaching their computational limits of sorts – sure we’ll get faster and we’ll solve ever larger problems through “farms” of machines (much like Google) – but the attributes of folding and interaction may not (do not?) fit well on those systems. It will be, at least, quite a while before we can hope to model this. Second, I suspect the system is chaotic; meaning that truly predicting behavior will require precisely knowing the state of all the variables (and here physics has something to say about how well we can know things) and then running it exactly. Why? Chaotic systems are inherently unpredictable because even small variations in the assumed initial conditions can have a dramatic effect on the final result – we might have models, but they’ll likely be quite wrong.
Lastly, George’s argument is not about what present computer science can model, it’s about the origin of information. Even if we successfully model protein folding and interaction, how does that explain the information system producing the proteins? This is no haphazard system. It’s ordered, contains distributed (meaning not present in just the DNA) error correction and construction, it includes system- level feedback and control systems; we’re not talking about a bunch of Lego blocks. This is serious stuff. More serious than any program I’ve seen to date.
Derbyshire taunts Gilder with another challenge, saying, “‘Go back to your Institute, hire some bright new researchers, teach them your metaphysics and your new methodology, buy them some computers and lab equipment, and let them loose to do some science. When they’ve got testable theories and reproducible results, I’ll pay attention. Until then, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my own lab.’ What would you say to this guy, George?”
Derbyshire may taunt Gilder, but what’s good for the Goose is good for the Gander: If a really good simulation could dispel George’s ideas, then what kind of simulation might disprove Derbyshire’s assertions? If a simulation could clearly demonstrate the inability for evolution to create new information, would Derbyshire give? Perhaps time will tell.
No Political Magazine Can Serve Two Masters
Finally, there is irony in how Derbyshire laud’s Judge Jones’s opinion about intelligent design. Derbyshire writes that “Kitzmiller case demonstrated, to courtroom standards of evidence, that I.D. is a species of Creationism. That’s good enough for me.” Since when did National Review, of all magazines, start genuflecting before federal judges?
Surely they criticized the U.S. Supreme Court for deciding large social issues in cases like Roe v. Wade–so why does Derbyshire now cite everything Judge Jones says about intelligent design, the nature of science, and evolutionary theology, as if it is holy writ? Yet Derbyshire is content to cite Judge Jones as the final answer on the philosophy and science of intelligent design: “Judge Jones Said it, I belive it, That Settle’s It.” But there is another side to the story of the Kitzmiller v. Dover case.
Derbyshire’s technique seems to be learn a little science, accept only the pro-Darwin viewpoint, and then use all kind of invectives and snide comments against scientific skeptics of evolution to dismiss their viewpoint as religion. Fortunately the reader of National Review knows George Gilder’s scientific experience and reputation in technology well enough that they will recognize Derbyshire’s flustering.
This series of post was co-authored by:
Joe Manzari, research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC.
Casey Luskin, Program Officer in Public Policy and Legal Affairs with the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture