For over a decade, mathematician Jeffrey Shallit has been an outspoken critic of intelligent design. Recently, in a series of blog posts, he has attacked Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell (SITC) for what he sees as a variety of shortcomings. Some of Shallit’s criticisms merit careful attention, which we’ll present here in weeks to come. Other criticisms, however, are fluffy confections, failing to achieve even the slightness of what Hume called “mere cavils and sophisms.” Let’s look at one such bonbon of sophistry, Shallit’s claim that weather forecasting represents a devastating counterexample to SITC’s argument that complex specified information is, universally in human experience, produced by a mind or intelligence.
If that dictum looks like a bumper sticker, I apologize — but it’s true all the same. Most of the philosophy of science can be captured by a handful of bumper stickers. Anyway, keep the dictum in mind. In this second installment of the “Seeing Ghosts in the Bushes” blog series — part 1 is here — we’ll ask how the theory of common descent could be tested by fossils. The principle of “what evidence cannot question, evidence cannot support” will be our main guide.
What would be evidence against evolution, and very strong evidence at that, would be the discovery of even a single fossil in the wrong geological stratum….But not a single solitary fossil has ever been found before it could have evolved. Richard Dawkins (2009, pp. 146-7) Professor Dawkins is right: you can’t be older than your own grandfather, all country-western songs notwithstanding.
For many years, Jerry Fodor has been an outspoken critic of Darwinian reasoning in cognitive science and the philosophy of mind / language. As a graduate student, I saw him present a colloquium on these topics, in front of a semi-hostile audience, and admired his bravado in refusing to kneel before the Altar of Darwin. Sorry if that language seems over the top, but after the end of the Darwin Year, the steady worshipful attitude towards old Charles has finally got to me. Now, in the wake of his controversial and much discussed London Review article, Fodor — along with cognitive scientist Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini — has made his arguments fully general in What Darwin Got Wrong.
“Before going on,” said Frost, “I must ask you to be strictly objective. Resentment and fear are both chemical phenomena. Our reactions to each other are chemical phenomena. Social relations are chemical relations. You must observe these feelings in yourself in an objective manner. Do not let them distract your attention from the facts.” C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (1946) The relevance of this passage from Lewis will be clear below. But first…