JR'S Free Thought Pages
On truth and betrayals [Intelligent Design] - AC Grayling
The Guardian, April 2006
E M Forster's motto was "only connect". Responding to this injunction by putting together three items of the week's news is an instructive exercise.
The first is the description in the journal Science of the process by which evolution produces new molecular machinery in biological systems by incrementally adapting existing structures to new purposes.
The second is a report in the
science journal Nature of several well-preserved 375 million year old fossils of
a species intermediate between water and land-dwelling creatures.
There is a biochemistry professor
at Lehigh University in the United States called Michael J Behe, darling of the
creationists, who says that biological structures are "irreducibly complex" and
their existence can therefore only be explained by invoking a divine designer.
This absurd argument, which alleges a mystery (the existence of complex
biological structures) and claims to solve it by introducing an arbitrary and
even greater mystery (the existence of a deity), has exactly the logical force
As Karl Popper pointed out, a
theory which explains everything (and all the religions, otherwise in fierce
competition with one another over the Truth, do that) explains nothing. Unless a
theory specifies what counter-evidence would refute it, it is worthless. Good
science invites rigorous questioning and testing; almost all religions, at least
at some time in their history, have killed those who have questioned them. No
wars have been fought over theories in botany or meteorology; most wars and
conflicts in the world's history owe themselves directly or indirectly to
religion. By their fruits, we are told, we
A simple test of the relative merits of science and religion is to compare lighting your house at night by prayer or electricity.
The molecular evolution research focuses on hormone receptors. Hormones and their receptors are protein molecules that fit one another like keys in locks. By comparing specific hormone receptors in lampreys and hagfish, primitive species of jawless fish, with more evolved versions in skate, Professor Joseph Thornton and his laboratory co-workers at the University of Oregon have been able to reconstruct the genetic evolution of the molecules in question, tracing it (the evolution) to a common ancestral gene 456 million years ago. They found a receptor molecule that predated the existence of the hormone for which it now serves. This offers evidence of how changes in a system exploit existing structures for new purposes, and therefore how greater biological complexity arises incrementally from less complexity.
Professor Behe, believer in
supernatural agencies - a class that includes fairies, demons, unicorns, cthonic
gods, angels and ghosts - whose alleged existence is inexplicable and untestable,
and credence in which rests on ancient writings embodying the superstitions of
mankind's early ignorances,
Language, truth and logic section
The likes of Professor Behe
doubtless understand what it means to "speak to someone's vision". Which church
is running London's buses? (Would it be surprising, in the Reverend Blair's
Britain where churches are running ever more of our schools, to find that this
is not a rhetorical
A C Grayling is a Philosophy professor at the University of London and Oxford - and a first rate contemporary philosopher, writer and thinker. He has a personal web site at http://www.acgrayling.com
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