Sunday, October 29, 2006


A Pregnant Analogy

Gilbert Reid has reviews in the Globe and Mail of three books in a new series of "biographies" of ... well ... other books.

Books that Shook the World is a new series of small explanatory volumes on big explosive books -- books the ideas of which, in one form or another, have turned the world upside down. Ideally, these short introductions are an easy way to absorb big ideas.
The first three to be treated are Thomas Paine's The Rights of Man; Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species; and the Qur'an. Janet Browne, who authored the definitive two volume biography of Darwin, Voyaging and The Power of Place, now tells the story of Darwin's most famous work. Reid calls the new book "a limpid and moving introduction to Darwin."

[T]he concepts contained in all three books are central to today's debates about violence, about religion, about conflicting cultures and about whether human rights are universal or not. Can religion and science be reconciled? Is democracy possible without the separation of church and state? And are the values of the European Enlightenment -- values associated with the exercise of critical reason -- still relevant today?

The Enlightenment is now much maligned -- particularly by the politically correct, for whom all unfettered debate is odious, and by those of a religious inclination -- as the source of all our woes.
As one much saddened by that development, I can only hope these books might do some small part to stem the tide. But what attracted my attention in particular was what Reid has to say about Intelligent Design.

Defending scientific inquiry is an essential part of defending freedom of thought and expression, and Charles Darwin, though he was the opposite of a polemicist, has always found himself, willy-nilly, at the centre of fights over the nature of science, the descent of man and the role of religion, and of religious dogma, in determining what people should be allowed to learn, allowed to teach or allowed to think. ...

"Intelligent design" basically says this: "Things are the way they are because God made them the way they are." This may or may not be true, but as science, it's not very useful. It's not something you can verify or falsify; it doesn't suggest further observations or elucidate biological mechanisms. It's magic, not science.
And then comes the striking line:

Putting "intelligent design" into biology would be like spicing up a degree in obstetrics with an obligatory course on the Virgin Birth.
It is a wondrously apt analogy.

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