Monday, September 10, 2007
Francisco J. Ayala is the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Professor of Logic and the Philosophy of Science at the University of California, Irvine. He has written a slim, low cost volume called Darwin And Intelligent Design that gives a no-frills summation of the nature of Intelligent Design Creationism, and why it isn't science, that is sufficient to give most people enough information to understand the issues without overwhelming them.
One nice discussion Ayala presents is about the nature of the "Darwinian Revolution" in comparison to the "Copernican Revolution." Ayala states, rightly I think, that the standard account -- that the Copernican Revolution consisted of displacing the earth from its position as the center of the universe, while the Darwinian Revolution consisted of displacing humans from their place at the center of life on earth -- is wrong in its emphasis.
This version of the two revolutions is inadequate: what it says is true, but it misses what is most important about these two intellectual revolutions, namely, that they ushered in the beginning of science in the modern sense of the word. These two revolutions may jointly be seen as the one scientific revolution, with two stages, the Copernican and the Darwinian.With some trepidation -- though less than the iconic tale of Galileo might indicate -- European society accepted a mechanistic account of the universe ... except in the case of living things.
The discoveries of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and others in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had gradually ushered in a conception of the universe as matter in motion governed by natural laws.
The advances of physical science brought about by the Copernican revolution had driven humankind's conception of the universe to a split-personality state of affairs, which persisted well into the mid-nineteenth century. By that time, scientific explanations derived from natural laws accounted for the world of nonliving matter, on the earth as well as in the heavens. Supernatural explanations, such as Paley's explanation of design, depending on the unfathomable deeds of the Creator, accounted for the origin and configuration of living creatures -- the most diversified, complex, and interesting realities of the world.In this context, Darwin's work was not just another blow delivered by science against traditional beliefs but the culmination of a long retreat, ending in ignominious defeat, away from the notion that God's fingerprints on the world were self-evident to human reason.
It was Darwin's genius to resolve this conceptual bifurcation. Darwin completed the Copernican revolution by drawing out for biology the notion of nature as a lawful system of matter in motion that human reason can explain without recourse to extra-natural agencies.Another way of thinking of it is that Darwin made it much more difficult to be an intellectually satisfied theist. That is why, I believe, Dawkins' crowing about his own satisfaction is so bitter in the mouths of some believers.
Generally, these scientists felt they were honoring God in uncovering laws of physical motion. Hence, Galileo's observation:
"God wrote the universe in the language of mathematics"
I'm not so sure that scientists have benefited by getting away from that mindset.
John Haught tries to make the case that religion and the religious attitude actually supports science but I have to say I don't find it very convincing. I think that religion of the sort that Haught practices is no great impediment to scientific thinking in individuals and may be no great contributor to antiscientific thinking in society at large but I doubt it makes any positive contribution to the scientific enterprise. As far as I can see, the loss of that attitude (to the extent it wasn't pious posturing to begin with) has pretty much been a wash.