Wednesday, October 25, 2006

ID Friendly at The New Republic

Thomas Nagel has a review of the book that I like to refer to in shorthand as "Dawkins' Delusion." I was rather surprised to see an article so ID friendly in The New Republic, which is generally considered a center-left publication. I guess the culture wars may not have completely obliterated the honest pursuit of thoughtful inquiry- at least in some publications. It is accessible only by subscription on the website, but, for some reason, it is also available on Google's cache if you search by a string of text in quotation marks.

Nagel notes the lack of a good explanation for the existence of DNA, which is the work horse of evolution:
The entire apparatus of evolutionary explanation therefore depends on the prior existence of genetic material with these remarkable properties. Since 1953 we have known what that material is, and scientists are continually learning more about how DNA does what it does. But since the existence of this material or something like it is a precondition of the possibility of evolution, evolutionary theory cannot explain its existence. We are therefore faced with a problem analogous to that which Dawkins thinks faces the argument from design: we have explained the complexity of organic life in terms of something that is itself just as functionally complex as what we originally set out to explain. So the problem is just pushed back one step: how did such a thing come into existence?

Regarding Dawkins' brilliant use of bodily gestures:
Dawkins recognizes the problem, but his response to it is pure hand-waving. . . .

Nagel goes on to comment on the plausibility of a physical explanation for the origin of life:
Dawkins is not a chemist or a physicist. Neither am I, but general expositions of research on the origin of life indicate that no one has a theory that would support anything remotely near such a high probability as one in a billion billion. Naturally there is speculation about possible non-biological chemical precursors of DNA or RNA. But at this point the origin of life remains, in light of what is known about the huge size, the extreme specificity, and the exquisite functional precision of the genetic material, a mystery--an event that could not have occurred by chance and to which no significant probability can be assigned on the basis of what we know of the laws of physics and chemistry.

Yet we know that it happened. That is why the argument from design is still alive, and why scientists who find the conclusion of that argument unacceptable feel there must be a purely physical explanation of why the origin of life is not as physically improbable as it seems. Dawkins invokes the possibility that there are vastly many universes besides this one, thus giving chance many more opportunities to create life; but this is just a desperate device to avoid the demand for a real explanation.

More on this article to follow.


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