Thursday, February 5, 2009

Darwin and the Intelligent Design Brigade

Christian Right Lobbies To Overturn Second Law Of Thermodynamics

"The second law of thermodynamics, a fundamental scientific principle stating that entropy increases over time as organized forms decay into greater states of randomness, has come under fire from conservative Christian groups, who are demanding that the law be repealed.

Calling the second law of thermodynamics “a deeply disturbing scientific principle that threatens our children’s understanding of God’s universe as a benevolent and loving place,” they are spearheading a nationwide grassroots campaign to have the law removed from high-school physics textbooks. The plan has already met with significant support in the state legislatures of Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia, and Mississippi.”

Before you start worrying, this was a satirical item from The Onion, back in 2000, aimed at religious people who reject Darwinian evolution. However it’s not really an exaggeration. Religious fundamentalists who reject evolutionary theory are also rejecting geology, astronomy, Einsteinian and Newtonian physics, in fact the whole body of scientific knowledge going back to first principles, and replacing it with a couple of anonymous books and a God who, as Bill Hicks pointed out in relation to dinosaur fossils, must be a liar and a practical joker.

Yet these religious people don’t choose to attack Newton, or the theory of gravity, or light, or quantum physics. Why evolution specifically? If you haven’t already seen it, try watching Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial (2007), which is freely available online. This is an award-winning documentary describing the headline-grabbing court case between parents and the School Governors in Dover, Pennsylvania in which the governors were trying to force creationist ideas into biology classes and the parents were trying to stop them.

In the end the parents won, and the creationists were humiliated. But as you follow the interviews with protagonists on both sides of this celebrated case, you begin to see what it is that motivates those on the religious side of the debate. It is fear.

They are afraid that without God as first cause there really is no relevance to life. They fear that science is taking the heart out of the human experience and replacing it with numbers. They fear that a world with no meaning is a world with no mercy.

It was fear that originally incited the famous campaigning reformer William Jennings Bryan to take the prosecution case in the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, fear that naked social darwinism would rampage across any possibility of social justice, would justify the worst excesses of unrestrained capitalism. This was the fear – and the profound misunderstanding of Darwinism – which drove Christians to break themselves against the juggernaut of science, and continues to drive them today.

It would be, from a scientific or a socialist perspective, so easy to laugh at these people as superstitious children. After all, they cannot win. Despite the recent avalanche of anti-religious books from the likes of Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Christopher Hitchens and others, there is no real danger of a return to a religious Dark Age. Of course they are wrong. Of course their arguments are ludicrous.

At the same time it is possible to feel some compassion for the fear and the desperation these, mostly ignorant and uninformed, people have, confronted with a world they don’t understand and in which they feel utterly helpless. Science to them is gas chambers, nuclear bombs, death rays, spy satellites and mind control. Wild stories about Earth-eating black holes and ‘strangelets’ guaranteed front-page coverage worldwide for the switching on of the Large Hadron Collider, an event only normally of interest to particle physicists.

People fear what they don’t understand, and in general society is scientifically illiterate, a situation many scientists find worrying. In public surveys on the supposedly dangerous substance Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO), which can corrode iron and kill humans if inhaled, up to 90% of respondents voted that it should be banned (DHMO = H20). (Source: New Scientist, 27 Sept 2008, p.76).

Socialists should care about the religion versus science debate because the theory of socialism is built on scientific principles, and anything which threatens rationality and evidence-based thinking must be anathema. However we should also be capable of seeing the larger picture. This isn’t really about Darwin, or the laws of physics.

This is about people who need to have a reason to go on living, which capitalism isn’t giving them. It’s about people’s need to believe in something, which capitalism doesn’t supply or has taken away. And it’s about having some hope for the future, of which capitalism has none. The world really does need some intelligent design, but in its business of living, not in its biology.

Socialists, as atheists, have to understand what some scientists seem unable to grasp, that the battle of ideas is not just a battle of the mind, it’s a battle for the heart. We can no more win hearts with economic methodology than scientists can with peer-reviewed research. If we scoff at notions of ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ because these things are not measurable in laboratory experiments, we utterly miss the point. The desperate argument of creationism is at one level a comedy of human stupidity. But at a deeper level it is a tragedy, the pathos of a human condition adrift and desolate in a world which cares only about money and believes in nothing at all. This is what Moslems and Christians despair about, and this is something with which we can surely empathise. This is the ‘sigh of the oppressed’ in the heartless world of the 21st century. Despite appearances to the contrary, capitalism is slowly and methodically destroying religion. What we need to do, as socialists, is recognise the emotional vacuum this is creating, and strive to fill it, before something infinitely worse does.



bev said...

I'm not a Christian, but I am a scientist. There are no scientific principles involved in the origin or implementation of Socialism. Quite the contrary, modern mathematics, specifically complex system theory, shows quite clearly why any system based on socialist principles is impossible. Socialism is a primitive, pre-scientific theory that, for any person knowledgeable in 21st century science, can't be taken seriously.

gray said...

What utter balderdash!

We have heard this math argument before and are still awaiting the proof rather than the woeful assumption! Perhaps somebody got their sums wrong about capitalism given that there is a credit crunch and impending recession, leading to an increase in working class poverty and misery (something not at all surprising to those who have read the "unscientific" theories of Karl Marx in Das Kapital, where Capital's booms and slumps are analysed).

The complex systems analysis argument is, we feel, a rather pathetic attempt to justify the continued riches of the capitalists and their exploitation of the working class.

bev said...

Actually, the last time I said it, a few years ago, I offered 'proof' (not the correct term in this context), and it was, of course, ignored with scorn, as it will be again, of course, if I do so this time.
I have to admit, tho, no one knows more about creating working class poverty and misery than socialists do, so you have some credibility there.
Also, of course, no one is missing the fact that you are ignoring the main thrust of my post, which is that socialism's claim of being based on 'scientific principles' is risible. I would ask you to back that statement up, but we both know that you would find some way to avoid doing so, so I won't bother. We'll just leave it that my claim has not been refuted.

gray said...

The reason it was scoffed at is because you make the utterly unwarrented assumption that complex systems analysis is fully applicable to political economy.

It really falls into the same category as those who would use Darwinian Evolution to describe political economy.

I doubt "Bev" if class ownership of the means of production and the use of the State to protect that class position are even considered as boundary conditions in your analysis.

bev said...

OK, "gray" (why are we putting our names in quotes?), I'll play (for a bit, anyway).
[gray said]
"The reason it was scoffed at is because you make the utterly unwarrented assumption that complex systems analysis is fully applicable to political economy."

Well, the only assumption that I'm making is that complex system analysis applies to complex systems. There's certainly no doubt that economic systems are complex. Are you saying that economic systems aren't systems? Or that economic systems aren't complex?

[gray said]
"It really falls into the same category as those who would use Darwinian Evolution to describe political economy."

What category is that? Are you specifying 'Darwinian' Evolution because you think political economy can be described by some other kind of evolutionary theory? Or are you saying that economic systems don't evolve?

[gray said]
"I doubt "Bev" if class ownership of the means of production and the use of the State to protect that class position are even considered as boundary conditions in your analysis."

You're correct, they aren't boundary conditions. They are central to the analysis of why Socialism could never actually work. Specifically, the problem with Socialism is twofold: first the kind and degree of control needed to maintain a complex system in a 'healthy' state must always be 'bottom-up' and specific to the requirements of each element. This is where "Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety" comes from. Socialist systems, i.e. state controlled, are have top-down control systems and so lack the ubiquity and specificity needed to maintain a complex systems in a healthy state.
This was known for a long time before it was understood rigorously (mathematically) as is demonstrated by Von Mises' analysis in his work "Socialism".
The second, and probably more fundamental, problem is that of communication networks within a complex system. All complex systems (of the sort we're discussing) have many networks that transmit state information between elements in the system causing on-going regulation. In an economic system one of these network systems are prices, which transmit state information throughout the larger system. There are many others, of course. By having the state set prices, there is no meaningful state information transmitted in the best case, and so the system can't dynamically regulate itself.

If you want to learn how to think about complex systems, think about the human body or the environment. Try to apply socialist principles to either one and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Oh, and yes, we all still are seeing that no one has yet offered a single "Scientific Principle" upon which Socialism is based. This is especially relevant because "gray" says that complex system theory, the theory that 'science' has come up with to deal with things like economic systems, is not applicable to it. If you guys want to pretend that 'science' is somehow involved in your religion, then you shouldn't get angry when 'science' tells you something you don't like.

gray said...


I simply knew you would start mentioning von Mises. It illustrates quite nicely what you are up to. You want to misuse a field of science to defend/apologise for the capitalist system, as viewed and supported by the Austrian school of political economy and the Libertarian Alliance folk of the world, such as David Ramsay Steele. You neglected to mention that from the outset, preferring the disgraceful argument that science has proven socialism impossible.

Re. the science of socialism. Marx and Engels didn't regard human societies as haphazard, accidental, a whim of a god. They tried to identify, find an explanation, of why societal events/things happened and the way they did. Their thinking resulted in "historical materialism", and that famous of statements that the history of (property) society is one of class struggle.

If you want to dismiss the marxist analysis, why not be honest and dismiss all social sciences as unscientific.

BTW, Socialism isn't about establishing an all powerful central state. The state, which grew out of class ownership and rule, will be abolished in socialism.