Thursday, July 06, 2006

George Gilder's Intelligent Design Creationism

The July 17th issue of National Review has an article by George Gilder, "Evolution and Me". Gilder is a conservative economist who joined with Bruce Chapman in founding The Discovery Institute, the leading conservative think-tank promoting "intelligent design theory."

Gilder tries to persuade conservatives to reject Darwinian science because it promotes a scientific materialism that is both morally corrupting and scientifically false. Darwinian materialism is morally corrupting because it "banishes aspirations and ideals from the picture," and because it advances a crude vision of capitalism "as a dog-eat-dog zero-sum struggle." It is scientifically false because in reducing all of nature to material causes, it denies the primacy of information (as in the DNA code)in guiding organic order in a manner that can only be explained as the work of the Divine Mind. The New Testament teaching that "in the beginning was the word" (John 1:1) is confirmed by modern information theory.

I have answered these and related criticisms of Darwinian science in Darwinian Conservatism. But I can make a few points here.

In asserting that Darwinism cannot support the moral aspirations of human beings, Gilder says nothing about Darwin's account of the natural moral sense or the work of others (like James Q. Wilson) who have shown how Darwinism sustains morality.

In particular, it's hard to understand Gilder's assertion that Darwinism assumes a "zero-sum" view of human life. Darwin emphasized the importance of cooperation in moral evolution. Darwinian theorists have used game theory to show how cooperation could have evolved because of the advantages of "non-zero-sum" cooperation. Robert Wright has written a book--Nonzero--arguing the entire history of life can be understood as the expansion of synergistic cooperation through the logic of "non-zero" collaboration to resolve "prisoner's dilemma" situations.

In arguing that Darwinian evolution cannot explain the emergence of information, Gilder repeats a standard argument of the Biblical creationists like those at Ken Ham's "Answers in Genesis." They distribute a book entitled In the Beginning Was Information, which argues that information can only come from an intelligent creator, and therefore the DNA code proves the story of Creation in the Book of Genesis.

As I have said, there is nothing in Darwinian science to deny the possibility of God as the First Cause of nature who works His will through the evolutionary process. But Gilder and other intelligent design creationists assume that God cannot do this, because evolution cannot create information such as we see in the DNA code. Gilder insists: "Everywhere we encounter information, it does not bubble up from a random flux or prebiotic soup."

But such talk about "random flux" ignores the power of natural selection for introducing information into the genome. For example, an article by Christoph Adami, Charles Ofria, and Travis Collier in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has shown how biological complexity could evolve by chance mutation and natural selection. Applying information theory to evolution, they indicate how random mutation creates variation on which natural selection works--favoring those variations that are adapted to the environment, so that information about the environment is transferred to the organism's genome.

Gilder makes much of the emergent hierarchical order of the universe, relying on a famous argument by Michael Polanyi. But he does not tell his readers that many Darwinian biologists agree with this idea that biological phenomena show an emergent order that is not reducible to physics and chemistry. I have a whole chapter on "emergence" in Darwinian Conservatism

This article is clearly an effort by the folks at the Discovery Institute to blunt the effect of Judge John Jones decision in the Dover case. Gilder ridicules Jones as a "gullible federal judge." But Gilder does not tell his readers that even the Discovery Institute has admitted that the policy of teaching intelligent design in the Dover school district was adopted by Biblical creationists on the school board who had no interest in science.


John Farrell said...

Excellent post, Mr. Arnhart. As an author and occasional contributor to the magazine, I become more and more mystified at National Review's attitude to basic science, the more they publish articles like Gilder's.

A superfluous man said...

It also strikes me as curious, this anti-Darwinism of Gilder when his eminently Darwinist book Sex and Suicide, updated as Men and Marriage, had such a profound influence on some of us.

Can you help me trace his about-face?

Larry Arnhart said...

In DARWINIAN CONSERVATISM (p. 52), I mention Gilder's book about sex differences as illustrating how conservatives have used Darwinian arguments. My only explanation for his about-face is that his friends at the Discovery Institute have pressed him into the service of their anti-evolution rhetoric.

Karl priest said...

Darwinists are "all hat and no ranch".


Anonymous said...

George Gilder is a fraud. his Gilder Technology report recommended Global Crossing as its TOP pick... a company which shortly thereafter went bankrups for massive accounting fraud.