by Denyse O'Leary
The hierarchical thesis that Gilder introduces in his National Review article can be proven, he says. Mathematician Kurt Godel showed that all logical systems, including mathematics, depend on premises that they can enither prove nor demonstrate inside the system itself. This is equivalent to the classical dilemma in which a Cretan announces that all Cretans are liars. If it is true, it is false, but if it is false it is also true. Godel destroyed the hopes of twentieth century intellectuals such as Bertrand Russell, Alfred North Whitehead, and David Hilbert that mathematics could be shown to be entirely the outcome of the "mechanical development of symbolic logic."
Mathematicial David Berlinski has written about this remarkable story in several books, Black Mischief (1986), The Advent of the Algorithm (2000), and Infinite Ascent: A Short History of Mathematics (2005).
Berlinski, as quoted by Gilder, exclaims,
It is the noble assumption of our own scientific culture that sooner or later everything might be explained: AIDS and the problems of astrophysics, the life cycle of the snail and the origins of the universe, the coming to be and the passing away. . . . Yet it is possible, too, that vast sections of our experience might be so very rich in information that they stay forever outside the scope of theory and remain simply what they are: unique, ineffable, insubsumable, irreducible."
And Gilder responds,
the irreducibility of mathematical axioms translates directly into a similar irreducibility of physics. As Caltech physicist and engineer Carver Mead, a guiding force in three generations of Silicon Valley technology, put it: "The simplest model of the galaxy is the galaxy."
Gilder references Michael Behe's argument in Darwin's Black Box that the bacterial flagellum, for example, is "irreducibly complex."
The flagellum is a sort of outboard motor that some bacteria use to get around. The motor will not work without all its current parts (irreducibly complex), and it was not likely to be a target of natural selection. That is, it was unlikely to be useful in any previous incarnation. So why should it be conserved over multi generations if evolution is undirected and purposeless?
Irreducibly complex systems are not suited to Darwin's theory of changes that happen slowly, step-by-step, where each change is valuable at the exact time it happens to occur. But the problem is that it is difficult to know for certain just which parts of of a natural mechanism might be irreducibly complex, so someone will always say that the evidence that shows that a given specific mechanism is not irreducibly complex will turn up eventually.
However, Gilder cites a larger problem: Citing mathematician Gregory Chaitin, he argues that biology contains so much more information than chemical and physical laws that "all biology as a field is irreducibly complex," that is that it cannot be reduced to physics and chemistry.
Gilder argues that the Panel of Peers is moving away from practical science toward philosophy, offering as his example a Scientific American cover story by cosmologist Max Tegmark that merely asserts the existence of infinite multiple parallel universes. He calls this "perhaps the silliest stratagem in the history of science," noting that even Feynman (Mr. "Surely you're joking!" himself) didn't really buy into that kind of thing. One reason mightb e that it makes all science "arbitrary and stochastic."
Actually, there is an interesting parallel here with Francis Crick and panspermia. One is certainly free to assert that life might have come from another galaxy, but the price to be paid is that its origin becomes unresearchable. Similarly, one can assert that a zillion universes flopped and ours just happens to work, but then there is no point looking for a pattern in the laws or events that we can safely generalize. After all, our universe might be about to flop too, at any moment.
Gilder ends by pointing out that we do not currently have satisfactory explanations for key phenomena like human consciousness, and Darwinism is not on the road to offering any. He quotes Nobel-laureate physicist Robert Laughlin of Stanford: "The Darwinian theory has become an all-purpose obstacle to thought rather than an enabler of scientific advance."
He closes with the reflection that the word, information, is the primary fact of nature, not matter, adding, "Superior even to the word are the mind and the meaning, the will and the way. Intelligent people bow their heads before this higher power, which still remains inexorably beyond the reach of science."
He closes with the thought that getting rid of materialist reductionism is "the only way that science can ever hope to solve the grand challenge problems before it, such as gravity, entanglement, quantum computing, time, space, mass, and mind."
John Derbyshire, another National Review writer posted a critical response, which I will try to blog on later.
Previous posts:Why is tech guru George Gilder not a Darwinist?: Part One - "Information does not bubble up from random flux"
Why is tech guru George Gilder not a Darwinist?: Part Two - Life as architecture of ideas or information
Why is tech guru George Gilder not a Darwinist?: Part Three - The cell as supercomputer
Why is tech guru George Gilder not a Darwinist?: Part Four - The hierarchy of information vs. "nothing but"
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain (Harper 2007).
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