by Denyse O'Leary
One thing that many of us have wondered about is whether the obviously non-Darwinian structure of the cell had come to the attention of the science elite, whom Gilder calls the "Panel of Peers" in his National Review article - that is, the people who decide whether the evidence for the design of life is "science" or "pseudo-science," or even "anti-science" (if evidence doesn't confirm materialism, it is sure to be considered anti-science).
Apparently, it had indeed come to the Peers' attention and it was indeed treated as a problem. The double helix discoverer Francis Crick decided that the solution was that life came to Earth from other galaxies ("panspermia"). But Crick's solution drop-kicked the problem for a touchdown pass far, far beyond the reach of credible research. That is to say, if Crick is right, origin-of-life is an insoluble problem as far as this planet and this galaxy is concerned.
How to account for the vast growth of information in life? Arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins put forward the notion of a "meme"in his Selfish Gene in 1976. Basically, a meme is supposed to be a self-replicating string of information, trimmed by natural selection. Thus information can be created from matter, all the way up to how humans think.
The trouble is, as far as how humans think is concerned, there is no real content to the idea of a "meme." The neurological evidence is that everyone programs his or her brain differently, in an ongoing, lifelong effort. It's different with computers. You can write a string of code and copy it into a platform that recognizes that string and thus produce the same effects in different computers. But the same string of words can have very different effects in different brains. And, don't forget, you wrote the code yourself based on pre-existing intelligence.
Soon, the "meme" descended into the pop psychology world. It was cute, but calling an idea or a social trend a "meme," as many do, doesn't tell you anything more about it than you knew beforehand. Gilder dismisses the meme as "mere froth on the surface of a purely chemical tempest, fictive reflections of material reality rather than a governing level of information."
As Gilder notes, it was part of a trend that C.S. Lewis called "nothing buttery":
"Nothing buttery" was Lewis's way of summing up the stance of public scientists who declared that "life" or the brain or the universe is "nothing but" matter in motion. As MIT's Marvin Minsky famously asserted, "The brain is nothing but a meat machine.'" In DNA (2003), Crick's collaborator James Watson doggedly insisted that the discovery of DNA "proved" that life is nothing but or "merely chemistry and physics."
He describes this trend as "a flat-universe epistemology," explaining that there are seven layers of abstraction in information technology, starting with the silicon chips and silica fiber on the bottom and ending with the programs and content at the top. Nothing buttery restricts the explanation to the lowest level, the "physical layer."
A century of attempts to explain everything in materialist terms has failed, and we now know many more reasons than we used to why the effort must continue to fail. Gilder offers an explanation:
... it turns out that the universe is stubbornly hierarchical. It is a top-down "nested hierarchy," in which the higher levels command more degrees of freedom than the levels below them, which they use and constrain. Thus, the higher levels can neither eclipse the lower levels nor be reduced to them. Resisted at every step across the range of reductive sciences, this realization is now inexorable. We know now that no accumulation of knowledge about chemistry and physics will yield the slightest insight into the origins of life or the processes of computation or the sources of consciousness or the nature of intelligence or the causes of economic growth.
This is reminiscent of an ancient principle that "the higher descends to the lower but the lower does not ascend to the higher." Or, as CS Lewis pointed out, the French writer Montaigne enjoyed playing with his cat, but there is no evidence that the cat disputed philosophy with Montaigne. An insuperable barrier prevents the cat from even conceiving the idea of a dispute about philosophy.
Regarding the "causes of economic growth," its worth remembering that - at every stage - "economic growth" is first and foremost an idea in the minds of men. It always begins with an idea of a better life - clean water or public schools, for example. The material advance follows the idea. Without the idea the advance never happens. Ignoring this principle has led to much waste in foreign aid efforts by wealthy countries. Why? Because things have been forced on people as "improvements" before they wanted or cared about them, and they responded by ignoring, subverting, or destroying them.
Example: My own country (Canada) once exported tins of powdered milk to a poor country where the malnourished people did not normally drink milk after they were weaned. But the recipients threw away the powdered milk and used only the aluminum tins! The people were not stupid. They easily understood the value of the tins in their daily life. But they did not understand the value of the milk. They did not know about the importance of proteins in the diet. So an effort to improve health in that region did not depend on supplying a physical substance such as powdered milk. It depended on getting the people to accept the idea that a higher protein diet would alleviate illness and the idea that the donated powdered milk could help them do so. In that case, only a change at the highest level of the system (the ideas in the minds of men) could change centuries of misery. Indeed, once they accepted the idea, they might seek local sources of milk, and might not end up needing much help from Canada.
Gilder goes on to note that in 1961, eminent chemist Michael Polanyi pointed out that both the human mind and the organization of human society depend on - but are not defined by - chemical and physical processes.
The materialist cause depends largely, if not exclusively, on attempting to show that these higher levels are actually created by the lower levels. That is the basis of "nothing buttery."
Apart from its general failure to demonstrate that any such thing is true, materialism has always suffered from a fundamental flaw that Gilder highlights: If materialism is true, we have no way of being sure that it is true. If all thoughts are merely the random behavior of atoms, why attend to materialism more than any other temporary, random confluence of atoms? Even if someone were to argue that materialism is more beneficial (a point that can certainly be disputed, given the history of the twentieth century), we would then face the problem of whether the idea of "beneficial" itself is not merely a temporary, random confluence of atoms.
Gilder says bluntly that artistic and philosophical nihilism follows this scientific reductionism, and adds - sensing that he may now have gone beyond the pale, as far as the materialist elite is concerned,
All right, have a tantrum. Hurl the magazine aside. Say that I am some insidious charlatan of "creation-lite," or, God forfend, "intelligent design."
Gilder makes the key point that intelligent design is not about introducing ideas about the supernatural. It simply insists that the cosmos is hierarchical. That is, information comes from the top down, not the bottom up.
It is characteristic of North American media that so many journalists have been so illiterate for so long that they do not even know that the idea that the cosmos is hierarchical - that ideas precede matter - is not a hallmark of religion, let alone the Christian religion. It was a common, working assumption of philosophy for thousands of years, including the philosophy of many persons who do not believe in God. But they did and many still do believe in ideas. They would otherwise have no basis for being philosophers or mathematicians or pure scientists.
In itself, intelligent design - while anti-materialist, of course - does not require assumptions about the supernatural. It is a statement about how the universe actually works, what it actually is in itself. That is, the universe is top down, not bottom up. Ideas come first and are not generated by matter. Rather ideas either generate or govern matter.
Some, like Seth Lloyd, author of Programming the Universe, who - as Gilder makes clear - is not an intelligent design advocate, think that the requisite intelligence emerges from the quantum processes themselves. In any event, Gilder argues,
All explorers on the frontiers of nature ultimately must confront the futility of banishing faith from science. From physics and neural science to psychology and sociology, from mathematics to economics, every scientific belief combines faith and facts in an inextricable weave. Climbing the epistemic hierarchy, all pursuers of truth necessarily reach a point where they cannot prove their most crucial assumptions.
Well, if they cannot prove their most crucial assumptions, then the guarantee of their legitimacy likely depends on a level of hierarchy above them.
Next: Why is tech guru George Gilder not a Darwinist?: Part Five - Why complexity can be irreducible
Posts in this series
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"
Why is tech guru George Gilder not a Darwinist?: Part Five Why complexity can be irreducible
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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