Thursday, August 25, 2005

Intelligent Design and Stephen Coyne

When I was about 14, I first encountered "Inherit the Wind" - at that point in my life I thought the play was a class argument for rationality. The William Jennings Bryan character was so well drawn that it was hard to not take him (and his cause) as a buffoon's. It was pretty hard to take seriously the notion that the world was created X number of days (all 24 hours) or that our history was exactly X thousand years. For about 2 years I read everything I could on Darrow. I became interested in Darrow's other cases. My brother worked on the beach at Marina del Ray and Darrow's son was a frequent visitor on that beach. That contact made me learn about the Scopes Trial;about Big Bill Haywood and the Wobblies; about Sacco and Vanzetti (even though Darrow was only peripherally involved); about Leopold and Loeb. For several years I thought I wanted to be a lawyer.

But then I went to Washington and met George Gilder. George and I were members of something called the Ripon Society - as it turned out the group (especially the Washington Chapter - where I was the president) was called a liberal GOP group - but if you look at the people I was in the club with - some turned to become liberal democrats, some conservatives, some libertarians. What bound us together then was ideas.

George went on to do some powerful writing. He did one of the first bibles of supply side theory. He then did a couple of books on technology which were both informative and wacky. He ran into Carver Mead at Caltech and wrote a lot about technologies to come. He did a technology newsletter that was often wacky and off base but he was also the first person I read who understood the power of networks (Gilder's law about bandwidth - which was derivative of Moore's law was, if anything, understated.) well before most people could spell WWW or QQQ.

George went on to develop the Discovery Institute - it is a mix of technology and some of his earlier interests - with some of his old colleagues - Richard Rahn (who thankfully introduced me to the Austrian economists more than 30 years ago) is an adjunct of the group. And they are big into intelligent design.

The New Republic did an article in August by a guy named Stephen Coyne. I am not sure about Darwin. Nor am I sure about theology. I am convinced that there is plenty of evidence of a creator. But, like Darrow's character in the play (Henry Drummond) I am respectful enough of my own ignorance (and in this area I have only sketched the tops of the trees) that I become wary of someone who makes absolute statements.

Indeed, those in the theological side of the debate who make exact statements look as silly as Matthew Harrison Brady did in the play. But there are gaps, well beyond the gaps in the record (Coyne seems to state that were it not for some animals and plants not dying in sedimentary material we would have had all the answers to our questions.) that should allow us to have a rational discussion about what we do not know. At the same time, the best scientists are more than willing to admit that a good part of scientific inquiry is based on an initial premise of faith. So Coyne's argument, which is an unabashed attempt to refute the intelligent design people of all stripes, made me think that there might be some continuing limitations on Darwin.

I wonder what the biological line of the puffer fish is. I also wonder whether Coyne can be traced to it.

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