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Dennett and Darwinism

I have been reading Daniel Dennett’s book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. The dangerous idea being of course that evolution could occur, in all its complexity, from simple and mechanistic beginnings.

Dennett’s survey of the discipline had been rational and well described until page 154 where objectivity and rationality fly out of the window. Within a paragraph the text dissolves into a rant against religion or faith (Dennett doesn’t seem to be sure which) based on the presumption that Christians are either unable or unwilling to engage in rational discussion about their faith. The words he puts into the Christian mouth are certainly not recognisable as claims that would be made by any Christians I know. The tenor of the text is patronising to say the least. Two weaknesses in Dennett’s approach seem apparent to me:

Firstly, when dismissing God as an alternative to mindless algorithmic processes as posited by Darwinian science, Dennett appears to have conducted little or no research into the religion or faith that he disregards so easily. Moreover, had he done so he would understand the difference between the two.

Secondly, in seeking to deny God as creator, Dennett seems to satisfy himself by attempting to show that Darwinism might be able to explain how life today developed from a primordial cell. It strikes me that this is a particularly unscientific approach: in the absence of evidence, let’s assume that there might be evidence.

Dennett claims to be trying to break down a prejudice. It seems as if the only prejudice is his own. I will continue with the book to see how objectively he is able to discuss the alternatives. Watch this space.

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Creationism – time will tell

I have to confess as a Christian that I have never felt comfortable with the creationist view that the earth is only 10,000 years old. Accepting Genesis as a literal description of events seems to me at odds with a biblical exegesis which acknowledges that the story of creation was written by men some 3,000 years before Einstein developed his general theory of relativity. The current debate which pits science against religion seems to me anomalous since I regard science as part of God’s world.

However, a number of articles and discussions have caused me to think a little more on the matter. While I am not persuaded yet by the creationist camp, I am beginning to think that there may be more to this than either the creationists or the scientists imagine. First up is an article which appeared in New Scientist magazine some time in late 2008. It referred to the problems faced by physicists in marrying Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity with the laws of quantum mechanics to provide a Grand Unified Theory (GUT). One proposal which has been put forward by respected scientists is that time should be dropped from relativity theory altogether. The context of the article was that this seemingly counterintuitive suggestion was being treated seriously among the scientific community.

A second point that is relevant is that scientists in truth don’t know what time actually is. It isn’t a particle or force in the sense that we understand other particles or forces. We can measure it, but only in the context of something else. Our entire concept of time is based on our physical world and the rotation of the earth around the sun. We don’t understand why time only flows in one direction or why we can’t capture some and re-run that portion of time again. Given our understanding of the rest of the universe, it seems to me strange that this one particular aspect of our world should be so hidden from us.

Another seemingly off-the-wall idea being proposed by a group of scientists from the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, and Spain’s University of Salamanca is that time itself may be slowing down. This, they suggest, would be an explanation for the puzzling phenomenon that stars at extreme distances seem to be moving away from us faster than those nearby. See Scientists: Time itself May Be Slowing Down.

Given that time is not something which science understands entirely, it strikes me that the idea of earth not being millions of years old might properly be classified as not proven. Let me be clear: our measurements of geological time are probably accurate within the concept of time as we understand it. What is less clear is whether that understanding is complete.Perhaps the Book of Genesis needs to be looked at in a new light.

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