by Denyse O'Leary
George Gilder, a co-founder of the Discovery Institute, explained recently in National Review why he thinks the universe and life forms show evidence of intelligent design. His most recent book, The Silicon Eye , was a finalist for the Royal Society's Aventis Prize for science.
His article's title, "Evolution and Me: Darwinian Theory has Become an All-Purpose Obstacle to Thought Rather than an Enabler of Scientific Advance," pretty much sums up the view he defends in the essay.
But even if Darwinism is the intellectual equivalent of the horrible, overstuffed sofa your late aunt Mildred left you - the problem is not whether to get rid of it but how to do so decently and tactfully - why embrace intelligent design instead? As philosopher David Stove and cell biologist Giuseppe Sermonti have pointed out, Darwinism is a wrong account of evolution. But that doesn't make intelligent design a right account.
However, Gilder argues that information theory - the theory that launched the computer revolution - both reveals the weaknesses of Darwinism as an explanation of the history of life, and at the same time, makes intelligent design more plausible.
"Everywhere we encounter it, information does not bubble up from a random flux or prebiotic soup. It comes from mind. Taking the hierarchy beyond the word, the central dogma of intelligent design ordains that word is subordinate to mind. Mind can generate and lend meaning to words but words in themselves cannot generate mind or intelligence.
Gilder first sensed that something was wrong with Darwinism in the late Sixties when books that analyzed human life purely in terms of animal behavior - The Naked Ape and The Human Zoo , et cetera, were all the rage. Gilder was writing a critique of the sexual liberation philosophy that took hold at that time (Sexual Suicide, later revised and republished as Men and Marriage). He hoped that the study of patriarchal hamadryas baboons by Darwinian anthropologists Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox, published as The Imperial Animal would support his own theory of the inevitability of sex roles.
However, while researching Sexual Suicide, he discovered that it wasn't so simple. Anyone can make up Darwinian just-so stories. "Once upon a time there was this cave guy, see, and he bopped this cave gal on the head .... but she bopped him right back, and then ... " Feminists were doing it too.
In The Descent of Woman, Elaine Morgan portrayed humans undulating from the tides as amphibious apes mostly led by females. Jane Goodall croodled about the friendliness of "our closest relatives," the chimpanzees, and movement feminists flogged research citing the bonobo and other apes as chiefly matriarchal and frequently homosexual.
Gilder, to his credit, recognized that the problem lay with the tautological principle behind Darwinism: Whatever survives is the most fit. Whatever is most fit survives.
But designating survivors as "fit" doesn't tell you much about human society. It doesn't tell you which social structures benefit society and which harm it. Put another way, what if slum sociopaths are more fit than other men? Perhaps they spread more of their "selfish genes" than other men because they compel others to accept responsibility for their children. Only a "trained professional" who is getting a salary from promoting the sociopath's lifestyle can afford to advocate it, and only through devious policies and rhetoric.
As Gilder concluded,
Almost by definition, Darwinism is a materialist theory that banishes aspirations and ideals from the picture. As an all-purpose tool of reductionism that said that whatever survives is, in some way, normative, Darwinism could inspire almost any modern movement, from the eugenic furies of Nazism to the feminist crusades of Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood.
So in his book, he ended up ignoring Darwin.
He also dumped Darwin in his Wealth & Poverty. The world of business, he came to see, is not a "dog-eat-dog zero-sum struggle" as portrayed by the rhetoric of Darwinian capitalism. Mostly, the business world focuses on creating, rather than capturing wealth, in what Michael Novak has termed a mind-centered system.
Gilder's later work focuses on human creativity, especially the products of information theory such as computers. Claude Shannon of MIT, the founder (for the most part) of the discipline of information theory, understood information as "unexpected bits, or 'news,'" This news travels across a "channel," for which he calculated elaborate logarithmic rules. The channel could be a wire perhaps, or a gap between neurons, or - for evolution - the channel is time itself.
Now, information transfer depends on a simple, predictable (low entropy) carrier of messages, which are in themselves unpredictable (high entropy). As Gilder puts it, "A blank sheet of paper is a better vessel for a new message than one already covered with writing."
In my book Telecosm (2000), I showed that the most predictable available information carriers were the regular waves of the electromagnetic spectrum and prophesied that all digital information would ultimately flow over it in some way.
Gilder doubts that chemical processes can usually carry information because they tend to blend the medium and the message, which results in illegible data at the other end. (Think, for example, of a bad telephone connection.)
Next:Why tech guru George Gilder is not a Darwinist: Part Two: Life as architecture of ideas or information
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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