Daniel Dennett, Orgel’s Second Law and Materialist Fideism
|July 29, 2018||Posted by Barry Arrington under Intelligent Design|
Fideism is the idea that sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and believe, because faith is independent of, or even in opposition to, reason. Theists are often accused of fideism. Every time you hear someone say, “your belief in God is based on nothing but blind, unreasoning faith” the speaker is accusing his target of fideism. Theists respond to the “blind faith” attack by pointing out that their beliefs are evidence-based, reasoned, and reasonable. See here for an example.
But this post is not about responding to materialist accusations of fideism against theists. It is about the irony of such attacks coming from any materialist who has ever cited Orgel’s Second Rule of Evolution. Orgel’s Second Rule, named for chemist Leslie Orgel, is: “Evolution is cleverer than you are.”
Orgel’s Second Rule is a statement of blind, fideistic faith in metaphysical naturalism. And it is used as such by Darwinian Fundamentalist* Daniel Dennett in the second video embedded in this webpage. The interviewer asks: “You’ve described the design of natural selection as ‘brilliant but mindless;’ Can you explain?”
The late Francis Crick used to joke that he had what he called Orgel’s Second Rule. Orgel’s . . . named after his colleague Leslie Orgel. Orgel’s Second Rule is that natural selection is cleverer than you are. Again and again we see in natural systems, in organs, in individual cells, in the wing of the bird, in the way that polar bear makes its den, we see wonderful design, design well worth copying, stupendous use of resources. This is, this is design that enraptures engineers who know good design when they see it. So there’s a lot of, of exquisitely well designed materials in the living world.
But the process that made it is not itself intelligent or directed. It is a sifting process; it’s a mechanical sifting and differentially replicating. It’s like a tournament which automatically has a winner, and the winner not . . . doesn’t just advance to the next round but makes lots of copies of itself to advance to the next round. And it’s this incessant competition, copying copying copying which automatically finds the design improvements and discards the rest. So it’s profligate; it’s wasteful; it’s . . . wonders aimlessly around in the space of possibilities. But if there’s good design out there to be found it finds it. And so it is a process that is itself mindless. But since it has the copying feature; that’s what, that’s what Darwin appreciated. It’s the preservation of the good designs and the further elaboration of those designs in the next generation, that’s where, that’s where the ratchet is that, that ratchets up the design from generation to generation. The good bits are saved and used again.
Wow. I doubt that a more pristine statement of religious dogma masquerading as science has ever been spoken. The sheer blind unreasoning faith displayed by Dennett here would make a fundamentalist Tennessee snake handler blush. Blind mechanical forces are able to create designs and a semiotic code (i.e., DNA) that baffle our most brilliant engineers.
But Barry, the difference between belief in God and Dennett’s claims in the video is that there is no evidence for God and Dennett’s claims have been absolutely established as scientific facts. Pure flummadiddle on both counts. We have already seen that belief in God can be evidence-based and reasoned. Whether the evidence convinces you is a separate question. The point is there is evidence and one reasonable interpretation of that evidence is that God exists.
The second claim is also false. Dennett’s claims have not been absolutely established as scientific facts. And you don’t have to take an ID proponent’s word for that. Dennett’s understanding of evolutionary theory appears to be stuck in the 1960’s when he was in university. The adaptationist theory Dennett spews would be called the “adaptationist fallacy” by neutral theory advocates Larry Moran and Eugene Koonin. See here.
The point is not whether adaptationists like Dennett or neutral theory advocates like Moran and Koonin are correct. I happen to think that neither are correct. The point is that when he was speaking in that video clip Dennett had the demeanor of a true believer. “Believer” is the key word here. Never mind that even fellow materialists such as Moran and Koonin would agree with me that there is zero evidence that natural selection has the creative power Dennett ascribes to it. Never mind that no materialist theory of evolution has attained universal assent among evolutionary researchers. There is no room for doubt in Dennett’s mind. Doubt cannot co-exist with blind fundamentalist faith.
Dennett’s rhapsodizing about the engineering prowess of natural selection put me in mind of Nathan Lents’ book Human Errors in which he deplores many designs in the human body. (One of several UD News Desk takedowns here.)
But materialists like to have it both ways. Exquisite design? Natural selection did that. Terrible design? Natural selection did that too. And not only that, the exquisite design proves materialist theories of evolution, because as Orgel said, “evolution is cleverer than you are.” AND the terrible design also proves materialist theories of evolution, because, after all, natural selection is a hodge-podge higgledy-piggledy process.
Orgel’s Second Rule: “Evolution is cleverer than you are.”
Dennett’s Gloss on Orgel’s Second Rule: “If there’s good design out there to be found evolution finds it.”
Lents’ corollary to Dennett’s gloss: “Except when it doesn’t and instead comes up with a truly awful design that no self-respecting intelligent engineer would have proposed.”
So, depending on what they need it to be that day, materialists say that evolution is simultaneously both far smarter than and far stupider than an intelligent designer.
Irony alert. It is ironic that Dennett would cite both Crick and Orgel in his talk, because both of them apparently gave up on materialist origin of life science, going so far as to co-author an article pushing consideration of directed panspermia.
Directed Panspermia F. H. C. CRICK Medical Research Council, Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Hills Row, Cambridge, England AND L. E. ORGEL The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, P,O. Box 1809, San Diego, California 92112 Received June 22, 1972; revised December 20, 1972 (Published in Icarus 19, 1973, P341-346)