Intelligent Design

Interview With Freeman Dyson

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Rebel with a Cause: The Optimistic Scientist
By Benny Peiser, TCS Daily, 10 Apr 2007

Excerpts follow.

Editor’s note: Freeman Dyson is professor emeritus of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society, a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the Royal Society of London. In 2000 he was awarded the Templeton Prize for progress in Religion. He is the author of a new book, “The Scientist as Rebel.” Benny Peiser of Liverpool John Moores University recently interviewed Dyson about his views on science, hope and the future.

A great, respected, accomplished scientist. But we all knew that already, right?

Freeman Dyson: My optimism about the long-term survival of life comes mainly from imagining what will happen when life escapes from this planet and becomes adapted to living in vacuum. There is then no real barrier to stop life from spreading through the universe. Hopping from one world to another will be about as easy as hopping from one island in the Pacific to another. And then life will diversify to fill the infinite variety of ecological niches in the universe, as it has done already on this planet.

I agree here and have blogged on this before in response to Eric Pianka’s question asking what makes man more important than lizards here. My question for Freeman would be why presume we’re the first link in the island hopping chain. May that not be precisely how life arrived on the earth – not original to this world but rather transplanted here? Francis Crick certainly thought so.

Freeman Dyson: I am always happy to be in the minority. Concerning the climate models, I know enough of the details to be sure that they are unreliable. They are full of fudge factors that are fitted to the existing climate, so the models more or less agree with the observed data. But there is no reason to believe that the same fudge factors would give the right behavior in a world with different chemistry, for example in a world with increased CO2 in the atmosphere.

Tell it like it is, Freeman. You’re awesome. ‘Nuff said there.

Freeman Dyson: I do not agree with your assessment of religion in Britain and the USA. The extremes of religious dogmatism in the USA and of atheistic dogmatism in Britain are greatly exaggerated by the media. In both countries, the average atheist and the average Christian are not dogmatic or unreasonable. So far as I can see, there is about the same variety of beliefs on both sides of the ocean. Certainly we do not need any accurate navigation to find a middle way between the two extremes. Probably ninety percent of the population are somewhere in the middle.

It is also interesting in this connection to observe the similarity, in optimistic mood and rapid material progress, between China and India. Although China is traditionally non-religious and India is traditionally permeated with religion, this does not seem to make much difference. In both countries, rapidly growing wealth and technological progress create a mood of optimism, with or without religion.

What’s this? Disputing the chance worshipper’s dogma about religion being such a threat to science? Freeman, you are truly a rebel!

Read the whole interview here.

12 Replies to “Interview With Freeman Dyson

  1. 1
    shaner74 says:

    “Freeman Dyson: I am always happy to be in the minority. Concerning the climate models, I know enough of the details to be sure that they are unreliable. They are full of fudge factors that are fitted to the existing climate, so the models more or less agree with the observed data. But there is no reason to believe that the same fudge factors would give the right behavior in a world with different chemistry, for example in a world with increased CO2 in the atmosphere.”

    Blasphemer!! He’s obviously being paid by big oil and possibly threatened by the Bush administration into saying that.

  2. 2
    Michaels7 says:

    Interesting weather patterns…

    http://image.weather.com/image.....00x405.jpg

    I wonder if the people in North Carolina are claiming global warming, while people in Texas are goin… huh?

  3. 3
    phonon says:

    Panspermia does not imply intelligent design.

  4. 4
    ErnstMayer says:

    Dyson is much more than a respected scientist. He really is a scientist in the real sense of the word he only asks for the evidence. And if his conclusions dont go with those of the scientific community he has the courage to say so unlike most Darwinist whimps. But as famous theoretical physicist he is also well trained in mathematics. So it is very likely that he can understand the writing of William Dembski.
    This man is a Christian, a real scientist, he is very smart and can understand the “modern” sciences (like information theory) and he has some courage.
    I think it is very, very likely that this man is an ID proponent.

  5. 5
    jerry says:

    Doesn’t his statement.

    “There is then no real barrier to stop life from spreading through the universe. Hopping from one world to another will be about as easy as hopping from one island in the Pacific to another. And then life will diversify to fill the infinite variety of ecological niches in the universe, as it has done already on this planet.”

    imply an endorsement of naturalistic evolution.

    If you are using front loading as an alternative explanation, does that not mean that current genomes have the information content for all the life necessary to fill all these future niches?

    Sounds like Freeman is a Darwinist (using that as a term for someone who believes in naturalistic evolution only not necessary gradualism.) If people disagree, then I would be interested on what basis.

  6. 6
    ErnstMayer says:

    I do not think that you can draw a conclusion about his position from this jerry. If so Dave would also be a Darwinist because he agrees.
    But I have to admit that I just speculated about his position. But as I said before:
    This man is a Christian, a real scientist, he is very smart and can understand the “modern” sciences (like information theory) and he has some guts.
    Considering these facts can you imagine he is a Darwinist?
    So these speculations seem not totally baseless to me.

  7. 7
    nullasalus says:

    jerry,

    “Sounds like Freeman is a Darwinist (using that as a term for someone who believes in naturalistic evolution only not necessary gradualism.) If people disagree, then I would be interested on what basis.”

    You don’t necessarily have to support or believe in ID to be friendly to it – the main boon of men like Dyson (specific to ID – there are other traits) is the attitude that asking questions about evolution, or even coming up with different answers than the mainstream/establishment does, is not a threat to science. That alone is noteworthy.

    As for whether or not Dyson’s a Darwinist, I’m unsure. He has a unique way of considering subjects, so I would be surprised to hear he’s either an ID proponent or an orthodox Darwinist. Still, in the context of that quote, keep in mind that he’s implying teleology in the process of life – and when he talks about life spreading from earth, he’s referring to humanity becoming spaceborne, and likely has an eye on bioengineering (the kind of intelligent design no one questions the existence of.)

  8. 8
    jerry says:

    ErnstMayer,

    Here is the last part of Dyson’s comment.

    “And then life will diversify to fill the infinite variety of ecological niches in the universe, as it has done already on this planet.”

    How has life filled all the niches on this planet? What mechanism was used? It sounds like he is implying a naturalistic mechanism.

    Dave, I believe, believes in front loading and is not a proponent of naturalistic evolution. But get his thoughts on this.

    But if front loading is to do what Dyson says will happen, then the data must already exist for these life forms and will be eventually discovered in the current genomes.

    If you believe that front loading is still possible for extra-terrestrial life in the sense that it is still in the genomes, then it should be able to create new life forms here on earth too given the right conditions. If you do not believe that, then why not?

    Of course, we as a species, could intelligently design a genome that could spread to other planets some day in the distant future and contain the basis for different life forms. No that could never happen or have happened before some place else.

  9. 9
    DaveScot says:

    Freeman Dyson on his personal religiosity:

    I am content to be one of the multitude of Christians who do not care much about the doctrine of the Trinity or the historical truth of the gospels. Both as a scientist and as a religious person, I am accustomed to living with uncertainty. Science is exciting because it is full of unsolved mysteries, and religion is exciting for the same reason. The greatest unsolved mysteries are the mysteries of our existence as conscious beings in a small corner of a vast universe. Why are we here? Does the universe have a purpose? Whence comes our knowledge of good and evil? These mysteries, and a hundred others like them, are beyond the reach of science. They lie on the other side of the border, within the jurisdiction of religion.

    My personal theology is described in the Gifford lectures that I gave at Aberdeen in Scotland in 1985, published under the title, Infinite In All Directions. Here is a brief summary of my thinking. The universe shows evidence of the operations of mind on three levels. The first level is elementary physical processes, as we see them when we study atoms in the laboratory. The second level is our direct human experience of our own consciousness. The third level is the universe as a whole. Atoms in the laboratory are weird stuff, behaving like active agents rather than inert substances. They make unpredictable choices between alternative possibilities according to the laws of quantum mechanics. It appears that mind, as manifested by the capacity to make choices, is to some extent inherent in every atom. The universe as a whole is also weird, with laws of nature that make it hospitable to the growth of mind. I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension. God may be either a world-soul or a collection of world-souls. So I am thinking that atoms and humans and God may have minds that differ in degree but not in kind. We stand, in a manner of speaking, midway between the unpredictability of atoms and the unpredictability of God. Atoms are small pieces of our mental apparatus, and we are small pieces of God’s mental apparatus. Our minds may receive inputs equally from atoms and from God. This view of our place in the cosmos may not be true, but it is compatible with the active nature of atoms as revealed in the experiments of modern physics. I don’t say that this personal theology is supported or proved by scientific evidence. I only say that it is consistent with scientific evidence.

    I do not claim any ability to read God’s mind. I am sure of only one thing. When we look at the glory of stars and galaxies in the sky and the glory of forests and flowers in the living world around us, it is evident that God loves diversity. Perhaps the universe is constructed according to a principle of maximum diversity. The principle of maximum diversity says that the laws of nature, and the initial conditions at the beginning of time, are such as to make the universe as interesting as possible. As a result, life is possible but not too easy. Maximum diversity often leads to maximum stress. In the end we survive, but only by the skin of our teeth. This is the confession of faith of a scientific heretic. Perhaps I may claim as evidence for progress in religion the fact that we no longer burn heretics.

  10. 10
    DaveScot says:

    phonon

    Directed panspermia implies intelligent design at least for the life on this planet.

    jerry

    Dyson believes that mind will carry forward evolution from here. I agree. Chance evolution, if it ever happened at all, is out of the picture. If intelligent design wasn’t a major force of evolution in the past it certainly is now. His views are pantheistic and I wouldn’t disagree there but might not have the same level of conviction he does. I’d bet if you asked him about Pascal’s Wager he’d say it’s a good bet. I’d agree with him there.

  11. 11
    sajones97 says:

    I have no objection to his views, as this is not the place for debate on Christian orthodoxy, nor does it claim to be. However, I am exceedinly curious as to why so agile a mind as his believes his position on God to be a Christian one.

    Again, not to begin a discussion or debate, but just to grasp his understanding of the interface between his position and Christian orthodoxy. His beliefs sound more Hindu-like than Christian.

  12. 12
    nullasalus says:

    sajones97,

    I think the questions Dyson asks about the actual nature of God are ones even orthodox Christians can ask. Christianity at heart has always had little to say about the mechanism and definite nature of God (How did Christ resurrect? How were various miracles performed? What is God ‘made out of’?).

    Reading what was written in Davescot’s followup quote, I’d disagree that Dyson is a pantheist (Panentheist, maybe – but attributing mind and intention to the universe is a bridge too far for classical pantheists, I believe.) But I think the essence of what he is saying is: He believes in God, and even Christ’s teachings. Specifics of God’s nature, ultimate intention, etc, he is unsure about. He has some ideas, but he is not married to them as a matter of faith – he’s just recognizing possibilities.

    I can relate in a way. If God exists, if Christianity and its promises are true, then the specific mechanisms of God are still extraordinarily interesting, but at the same time unimportant – understand the mechanisms is not part of the deal offered by God. It’s enough that it’s true, eh?

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