Friday, 2 April 2010

Rejecting Atheistic Interpretations of Evolution

I have already talked about not being overzealous in our desires to read the script of life expressed in evolution as a Christian narrative. My reasons for this are that we may cling to hypotheses which support us merely because they do so, rather than whether or not they have the best scientific backing. Inevitably evolution is understood through the spectacles of our paradigms and so we must be conscious of when a populariser of science is stating what is empirically verifiable and whether they are imprinting their world view onto the facts.

The most effective example of this comes from Denis Noble, an influential systems biologist and philosopher of science, in his book The Music of Life (2006). Noble is against reductionism in biology and often cites examples of feedback loops and downward causation in biological systems. To Noble biological systems have functionality on many levels, so he finds himself at odds with Dawkins' Selfish Gene views. In his book he took one of Dawkins' most famous statements from The Selfish Gene and rewrote it, taking all that is empirically verifiable and altering the metaphysical assumptions. The original reads as follows:

Now they [genes] swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control. They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence.

Noble's rewriting of this inverts the message, rejecting Dawkins' view of genes as active agents and replacing them with his own views:

Now they [genes]are trapped in huge colonies, locked inside highly intelligent beings, moulded by the outside world, communicating with it by complex processes, through which, blidly, as if by magic, function emerges. They are in you and me, we are the system that allows their code to be read; and their preservation is totally dependent on the joy that we experience in reproducing ourselves. We are the ultimate rationale for their existence.

This revised version is as empirically valid as Dawkins' original statement, retaining the only verifiable statement that "they are in you and me". We must be aware of when metaphyiscal assumptions are being smuggled into science through fancy rhetoric, whether it is said by another or is a statement of our own. Christians should strive for truth and be conscious of the varying understandings available.

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