Posts Tagged ‘John Brockman’

Intelligent thought: a review

June 22, 2008

Slightly more than two years ago, one of my friends gifted me Intelligent thought — Science versus the intelligent design movement, an anthology edited by John Brockman. At first, I wasn’t too keen on the book — I knew that ID, as such, did not have any content whatsoever; so, why read a book that is going to tell me the same thing? However, my friend insisted that the book is not just about ID, but also about the science, and I might enjoy the science aspects of the book. So, I promised to read the book and blog about it too.

I am glad I did read the book; it is true that there are pieces in the book which did not excite me very much — the ones that deal with what Dembski or Behe have to say and how they are wrong, insincere, or, both; however, there are a few which I enjoyed thoroughly.

The first piece that I enjoyed a lot is Tim D White’s Human evolution; the evidence. In the essay, White writes about his paleontological studies and excavations in Ethiopia, and what they have to say about human origins and evolution.

The essay that follows White’s called The “Great” transition by Niel H Shubin was another that I liked very much; in this piece, Shubin recounts the story of the discovery of fossils of “fishapods”.

In my opinion, the finest piece in the book is the one by Frank J Sulloway titled Why Darwin rejected intelligent design. The essay begins with this vaguely Jane Austen-ish sentence:

There is considerable irony in the fact that Charles Darwin was at one time enthralled by the theory that all species are intelligently designed–a theory he later sought to banish from science in his Origin of species (1859).

And, it goes on to establish that

While in Galapagos, creationist theory primed Darwin in key ways for what he observed and understood there. Just as important, this theory also dictated what he failed to observe and understand.

Having just read Kuhn’s Structure of scientific revolutions, and not knowing that Darwin did fail to notice certain things which became a key part of his book and his legend, I could make some new connections between what my perceptions about Darwin and his work are and what he actually seems to have done, and put all of that in the paradigm perspective.

Even though the last four paragraphs of Sulloways essay are quotable in full, here are a few thought provoking sentences:

Ultimately, what Darwin’s transformation from creationist to evolutionist reveals about him–and about science generally–is that the best science is conducted in the service of really good theory. Darwin’s own scientific methodology was remarkably modern for a period when Baconian induction–supposedly letting the facts speak for themselves, independently of any theory–was the predominant scientific philosophy. … throughout his long career he employed what is known as the hypothetico-deductive method, by which hypotheses are used to generate predictions and to guide the collection of relevant evidence–information that is then used to confirm or reject the hypotheses.

And, that sentence about “science conducted in the service of a really good theory” reminded me of the pushing your cookie versus theoretical prostitution discussion of Teppo at Orgtheory.

To summarise, if only for Sulloway’s piece, Intelligent thought is worth your time and money. Along the way, you might also find a few more interesting pieces. Have fun!