Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Funny how anti-science correlates with anti-feminism

Anti-Darwinist and co-founder of the Discovery Institute, George Gilder, reveals that his first beef with the theory of evolution is that it doesn't Put Women In Their Proper Place.

Darwinism seemed to offer me and its other male devotees a long-sought tool — resembling the x-ray glasses lamentably found elsewhere only in cartoons — for stripping away the distracting décor of clothing and the political underwear of ideology worn by feminists and other young women of the day. Using this swashbuckling scheme of fitness and survival, nature “red in tooth and claw,” we could reveal our ideological nemeses as naked mammals on the savannah to be ruled and protected by hunting parties of macho males, rather like us.

In actually writing and researching Sexual Suicide, however, I was alarmed to discover that both sides could play the game of telling just-so stories. In The Descent of Woman, Elaine Morgan showed 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 proceeds to write a weak and disjointed essay on how Information Theory applied to his straw-man version of molecular biology proves that life could not have arisen without the input of an Intelligent Designer.

One of his more amusing claims is:

Biologists commonly blur the information into the slippery synecdoche of DNA, a material molecule, and imply that life is biochemistry rather than information processing. But even here, the deoxyribonucleic acid that bears the word is not itself the word. Like a sheet of paper or a computer memory chip, DNA bears messages but its chemistry is irrelevant to its content. The alphabet’s nucleotide “bases” form “words” without help from their bonds with the helical sugar-phosphate backbone that frames them. The genetic words are no more dictated by the chemistry of their frame than the words in Scrabble are determined by the chemistry of their wooden racks or by the force of gravity that holds them.

Let's ponder the last statement - that the chemistry of a DNA molecule is as irrelevent to its ability to convey information as the substance of a Scrabble rack is to the words formed during the game.

It is clear to me that one could play Scrabble with the same vocabulary and intellectual ability whether one used a wooden, metal, plastic or blue cheese rack. One could also conceivably play Scrabble in zero-gravity conditions. But if we were to make similar substitutions in the chemistry of a DNA molecule while keeping the "information content" constant, the ability to use those words would unquestionably be lost. Just try to replace the four nucleotides with four other arbitrary monomers. Without the requisite chemical bonds that Gilder pooh-poohs, a molecule that stores and conveys information is just so much polymeric gunk.

If Gilder's arguments made any sense, I could refute each one and say, "Ergo, information is not necessarily preceeded by intelligence." That consolation is lost under the deluge of misinformation, misquotation, obfuscatory jargon and non sequitors that he subjects us to. I can't desprove a premise if a cogent premise doesn't exist.

Panda's Thumb dismantles the essay, and lets the gunk on the cogs dry and shrivel under the blazing heat of Real Science.

Pharyngula points out that Gilder is an ideologue trying to force-fit science to his worldview. He also links to his previous previous posts on the gentleman's writings - well worth a read.

Pandagon explores the idea that creationism and fundamentalism appeal to people because they want justification for their own bigotries.


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