The text of Christoph Schonborn’s latest attack on science is about to be published in First Things (Schonborn, ‘The Designs of Science’, First Things 159, 34 - 38) and has just been published on line here:
Suffice to say, that it does not merely recapitulate his ‘mis-understood’ NY Times article, but goes further in attacking the foundational science of biology on theological and philosophical grounds. I haven’t time now to refute his attack on biology, his deep, deep misunderstanding of neo-Darwinism, his elementary scientific errors, his denigration of science, his promotion of philosophy as a superior method for discerning deep truth and his attempt to drag the debate back into the 80s and 90s with arguments against logical positivism reminiscent of the heyday of postmodernist philosophers and social scientists (arguments so thoroughly dismantled by Sokal and Bricmont in ‘Fashionable Nonsense’ and Gross and Levitt in ‘Higher Superstition’ that one expected them to have been buried forever - obviously Schonborn is having difficulty in keeping up).
What is one to make of pronouncements like these:
“First of all, we must observe that the role of randomness in Darwinian biology is quite different from its role in thermodynamics, quantum theory, and other natural sciences. In those sciences randomness captures our inability to predict or know the precise behavior of the parts of a system (or perhaps, in the case of the quantum world, some intrinsic properties of the system). But in all such cases the “random” behavior of parts is embedded in and constrained by a deeply mathematical and precise conceptual structure of the whole that makes the overall behavior of the system orderly and intelligible. The randomness of neo-Darwinian biology is nothing like that. It is simply random. The variation through genetic mutation is random. And natural selection is also random: The properties of the ever-changing environment that drive evolution through natural selection are also not correlated to anything, according to the Darwinists. Yet out of all that unconstrained, unintelligible mess emerges, deus ex machina, the precisely ordered and extraordinarily intelligible world of living organisms. And this is the heart of the neo-Darwinian science of biology.”
Here is neo-Darwinian biology misunderstood, misrepresented and unfairly traduced, in finer words, but no more sophisticated understanding than the arguments of Young Earth Creationists. Schonborn has been unable to restrain his religious objection to the Theory of Evolution, and has combined this distaste with his lack of scientific knowledge to produce an argument that is at once petulant, weak and saturated with the perfume of personal incredulity.
I am sorry particularly for Phil, who has sought to rehabilitate Schonborn’s reputation on this list by quoting his more moderate statements, but Schonborn has made all such attempts futile by clearly preferring what he would like to be, to what the evidence says actually is. I plan, if I have time to write a full critique of his article for my website. In the meantime, I’ll leave with a statement that I find utterly astonsihing for an educated man, scientific ignoramus or not:
“The variation that actually occurred in the history of life was exactly the sort needed to bring about the* complete set of plants and animals that exist today*. In particular, it was exactly the variation needed *to give rise to an upward sweep of evolution resulting in human beings”
In other words, today’s biosphere is not at all the product of variation and natural selection - no, today’s biosphere, including man is the consequence of a process that involves no chance at all, that is entirely deterministic, and in which neither mutation nor Natural Selection are pemissible mechanims (how quantum randomness, apparently accepted by Schonborn, can be fitted into this planned and managed universe is not clear to me and appears not to have crossed Schonborn’s mind.). Needless to say, Schonborn doesn’t actually suggest an scientific hypothesis to replace neo-Darwinism as a mechanism for biological evolution - other than the ubiquitous ‘God did it’
Enough for now. More later.