Saturday, June 03, 2006

Expanding the Boundaries of Science

A worthwhile article entitled 'Darwin’s Divisions The Pope, the Cardinal, the Jesuit & the Evolving Debate About Origins' was authored by Martin Hilbert in 'Touchstone.' The entire article can be accessed at the following site:

http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=19-05-028-f

A small part of the article is quoted and my comments included. From the article:


"That is Coyne’s first mistake. The second is more substantial. The main problem with his argument is not his attempt to claim papal authority for neo-Darwinism, but his attempt to portray science as a religiously neutral enterprise and at the same time as the ultimate basis for a rational worldview.

“Science,” he declares at one point, “is completely neutral with respect to philosophical or theological implications that may be drawn from its conclusions.” Yet he goes on to say that science has a bearing on our understanding of divine omnipotence and omniscience. So is it neutral or is it not? He informs us that “in the universe as known by science, there are essentially three processes at work: chance, necessity, and the fertility of the universe.”


[Bradford]: Fertility of the universe? While Coyne's views are not presented as representing a scientific consensus they do indicate confusion as to the distinction between conclusions supported by scientific data and ontological beliefs referencing such data. When scientists venture into the ontological realm and advance their personal views with "scientific claims" they invite criticism for they have strayed beyond their turf.


"Let us begin with chance and necessity. If this is a statement of scientific methodology, very well and good. Science tries to explain the realities of this world in terms of other realities in this world. It looks for patterns and demands that experiments adduced in favor of theories be replicable. Any given situation in nature is assumed to unfold by necessity: Identical initial conditions must lead to the same outcomes. It does not include any personal element, such as divine intervention. Science as we know it could only begin when the denizens of Mount Olympus ceased to count as explanations for natural phenomena."


[Bradford]: If identical initial conditions lead to the same outcome then what conditions and what chemical reactions could possibly give rise to an encoded genome capable of being expressed and replicated? The standard response is a variation of "we are researching the unknown for answers." One problem with this is any selection paradigm operating in conditions thought to resemble those on prebiotic earth must operate outside the currently accepted Darwinian framework encompassing observable biological systems. One can explain the selective value of any particular gene once its function is understood. The function supports a larger biological entity which is eventually the organism itself. Function and therefore selective value are inseparable from the larger system i.e. the containing organism. So then what would be the selection criteria describing chemical reactions leading to a functional encoded nucleic acid in a prebiotic world still devoid of such biochemicals? The question seeks not simply an unknown. Rather, it points to an existing theoretical framework as an inadaquate tool within which to search for answers.

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