Sunday, December 30, 2007

Science and non-science

Science and nonsense

Maybe it's a good book. I don't know and I don't expect to spend time reading it. But I doubt it. The author is Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna and friend to the Discovery Institute's intelligent design advocates. Chance or Purpose? has been published by Ignatius Press, which took out a full-page ad for the book in the December 2007 issue of Inside the Vatican. (Ignatius Press is the American publisher of the books of Pope Benedict XVI and a regular advertiser in Inside the Vatican.)

Schönborn's publisher is quick to round up the usual suspects to provide laudatory blurbs for the cardinal's book. My favorite is by the unavoidable Michael Behe:
Science cannot speak of ultimate purpose, and scientists who do so are outside of their authority. In Chance or Purpose? Cardinal Schönborn shows that the data of biology, when properly examined by reason and philosophy, strongly point to a purposeful world.

—MICHAEL BEHE, Professor of Biochemistry, Lehigh University, Pennsylvania and author of Darwin's Black Box
Go ahead. Read Behe's statement again. He does not appear to be kidding. First he says that “ultimate purpose” is beyond the ambit of science. Fine. (I think it's outside the reach of the fables of religion, too, but that's a separate point.) Then Behe says that biology (I think that's a science) points toward a “purposeful world” when a religious philosopher examines the data produced by its practitioners—by scientists! I guess scientists should just do their work and wait for the priests to tell them what it means.

Have you ever seen anything sillier? (Sorry: I forgot about The Edge of Evolution.)

Yet when Behe's blurb crossed the desk of the person responsible for putting together the Ignatius Press ad, did he (or she) say, “Oh, dear. This is just arrant nonsense. We can't use this!” Apparently not. Working on ad copy for a religious publisher must train you to believe at least six impossible things before breakfast every morning, so Behe's blather was treated as golden and placed near the top of the ad for Schönborn's book.

I noticed that the cover of Chance or Purpose? juxtaposes two spiral images: the nautilus shell that is so beloved of the Discovery Institute and a spiral galaxy (the Whirlpool Galaxy, in fact). Did someone mean to imply a unity between earthly biology, as represented by the shell, and God's infinite universe, as represented by the star system? Perhaps. If strained symbolism was their purpose, perhaps someone should have noticed that the spirals are oriented in different directions. They oppose each other.


RBH said...

As far as I can tell, Behe has completely abandoned thinking at all. said...

When following one of your links, I run into a comment from a reader wondering why the Intelligent Designers don't apply their reasoning to other areas of science, to which someone else replied with the following link. Old but hilarious.

Daniel O'Connor said...

Two spirals at opposite ends of a common source of spiration do indeed "oppose" each other. One who can see only this "opposition" fails to see they both share the same origin and end.