Terry Gross Interviews Richard Dawkins

Having thoroughly enjoyed Terry Gross’ interview of Richard Dawkins I felt that two points deserved elaboration. I doubt that Dawkins would dispute either of these.

  1. Dawkins says that Einstein used the word God for "the deep problems," "the mysteries that lie...at the base of physics....the mysteries that physics has yet to solve and may never solve." Dawkins shares Einstein's reverance for such mysteries and has no quarrel with those who name them "God". "The mysteries at the base of physics" refers implicitly to quantum mechanics, the study and prediction of phenomena that occur at a submicroscopic scale, in sub-nanosecond time frames. However, his statement should be extended to problems of nonlinear dynamics that lie not "at the base of physics" but arise out of the known laws of physics. These phenomena don't occur at a submicroscopic scale, but at ordinary human scales and time frames. I refer to phenomena like the weather and seismic activity. Such phenomena lie in the realm of the difficult-to-know or even, represented in Godel's Theorem, the impossible-to-know. They are not only mysterious, they must have tripped what Daniel Dennett refers to as the "agent detector on a hair trigger" in humans who then attributed these phenomena to gods of air and earth. This helps to explain why people with deep knowledge of physics still turn to religion to answer questions about daily life.
  2. Dawkins suggests that evolution is a slow, gradual, "incremental process that moves step by step from simplicity to complexity". Now, modifications to the genetic structure, the genotype, were likely slow, gradual, and incremental from generation to generation. The evidence for this lies in the overwhelming similarity among the genetic structures of all living beings and in the fact that drastic changes to the genetic structure result in dead or inviable organisms. However, it does not follow that modifications to the structure of fully-grown organisms were also incremental in successive generations. Indeed, complexity may have decreased in some modifications. Briefly, though modifications to the genotype were slow, gradual, and incremental, modifications to the phenotype may have been rapid, drastic, and sudden. This is, again, due to the nonlinear relationship between genotype and phenotype. The historical record does not evidence gradual development of complex structures like brains and eyeballs, and promoters of intelligent design have used this against the theory of evolution. This point helps to neutralize their attack.

Tags: Philosophy, Religion

Updated at: 7 April 2007 12:04 AM