Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Edward O. Wilson and Robert Wright on Video (66 mins)

Robert Wright (Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny* Amazon Astore UK | US) talks to Edward O. Wilson (The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth UK | US) in this video from and discuss topics such as 'Being good without God', Consciousness, Death, Emergence, Free will, Intelligent Design, Passion, Science and Religion and The biology of religion:

Excerts from the transcript (not proof-read):

1) Wright: Speaking of God, you've just finished a book that I think has religion and science in the subtitle, an aliance of religion and science or something like that?

Edward O. Wilson: Well I'm just finishing it now and it's about to go off to the publisher and I'll talk a little bit about it because I think that it addresses an important issue. Actually the title of it is would be, as I have it now, "Ascending to Nature," subtitle: "An aliance of science and religion"... which may sound kind of strange coming from a scientist whose often pointed out to be an atheistic materialist secular humanist of the worst kind ... in that category I can always say I'm to the right of Richard Dawkins... anyway, how can I be talking about alliance of science and religion? Well, I do it in falling on the religious community and one long essay to join the scientist to save the creation. I point out at the beginning that here is an area where we can differ absolutely in how we think the world works and the meaning of humanity, the meaning of life...which is what the cultural war is all about. And we do differ drastically and, I think, insoluably... that is, it is not soluable... so you can take that for what it's worth and I'm not going to be one of these scientists who keep wafling and saying "oh well, science has it's role, religion has it's role... science has it's own kind or truth and religion has it's own kind of truth... somehow, as we work more and more they will somehow come together." I don't believe that for a minute. I don't think that Darwin would have believed it and...

Wright: You know, I think you used to make noises kind of like that, didn't you? Correct me if I'm wrong but this has two parts to it... first of all, I think you're among those who think that the evolution of human intelligence is not all inprobable... nuts and bolts natural selection encourages - through competetve dynamics - the growth of intelligence and so on... I thought I recall you saying in principle you can imagine a kind of deism or something... that natural selection was set in motion, is the unfolding of divine plan even though it's a surely materialistic system... did you not say that?

Edward O. Wilson: The first part of what you said was correct... Whenever I'm cornered ... ok I'll call myself a provisional deist. A provisional deist I'll strictly define as someone considers at least the possibility that the ultimate laws of the universe were set by some kind of intelligence whether it was Satanic, benevolently, Judeo-Christian or some unseen meta-intelligence... the point is that it's premature to say that becuase we can define the laws of the universe we also can define their origin. I won't go that far but I would leave open, I consider this a problem in astrophysics, but I would leave this open to the astrophysicists mainly... deism or not... but I absolutely believe that the evidence shows, I think now conclusively, that it's unrealistic, it's false reasoning to believe in a biological God... meaning a God that oversaw and directed the creation and evolution of life.

2) Wright: The theory of intelligent design... I don't really understand the sense in which it's a theory ... what is the intelligent design movement as far as you can tell?

Edward O. Wilson: That's a difficult arguement. All is says is that biologists haven't explained some of the most complex phenomenon in terms of evolution... they can't understand how evolution could create it and therefore there must be somebody who put it together. If it can't come autonomously from mutation and natural selection - which is the heart of Darwinian or modern biological thinking let's say - then there must be something else and that has to be an intelligent designer. That's it.

Wright: So it's not a testable alternative theory.

Edward O. Wilson: No, it's default argument. Default arguments are sometimes stimulating in real science for getting research started....that works as a strategy in creative science but it never becomes a theory to say that we don't understand that yet therefore God must be doing it or somebody outside and also I want to point out two things to the intelligent designers or those who have hopes of this approach. It's not science, there's not a shred of evidence for it, that's no way, no mechanism, no way it could happen that we could ever understand.. it depends almost entirely pointing to the areas that the proponents claimining to be insoluable but that is very dangerous. First of all, from their point of view, particularly from the fundamentalist point of view, and particularly the literalist point of view, one: it conceeds that evolution occurs. That's a big concession. Two: it depends, for it's authentication, on the continued existence of unsolved problems in evolution. But if you look at the history of evolutionary biology and molecular biology ... they're like shooting balloons at a state fair... if creationists state everything and make it pivotal on the default argument, then they're going to find themselves in a very poor position. Therefore, the whole religious approach... there's another issue here that needs to be dispelled.... a claim on the side of the defenders of religious orthodox in explaining or explaining away evolution and that is there is some kind of conspiracy about scientists... evolution is a religions of it's own, it's an ideology... there has to be some kind of conspiracy that calls virtually all statured biologists - people who've established themselves, who are important, influential, peer-reviewed ... some sort of conspiracy among these people... not a one of which incidentally accepts intelligent design, of my knowledge. There are no statured scientists who accepts this or takes it seriously but is there a conspiracy? Can there be a conspiracy in science, among scientists? No way and I'll tell you why ... which you personally I know you would understand it ... the entire culture of science is based on verifiable discovery. Making an original discovery is the gold and silver of science. You make an important discovery and then you are an important scientist. You can be any kind of a jerk otherwise and never make another discovery and you've made it as an important scientist. You're going into the textbooks and, if it's important enough, into the history books. You are richly rewarded with prizes with presige with all sorts of other Roman values that give you small triumph... it's what every young scientist wants. Any young scientist... any scientist any age who could be a first to demonstrate intelligent design or even show how to test it and prove it, would immediately become one of the greatest scientists in the world, you would make history. You'd get the Nobel. You'd get the Templeton prize, which is set up to encourage the getting together of religion and science and there's nothing that a young scientist would want to do more than to achieve something like that... science, it's value system is totally different from that of most processes or organizations or institutions, activities of Western civilzation...
See the earlier post "Science And Salvation: E.O. Wilson's 'The Creation'" and read an excerpt from The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth:

"Some have suggested that scientists have formed a conspiracy to halt the search for Intelligent Design. There is no such conspiracy. There is only agreement among experts that the hypothesis has none of the defining qualities of science. To think otherwise is to misunderstand the culture of science. Discoveries and the testing of discoveries are the currency of science, its irreplaceable silver and gold. Challenges to prevailing theory on the basis of new evidence are the hallmark of science. If positive and repeatable evidence were adduced for a supernatural intelligent force that created and guided the evolution of life, it would deservedly rank as the greatest scientific discovery of all time. It would transform philosophy and change the course of history. Scientists dream of making a discovery of this magnitude!"
*Book Description/Review of Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (Hardcover):

One of the main layman's objections to the supposedly random process of evolution is that for all its inherent pointlessness, evolution seems to have a goal, a narrative, a conscious direction. And that direction is towards complexity. Germs become animals. Apes become humans. Blood-caked Aztec savages become liberal-minded East Coast essayists. Now Robert Wright, author of the much-praised The Moral Animal, has come along with a contentious new book to tell us that the layman has been on to something all along. Evolution does have a goal.

The title of Wright's book comes from games theory, which divides human interactions into "zero sum games", where for every winner there's a loser, and "non-zero sum games", where everyone gains. Wright's aim is to knit together this theory with anthropology, zoology, biology, and history, plus a dash of chaos theory, and thus attest that "non-zero sum altruism" is the natural inclination of humankind. To prove this he cites such disparate phenomena as the sago-swapping natives of the US Northwest, the global government-in-waiting that is the European Union, and the anarchically generous ethos that rules the Net-all of which apparently go to show that we are, deep down, caring, sharing nice guys. Wright's second aim is to show this niceness is no accident: evolution helps to make us that way.

The author's learning is lightly worn. Sometimes too lightly. After a while his chatty, hey-let's-have-a-beer style starts to grate: "When was the last time you invented a boomerang?"; "Ah, Tahiti!". There are also some minor errors, like his claiming that Britain fought the Hundred Years War (it was England), or his perception that milkmen are a thing of the past, that make you wonder whether he has finessed some of the more intractable scientific arguments. Certainly his book has already attracted some brickbats from the atheistic hardnuts of evolutionary psychology. But the case that he advocates remains as exciting as it is unsettling. Because, if evolution does have a point, if human history has a deliberate, conscious, "narrative drive", who had the idea? Who's the scriptwriter of Man, the Movie?

Also see Robert Wright's "Planet with a Purpose" in which he talks about Daniel Dennett
A recent post on Intelligent Design: "Intelligent Design Video: 'Unlocking the Mystery of Life'"