PZ, in response to a Boston Globe article about ID proponent George Gilder, attacks Gilder’s idiocy. I’ve pointed out some of Gilder’s stupidity he displayed in a Wired article before, so I won’t revisit that intellectually depauperate wasteland again. But while rereading my original post and PZ’s response, something struck me: Gilder is the antithesis of education.
In what I called the “Power and Glory” section of Gilder’s Wired article, he expounds on the Majestic Mystery of the Phospholipid Bilayer:
Just as physicists discovered that the atom was not a massy particle, as Newton believed, but a baffling quantum arena accessible only through mathematics, so too are biologists coming to understand that the cell is not a simple lump of protoplasm, as Charles Darwin believed. It’s a complex information-processing machine comprising tens of thousands of proteins arranged in fabulously intricate algorithms of communication and synthesis. The human body contains some 60 trillion cells. Each one stores information in DNA codes, processes and replicates it in three forms of RNA and thousands of supporting enzymes, exquisitely supplies the system with energy, and seals it in semipermeable phospholipid membranes. It is a process subject to the mathematical theory of information, which shows that even mutations occurring in cells at the gigahertz pace of a Pentium 4 and selected at the rate of a Google search couldn’t beget the intricate interwoven fabric of structure and function of a human being in such a short amount of time. Natural selection should be taught for its important role in the adaption of species, but Darwinian materialism is an embarrassing cartoon of modern science.
Most biologists, when writing for a lay audience, go through great pains to make complex subjects comprehensible (although we don’t always succeed). Gilder, by contrast, takes a subject matter that biologists have successfully taught to thousands and thousands of high school and college students and makes it sound hopelessly complex.
Gilder’s ‘anti-education’ is designed (pun intended) to confuse and intimidate the reader: ribosomes, phospholipids, and enzymes, oh my! Having softened up the reader with the technobabble equivalent of channeling the goddess Ramtha, he can then make unsubstantiated declarative statements like “intelligent design theory begins by recognizing that everywhere in nature, information is hierarchical and precedes its embodiment. The concept precedes the concrete.”
This cybervitalism sounds a lot like the Genesis story, where God speaks, and then things are. PZ points out that the reason materialist explanations were accepted by mostly Christian scientists is because materialism has explanatory power and continues to do so. But there’s something else that bothers me about Gilder’s cybervitalism: it ignores the reality that, in biological systems, genetic information is not separate from biological structures. Organisms are not computer programs–which is the underlying framework I think Gilder is operating from (Neo meet Darwin). In fact, ribozymes contain both heritable information and are interacting, functional structures, since they are RNA molecules that contain information and perform enzymatic functions (hence the name ‘ribozyme’).
One final point: Gilder claims that biologists “must feel very vulnerable.” Far from it: modern biology is stronger than ever. Frankly, critiquing Gilder is like picking on the slow kid. But if we don’t educate people, some might actually take him seriously. After all, a lot of people were stupid enough to invest their money with him….