Thursday, December 28, 2006

Dawkins "not really a scientist"

Speaking as somebody who studied the hard sciences, including physics, at University (and graduated too, I might add), there are very few things more pathetic and sad than a physicist trying to pull rank on a biologist.

One of those things, though, is a physicist trying to lecture a biologist about complexity. Puh-lease. The fundamental objects in physics are particles like photons and electrons, which obey simple, regular mathematical equations that you can easily write down, like E = mc2. The fundamental objects in biology are animals and plants with exceedingly complex and complicated behaviours. Try writing down a mathematical equation to describe the growth of rose bush, or the behaviour of a rabbit, or even a single DNA gene.

Physicist John Barrow was awarded the 2006 Templeton Prize for his pop-science/religion writings. Challenged by biologist Richard Dawkins over some of his claims, Barrow ignored the substance of Dawkins' argument and went straight for the ad hominem fallacy:

"You have a problem with these ideas, Richard, because you’re not really a scientist. You’re a biologist."

(Quoted from William Dembski's blog.)

[Aside: for a look at the maturity of William Dembski, one of the elders of the Intelligent Design movement, check out this.]

This sad little episode, I think, demonstrates the intellectual emptiness of Barrow, not withstanding that he is a highly educated physicist and no doubt a very good writer. But, when push comes to shove, he is incapable of defending his religious ideas except by flinging mud. And worse, he fails to realise that if his accusation is true, if Dawkins (like other biologists) isn't a scientist, what does that say about him, that he is incapable of answering Dawkins' challenge?

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