Gilder Responds to Wired: The Materialist Superstition

George Gilder
Discovery Institute
October 18, 2004
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Editors Note: In October Wired magazine proclaimed on its cover “The Plot To Kill Evolution.” Inside readers found a story entitled "The Crusade Against Evolution" portraying work on the theory of intelligent design at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (CSC) as a religiously-motivated scheme to smuggle a disguised creationism into the public schools, rather than an evidence-based scientific research program.

In order to tell this story, however, Wired reporter Evan Ratliff had to ignore many inconvenient facts and flatly misrepresent others. Discovery Institute responded in a news release that outlined Ratliff’s errors of omission and commission.

Sensing the piece was imbalanced, Wired editor Chris Anderson solicited a sidebar response from Discovery's senior fellow George Gilder, a well-known writer on technology and the economy and frequent contributor to Wired. Surprisingly, the magazine heavily edited the piece; Gilder’s response explaining his own reasons for favoring design was cut in half.

So that Wired readers and others can get the whole story we here post George Gilder’s unedited response.

The Materialist Superstition
George Gilder

Math and science teaching in US high schools, the richest in the world and worst performing per dollar, is a scandal, and part of the problem is biology. In all too many high schools biology classes rule the roost and dispense anti-industrial propaganda about global warming and the impact of DDT on the egg shells of eagles and tell materialist just-so stories about the eventual random emergence, after an agonizing wait of four billion years, of Britney Spears from primordial soup. But they fail to report the central testimony of twentieth century science: the paramount role of rigorous mathematical information in the universe.

About to upend the materialist evolutionary scheme in textbook biology is the same catastrophe that befell Newtonian physics at the beginning of the Twentieth Century when physicists discovered that the atom is not an "opaque massy particle" as Isaac Newton believed but a baffling domain of quantum effects. Overthrowing the Darwinian materialist paradigm is the similar discovery that the biological cell is not a "simple lump of protoplasm" as Charles Darwin believed but a complex information processing machine comprising some 50 thousand proteins in fabulously intricate algorithms of communication and synthesis. Each one of the some 60 trillion constantly changing cells in every human body 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 conditionally permeable phospholipid membranes. As Hubert Yockey has shown in his Information Theory and Molecular Biology (Cambridge University Press, 1992) and Stephen Meyer recounts in a recent article in the Smithsonian’s peer-reviewed Proceedings, material evolution alone cannot come close to explaining this panoply of effects. Even mutations occurring in cells at the gigahertz pace of a Pentium 4 and selected at the rate of a Google search could not accumulate the intricate interwoven fabric of information, structure and function of a human being in the allotted time. Schools should continue to teach Darwinian evolution as a powerful force in intra-species adaptation. However, a successful theory of the origins of new species—new biological forms and information—still eludes biologists.

This failure is no scandal. Science still falls far short of developing satisfactory explanations of many crucial phenomena, such as human consciousness, the big bang, the superluminal quantum entanglement of photons across huge distances, even the bioenergetics of the brain of a fly in eluding the swatter. The more we learn about the universe the more widely open the horizons of mystery. The pretence that Darwinian evolution is a complete theory of life is a huge distraction from the limits and language, the rigor and grandeur, of real scientific discovery.

Everywhere we encounter it, information comes from mind. Whether in biology or in technology, it moves from the general to the specific, from the concept to the concrete, from architecture to circuitry to device physics, in top-down, hierarchical patterns. Recognizing this phenomenon, some scholars uphold a view called Intelligent Design, which attempts to pry open agnostically the issue of whether ideas and information precede or follow their material embodiment. On this central point in the philosophy of science, however, I am not an agnostic. I believe that the notion that the intricate biological structures of the world bubbled up from a prebiotic brew and that ideas are an after-effect of a meaningless random material flux is the most sterile and stultifying notion in the history of human thought. It inspired all the reductionist futilities of the twentieth century, from the obtuse materialism of Marx to the pagan worship of a static material environment, from the Freudian view of the brain as a thermodynamic machine to the zero-sum Malthusian panic over population, treating people more as mouths than as minds.

Intellectuals should know better. In the insight of Nobel Laureate biophysicist Max Delbruck, the spectacle of scientists attempting to reduce the mind to material brain suggests nothing so much as Baron Muchausen’s effort to extract himself from a swamp by pulling on his own hair. Claude Shannon’s information theory gives biologists a powerful new mathematical tool to use in analyzing biological structures and information systems. They should use it and teach it. To focus on random chemical mutations rather than on the majestic underlying and overarching logic of the universe reduces the presentation of biology to a confectionary zoo story, replete with cute pandas and Disney dinosaurs and free of the rigors of mathematics. This approach is less 21st century science than a retrograde retreat to 19th century materialist superstitions, which delude our students that they are learning the facts of science when instead they are imbibing the consolations of a faith-driven materialist myth. In their schools and lives, they deserve some intelligent design.