markpasc (markpasc) wrote,

Someone linked a while ago to Richard Dawkins' answer to Spiked magazine's "If you could teach the world one thing..." survey celebrating the hundredth anniversary of Einstein's pronouncement that E = mc2. All the survey answers are short, so Dawkins' answer is even more concise than his occasional column in this or that paper or mag, but of course it's on the same general topic as everything he's written for like 30 years now:

Not only can natural selection mimic design; it is the only known natural process that can mimic design. And now, here is the most difficult thing that I wish people understood. True design can never be an ultimate explanation for anything, because the designer himself is left unexplained. Designers are statistically improbable things, and trying to explain them as made by prior designers is ultimately futile, because it leads to an infinite regress.

So while that's a nice pat on the back it's nothing new coming from Dawkins.

What really struck me is when I paged up to the other answers in the "C-D" section. As Spiked tallies it, evolution by natural selection was the most popular topic among the over 250 respondents, with 23 responses. While general ideas about the process of science dwarf any one specific answer, Spiked counted the particular topics like the scientific method itself (20 responses).

One of the strangest is that Jesse M Bering, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, predicts new science about evolution is going to bring a new spiritual crisis:

[T]here is going to be a draught of meaning so severe that this time, scepticism is not going to remain in the privileged chapels of scientists and other scholars - it is going to dry up even the most verdant suburban landscapes, and leave spiritual leaders with their tongues out, dying for a drop of faith.

The short answers vary between encouraging humility and wishing to explain how the idea is empowering: that, in a universe driven by natural processes, we are truly captains of our own destinies, and have no one to blame or thank besides ourselves, our friends, and random spurts of good luck. However many are a pretty short, "Yeah, I'd hit it," and don't even acknowledge that, even among those who agree that evolution by natural selection is an important scientific principle more people should understand, there's plenty of discussion to be had about what that actually means for how we conduct ourselves. That's a litle discouraging.

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