Sunday, December 24, 2006

 

'The Only One in Step' by Richard Dawkins

'The Only One in Step' by Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion: Amazon Astore UK | US):

I can't find the original volume so I may have got the exact words wrong, but I recall one of those marvellous old Punch cartoons in which every last detail is painstakingly explained. A devoted mother is looking proudly on at a military parade as her son's platoon marches past: 'There's my boy, he's the only one in step!' On The Guardian letters page of December 19th 2006, I initiated an exchange about Professor Andrew McIntosh* (info) of Leeds university, who has publicly stated that he believes the world is only 6,000 years old, and publicly stated that the theory of evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics**. Both these beliefs place McIntosh out of step with his scientific colleagues, not just his platoon but the entire regiment - to paraphrase Evelyn Waugh, the whole ruddy division. Amazingly, McIntosh is Professor of Thermodynamics at Leeds, and, equally amazingly, a letter supporting him has now appeared from Professor Stuart Burgess (homepage), Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Bristol University . Other letters to the Editor indicate that a distressing number of otherwise knowledgeable and intelligent people have little conception of the enormity of what is being said.

Science doesn't work by vote and it doesn't work by authority. It is possible that Burgess and McIntosh really are the only ones in step, and the whole scientific establishment is flat wrong. Indeed, I shall bias my discussion in their favour by continuing to use that word 'establishment' with all its pejorative overtones of fuddyduddy, stick-in-the-muddy authoritarianism. I like mavericks. I like free spirits who buck the trend and strike out on their own. They are not usually right, but on the rare occasions when they are, they are very right indeed: importantly so, and all power to them. Maybe Burgess and McIntosh are right and all the rest of us – biologists, geologists, archeologists, historians, chemists, physicists, cosmologists and, yes, thermodynamicists and respectable theologians, the vast majority of Nobel Prizewinners, Fellows of the Royal Society and of the National Academies of the world - are wrong. Not just slightly wrong but catastrophically, appallingly, devastatingly wrong. It is possible, and I am going to follow that possibility through to its logical conclusion. I shall not here defend the views held by the scientific establishment. I am among those who have done that elsewhere, in many books. My purpose in this article is only to convey the full magnitude of the error into which, if Burgess and McIntosh are right, the scientific establishment has fallen.

Continued at "The Only One in Step"

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*On November 29th 2006, Leeds University (UK) issued the following press release:

Professor Andrew McIntosh's directorship of Truth in Science***, and his promotion of that organisation's views, are unconnected to his teaching or research at the University of Leeds in his role as a professor of thermodynamics. As an academic institution, the University wishes to distance itself publicly from theories of creationism and so-called intelligent design which cannot be verified by evidence.

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**Info on the Second Law of Thermodynamics:

Sometimes people say that life violates the second law of thermodynamics. This is not the case; we know of nothing in the universe that violates that law. So why do people say that life violates the second law of thermodynamics? What is the second law of thermodynamics?

The second law is a straightforward law of physics with the consequence that, in a closed system, you can't finish any real physical process with as much useful energy as you had to start with - some is always wasted. This means that a perpetual motion machine is impossible. The second law was formulated after nineteenth century engineers noticed that heat cannot pass from a colder body to a warmer body by itself.

According to philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn, the second law was first put into words by two scientists, Rudolph Clausius and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), using different examples, in 1850-51 (2). American quantum physicist Richard P. Feynman, however, says the French physicist Sadi Carnot discovered the second law 25 years earlier (3). That would have been before the first law, conservation of energy, was discovered! In any case, modern scientists completely agree about the above principles.

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***From the Truth in Science website:

"Welcome to Truth in Science, a new organisation to promote good science education in the UK. Our initial focus will be on the origin of life and its diversity.

For many years, much of what has been taught in school science lessons about the origin of the living world has been dogmatic and imbalanced. The theory of Darwinian evolution has been presented as scientifically uncontroversial and the only credible explanation of origins."

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