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Last night we had a long dinner on the terrace here in Tuscany, after which we watched the fireflies flickering and a lunar eclipse over the Tuscan hills. This led to panic because of course the conference-goers subscribe to the myth that a blood-red moon is an indication of the second coming of Christ. They didn’t know the real, scientific explanation for this phenomenon, so they rushed off in terror to handle snakes, marry their sisters, burn books and stone heretics. A shame they didn’t study the eclipse like rational men and bring us more progress, technology, wealth and civilization. That’s what they were doing over at the Guardian, I gather.
Yes, I am just kidding, of course I’m just kidding, that is as far from a true description of the nature of the people with whom I’m spending time as could be written in the English language. I made the joke because I was myself reviewing the causes of lunar eclipses on the Internet this morning and found this article in the Guardian, complete with an unnecessary invocation of the superstition and primitivism of Christians, deliberately contrasted with the Enlightened dispassion of scientists. As far as I can see, the necessary qualification for being a scientist, as far as the Guardian is concerned, is the ability to watch a lunar eclipse while suppressing all one’s natural instincts for wonder and joy.
In any event, I’ve just spent three days in the company of bright, curious scientists. I have the sense of having been present at something important–perhaps it’s just the mood of the moment, but I can imagine that some day in the future, people will speak of the Great Expectations conference as a turning point. A turning point in what, you ask? Perhaps they will say that this was the point at which a group of curious people convened to say, “The framework through which we’ve viewed some very important problems isn’t delivering the answers we need. We’re not making progress, in the sense the West has always defined progress, fast enough. We’re not curing cancer fast enough. Advances in technology aren’t rapid enough. It still takes far too long to travel. Things are still too expensive for too many people on the planet. We’re not innovating fast enough. We’re not entering the truly high-tech era. The economy is in the tank, and we’re not doing what Americans do best–creating truly revolutionary technology–at the pace we need to do it to remain a global superpower.”
The point of the conference was to ask: What if we’ve been looking at these problems in too limited a way? What if in fact, the so-called materialist hypothesis has already achieved most of what it can achieve? What if the most interesting ideas in science are precisely the ones no one wants to talk about, because they might lead to spooky metaphysical conclusions?
One presentation suggested a path from a new program for inquiry in biology toward interesting results in biotechnology. The ultra-secretive people–I may now reveal–were investors, mainly in the high-tech industry, who are at the end of their tether with orthodoxy about the ideas they are and aren’t allowed to think about. They’re asking themselves, “If we look at these problems in a different way, might we invent something new, something from which we can make a lot of money?” Yes, you read that right: a lot of money. Capitalism, engine of human progress, strikes again.
We have people here who believe–contrary to all the evidence of human history–that when you put free expression and free markets together, you sometimes get progress and prosperity. (Yes, I am being dry again: That is not, actually, a hypothesis that runs counter to the evidence of human history.) Some of the people here–probably all of them–believe that “science” has become so stultified by orthodoxy and bureaucracy and peer pressure and political correctness that it may well be impeding progress as much as it is promoting it.
They are wondering whether looking at things in a more curious, playful, genuinely creative way might lead to discoveries that allow America to restore its leading technological edge and its economic dominance. They may be wrong. But certainly, after listening to this for three days, I am persuaded that their ideas are worth considering. You would have been, too. I promise.
So, from the Great Expectations in Tuscany conference, I bring you an interview with Steven Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence of Intelligent Design. As I’ve noted, it is not at all the case that this is an Intelligent Design conference, nor that everyone here endorses that idea. But since there seemed to be quite a bit of interest in the idea on Ricochet, I thought I’d find an actual exponent of Intelligent Design (as opposed to a caricature of one) to make the case for it.
Here’s Steve Meyer discussing the mysterious, much-maligned Discovery Institute. In this clip he discusses the definition of science, addressing the idea that Intelligent Design is fine as a faith, but not a scientific theory:
In this clip he discusses peer review. The story of Richard Sternberg and the Smithsonian Institute is really worth everyone’s time.
Here he wonders about the technological and medical advances that might result from exploring these ideas and reflects upon the notion that the non-coding regions of DNA might be a lot more functional than people realize. He suggests that this realization might–as one scientist at this conference suggested–hold promise for cancer research:
Here Steve discusses the criticism of Behe’s arguments about the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum: “It’s a terrific criticism that makes Behe’s theory very testable,” he notes. This clip is especially interesting, I think:
Finally, Steve asked for a chance to make the positive case for intelligent design. You got it, Steve:
In the last clip, we wonder out loud whether Darwin would have enjoyed the Great Expectations conference. We suspect he would have. He was, apparently, quite a curious man himself.