Just so stories
The other month I participated in a panel discussion about evolution, and a creationist made the claim that when one looks at the cell, many of the structures of the cell are what's called irreducibly complex. Irreducible complexity is a term coined by biochemist Michael Behe to refer to structures that only work when al the parts are in place. If this is true then there must be no way for these structures to have arisen by evolution since evolution works be small steps. How could, the argument sometimes goes, the human eye have evolved? The answer is simple of course: the even a partially working eye would have some usefulness in a world or organisms without eyes. Indeed there are groups of organisms today, most notably squid where one can see potentially transitional eyes from very simple to eyes every bit as complex as the human eye. Thus the eye is not irreducibly complex because simpler eyes exist that are perfectly serviceable within the environment of the organisms that have them.
Behe, accepts that evolution happens, accepts the age of the earth and the fossil record as interpreted by just about all paleotologists, but quibbles with evolution at the cellular level. But why is this logical? If at least some structures are not irreducibly complex, what evidence is there that any structures are irreducibly complex? Of course evolutionists are ridiculed by creationists and other related people for concocting "just so stories" to explain some feature of the natural world. What's wrong with just so stories? Basically these stories are hypotheses which should stand or fall based on the predictions they make and how they correspond to real world data. This is exactly how science operates. The just so stories as to how flight might have evolved, or how dinosaurs might or might not have raised their young, are the products of imagination informed by scientific data and theory. They are the vehicle by which scientists visualize what might be. Just so stories are not restricted to biology but are found in physics and astronomy as well. Consider Einstein's thought experiments, so important to explaining relativity: these are complex just so stories that enable us to get a picture of how relativity operates.
Informed imagination is important in science and in any other human endeavor. If we cannot imagine, if imagination is ridiculed as it is in certain sectors of society, our society will fall because we will loose that capacity to visualize something better than what we are. We will sink into irrational and blind belief. Perhaps we see why certain people in our society rail against the Harry Potter books, or when I was younger against the Hobbit. The excuse is that these books promote witchcraft or some such nonsense. But that's lame. What these books really promote is the power of imagination. That's bad in some quarters, because after all, imagination is the enemy of blind belief.
Copyright © Paul Decelles, April 21, 2000 revised April 26, 2000
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