Monday, December 26, 2005


Science Fiction

An image from Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong.

The list of subjects ID theorists, such as William Dembski, don't know anything about is seemingly endless. Somehow, though, that never stops them from lecturing the rest of us about just how wrong we are.

A case in point, is a recent post on Dembski's Uncommon Design blog, "When Will Sci-Fi Push Evolution’s Envelope?" Here, Dembski quotes yet another "unnamed acquaintance" to the effect that,
“Sci-Fi authors have no problem pushing the envelope on physics, chemistry, astrophysics, cosmology, planetology, genetics, nanotech, biotech, neurotechnology, information technology, longevity, robotics, xenology etc. They regularly eat Einstein, or the speed-of-light barrier, for breakfast. But one staple of modern science is consistently taken for granted, never questioned, never paradigm shifted, pushed beyond its current state: the Neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution. In the science-fiction literature, every thing seems to evolve: physics, politics, language, culture, philosophy, fashion, morality, religion, entertainment, transportation, music, psychology, sociology, etc. etc. But there’s one glaring exception: the science and theory of biological evolution! How ironic. The science and theory evolution itself is an axiomatic constant.”
Like the fuzzy math that lies at the heart of "specified complexity" this statement employs rather fuzzy logic itself. Is there really a difference in the way science fiction writers, and the movie-makers who adapt their work, treat evolution?

No examples of "pushing the envelope" of the other sciences mentioned in Dembski's post are offered, probably because no thought was given to what they might be.

We can think of many examples of plot devices and science fiction themes drawn from science. The time travel plot device, for example, makes use of the special theory of relativity to add verisimilitude, but how have science fiction writers and directors paradigm shifted it? Neither Dembski or his unnamed acquaintance tell us.

Certainly, science fiction books and movies don't ignore evolution. In fact, the theory of evolution seems to have been just as productive an idea for writers and directors as it has for scientists. A number of books and blockbuster movies over the years -- The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park and its sequels, King Kong, come to mind -- use evolution as a plot device.

Never paradigm shifted? What about "Planet of the Apes" where space travelers kept in suspended animation return to the Earth of the future to find their friends and family long since dead, and the human race subjugated by highly evolved -- if still hairy -- apes.

What about "War of the Worlds" where highly advanced invaders initially overcome Earth's defenses, only to be defeated by the infectious microorganisms humans have become immune to through adaptation.

Didn't "Godzilla" push evolution beyond its current state in the 50s (and today) by examining what effect nuclear testing might have on the biosphere. Isn't the plot of Jurassic Park set in motion by a scientist who uses dinosaur DNA preserved in the gut of a mosquito encased in amber to bring long extinct species back to life.

In "Star Trek," Captain Kirk urges his engineer, Scotty, to boost the engines into a kind of hyper warp drive -- riffing off Einstein by going faster than the speed of light -- to go back in time, while Dr. McCoy instantly heals injured crew members by employing futuristic, evolution-based, bio-technology.

Red State Rabble readers will be able to think of a hundred more examples.

Over the years, evolution has been a very fertile soil for both scientist and writer, alike. RSR can't wait -- though we won't hold our breath -- until Demski and this fellows come up with anything that inspires either research or writing.

"ID: The Movie!" isn't likely ever to be made, though, because ID is for people who want to stop thinking. They want certainty. They demand assurances.

Evolution, on the other hand, is for creative types. People who like a challenge. People who do science, write books, make movies, and live in the reality-based world.

In the end, Dembski's post reflects, more than anything else, the loneliness of the ID position. If, as Dembski's unnamed acquaintance asserts, no one is pushing the envelope of evolution in science fiction, perhaps there's a reason.

As much as we'd like to, we can't help the ID theorists overcome the loneliness imposed by the intellectual territory they've staked out. Except, perhaps, by suggesting that Dembski, and his unnamed acquaintances, get out more -- read a good book, see a movie.


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