Lecture Report

Richard Dawkins Speaks to the Berkeley Faithful:
The Gene's Eye View of Creation"

by Jed Macosko

Richard Dawkins spoke twice on "The Gene's Eye View of Creation" at the University of California, Berkeley's Hitchcock lecture series in a week marked by big strides for the Intelligent Design community. His first lecture, Wednesday, April 4, 2001dealt with "The Genetic Book of the Dead" and how the environment that an organism's ancestors experienced can be found in its genes. In his April 10th lecture, he claimed that genes are "Selfish Replicators" and the most basic unit of selection.

Not to disappoint the audience of over 500 faithful supporters crammed into the International House Auditorium, Dawkins began by saying that there is no such thing as an ultra-Darwinist, just normal Darwinists and watered down ones. In answering the question, "What do you think of the sad state of affairs in the US teaching of evolution in light of a recent survey that 40% of Americans still believe in the Bible", Dawkins drew wild applause by responding that it was a crying shame when one religion from one tribe of camel herders in one tiny corner of the Middle East was given special status among all religions.

Most interesting was Dawkins use of the phrase "specified complexity", recently popularized by William Dembski. Dawkins used this term to distinguish between mere complexity and the (illusory) design of adaptive evolution. He went so far as to use Fred Hoyle's 747-out-of-a-junkyard illustration. He claimed it wouldn't be strange for the hurricane to rearrange the junk into a complex pattern. Rather, the arrangement would have to be specified for a measurable function, just as life has the function of staying alive, for it to be considered "designed" by natural selection. Perhaps he was aware of the strides Dembski and the Intelligent Design movement were making that very week, with articles in the L.A. Times and on the front page of the New York Times, and wanted to remind the audience that he spoke about specified complexity (The Blind Watchmaker, pages 7 to 9) long before it was rigorously developed by Dembski and coworkers.

The introduction to Dawkins' second lecture pointed out that the Hitchcock series was organized for all matters of interest with the exception of religion and politics. Dawkins the night before gave a talk to the Student Association for Non-religious Ethos (S.A.N.E.) entitled "Is Science Religion?" In this talk, he argued that science was not a religion and that the only "faith" necessary is the belief that scientists in other fields are following the scientific method. He told a story about a young woman who asked his physicist friend what happened before the Big Bang. When his friend told the woman that she should ask a priest, Dawkins cut in and exclaimed, "Why tell him to ask a priest? Why not a garbage man or a butcher?"

Twice in his lecture on "Self Replicators" Dawkins stated that he had no more authority in moral issues than anyone else. Yet his talk was focused on showing that all behavior is controlled by our genes. In typical Dawkins fashion, he presented a number of fascinating examples of animal behavior, from the Cadis Fly larva's stone house, to a snail parasite that controls the thickness of its host's shell. However, he never drew the natural conclusion of this logic: that our own behavior, from Hitler's concentration camps to Mother Theresa's orphanages, are pre-determined by our genes.

Citing George C. Williams, Dawkins pointed out that it is not DNA per se that constitutes the selfish replicator, but the "codex", or information stored in the DNA. Most people asking questions skirted this issue of information, but the final question attempted to flush out the connection between the information in the selfish replicator and the environment's influence on genes:

"Your lectures seem to imply that genes carry the information necessary for every aspect of life and that this information is programmed into genes by the environment". Dawkins nodded. "So, in light of the incredibly complex molecular machines discussed by Intelligent Design proponents in the front page of this Sunday's New York Times and studied in our laboratories here at Berkeley, do you think there is really enough of the right kind of information in the environment to construct genes for things like bacterial flagella motors and DNA replication factories?"

As expected, Dawkins used this question as an opportunity to slam the Intelligent Design movement, claiming that they are not scientific because they don't publish in peer reviewed journals. He said their whole argument was base on ignorance; that since they can't think of how complex molecular machines evolved, God must have done it. The entire audience roared in approval.

All told, the lectures were an excellent measure of the best that Darwinian theory has to offer. The crowd's response illustrated how most people at secular universities view Darwinism. And Dawkins' demeanor, when faced with people who question Darwinists' sweeping claims, revealed the climate within the academic elite in relation to the Intelligent Design movement. In light of Dawkins' lectures, Intelligent Design supporters can have more confidence in their intellectual arguments, and less confidence in the ability of secular universities and the academic elite to understand or tolerate their movement.

Copyright 2001 Jed Macosko. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Filel Date: 4.16.01