Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Monod's the Man

I don't suppose many people will get through the last post (given it's quite long), so here's a shorter dose of pointlessness for those with brief attention spans. According to Wikipedia, Jacques Monod was:

a French biologist who was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1965. Born in Paris, he was also awarded several other honours and distinctions, among them the Légion d'honneur.
Apparently he was a friend of Albert Camus, and in 1970 he published 'Chance and Necessity' which argues that the origins of life are random, and humans were a lucky happenstance:
… man at last knows that he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe, out of which he emerged only by chance. Neither his destiny nor his duty have been written down. The kingdom above or the darkness below: it is for him to choose.
I found an interesting interview with Monod at (shudder) answersingenesis.org:

John: Could I go back to the question of creation? As I understand your point of view, and as it has been put to me, traditionally Christians have said, ‘God created the world at the beginning; God at a certain stage created life; God was at many points involved’ Then science came along and said, ‘No, we can give you a determinist account of how the universe was created, and how life came into being, entirely by scientific laws; we have no need of the hypothesis of a theistic creator.’

Now, am I right in thinking that you have taken that one stage further, and said, ‘No, it isn’t in fact a determinist system; it is even more difficult to imagine God because of the elements of randomness that occur at many points in this story, and in fact, that are the whole thread holding the story together? God couldn’t have decided in the beginning to use this mechanism to create man because he couldn’t have predicted at the beginning that man would emerge from it.

Monod: You are quite right. The advent of man was completely unpredictable, until it actually happened.

John: So in other words, we would need a more sophisticated account of creation. I wonder if I could take one sentence from your book and see how you would regard it as an attempt at a more sophisticated account of the Creator. You point to two factors in the emergence of higher and higher forms of life: one is randomness, mutations; the other is natural selection. And what you say is that randomness is the nourishment which natural selection uses. And you say it is not to chance. but to these conditions—namely, of what is to be selected—that evolution owes its generally progressive course, and steady development which it seems to suggest. In other words, one could conceive of God using randomness, just so long as there was the pattern which he was imposing upon the results of the chance mutations.

Monod: If you want to assume that, then I have no dispute with it, except one (which is not a scientific dispute, but a moral one). Namely, selection is the blindest, and most cruel way of evolving new species, and more and more complex and refined organisms.

John: Cruel?

Monod: The more cruel because it is a process of elimination, of destruction. The struggle for life and elimination of the weakest is a horrible process, against which our whole modern ethics revolts. An ideal society is a non-selective society, is one where the weak is protected; which is exactly the reverse of the so-called natural law. I am surprised that a Christian would defend the idea that this is the process which God more or less set up in order to have evolution.

And Monod seems like he was a very wise person. I'll close with a great quote, attributed to him on his Wikipedia page:
A scientist who believes in god suffers from schizophrenia