Thursday, June 15, 2006

Counter Coulter

PZ Myers (here, here) and other evolutionary bloggers (here, here), have been fuming at Coulter's latest pronouncements on evolution. Apparently, the Sir Isaac Newton of information theory helped her along, so we know what to expect.

I'm always amused when creationists accuse natural selection of being simultaneously illogical and tautological (sometimes they make this claim about evolution, for a trifecta of nonsense). Of course, natural selection is not illogical. It's so logical that when you get it it's hard not to share Huxley's sentiment: "how extremely stupid for me not to have thought of that!" The tautology charge is harder to dismiss out of hand. It is easy to see that natural selection is not trivially tautological in the way that the statement "either Dembski is the Isaac Newton of information theory or he isn't" is. Some have argued that fitness does not have to be defined tautologically, but I'm not that bothered. Natural selection may be tautological, but only in the same way (that of being internally consistent) as the whole of mathematics and logic. The point is not whether a theory, such as Newton's laws of motion, is tautological, but whether it is useful scientifically, in the sense of helping us understand how the world works. Only someone who knows nothing about the last 150 years of evolutionary thinking could delude themselves into thinking that natural selection has been a fruitless idea.