What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Talbott on randomness

The able polymath Stephen L. Talbott continues his provocative series in The New Atlantis on living organisms — their integrity, their complexity, their subtle immunities to reductionism of the sort that masquerades today as cutting-edge science. Much of the argumentation amounts to carefully-placed shape-charges at the vulnerable points of materialist dogma. The resulting detonations are as marvelous as the placements are cunning. Naturally, these clownish New Atheists will not deign to engage him; since Talbott is manifestly a man of scientific vigor and sophistication, rather than a straw-man in the manner of a knuckle-dragging Creationist, they have little interest in him. Or rather, they have an emphatic interest in not being interested in him. The materialists (unusual for men of science) are a remarkably incurious lot. Talbott, by contrast, resembles the capacious autodidacts of older Western science: in these essays the reader immediately feels that warmth of curiosity, that human wonder, which was so often their hallmark. But the common accompanying modifier “childlike” would be misleading in this instance; for there is nothing immature in Talbott’s thinking. And while he rarely comes off as a hard-nosed polemicist, the damage inflicted by his arguments will be considerable. Must read.

Comments (5)

I almost thought this was crypto-propaganda for Don Tall.

Talbott is always a pleasure to read. One of the few guys who can write at the length he does and remain interesting throughout. Reminds me of David B. Hart in a way.

I thought his argument about fitness went off the rails. Whatever problems there are with defining it comes from two sources: First, it is heavily retrospective, because we can't predict with certainty which traits will provide a decisive survival advantage for a future environment even though we can make educated guesses. Second, it is necessarily dependent on a particular environment, so there are no absolute beneficial traits, (although camouflage, mobility, and intelligence are generally beneficial in many environments) and the only absolute harmful traits are those that destroy the organism before it can reproduce.

Paul, I do not know what you do for a living but you would make a wonderful book reviewer.
Your piece on Talbott is well written and I have no interest in the subject but it makes me want to read his material.

Book reviewing is really an art. There was an oilman here in Dallas who became a billionaire with his discoveries. He still reviewed books for $25 a book. He was as much a bibliophile as he was an oilman. The library in his home was bigger than my house.

Thank you for highlighting Mr. Talbott's thought-provoking article.

I do not know whether Mr. Tablott's argument is good or bad, only that it is interesting at first encounter. Mr. Talbott presents a view I had never considered before.

To other readers: If you grasp the basics of statistics, Mr. Cella is right. Mr. Talbott's article is worth your time to read, whether or not you find its early paragraphs convincing. If you do not grasp the basics of statistics, regrettably, Mr. Talbott's strongest points are likely to pass you by; but, if you do, then Mr. Talbott's discussion of randomness in genetics is riveting.

Is Mr. Talbott's argument true? Does it survey known facts of biology in a fair and balanced way? I don't know. A professional biologist could tell, but I will say that Mr. Talbott's article, though not altogether compositionally or rhetorically balanced, does carry the ring of intellectual honesty.

We who doubt that natural selection made man from lower forms of life have too often been embarrassed by the ignorant pseudobiological arguments repeatedly advanced in our favor. Of course, athiest biology has been equally embarrassed by (or, when it lacks the grace to be embarrassed, has been invincibly contemptuous regarding) the ignorant pseudometaphysical arguments repeatedly advanced in their favor, but that is on the athiest's conscience, not on yours and mine. (To be fair, the atheists do possess metaphysical arguments that though false are not ignorant, but those are not what Mr. Cella's and Mr. Talbott's articles are about.)

Regarding the arguments for our side, Mr. Talbott's argument is different. It is no typical piece of creationist special pleading. Though Mr. Talbott's argument is probably far from perfect -- well, go read the article -- the whole article, mind you. You'll be glad that you did.

Post a comment

Bold Italic Underline Quote

Note: In order to limit duplicate comments, please submit a comment only once. A comment may take a few minutes to appear beneath the article.

Although this site does not actively hold comments for moderation, some comments are automatically held by the blog system. For best results, limit the number of links (including links in your signature line to your own website) to under 3 per comment as all comments with a large number of links will be automatically held. If your comment is held for any reason, please be patient and an author or administrator will approve it. Do not resubmit the same comment as subsequent submissions of the same comment will be held as well.