There’s been much written around here about the NYT’s David Brooks’ foray in to non-materialist neuroscience. Well, today the letters to the editor are in, and some of them are interesting (although most aren’t particularly sophisticated).
One in particular highlights some failures we’ve had as science educators (including a failure to educate editors):
To the Editor:
As an engineer, lawyer, computer programmer and Roman Catholic, I have a problem with the concept that the evolution of the species just happened. From an evolutionary perspective, we are probably somewhere in the chicken and egg debate.
As man supposedly evolved from a single-cell amoeba to the complex organism that he is today, we had to develop a complex brain to manage the process.
The first problem facing a self-developing species in its early stages would be the need to know that there is something out there to see, feel, hear, touch or taste. The second problem is that a complex brain could not survive the incredibly complex development process without the five senses in operational mode. And you can’t get the senses in operational mode until you have developed a sophisticated brain with the ability to communicate and interact with the senses.
Therein lies our chicken and egg dilemma.
Stony Brook, N.Y., May 13, 2008
Ken has a few gaps in education, and it’s worth a bit of fisking:
Next, biology doesn’t say that “evolution…just happened…”. Evolution is a complex and beautiful theory that explains many facts about life…there is no “just happened”—that would be more consistent with the deus ex machina view of Creationist cults. I’m not sure what he means by “chicken and egg problem”, as that is not an actual conundrum…eggs are part of the chicken…it’s like saying “which came first, the chicken or the beak?”
The first problem facing a self-developing species in its early stages would be the need to know that there is something out there to see, feel, hear, touch or taste
First, I am unfamiliar with the concept of a “self-developing species”. I suppose he means a species that evolved without the hand of God, as species don’t “self-develop”. Evolution is a complext relationship between individuals, populations, and environments.
Also, species don’t “face problems” of having to “know” what to develop. If a trait is selected for and favored, well, there you have it. You don’t have to know where you’re going when it comes to evolution.
Species (not organisms) evolve in toto…eyes don’t suddenly sprout out of a dinoflagellate. And remember, the egg is the chicken.
This letter shows a terrible (and correctable) lack of understanding of biology.
C’mon folks—we need to do a better job getting the learnin’ done.