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HOME > PAST ISSUE > July-August 2010 > Article Detail

LETTERS TO THE EDITORS

Uncertainty Is Allowed

To the Editors:

Although I am very pleased with the scientific perspective shared by Edward Wasserman and Mark Blumberg in “Designing Minds” (May–June), I am also left somewhat bewildered. Wasserman and Blumberg’s postulation that “design” is a “mentalist” concept is indeed the consequent conclusion from their analysis. I admire Wasserman’s and Blumberg’s view that, technically speaking, the anti-religionist Richard Dawkins is out on a scientific limb when he ascribes “purpose” to nearly anything, as in “… and this is why the moth has eyes on its wings.” There is still a presumption of “reason” in this kind of thinking and I’m pleased that Wasserman and Blumberg have weeded it out.

Conversely, I am appalled. Although certainly “design” is a “mentalist” concept, it is rather clear that people are capable of “mentality.” They design. They imagine and attempt to implement. Sometimes, in their attempts, they fail. Sometimes, unthinkingly, they come across or “discover”—hence, the “Fosbury Flop” (or perhaps Fosbury thought about it ahead of time, engaging in “the mentalist concept” and then implemented his imaginings and therefore designed them).

It appears to me that Wasserman and Blumberg are in the end guilty of doing the very thing they decry in William Paley and in Dawkins’s book The Blind Watchmaker. They cook up a simplistic example (a straw man) in the Fosbury Flop and knock it down. Please understand: I am entirely open to the concept that this universe is a massive illusion with nothing more than chaos at its helm. But I am at a loss to explain the apparent “order” that I see every day. I wonder when I will hear from any evolutionary scientist what I often heard from my own father (a lifelong researcher in chemical engineering): “We don’t know.”

Peter Capell
Carnegie Mellon University


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