Weissmann, Gerald. +quot;The Argument from Design+quot; [Review in] The Scientist, 21 Sept
Weissmann, Gerald. "The Argument from Design"
[Review in] The Scientist, 21 September l987, p.
[Weissman is a professor of medicine at the New
York University Medical Center, New York, NY,
10016, and is the author of The Woods Hole Cantata
(Dodd, 1985) and They All Laughed at Christopher
Columbus (Times Books, 1987).]
Harold Morowitz is a distinguished Yale
biophysicist and former master of Pierson College.
[Morowitz was also an ACLU witness in the 1981
Arkansas "Creation Equal Time" case--SOR.] He is
also the author of two charming collections of
essays: The Wine of Life and Mayonnaise and the
Origin of Life. Morowitz spent his last sabbatical
on a yacht docked off the West Maui mountains in
Hawaii. In that yacht he produced a book that is
wise, thoughtful and benign; he has brought
Teilhard de Chardin up to date to argue that the
laws of physics and evolution reveal the workings
of a "plan or cosmic intelligence that somehow had
us in mind."
Morowitz arrives at his conclusion that it is "hard
not to see design in a universe that works so well"
after a crisp review for the general reader of the
rules of physics, the chemistry of genetics and the
speculations of philosophy. Dissenting amiably
from the strains of materialism found in the works
of Stephen Jay Gould, Jacques Monod and Peter
Medawar, Morowitz emerges as a champion of the
argument from design. He refuses to believe that
blind chance can account for the "richness and
beauty of existence." His heroes are Benedict
Spinoza, Henri Bergson, Freeman Dyson and Teilhard,
fellow scientist-philosophers who have deduced the
workings of a universal intelligence from the
structure of matter.
In each chapter, Morowitz displays those didactic
gifts that have made his monthly column in Hospital
Practice so popular; his learning is displayed
without pedantry and lightened by anecdote. We
learn the crystal structure of water and that
Teilhard's grave is on the grounds of the Culinary
Institute of America; we hear how lipid vesicles
mimic membranes and how Chianti wine can ameliorate
the gloom of astrophysics. His cosmic joy derives
from the anthropic principle. Morowitz persuades
us that the music of the spheres is written in the
key of humankind.
But these gentle musings fall short of accounting
for "local pain." The one painful incident
recorded in the course of that idyllic sabbatical
is a bee sting! No dark night of the soul here, no
anguish, disease, or rude injustice. I miss those
scars of angst that brand a writer who has
undergone what Wiliiam James called the "great
initiation" into the problem of evil. Morowitz is
embarrassed at playing "cheerleader for a
mysterious cosmic intelligence," a sentiment
justified by his inattention to the darkest aspects
of the mind. His argument from design is stronger
on whales and dwarfs than it is on childhood
leukemia or senile dementia. Perhaps the harbors
of Hawaii and the laws of physics have titled the
scales in favor of cosmic joy: the index lists
"history" and "radiation," but not "Auschwitz" or
Like Teilhard, Morowitz finds that the cosmic
intelligence is encoded in the laws of nature.
Away from the waters of Maui that code is perhaps
more garbled. Would a walk through the slums of
New Haven or the wards of its hospitals confirm or
deny that "the universe works so well?" Only Dr.
Pangloss could tell for sure.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank