Re: choking on RFEP

From: Peter Ruest <pruest@mail-ms.sunrise.ch>
Date: Sat Apr 03 2004 - 10:13:26 EST

There has been some discussion about reasons for "choking" on Howard Van
Till's RFEP (Robust Formational Economy Principle). Howard protested
that "some people disparage it [the RFEP] as nothing more than
'promissory-note naturalism' and others say that they 'choke' on it.
Well, some people choke on beef tenderloin. Is that the fault of the
beef? Or, is [it] the outcome of faulty chewing?" In connection with the
thread "Early humans swapped bite for brain" initiated by Gary Collins,
Howard asked, "Have some big-brained people lost the ability to 'chew'
on ideas that call some traditional concepts into question?"

The discussion has already shown that, at least in the cases of various
people taking part in this discussion on this list, neither lack of
ability to "chew" on ideas nor traditionalism is the reason for
skepticism about the RFEP. It isn't in my case, either.

On the theological and philosophical sides of the question, there is no
reason to a priori deny the possibility of God's doing whatever He sees
fit, and Howard seems to agree with this. I apply this principle to the
entire history of the universe, up to now. For theological reasons, I
believe that God usually refrains from "interventions" visible to
scientific investigation, and therefore an approach of always looking
for natural causes is justified in science (in fact, it's all that
science can do). But "interventions" invisible to science in principle,
like selecting the specific outcome of quantum events, are under no such
restrictions.

Maybe this is somewhat similar to the distinction Howard makes between
"coercive" and "non-coercive" actions of God. However, I have
difficulties with these designations if applied to objects and organisms
lacking self-consciousness, and therefore an ability to willfully
respond by either accepting or refusing to comply with His
"non-coercive" prodding. Maybe this is because I consider both process
theology and pan-psychism to be unrealistic.

On the scientific side of the question, we see that there are some
fundamental distinctions between physics and biology, as far as the
dimensionalities of the possibility spaces are concerned. And this is
the reason why I hesitate to subscribe to the idea that a prebiotic
Earth has all the capabilities required to "spontaneously" produce life,
or that "primitive" life has all the capabilities required to produce
sentient and conscious "higher" life, or that higher animal life has all
the capabilities required to evolve self-consciousness and spirituality.
Of course, all the physically required capabilities are given, but there
are too many possibilities to choose from, many of which lead to dead
ends or to "old hat". Which path should be chosen? Claims that this
doesn't matter and that no further informational input is needed would
imply that for each and every one of the myriad evolutionary problems,
there is a transastronomical number of equally feasible and accessible
solutions. The crucial questions, which may be forever unanswerable, is
what fraction of the vastly transastronomical parameter space is
occupied by viable configurations, and whether these viable
configurations constitute a contiguous continent or a multiplicity of
islands.

It is not a question whether God can or cannot specify and create all
that's needed right at the beginning (at the big bang), but whether such
an initial specification for the biosphere would make any sense
logically, and whether the amount of information required (taking
account of the multiplicity of parallel possibilities not requiring any
specification beforehand) is small enough, so that it can be "stored" in
the prebiotic universe until needed.

There are many indications that in evolution there are very powerful
constraints channeling evolutionary outcomes and eliminating dead ends
(cf. Gould S.J., "The structure of evolutionary theory" (Harvard
Univ.Press, Cambridge, MA, 2002, ISBN 0-674-00613-5), p.1025 ff), such
as developmental constraints. Similar constraints on a molecular level
may be even more restrictive. Yet, many evolutionary biologists are
still unabashedly optimistic about the virtually unlimited capability of
living systems to produce whatever is needed for further success by
adaptation or coaptation. It is, in fact, a metaphysical faith. The
warning that not the selection of the fittest is the problem, but their
production, is ignored. We have now sufficient evidence that evolution
does in fact happen, but we may have to get used to the idea that
science may never be able to fully account for this fact. God may have
introduced information leading to novelty by means of hidden selections
of quantum event outcomes. Not that I would suggest giving up the
scientific search for solutions, but let's remain realistic! The back
side of Dawkins' "Mount Improbable" may be just as inaccessible as the
front side - that is, without a "top rope".

Peter

-- 
Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
<pruest@dplanet.ch> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
"..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)
Received on Sat Apr 3 10:15:52 2004

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