Re: Faith, Evolution, and Tax Dollars?

From: Ted Davis <>
Date: Mon Apr 05 2004 - 08:03:29 EDT

>>> "Robert Schneider" <> 04/03/04 07:19PM >>>writes:

The same could be asked regarding the word "design." It is interesting to
note that some in the ID crowd have hopped on the "anthropic coincidences"
bandwagon recently (Ross sooner than later); some write of it as if it
their discovery, though the notion has been around for nearly 20 years.
But, in fact, the ID proponents are using "design" equivocally. To speak
a finally tuned universe as evidence of "design" is one thing; to speak of
the hands-on (a la Howard's last paragraph below) intervention to create
"irreducibly complex" organism or part thereof as evidence of "design" is

Ted replies:
I don't see Bob's points. First, ID people rightly make much of anthropic
coincidences, it doesn't matter who discovered them. Indeed, one could just
as well argue that the "discovery" of the anthropic coincidences goes back
at least to Lawrence Henderson (ca. 1913), who is today seen as the
originator of the "anthropic principle", or else even to William Whewell,
whose Bridgewater treatise (1830s) makes many of the same points Henderson
made and upon which Henderson drew extensively. The point they rightly make
is, that when we view the physical universe we really are confronted with a
choice: the obvious explanation is that an Infinite Someone rigged the game;
the alternative is to invoke a more Greekish kind of Infinity, namely
infinite time and infinite materials (the multiverse hypothesis). One is
IMO more scientific than the other, since it does not postulate unobserved
and unobservable universes other than our own. I applaud the ID folks for
pushing this, they have genuine science on their side.

To get this fine tuning without infinite (or at least, unlimited) time and
matter, one really needs to invoke unlimited force, ie "intervention."
Unless God did in fact exercise omnipotence to determine the nature of
nature, then we are right back to infinite time and matter. Take your
choice. Whewell saw this very well, in responding to Charles Lyell's
principle of uniformity in its original Lyellian form (which called for a
steady state universe, a necessary consequence of his Unitarian view of God
as having been bound to make the best of all possible worlds). As Whewell
saw it, the uniformitarian appeal to unlimited time was no more scientific
than the catastrophist appeal to unlimited force. Either way, we need an
infinite agent, whether personal or impersonal.

In principle, I don't see any difference if ID folk then want to invoke
"intervention" to account for "irreducible complexity." It's just as
legitimate a philosophical move, in my view. And in this case, we have a
much better idea of just how limited time is--not more than 4.6 billion
years, and probably several hundred million years less than that.

The difficulty here, of course, is that we don't yet have (IMO) a clear
enough idea of what "irreducible complexity" is, when it comes to biological
organisms. We do seem to have a strong handle on physical laws and the
nature of matter, strong enough at least to remain deeply puzzled how it all
could have assembled itself in such a startingly precise way so as to lead
to the production of the building blocks for that "irreducibly complex"
life. My sense is, that the biochemical side isn't nearly as well shown, so
that this move is philosophically riskier though not different in kind from
the move involving the anthropic principle.

If they want to define "design" at least implicitly, as *sometimes*
involving supernatural agency to achieve a specific purpose, I'm fine with
that. My problems with the ID movement lie elsewhere.

Received on Mon Apr 5 08:04:38 2004

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