Re: [asa] Jerry Coyne's Confused Attack on Religion

From: Randy Isaac <>
Date: Thu Jan 29 2009 - 07:10:30 EST

Let's not put words in Coyne's mouth. I don't believe he implies that standard. He does say that if a creator intended a particular outcome of evolution, then such an outcome would need to be "inevitable" or at least an example of convergence. But nowhere does he imply that if there is convergence then there is intent.

The net is that one can deal with singular, highly non-probable events in a probabilistic system in very different ways. Is it a purely random occurrence or is it a likely occurrence based on either the characteristics of the system or some higher level intent. I doubt that science can tell us anything more than "there is no indication of a material intent" but a divine intent with an unknown means cannot be ruled out. Scientism would then say that, yes, it is ruled out since such divine intent cannot be detected scientifically. Hence the standoff.

  That convergence is real - nature has a habit of finding the same solutions to various problems, even in distinct lineages - seems to be non-controversial here. Coyne's response seems to be that humans should not be viewed as an intended outcome of evolution, on the grounds that the appearance of humans seems tremendously singular. As you said, 'a lot of characteristics that distinguish us from others and serves to define what it means to be human', and those characteristics are only showing up in one lineage.

  What strikes me as interesting is that, by Coyne's own implied standard, it would be justified to view quite a lot of developments in evolution as intended. After all, humans are just one of the outcomes of evolution - maybe the most singularly important one according to the standards of most religions, but just one of many nevertheless. That places him in the odd position where, if he's arguing we should place less weight on the idea that humans or the human-like were an intended outcome of evolution due to their being singular insofar as convergence goes, quite a lot of other developments in evolutionary history should have claims of 'intentional outcome' strengthened. So already, to fend off what Miller and Conway-Morris implies, he seems to give up a lot of ground.

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Received on Thu Jan 29 07:11:05 2009

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