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

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Thu Jan 29 2009 - 08:05:37 EST

Heya Randy,

 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.

Let's not put the kid gloves on for Coyne either. If he's asserting that the
argument for Conway-Morris' / Miller's vision of evolutionary intent of
humans is weak because humans are fantastically singular, then the multitude
of other examples of convergence - by that standard - gains strength. While
everyone loves to focus on the specific introduction of humanity in the
universe, it's not as if the rest of creation is considered a kind of
afterthought. I doubt he'd cede that it's evidence for intent, and I didn't
say it proves intent. It just demonstrates that Coyne likely didn't think
that jab through, and that the evidence to work with is more than he owed up

> 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.

We can't ascertain what's 'highly non-probable' and stay within the realm of
science on this question. For example, the claim that 'if you rewound the
tape of evolution and replayed it, humans and the human-like would never
show up' (made by Gould, and I hear oft repeated) is packed with assumptions
(determinacy v indeterminacy, lack of input from outside the system,
tremendous assumptions about the workings of a system we're still learning
about, artificial time limit, etc) that kicks it out of the realm of science
to begin with.

Yes, there's a standoff - and there doesn't need to be. Coyne's attempt to
breathe additional life into the winding-down New Atheist conflict is
unhelpful, and poorly considered.

> Randy
> 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 08:06:05 2009

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