Re: [asa] Because of us - Steve Fuller's anthropic principle - Darwin's original sin

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Tue Apr 28 2009 - 00:36:08 EDT

Mike Gene:

I enjoy all your posts to this group. I particularly enjoyed the wonderful one you sent a couple of months ago about the hidden emotional reasons which govern how someone reacts to an argument that is new and strange. I thought it was very shrewd psychology.

I'm going to partly disagree with your latest line of argument.

You asked:

"Does anyone here really believe that if Dawkins/Gould are correct, we should abandon our Christian faith?"

I answer:

I do.

The combination popular on this list, i.e., to accept the "science" of Dawkins and Gould (separated from their "atheist metaphysics"), and then Christianize it with theistic metaphysics, does not in my view work. It produces metaphysical hash, because the "science" of Dawkins and Gould is inseparable from their metaphysics. In fact, evolutionary theory of their type is 90% metaphysics (bad metaphysics in my opinion) and 10% science.

Put crudely, any form of theistic evolution that accepts 100% of Dawkins/Gould must say:

"God guides evolution by making use of a process the fundamental nature of which is logically incompatible with guidance".

This notion violates basic logic, and I reject it. (There is a possible rescue, which I'll consider later, though only to confirm my rejection.)

Now I know that George and Ted have suggested that perhaps God guides things under the cover of quantum indeterminacy, but this does not solve the contradiction mentioned. Suppose that God does this. Then, from the point of view of the human observer, evolution looks like a chancy, random affair, but from a God's-eye view, it is controlled to produce exactly what God wants. This would preserve "methodological naturalism" -- there's no way of telling an intervention from a quantum freak event -- but it would still concede that ultimately the events aren't "random" -- metaphysically, I mean. So while I grant George and Ted that if God intervenes in the evolutionary process, he could do so unobserved (perhaps) under quantum indeterminacy, the metaphysical question can't be avoided: is the course of evolution guided, or not? Ultimately, George and Ted are saying: yes, it is, though science can't prove it.

A Gould/Dawkins answer, topped up with Christian theology, would be different from Ted and George's answer. It would work like this:

God wants to create a universe with certain definite things in it, including Man. He has special plans for human beings, who are to be made in his image. But for his plans to occur, he must first guarantee that Man emerges. Now how can he do that?

Of course, "God-in-eternity" sees "ahead" and knows that Man will appear, but that is no explanation. The Christian God is no mere Boethian God, resting inactive in eternity, but a Creator, and is in intimate relationship to time as well as to eternity. So "God-in-time", so to speak (all language about God is inadequate, so don't take the picture-thinking too literally, but it is adequate for my point), has to *do* something as well as observe from his lofty, timeless perch. So we have to consider him as, so to speak, an actor in the origin of the time/space world.

He has three basic choices, and only three basic choices, if he wants to "guarantee" the existence of Man: (1) Miracle -- A poofing into existence of everything on the spot; (2) Necessity -- A front-loaded process through which Man must eventually evolve; (3) Chance -- A process entirely dependent upon unguided events over which God has abdicated all direct control, but in which the lack of direct control is compensated for by a massively wasteful creation of matter and energy, to overcome low probabilities with unthinkably large numbers. (Note: Combinations of the basic choices are possible, but they don't clarify anything for my purposes, so I'm omitting them.)

Note that if God chooses #1, he can guarantee not only Man's existence, but location, time of origin, etc. If God chooses #2, he can perhaps in theory not only guarantee existence but also control location, time of origin, etc., but the only clear model of front-loading I know of is Denton's, and Denton's requires, in addition to front-loading, a chance element to determine the exact location in the universe where life and Man will spring up. In other words, #2 as envisioned by Denton involves an element of #3. Finally, if God chooses #3, he *cannot* guarantee the timing or location of Man (it's logically impossible ex hypothesi), and, strictly speaking, he cannot "guarantee" even the existence of man, but can at best make it "practically certain", if he is willing to waste prodigious amounts of matter and energy.

To combine Gould/Dawkins with Christianity, we would be employing solution #3. In that model, God would be thinking: "I want to create Man so that all the events recorded in the Bible will one day take place, but I am determined to do it by making use of chance mechanisms which by their very nature cannot promise the result of Man, or even the result of primitive bacteria. So, I will make so much #$%^! matter that somewhere, somehow, my wonderful creation, Man in my image, is bound to spring up."

I find #3 preposterous. First of all, if God wants to guarantee a particular location and timing for man, #3 is ruled out of court right away. So for those who think Christianity requires such precision -- and there are at least prima facie Biblical grounds for thinking that it does -- #3 is out. But even if we loosen the requirements a bit, and say that it's OK with God as long as Man turns up someplace or sometime, there are still problems. First of all, there's a general plausibility problem: why would God *want* to use a chance process, if he has a clear end in mind? When we humans want X to occur, we don't set in motion a chance process in hopes that we will get the desired outcome. We manipulate the situation to get exactly what we want. Why would God bother with an inefficient process, which could at least in theory fail, when he could do things either by direct creation, with 100% efficiency and certainty, or via front-loading, with 100% certainty and considerably less waste? Second, God-as-actor cannot, strictly speaking, *guarantee* the existence of Man no matter how much matter he creates. There is always a very slight probability, for any finite amount of matter, no matter how large, that Man might not emerge. So God would be very foolish to employ pure chance methods. He would be better to use front-loading or direct creation.

If we look at the Biblical portrait, the whole tenor of the stories, with the emphasis on prophecy of even tiny details of human history, etc., suggests that God gets exactly what he wants, where and when he wants it. And if that's the case in human history, it it likely that it is the case in cosmic history as well. It's hard to imagine the Bibilcal God saying: "Wherever Man pops up, if he pops up -- if I haven't blown it by failing to create enough excess matter -- I'll start my salvation history at that time and place in the universe." It's much more in tune with the language and thought of the Bible (and of most historical Christian theology) to imagine the God saying: "I will create Man in the Milky Way Galaxy, in an outer spiral arm, on the third planet of the star-sun Sol, 12 billion years after the Big Bang."

So I think that ultimately Gould/Dawkins is incompatible with a Providential God who has a definite plan and wants to achieve it. It's only barely possible even logically, it's implausible that God would choose such a means on general grounds, and it isn't in tune with Biblical language about God.

And besides, the whole *point* of Dawkins/Gould/Coyne etc. is to get rid of God; they didn't demand the expulsion of mind or intelligence or design from nature in order for someone to stick God on top of the whole system at the end. They demanded it to keep God out of the process, even if only as an immanent, non-miracle-working intelligence. The model was metaphysically driven from the start. Only explanations compatible with chance and necessity are allowed in their version of science. Design was willfully excluded from the outset, on a priori, not empirical grounds. Dawkins himself admits that living things look designed, but then declares that biology's job is to show that they aren't! In other words: Aristotle's approach to biology is more in tune with actual appearance of nature, and more plausible prima facie, but we should use Cartesian-Hobbesian-Kantian mechanism anyway. Talk about the determination of science by metaphysical bias!

Fortunately, I don't have to worry about this, as the Darwinian mechanism, as outlined by Gould/Dawkins, is preposterous, and has yet to explain, in detail, even one complex system, organ, organelle, or organism. Evolutionary theory has had 150 years to improve on Darwin on the level of detail, yet Dawkins's explanation for the camera eye is as pathetic as Darwin's was: all generalizations, no details. When even *one* of these systems is fully explained in Gould/Dawkins terms, then I will worry about whether the chancy view of nature implied in Gould/Dawkins can somehow shoehorn the Christian God into some tiny corner of the picture, or whether it requires atheism. For now, at least regarding the big picture, I see design "all the way down", even if that design is frequently contaminated (or augmented) by some genetic contingencies on points of detail, and even if the design requires (as in Denton) a chance trigger, based on a certain degree of cosmic wastefulness, for its actualization. I think that a preponderance of design, albeit combined with proportions of necessity and chance, is simply a better explanation for the *empirical* evidence than necessity and chance without design. And as I've already argued tediously, "design" does not imply "miracles" or "violation of MN". I think, Mike that you agree with me at least on that last sentence.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Nucacids
  To: ; ;
  Sent: Monday, April 27, 2009 10:32 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Because of us - Steve Fuller's anthropic principle - Darwin's original sin

  Hi Gregory,


  My posting had nothing to do with ID or biology. I’m simply outlining the metaphysical and theological position that has guided me for over a decade. It’s the position that allows me to approach the relation (if any) between design and biology in an open-ended manner.

  Does anyone here really believe that if Dawkins/Gould are correct, we should abandon our Christian faith?


  So how did we come into existence? It doesn’t matter (as I have explained). If you think it matters (and no one has shown that it does), then how do you approach the question without trying to force the data into a preset conclusion?


  - Mike

    Sent: Monday, April 27, 2009 2:19 PM
    Subject: Re: [asa] Because of us - Steve Fuller's anthropic principle - Darwin's original sin

          "What did I write that made you think this?" - Mike Gene

          Mike, did you mean what did you write that made me think we are again at a new moment, or that you're perhaps interested in promoting an 'anthropic principle in biology'?

          Well, there's a few things. Cameron is busy knocking holes in the ASA-TE camp with his challenges to their position. You are, as you've told the list, an advocate of ID, whereas most people on this list are strongly anti-ID or anti-IDists (sometimes it is difficult to see if they are against the sin or the sinner), and have little patience for even the topic of ID anymore. Yet you've managed to walk a fine line here on the ASA list and have made some good points against the ASA-TE status quo. I figure you might have something to offer to some of the entrenched positions held by the 'retired meterologists' speaking here, but then again I might also be mistaken.

          In terms of the idea of 'anthropic principle in biology,' I can't claim to be original with it. Rather, I got it from a speech given by Steve Fuller at Oxford University Jan. 20, 2009, titled "Darwin's Original Sin: The Denial of Theology's Claim to Knowledge." You can listen to it here:

          Perhaps you might like it Mike? Have you heard Fuller speak before? In this talk he calls MN an 'intellectual mirage.' In fact, he demolishes MN quite regularly. Of course, this won't make some on this list very happy! But then again, there is no one here trained in the fields he is trained in to capably rebut him.

          By the way, what else would make me think this - it's 'because of us' Mike Gene! :-)

          Cheers, Gregory Arago

          "An 'anthropic principle in Biology' is exactly what I think the evidence from ID boils down to. A friend of mine and I have coined the term "bioanthropic principle" and I think that nails it." - John Walley

          And if they can come up with an 'anthropic principle' in cosmology and astrophysics, John, isn't it possible that an 'anthropic principle' in biology could make some sense too? Or would this be outlawed due to some particular methodological principle, a.k.a. philosophical assumption, of 'what science is' which is being offered?

          Are you advocating an 'anthropic principle' in biology, John, or a 'bioanthropic principle' or do you mean the same thing? Could you explain where the 'anthro' comes into play? It would probably be better to open up another thread, imo, to do this.

          - G.A.

          p.s. The website you link to has little content thus far, other than a link to a highly contestable a paper by George Murphy, which one day I will get around to critiquing. And as we all know here, George is not a biologist, so I assume he is not working towards an anthropic principle in biology and that you are not planning to use 'physics and theology' to make your case for a bioanthropic principle.

          --- On Mon, 4/27/09, John Walley <> wrote:

            From: John Walley <>
            Subject: Re: [asa] Because of us
            To:,, "Nucacids" <>
            Received: Monday, April 27, 2009, 6:46 PM

                  An "anthropic principle in Biology" is exactly what I think the evidence from ID boils down to. A friend of mine and I have coined the term "bioanthropic principle" and I think that nails it.


                  --- On Mon, 4/27/09, Nucacids <> wrote:

                    From: Nucacids <>
                    Subject: Re: [asa] Because of us
                    Date: Monday, April 27, 2009, 7:48 AM

                    "After all we've been through, Mike, here we are again at a new moment. It sounds to me like you're interested in promoting an 'anthropic principle' in biology - 'Because of us'."

                    What did I write that made you think this?


                            Mike Gene wrote:
                            "Once this is realized, the obstacle of chance evaporates. God does not need to tinker with this creation to get us to appear. He created this universe, among an infinite other possible universes, precisely because it was the one that would spawn us."

                            After all we've been through, Mike, here we are again at a new moment. It sounds to me like you're interested in promoting an 'anthropic principle' in biology - 'Because of us'. Am I right about this? We humans are speaking to ourselves, about our biology (and also about other biologies), though sometimes it sounds like babble!

                            Yes, of course there is the danger of being anthropocentric, but that is not the main obstacle. Religious humility (in its multiple forms) can overcome this. The main obstacle seems to be in getting 'us' to work together to unify our diversities, to seek philosophical-spiritual knowledge in addition to scientific-technical knowledge and to recognize how we can contextualise and relate our knowledge of ourselves (which has been made at least partly by us) and of the universe (which is also given to us) to our knowledge of our Creator, our Lord.

                            If what you're after is indeed such an 'anthropic principle in biology,' I'll be sure to meet you on the playing field or at the discussion table on your quest, Mike.


                            --- On Mon, 4/27/09, Nucacids <> wrote:

                              There are two main obstacles in reconciling Darwinian evolution and orthodox Christianity:

                              1. Darwinian evolution entails that chance plays a central part of our history, as random variations provide the material for selection to cull. So deeply ingrained is the role of chance that the late Stephen Jay Gould was fond of saying that if the tape of life was replayed from the beginning, an entirely different reality would exist, a reality that would not include us. This is simply because we could not count on all the various coincidences and accidents to play out again exactly as they played out in our history.

                              2. Darwinian evolution entails that death and suffering played a central part of our coming into existence. It is the “struggle for survival”, involving predation and disease, that has been a core part of our evolutionary history.

                              Orthodox Christianity views human life as an inevitable part of Creation and death/disease as a consequence of the Fall.

                              How shall we reconcile these?
                              If God could have created any one of an infinite number of creations, why did He create this one? Because of us. That is, this is the creation, the only creation, in which we exist. We cannot exist in any other creation. Other humans or humanoids might exist in other creations, but they would not be us.
                              This creation exists because it is our home, that is, where we were born and where we live.
                              So what makes us us? Our genetic identities. Our experiences. Our memories. Our choices. Since all of the things that make us us are part of this creation, this creation must exist if we are to exist.

                              So how did we come into existence? Was it the miracle of Creationism? Was it the natural law and evolutionary convergence of Conway Morris or Denton ? Was it by front-loading evolution? Or was it the mixture of natural selection and contingency as outlined by Dawkins and Gould?

                              Answer – it doesn’t matter. However we came into existence had to be because that was the way we came into existence. It’s a package deal.

                              So it would not matter if Dawkins/Gould was correct. Because even if chance and natural selection brought us into existence, well, then that’s what would be needed to bring us into existence. God is still in control because this very reality where chance and natural selection brought us into existence would not exist and be sustained if God had not wanted to commune with us. God choose to create this reality whereby chance and natural selection brought us into existence because that is our reality and our history. From God’s perspective, beyond our space-time reality, our emergence was inevitable and foreknown because the very reason this reality was chosen into existence is precisely because God knew it would spawn us, regardless of the mechanism. Creation runs through us and exists because of us.

                              Once this is realized, the obstacle of chance evaporates. God does not need to tinker with this creation to get us to appear. He created this universe, among an infinite other possible universes, precisely because it was the one that would spawn us.

                              So why did God create this reality? It’s the most mysterious and humbling realization and revelation - God loves us.



                      Yahoo! Canada Toolbar : Search from anywhere on the web and bookmark your favourite sites. Download it now!


                      No virus found in this incoming message.
                      Checked by AVG -
                      Version: 8.5.287 / Virus Database: 270.12.4/2081 - Release Date: 04/26/09 09:44:00


            Get the name you've always wanted ! or


            No virus found in this incoming message.
            Checked by AVG -
            Version: 8.5.287 / Virus Database: 270.12.4/2081 - Release Date: 04/26/09 09:44:00

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Tue Apr 28 00:37:46 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Apr 28 2009 - 00:37:48 EDT