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

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Wed Apr 29 2009 - 03:17:37 EDT

Hi Bill,

Yes, it's an interesting subject, isn't it?

I suspect that part of Cameron's objection to the neo-Darwinist paradigm is that for the neo-Darwinists "chance" really does mean "without rhyme or reason" - something that "just happens". On which basis it's probably a fair call to claim that arguing for purpose at the process level is problematic.

However, my observation is that very few things in nature "just happen" - there's usually some sort of identifiable causality, and even random systems can be described by a probability function such that not all outcomes are considered equally likely.

Now, personally, I'm not sure that "chance" should mean "all outcomes are equally likely" hence I've employed the phrase "randomness within limits". To show this isn't entirely a spurious concept, take Cameron's earlier example of bumping into a friend at the supermarket. That may well be a "random event" but I can guarantee you that you're more likely to randomly bump into a friend from your neighborhood than you are a friend who lives out of town (and highly unlikely to randomly bump into the Queen of England!).

How does that bear upon the question of evolution and randomness? Well, simply in that I'm personally not sure that we should allow Dawkins, Gould, Coyne and other thinkers that Cameron have mentioned to "load" the argument by suggesting that the sort of chance involved in biological systems renders the outcome utterly contingent.

It may be that the sort of chance involved is more like that in firing a shotgun - you may not be able to predict WHICH pellets from the gun will hit the duck, but you still wouldn't argue that hitting the duck is purely a matter of "chance" (certainly, you wouldn't want to trade places with the duck).

All in all, I just think it's more complex than some allow and I'm wanting to suggest that, like the pellets from a shotgun, what we have is a kind of constrained randomness.

It will be interesting if we can come to some resolution, even if only with respects to the contours of the problem.


Bill Powers wrote:
> Murray:
> What people mean by chance has always confused me. Chance might be
> intended to reflect epistemological ignorance. Since we cannot account
> for the initial conditions, we study the behavior probabalistically, as,
> for example, the event of tossing a coin. The outcome is, as far we we
> can tell deterministic, but lacking knowledge of the specifics, we say
> that the outcome is governed by chance.
> Chance is also used in the context of a certain event. The amount of
> rain that falls on a farmer's field is regarded as a matter of chance.
> The process according to which the rain falls is considered to
> deterministic. But in the context of this particular farmer's field we
> say we have no reason to believe that this farmer's field is special so
> that the rain would fall on his field rather than another. The rain is
> believed to be totally indifferent as to whether it nurtured the
> farmer's crops or flooded them. The matter of chance in this case is
> intended to reflect a rejection of teleology. It reflects what we
> imagine to be an inanimate, indifferent element of "nature."
> Following this latter thread, what we mean by chance is not that the
> world may not be wholly determined in all its aspects. But rather that
> any "form" that comes to be out of indifferent lawful processes, which
> itself is not lawful, is a matter of chance. Hence, the world appears
> divided into physically necessary events and forms (e.g., like crystals)
> and contingent forms and events, like faces on the moon, or, apparently,
> life itself.
> We have heard of late discussions of "front loading." There appears to
> be two broad types of "front loading." Either you provide enough
> events, or search of the phase space, so that a particular event is
> likely to occur (like providing enough cleaning fluid to detect solar
> neutrinos). Or you rely upon the deterministic properties embed in the
> creation to bring about that which you intend (say a house on Malibu).
> In either case, it is not exactly chance as I've defined it. After all,
> the detection of a neutrino at the bottom of a deep mine is not a chance
> event. Some people went very far out of their way to detect it. Indeed,
> they would be surprised, after all that work, if they didn't detect it.
> Independent of whether my understanding of chance is correct or rich
> enough, what I wonder is how one "SEES" chance? You say that we "LOOK"
> and what we see is chance. It seems to me that you can only do this in
> the context of some model. How does one observe chance in operation?
> thanks,
> bill powers
> On Wed, 29 Apr 2009, Murray Hogg wrote:
>> Hi Cameron,
>> My response to the below is to simply point out that your allowing a
>> priori assumptions about chance and determinacy to determine your
>> entire position.
>> THAT, in a nutshell, was Simon Conway Morris' beef with Stephen Jay
>> Gould and, as SCM has strongly argued in 'Life's Solution' when we
>> actually LOOK at the history of life on earth what we observe is the
>> operation of chance AND the repeated emergence of uncannily similar
>> forms.
>> The a posteriori conclusion - based on observed data rather than
>> abstract theoretical speculation - is that evolution, although
>> governed as far as we know by chance, nevertheless is not contingent
>> as Stephen Jay Gould argued.
>> This might be a startling, even paradoxical claim, but it is what we
>> actually observe. As John Polkinghorne is fond of pointing out, the
>> universe has a funny way of surprising us by refusing to conform to
>> what we thing should be the case. We might like to think that a
>> process guided by chance MUST be contingent in its outcome, but the
>> fact is that what we actually observe suggests otherwise.
>> Blessings,
>> Murray
>> Cameron Wybrow wrote:
>>> 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.
>>> Cameron.
>>> ----- 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.
>>> John
>>> --- On *Mon, 4/27/09, Nucacids /<>/*
>>> wrote:
>>> From: Nucacids <>
>>> Subject: Re: [asa] Because of us
>>> To:,
>>> 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
>>> 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.
>>> Cheers,
>>> Gregory
>>> --- 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.
>>> -Mike
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