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

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Tue May 12 2009 - 09:23:56 EDT

Cameron & Murray,

Both of you are people whose contributions I always enjoy reading on this
list. Since you both seem to be of differing opinions on the subject of
neo-darwinism and evolution, I wanted to ask a question of you both, and
offer my own perspective on this issue for your criticisms.

First the questions. Or rather, questions.

1) Is it scientific to say that life and man came about without need for a
2) Is it scientific to say that life and man came about and a designer/God
is needed to explain this?

Just to be specific: By scientific I mean, is that a falsifiable claim? Is
the question one that can be settled by an investigation using
methodological naturalism?

My own answer is "no" to both, and the ramifications for this are far
reaching to say the least, as near as I can tell.

Imagine we had what Cameron requests: A full and stepwise account of the
development of how the avian lung was formed, how the camera eye was formed
- in fact, how everything was formed. What's more, go ahead and assume that
the mechanisms to form these things were all neo-darwinian in nature - to
make it vastly oversimplified, it was all mutation and natural selection.
Would we then be able to finally say 'See? No designer is needed whatsoever.
Everything can be accounted for by purposeless, goalless processes.'?

Again, my answer is a firm no. And I'll try my best to explain why. Forgive
me for being wordy.

Imagine our universe in its entirety is akin to a computer program. Not the
Matrix - I don't mean something that we're all unknowingly plugged into and
one day we can just wake up or take off a helmet and we're 'outside'. I mean
we ourselves are programs, our environments are programs - our total
experiential reality is a program running on a computer. What's more, let's
say this is common knowledge: Everyone agrees that reality is all part of
some program being run on hardware.

There are, however, two camps of people. One argues that the computer and
its program is the complete sum of reality - there is no programmer. Maybe
the computer has always existed, unfolding a procedurally generating
program. Maybe the computer just popped into existence one day uncaused.
Maybe the computer has always been around, but the program itself
inexplicably started a finite time ago. But again, the computer and the
program is it. They just are. Brute facts. There is no programmer, nor is
one necessary.

Of course, the other camp disagrees. They believe the programmer existed in
advance of the computer and the program both. Now, they too have different
perspectives amongst themselves. Some believe that the programmer created
the program with a specific goal in mind, knowing absolutely everything the
program would do at any given juncture, and that it would certainly reach
its goal without any further interference from himself. Others believe the
programmer had certain goals, but may need to directly intervene at
particular points - either because his intervention was part of the plan, or
maybe because he simply couldn't foresee everything perfectly. Others still
have no opinion on the goals of the designer, if there are any - all they do
is accept that there was certainly a programmer once upon a time, and
anything else they are unsure of.

Here's where the problem comes in. The former camp is going to attempt to
explain everything that has happened in their universe (itself a program,
remember) in terms of other programs. The latter camp is going to point at
certain historical events as evidence that the programmer directly
intervened, or at least that certain processes and results make the most
sense in terms of a programmer achieving goals, rather than as purposeless,
unintended machinations of an unguided program.

But both camps are only capable of examining what goes on in their program!
Whatever the programmer does - the only way the programmer can interact with
the world - is by manipulating the program! But /other programs can
manipulate the program too/. Any given event can always be explained by the
first camp in terms of programs. Refer to unknown processes. Refer to known
processes that were not witnessed but conceivably could do the job. Refer to
extraordinarily unlikely events that just happened by chance. Refer to the
possibility that the program is of infinite size or duration.

The latter camp, meanwhile, can consider the programmer's interaction to
occur anywhere at any time in the past. Maybe all his efforts went into the
program itself, and now he's simply watching his program unfold. Maybe he
intervened throughout history, guiding particular developments of programs
directly (introducing new processes and programs on the spot) or indirectly
(altering code so when certain processes encountered it, particular
developments were practically guaranteed.) Maybe his intervention never
stops - he could be personally orchestrating every single event that unfolds
in the program, from the tiniest pixel to the most complicated and RAM-heavy
machinations. But at every point, the only thing they will be able to look
at are the operations of the program and processes. They will never see the
programmer - only the program's results.

What do I hope to highlight with this story with regards to the
evolution/design debate? Only this: There is no way to determine whether a
single mutation in a controlled lab experiment was actively intended by
God/designer or not. We can perform 100, 1000, or 1000000 trial runs and
determine relative frequencies of given results and investigate the
correlations or lack thereof, but that's it. Science can gather evidence of
what materially happened - maybe, if we're lucky, we'll be able to piece
together a far more complete past history of life on this planet (along with
its past ecology, etc, and given certain assumptions.) But we're not going
to determine the existence *or necessity* of a designer/God this way, or
whether any given historical events were the result of that designer's
intervention or foresight.

Consider SJ Gould's quip about how, if we rewound the evolutionary history
of life on this planet and replayed it, it would come out completely
differently. There is no way - no possible way - to know that. Not just
because of the question of determinism vs indeterminism. Not just because of
convergence, or front-loading, or otherwise. But because the question
assumes that either there is no designer, or that the designer would change
along with the reset. If I'm cheating at an online poker game and I deal
myself four aces, a player can tell himself 'Well if we were to go back and
replay that hand and shuffle it differently, he could have gotten a totally
different hand.' My response would be, 'You could have shuffled the deck as
many times as you pleased. I would still have ended up with four aces.' The
player's reasoning is based on an assumption that is invalid in that
hypothetical case, and beyond science in the case of SJ Gould.

So, contra Cameron, I see neo-darwinism as devoid of the metaphysics he (in
my view, rightly) complains about *insofar as it is purely science*. I'm
well aware what Coyne, for example, thinks neo-darwinism demands
metaphysically - I simply don't care, anymore than Coyne would care what
metaphysics Newton married to his view of material reality. Insisting that
evolution is designer-free is scientifically vacuous, and can be ignored (at
least as far as science goes.) So too can insistence that evolution is the
work of a designer, even if I agree with it. As I said with Jon Tandy (who I
need to write a response to later), I think methodological naturalism is a
misnomer - methodological agnosticism is more apt. Science does not and need
not proceed with an instrumentally naturalist (or, of course, theistic)
viewpoint in order to remain appropriately limited and achieve success.

That, incidentally, is where I think both ID and TE efforts should be aimed:
Pointing out the real and practical limitations of science, and where
interpretations of science enter the metaphysical realm. Point out what
'random' and 'chance' means when it comes to the science: That it is not and
cannot be a judgment about the efforts, intention, or lack thereof on the
part of a designer or God. It's a pragmatic description, an application of
Ockham's Razor (Which is not 'that which is simplest is most likely to be
true' but, in essence, 'that which is simplest is most likely to be simple'.
Parsimony in science is meant to aid understanding, not determine
metaphysical truth.) These things are misunderstood in the extreme, and not
always accidentally.

And this long post has come to an end.

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Received on Tue May 12 09:24:35 2009

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