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

From: Gregory Arago <gregoryarago@yahoo.ca>
Date: Tue May 12 2009 - 13:08:32 EDT

Hi Schwarzwald,
 
Just a short note on your interesting post.
 
You wrote: "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."
 
Let me second the motion that "MN is a misnomer." Those who equate it with 'just doing science' probably can't seem to understand how such a position could even be possible. But there you have it. It exists.
 
Though I agree in principle with the idea you're promoting - of seeking the real and practical limitations of science - one problem that will be encountered in a North American context is that there are materialistic and naturalistic philosophers and not just scientists who are metaphysical naturalists. Philosophy is not exactly flourishing in North America these days and it has been said that 'pragmatism' is one of the few contributions it has made to world philosophy. It seems North Americans are being pragmatic to all but avoid philosophy and metaphysics in their lives these days.
 
Secondly, aren't scientists supposed to be expanding their/our knowledge, rather than seeking how to circumscribe it? As an ideal, many more natural scientists would have at least some training in philosophy so that they would be able to distinguish when their 'science,' as you say "enters the metaphysical realm." Yet doing so would take away teaching time or lab time from the highly specialised fields that contemporary science is fragmented into. It may be that there are a lack of generalists who can balance against hyper-specialism. But then again it is up to the historians and philosophers of science and generally 'science studies' scholars to put the scientists in their place by showing them the limits and boundaries. The question is: do natural scientists have the academic humility to accept this?
 
It is easy to have a conversation about science and spirituality in India for example, where the spiritual realm is considered as 'real' as the 'scientific realm.' What I've been aruging for in my dissertation is the need to seek a balance between scientific-technical knowledge and philosophical-spiritual knowledge. Does it surprise any of you that this approach is much easier to make in Russia today than it would be in North America?
 
Though nobody has touced on Steve Fuller's contribution to this conversation, at least he has recognized openly in his writings, while expressing his position as a 'secular humanist,' that the traditional notion that human beings are 'created in the image of God' is at the heart and soul of the human-social sciences. Both TE/EC and ID need to realize that they are leaving out more than 1/3 of the academy in their discussions when they focus on nature and the divine (or supernatural). It is as easy to recognise this in Dembski's "Intelligent Design: THE BRIDGE between science and theology" as it is in Robert Russell's Center for Theology and Nantural Sciences or Ian Barbour's process-oriented approach to science and religion. It may be that the voices that are predominantly missing and direly needed are the ones that can help TE/EC and ID work together or at least to find common ground that up until now appears to be missing.

I still imagine that Mike Gene might have something more to say that is insightful after his sort of epiphany which started this thread in suggesting that things happen 'Because of Us.' Sounds like an anthropic principle of sorts to me. Don't TE/ECists and IDists both make use of an 'anthropic principle' in their cosmologies?
 
Cheers,
Gregory
(whose pre-defense has been pushed back a week)
 

--- On Tue, 5/12/09, Schwarzwald <schwarzwald@gmail.com> wrote:

From: Schwarzwald <schwarzwald@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [asa] Because of us - Steve Fuller's anthropic principle - Darwin's original sin
To: asa@calvin.edu
Received: Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 5:23 PM

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 designer/God?
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 13:11:12 2009

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