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

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Tue May 12 2009 - 20:59:57 EDT


Thanks for the reply.

First, let me say: I would agree with you that the power and authority of
'science' is exaggerated and misunderstood. In fact, what I wanted to make
clear with my post is just how limited science is and must be - and how
proclamations of what "science shows" are often overblown and go far beyond
"science" besides.

Your second rewrite of my question was "If neo-Darwinian evolution, as
conceived by its classic proponents, were *entirely* true, would God become
a superfluous explanation?" I agree with you that "neo-Darwinian evolution,
as conceived by its classic proponents" banishes teleology and (Darwin's
sometimes-deism notwithstanding) God by definition. The problem is that,
insofar as neo-Darwinian evolution touches on the existence or non-existence
of God/designer or teleology, it is no longer scientific! If Lemaitre
developed an explicitly theological theory of creation whereby all of
spacetime seemingly burst into existence at a point in the past and billed
it as a Hugh Ross style 'testable theory of God creating the universe',
Lemaitre would not have therefore made the subject of God's existence and
intentions a purely scientific topic. Science would begin and end with
exploring and testing the quantifiable propositions in Lemaitre's theory -
talk of God, or intentional intervention, or purpose, would be outside
science's scope. Change it around so it's not a theory of God creating the
universe, but one where the universe creates itself and therefore
God/designer is superfluous - same problem. Outside of science's scope.

As for my analogy (forgive me for it being confusing - programming is what I
am most familiar with, so those are the analogies I tend to think in terms
of) - you say that the neo-Darwinian program would be "completely different"
from a program based on Christian theology. I don't think that's so clear -
I'll try to explain why.

First, you say that under a neo-Darwinist understanding, "a programmer would
have no control over" new forms or results. Here's the problem: This hinges
on the existence and knowledge of the programmer. If the neo-Darwinist cedes
that a programmer/designer exists or could exist (to my knowledge, Coyne
himself ceded that a case could be made for a Deist creator), the game is
over - they are in no position to speculate on the knowledge or capabilities
such an agent possesses. If the neo-Darwinist insists that a
programmer/designer doesn't exist, we're left in a similar situation -
they've gone beyond the scope of science, and are making claims not open to
falsification or demonstration. Traditionally the major claim has been "we
can do science without needing to invoke a creator/designer" - and that's
fine as far as it goes. But that claim also works in the other direction -
"we can do science without needing to exclude a creator/designer". That's
less-discussed, but tremendously important.

Second, there's more than one way for a programmer to intervene in a
program. He can, of course, set up the program to definitely achieve desired
goals and ends without requiring any further intervention from the
programmer himself. But he can also intervene if he so chooses. In my poker
example, I can 'front load' myself four aces if I wish. I can also intervene
while the program is running (say, I have access to debugging tools, etc)
and give myself four aces on the spot. Attribute whatever kind of randomness
you like to the program - say this is a special computer that can achieve
'true randomness' when shuffling the deck. Or say that my knowledge as
programmer is limited and, while merely pseudo-random, I can't foresee what
the order of cards is going to be after any shuffle. It doesn't matter - I
can still get four aces in my hand. Even if there is true randomness in play
doesn't mean I can't make certain something comes to pass if I so choose. I
can have 'truly random' aspects that are nevertheless tightly constrained by
other aspects of the program as well.

That is why the SJ Gould example fails as a scientific statement. If I were
playing cards with him and had debugger access to the program, I can put
four aces in my hand. He can assert that the deck is shuffled in a truly
random way, and that therefore if we were to go back, reshuffle the deck,
and deal once again there is no guarantee I'd get four aces. He would be
wrong. He could be wrong in other ways as well - maybe I programmed in that
specific hand in advance. Maybe the deck-shuffling isn't truly random and I
know who will have what hands as games are played. (As a fun aside, there
was actually a case similar to this with a Keno machine in Canada - some
players figured out that, whenever a particular model of machine was turned
off and on, it would always 'randomly pick' the same numbers due to its
programming as a result of the fresh reboot.)

And certainly I agree with you that God can choose evolution as His means of
creation. Maybe it was all front-loaded. Maybe there were instances of
specific intervention. Maybe a variety of possibilities. But let's realize
how far science is capable of taking us on this question, and where the
limits are.

As for your previous post I didn't respond to, I'll do my best to address it

I think you and I have a different understanding of NDE's inundation with
metaphysics. I have no doubt that many people consider NDE as utterly linked
with certain metaphysical assumptions and extrapolations - indeed, I see
that constantly. And frankly, they're welcome to believing in whatever they
wish. What they are not welcome to is claiming that a metaphysics-laden
understanding of nature is 'just science' without being called out.
Insisting that "Well, this is what Darwin himself thought!" does not get
them off the hook - if Darwin let extraneous metaphysics flood into
scientific questions, so much the worse for Darwin.

Much of my response to you on this would mirror what I said already: Nothing
that Coyne finds in science is going to prove his metaphysics. At most the
results will be consistent with his metaphysics - but it can also be
consistent with a TE's metaphysics, or an ID proponent's metaphysics.
(Recall that Dembski recently authored a paper where he insisted that, even
if life proceeded according to fully Darwinist mechanisms, teleology was in
play. The critical responses I've seen to Dembski's paper only go as far as
saying that Dembski has not proven his case - not that teleology has been
disproven.) Like it or not, intelligent and advanced life came into being on
this planet. Coyne and others may clench their fists and insist that this
was in no way planned or destined or intentional - but they will be stepping
outside of science when making these claims. It will mirror the poker
example - four aces being dealt in natural history will be ascribed to luck
and chance. A hundred deals of four aces in a row? Luck and chance in
greater abundance. That a designer knew those aces were coming as the
program unfolded - or intervened to make certain the aces came up - remains
an active question and possibility. Philosophically, I believe it would be
the most compelling option on the table. Others may disagree - and they're
welcome to. But either way, the speculations are philosophy, not science.

I hope this lets you know where I stand on the '90% v 10%' response I missed
before. And I hope it also explains why I now think that 'methodological
naturalism' is a misnomer, and does not accurately reflect the limits of
science. Keep in mind that this is a change for me - previously I was
strongly in favor of the MN 'limitation' of science's scope. I now believe
science does not, and cannot, legitimately operate according to
'methodological naturalism'. Methodological agnosticism, maybe. Or maybe
methodological pragmatism. But the idea that a scientist is a naturalist in
the laboratory now strikes me as a terrible misunderstanding.

On methodological naturalism: I enjoyed your recent post discussing the
> problematic nature of the term, and I thank you for raising the issue here
> and generating discussion about it. I think your suggestions are useful.
> On the metaphysical basis of neo-Darwinian evolution, I must maintain the
> position I held in my previous reply to you (April 30th), to which you did
> not respond. This means that I disagree with your current statement
> about NDE being devoid of metaphysics. On April 30th I wrote:
> "Second, on 90% metaphysics and 10% science. Given his foundations, Coyne
> would have to work on the assumption that all living organisms have been
> produced by a combination of general natural laws, chance mutations, and
> natural selection. And his work in evolutionary biology would then consist
> in finding probable evolutionary pathways, or in investigating possible new
> genetic mechanisms, etc. But note that given his premises, and given his
> conviction, based on the fossil record, that evolution happened, he in one
> way has quite an easy time of things. He doesn't require, up
> front, evidence to *prove* that the ensemble of neo-Darwinian mechanisms are
> capable of doing the job. His certainty that God is out of the picture, and
> that there is no guiding intelligence of any kind, means that he can be
> *sure*, *in advance of all confirming evidence*, that chance, natural
> selection, etc., are up to the job. They *must* be up to the job, or else
> all that we see could not have come into being -- given that God does not
> exist to do miracles, secretly guide, or front-load. And when you are sure
> of something in advance, you don't work very hard to prove it. So Coyne
> can simply declare that human beings have descended from marine worms,
> without ever establishing that the means known to us are plausible causes of
> such a transformation. And he and his colleagues can work on "possible
> evolutionary pathways" which include very few of the nitty-gritty mechanical
> details.
> "If you take away the metaphysical certainty that chance and necessity are
> adequate, suddenly Darwinian theory has much more work to do. It then has
> to *prove*, by a combination of empirical research and theory, that complex
> design features can be arrived at without any designer. In this light, we
> can see that 90% of the established "science" in evolution is really
> dependent upon metaphysics -- a metaphysical claim about the sufficiency of
> necessity and chance to produce complex organic forms. Therefore, ID people
> are quite right to demand that the Darwinists provide the proofs that they
> haven't had to provide up to this point. And TE people are quite wrong to
> let Darwinists off from providing these proofs. Unless we know for sure
> that there is no God, so that matter/energy is all there is, there is simply
> no way we can be sure that necessity and chance can explain evolution, short
> of an immense body of detailed proofs which Darwinism has not provided.
> "So what I've been trying to say is that, while TE and ID agree that there
> is an unproved metaphysics behind Coyne's version of neo-Darwinism, they
> draw different conclusions from this. For TE, all you have to do to fix
> things up is to subtract the unjustified atheistic *inference* which Coyne
> makes *on top of the science*, leaving only the pure science, which is
> conceived to be mostly independent of the metaphysics. For ID, Coyne's
> atheism is not a gratuitous personal *inference*, which he adds *on top of
> the science*, but rather an *assumption*, *lying at the base of the
> science*, i.e. in his a priori conception of the powers of nature, and if
> you subtract that assumption, most of the "scientific results" of Darwinian
> theory vanish into thin air. What is left of Darwinian "science" is then
> (i) a set of mechanisms that have been empirically proved able to lengthen
> finch beaks, confer antibiotic resistance on one-celled animals, etc., and
> (ii) the claim (utterly unproved) that such mechanisms can generate major
> macroevolutionary change.
> "So, for TEs, "Darwinian evolution" of Coyne's type is really 90% good,
> neutral science, and 10% unwarranted religious speculation, whereas for
> IDers, Coyne's "scientific" conclusions are 90% dependent upon metaphysics,
> and only 10% (if even that) verified by science. The two analyses are
> almost completely different."
> I stand by these words.
> Cameron.
> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* Schwarzwald <>
> *To:*
> *Sent:* Tuesday, May 12, 2009 9:23 AM
> *Subject:* Re: [asa] Because of us - Steve Fuller's anthropic principle -
> Darwin's original sin
> 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 21:01:54 2009

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