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

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Tue May 12 2009 - 22:45:10 EDT

Hello again, Schwarzwald.

I'm not sure how far we are disagreeing here, but there are one or two points where we seem to be talking about different things.

I agree with you that in the Lemaitre example either statement would be theological and outside of the scope of modern science (given its self-restrictions).

I am confused by your discussion of the computer programmer, four aces, etc. I don't deny that a programmer could "rig" things so that four aces could turn up when desired, though everything else looked random. But that would either be disguised front-loading (which is not Darwinian), or would correspond to an interfering God, who lets Darwinian processes go on by themselves for a while, but every now and then jumps in with a miracle, to achieve results that Darwinian processes would not by themselves achieve. I was speaking of a *purely* neo-Darwinian program, where no such interference is allowed.

Dawkins gives an alleged example of such a program in *The Blind Watchmaker*. I'm not sure that Dawkins's program is not in subtle ways "rigged", but allegedly, anyway, his line figures "evolve" without any plan or goal, and eventually produce quite interesting, quite complex figures which in some respects look very much as if they were designed. By analogy, he claims, neo-Darwinian processes could produce new living forms, based entirely on stepwise modifications of old ones, which would give every impression of design, but which were in fact produced by stochastic processes. My point here is not to discuss the flaws in Dawkins's program, e.g., the huge difference between geometrical and biological modifications. Rather, my point is that Dawkins's argument rests on the fact that Dawkins himself, or whoever programmed his evolutionary software, could not possibly predict what forms would evolve. He could not say, for example, that after 1500 "mutations", the figure that looks a bit like a monkey would be guaranteed to evolve. Nothing in the original simple figures, or in the rules for "random" mutations built into the program, could guarantee that a monkey-like figure would appear at all, or, if it did, that it would appear after 300 mutations rather than after 1,000,000 mutations. Dawkins conceives of biological evolution on this analogy, and that means that the appearance of man was fortuitous, not guaranteed.

The application I am making is this: a Creator who was determined that man should appear exactly 12 billion years after the Big Bang, on the third planet of the star Sol, in the Milky Way galaxy, would never be so foolish as to employ a neo-Darwinian "program" to achieve such an end. He would instead use a "rigged", i.e., a front-loaded program, to guarantee both the result and the timing. (Would you buy a set of "night-light" timers to guard your house while away on vacation, if the manufacturer would guarantee you only that the lights would *probably* come on *sometime*, but not necessarily during the time you were away on vacation, and not necessarily even at night? Or a microwave which might never turn on, or which might take three hours to cook your meal? I think you would prefer appliances that guaranteed the desired output, i.e., the exact timing, by an essentially "front-loaded" process.)

You wrote:

"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."
I agree with you that Coyne's science is not going to prove his metaphysics. ID has no difference with TE over that point. But I was making a different point entirely, i.e., that most of the "proved" results of Darwinian evolutionary theory are not proved at all -- unless you assume Coyne's wholly naturalistic metaphysics. Take away the assumed metaphysical basis, and neo-Darwinism's "proofs" are limited to microevolutionary mechanisms. The rest is a gratuitous extension from the micro to the macro. Any biological theory that claims to be hard science, as opposed to speculation, cannot justify this gratuitous extension. It must prove that the macroevolutionary changes can be accomplished by the putative mechanisms. Neo-Darwinism has not come through on this. I have yet to see a single demonstrated example. And that's why I don't understand why TE people give neo-Darwinism an uncritical pass on this. Would TEs, in their own sciences (physics, meteorology, or whatever sciences are represented by the TEs here), give a pass to theories which provided as few of the fussy details as neo-Darwinism has? Why is neo-Darwinism let off so lightly? It's like giving someone a driver's test and never making him do the parallel parking or make any left turns or any lane changes.

Finally, I think there is something wrong with this statement:

(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.)

I would be *very* surprised if Dembski said exactly this. Are you sure that he didn't say "fully *naturalistic* mechanisms"? He has definitely conceded that before. But "fully *Darwinist*"? I don't believe he ever said that. If he ever said that, he gave away the whole ID ball game. ID's case is not against "naturalism", but against "chance". "Naturalism" is compatible with intelligent design; "chance" (as the main mechanism, anyway) is not. Put another way: "Darwinism" is a subset of "naturalism" -- a subset in which chance and necessity determine everything. Other forms of naturalism, e.g., where design and necessity determine everything, are not ruled out of bounds by ID. And design can be combined with necessity in various ways without violating "naturalism", as the cases of Aristotle and Denton show.

(P.S. I am told that in early ID writings, "naturalism" was cast as the enemy, and of course in YEC writings "naturalism" is cast as the enemy, and perhaps many people here still have this in mind when they think of ID. But Behe and Dembski and others have in the last few years been very clear that naturalism can be incorporated into an ID framework. Of course, the creator of the natural laws themselves must be supernatural; but on the day-to-day level of science, even "origins science", naturalism could reign supreme, and ID could still be a valid inference. Man could have been front-loaded at the time of the Big Bang, with nary a miracle in between then and now.)


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Schwarzwald
  Sent: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 8:59 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Because of us - Steve Fuller's anthropic principle - Darwin's original sin


  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 now.

  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.

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Received on Tue May 12 22:46:58 2009

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