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

From: Schwarzwald <schwarzwald@gmail.com>
Date: Wed May 13 2009 - 01:54:05 EDT

Heya Cameron,

I don't think we're disagreeing very much at all. There seems to be some
communication breakdown, and I'm trying to pinpoint it and air it. In my
years of watching the ID debate, I've become convinced that a whole lot of
trouble is caused by slippery definitions (That 'evolution' means different
things to different people. 'Neo-darwinism', same. etc.)

You reference Dawkins giving an example of a "neo-darwinian program".
Dembski's paper (more about that later in this post) argues that such
simulations aren't actually demonstrating evolution free of teleology, and
that teleology/outside information is 'snuck in through the back door'. I
don't deny or affirm Dembski's reasoning, but my own resply would be
different.

You say that "Dawkins himself, or whoever programmed his evolutionary
software, could not possibly predict what forms would evolve."

My first response would be to point out that, whatever Dawkins may be hoping
to prove with his program, said program was "intelligently designed". I
don't doubt that Dawkins and his programmer have no idea what specific
figure is going to show up on the screen after 1500 mutations. But the
programmer is going to be aware of the parameters of his program, and from
those parameters alone he can deduce quite a lot about what could possibly
show up. So let's be very careful about describing just how ignorant Dawkins
and his programmer are about their program's results: It is not total
ignorance. If I create a program where every time I press enter it rolls 4
6-sided dice, I may be willfully ignorant of what specific numbers are going
to turn up on roll 100. But I can still tell you quite a lot about the
result (The total will not be less than four, or greater than 24, etc.)
Saying the result is "would give every impression of design, but ... were in
fact produced by stochastic processes" is misleading, especially in a case
where we know the stochastic processes and the program itself was designed.

Second, keep in mind that any ignorance on the part of either Dawkins or
(more particularly) his programmer is willful. Imagine Dawkins hired a lazy,
or mischievous programmer: The program is coded such that pressing space
'mutates' the drawing on screen. Dawkins presses space a few times, and each
time the drawing jumbles a little bit more. Satisfied, he puts it online to
demonstrate random evolution in action - only to be informed by users that
there's a problem. The program doesn't mutate anything, and there's no
randomness involved. His programmer just arranged 100 hastily drawn MSPaint
pictures in a row, and pressing space takes you through them sequentially
until finally at press 101 it loops back to picture 1. What looked like (at
least semi-)random, stochastic processes in action was just a static and
predictable series. There's a million other ways for a programmer to 'figure
out' what will happen in a program if they so choose, or similar -
intermittently switch between more fully stochastic and more predictable
algorithms (say, for every 5 'random' mutations, 1 'definite' mutation shows
up), figure out the random seed, etc. But just as important, it demonstrates
how what 'looks random and undesigned' also can, in fact, actually be
designed.

Third, just like with SJ Gould talking about what would happen if we
'rewound and reran' evolution, Dawkins' analogy doesn't achieve what he
wants it to. Forget that there is no way to make a computer simulation that
is not, by its nature, utterly laden with "intelligent design" no matter
what the programmers may be willfully ignorant about. There is no way to
demonstrate that evolution did not need a designer to achieve whatever it
did, much less that evolution itself is free of teleology. If a designer
exists and guided evolution either in a front-loading or intervening sense -
certainly if that designer is God - then there is design in our universe.
Keep in mind that Dawkins or anyone else being able to conceive of a
universe where big bangs, origins of life, evolution and minds 'just happen'
with no bedrock guidance or intelligence does not concern me, anymore than
last-Thursdayism or solipsism concerns me. So long as they concede the
distinction between philosophy and science, I'm satisfied.

Fourth, and this is more as an off-topic aside... computer simulations are
ultimately poisonous to those who take Dawkins' metaphysical position. Any
computer model of evolution is a model of an intelligent designer
instantiating a design plan.

On the subject of a Creator - I understand your point about what a Creator
would use to achieve an end. My response is that there's more than one way
to achieve such ends, even if there really is some amount of 'true
randomness' in play in His creation. And for the record, I'm not saying
"true randomness" exists - I don't believe that, personally. I only am
pointing out that the presence of some amount of such randomness does not
rule out design. Not by a longshot.

I will absolutely agree with you that no such Creator would use *the entire
metaphysical package* that you say constitutes "real" neo-darwinism. But I
don't think most TEs defend 'that' kind of neo-darwinism. It's my estimation
that most of them simply think that science has certain limited, that
neo-darwinism provides some helpful understanding of the mechanisms in play
in evolution, and that 'ultimately' they are known and guided by God. (Maybe
through quantum interference. Maybe through front loading. Maybe through
other methods.) They would judge those speculations to be philosophy and
theology - but they would also judge the conclusions of Coyne, Dawkins, and
others to be philosophy and theology *even if Darwin himself insisted his
theory required such metaphysical baggage*. Again, if that is the case, then
so much the worse for Darwin.

You in the past have insisted (I think) that neo-/darwinism cannot be
separated from its metaphysics, and that if you take out the metaphysics
(the stance against divine intervention, against teleology, etc) that you're
not really left with the same theory anymore. Honestly, I'm tempted to agree
with you. But at the same time I think it's a mistake to focus too much on
the specific terms used - what's more important is stressing what is science
and what is not. If neo-darwinism comes to be popularly regarded as a
strictly scientific theory about mechanisms detached from metaphysical
stances about teleology or design, I will be satisfied. Wouldn't you?

As for why TEs let off neo-Darwinism so lightly, I agree that most do. I'd
further agree that even in the strictly scientific realm, neo-Darwinism is
far from proven, and we need to understand far more about evolution and the
development of life than we currently do before we start acting as if
everything is ultimately understood and what's left is ferreting out some
meager details. I can't speak for all TEs, but I think some problems are
that A) Many do not want to give ammunition to YECs or those with a similar
mindset who argue that, if macro-evolution (with any qualifications) or
darwinism (however modified our understanding of it may be) is true, then
God does not exist, and B) They more generally don't want to give the
impression that faith or belief in God stands or falls based on science,
precisely because they recognize the limits of science. I'll point out that
thomists/aristotileans like Francis Beckwith and Edward Feser also, despite
obvious sympathies, reject ID because they think that the 'ground rules'
that ID engages in is flawed from the start, and that they believe they have
independent reasons to believe in God and design which makes the evolution
question essentially moot.

But certainly I'd agree that the current climate for discussing NDE is, to
put it mildly, inhospitable - and wrongly so. To me, something is wrong when
questioning or pointing out blind spots or (even potential) problems in the
dominant paradigm leads to such a frantic response, especially in an
intellectual area that is supposed to be above such things. I notice Mike
Gene recently highlighted the complaints that came about with an OoL paper
that sought to explain the OoL via the multiverse. Responses that amount to
"We don't want to say that because it will just encourage ID proponents!"
make me wonder just how much self-proclaimed science-lovers 'really' care
about science.

As for Dembski, I don't want to give the wrong impression. Dembski made
clear it that he does not himself accept darwinian evolution in the same
thread that his paper appeared. But he did assume it to be true for the
purposes of his paper.

The paper: http://evoinfo.org/Publications/ConsInfo_NoN.pdf

The quote I reference: "This paper proves three conservation of information
theorems:
a function-theoretic, a measure-theoretic, and a fitness-theoretic version.
These are
representative of conservation of information theorems in general. Such
theorems
provide the theoretical underpinnings for the Law of Conservation of
Information.
Though not denying Darwinian evolution or even limiting its role in the
history of
life, the Law of Conservation of Information shows that Darwinian evolution
is
inherently teleological. Moreover, it shows that this teleology can be
measured in
precise information-theoretic terms."

As for 'darwinism' being the target rather than 'naturalism', I'll only say
that "naturalism" is such a slippery word that to me, it hardly means
anything anymore. David Chalmers is a naturalist despite rejecting
materialism explicitly. Nick Bostrom is a naturalist despite suggesting it's
very possible that we are all living in a computer simulation (and therefore
a designed universe.) Typically when I encounter someone talking about
"naturalism" they seem to be using the word to rule out the reality of
teleology or a designer/God.

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Received on Wed May 13 01:54:31 2009

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