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

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Wed May 13 2009 - 12:35:01 EDT

Very good, Schwarzwald. I understand you better now.

Our communications problem sprang from using the "computer program" analogy in the first place. I granted it, for the sake of argument, trying to show how a "neo-Darwinian" program would look different from a "creation" program. But, as you say, a "program", by its very nature, is *designed*. So, whether the programmer is aware of what will happen 1500 steps later or not, there is a determinism built into it.

Of course, Dawkins was using the computer analogy to make a rough point about the unpredictability of large-scale results when small "random" steps are added one by one. He doesn't really mean that nature is like a giant computer program. It can't be, because for him there is no programmer. So for Dawkins, the computer simulations are useful, but are ultimately still too deterministic to be an exact parallel to real biological evolution. (For Denton, on the other hand, the idea of nature as a giant computer program -- whose output is man -- is very close to an accurate description. But Denton is explicitly anti-Darwinian.)

On the question whether "true randomness" exists: like you, I am not sure that I believe that it does. However, *if* true randomness does exist, then certainly it would impossible for even God (as maker, I mean, not as Boethian dweller-in-eternity) to predict what evolution would produce. Here's why. Suppose God wanted the universe to be able to surprise him, so he put into it a capacity for *true* randomness, i.e., gave it properties such that, every now and then, an "effect" (misnamed) would appear which had no relation to a previous "cause" (misnamed). Now if we grant for the sake of argument that God could create a universe that would surprise him in this way, God couldn't in the same breath demand that the universe produce man at such-and-such a time and place. If he *really*, *honestly* wants a surprising universe, he has to be willing to accept the possibility that man might emerge at another time, another place, or not at all; and if he *really*, *honestly* wants a man to emerge at the exact time and place specified, then he can't allow true randomness. Why? It's easy to see. A missile launched to hit a target a thousand miles away, if off by even the tiniest fraction of a degree at the beginning of its course (or if knocked off even the tiniest fraction of a degree while on course) will miss its target by many miles. Over four billion years of evolution intended to produce life as we know it, thousands of *truly* random events would take life down all kinds of strange courses other than the one it actually took. One crucial missing mutation, and there are no vertebrates, for example. Indeed, one crucial missing chemical change, and life doesn't get started at all. So God can't ask the universe to surprise him and to fulfill his exact command simultaneously. Not even God can will X and the contrary of X at the same time.

(And yes, you can argue that God knows what will happen in advance because he lives in eternity, not time, but God is more than just a timeless eternal God in Christianity; he's an active Creator-God, and in his timeless eternity he indeed knows what will happen, but what will happen, will happen precisely because of what God did in his role as active Creator-God. His timeless knowledge must match his creative actions. So if he creates a universe capable of real, ultimate randomness, as opposed to a rigid deterministic, billiard-ball universe, then the outcome will be different, and in his eternity he will see something different. So my argument doesn't restrict God's future knowledge, but merely notes that his future knowledge is directly connected with the properties he gives to nature in creation.)

You give what appears to me a more modest version of TE than I have seen here and elsewhere. If all that TE claimed were that Darwinian and other stochastic mechanisms explain *some* of what happens in macroevolution, there would be no fight between ID and TE people. It is TE's firm insistence on a stochastic form of "naturalism" from start to finish that implies that Darwinian and other stochastic mechanisms must be exhaustively competent to explain what we see. And yes, I know that the odd person here has suggested that maybe life needed a miraculous kick-start, and maybe in the case of man there was some non-naturalistic "twigging", but that isn't the general "party line" on this site or among TEs; the party line is that *any* violation of "naturalism" in science will undermine the whole structure of modern knowledge, and is fundamentalist "miracle-mongering". On this site, interventions in nature are allowed if they are performed by Jesus (and not even, apparently, all of those), and they are allowed in some spots in the Old Testament (though apparently in most cases those interventions are fictional or hyperbolic); but outside of the Biblical record, to accept "intervention" is to be accused of being anti-science. So the picture of the universe portrayed here (generally speaking) is that it exhibits a consistent naturalism from the Big Bang to the present, with this one odd little island of supernaturalism, limited to a couple of thousand years in the history of one people, the Israelites. So, while I respect your attempt to soften the edges of TE and make and ID/TE rapprochement possible (which is essentially what I am trying to do), the edge you are trying to soften is frequently rigidly hard. There is a kind of religion of stochastic naturalism among many TEs.

On Dembski's paper: I can't tell what's going on from the short summary you give, but it looks as if he ends up saying that Darwinian mechanisms aren't ultimately "chance", for he says that NDE is "inherently teleological". I have no idea why Dembski would say this, but in any case it shows that he maintains the ID denial of "chance". Beyond that I cannot interpret his remarks.

About Beckwith: I only very recently became aware of his critique of ID to which you are referring, and I want to investigate it further. From what I was able to discern from his remarks, he believes that ID, in its critique of Darwinism, gets sucked into the same modern ontology and epistemology that it is criticizing. And he may be right. Beckwith recently converted to Catholicism and seems to have embraced a pre-modern ontology and epistemology -- which is fine with me! But I must point out that TEs accept the same modern ontology and epistemology that he is criticizing. And this is not surprising. Though it is true that there is the odd TE like Ken Miller who is Catholic, most TEs are Protestant of one sort or another, and Protestantism is very much tied up with modern ontology and epistemology. (I can't defend that large scholarly proposition here, but there are good grounds in the history of ideas for saying this -- the line from late Scholastic nominalism and voluntarism through to Protestantism, the attack on final causation not just in "physics" narrowly conceived but as a general category of analysis, the increasing distaste of Protestantism for Greek thinking generally, the steady desacralization of nature in Protestant culture, etc.) So it may be that Beckwith is pointing to a way out of the morass, and has something to teach ID people. But if so, he has something to teach TEs as well.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Schwarzwald
  Sent: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 1:54 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Because of us - Steve Fuller's anthropic principle - Darwin's original sin

  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:

  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 12:36:16 2009

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