From: Chris Cogan (ccogan@sfo.com)
Date: Wed Jan 12 2000 - 17:48:39 EST

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    Until some sort of supporting evidence is found for the existence of a
    designer for life on Earth, I reject all design theories, especially the
    non-naturalistic ones (since, by the Principle of Naturalistic Sufficiency,
    for any such theory, a naturalistic equivalent is available by merely
    "tweaking" the non-naturalistic one).

    But, *if* we suppose that there is a non-naturalistic designer for life,
    shouldn't we at least show *some* respect for Occam's Razor?

    Why, yes, we should. Thanks for reminding us.

    Microgod came into existence about four billion years ago. He *is*
    non-naturalistic, but he is not the creator of the Universe or anything like
    that. He is more like a common household ghost, who can apply, on a good
    day, as much as on billionth of an ounce of physical force to ordinary
    matter, but no more. He does have one other remarkable ability: He can "see"
    and interact with individual atoms. Thus, if he wishes, he can force an atom
    of iron to split, or he can join helium and neon atoms into a "molecule" (a
    molecule that will instantly pop apart once he lets go of it, of course),
    and he can cause molecules to behave in ways that they would not normally

    He is as slow as we are in terms of mental processes, but he can use his
    nano-ounce force to inhibit chemical reactions and bring them down to a
    speed at which he can follow and manipulate them. Thus, if a genome is
    replicating, he can temporarily put the process into a kind of
    semi-suspended animation which gives him the time to watch what's going on
    and to interfere in it.

    About 3.8 billion years ago, he discovered self-replicating molecules, and
    began playing with them. Whether he actually created them from his knowledge
    of chemistry or merely noticed some occurring naturally, we don't know. But
    he did begin experimenting around with them, and found that some precursors
    to RNA and DNA had some interesting properties, so he began spending nearly
    all of his study time fiddling with nucleotides and such. Eventually, he
    managed to bully some molecules into being not only self-reproducing (in a
    suitable environment) but also metabolic. They would take energy from their
    environment and use it actively in the process of sustaining their own
    existence and in reproducing.

    The rest is history.

    No, just kidding.

    What he did at this point is a multi-billion-year project to populate the
    Earth. Mostly, he just let evolution take its course. But (we may suppose,
    for the purposes of this story), there was a problem. Evolution did not seem
    to go anywhere. Why? Because genetic reproduction *never* increased genetic
    information. He considered this to be *very* odd, since by the laws of
    chemistry that he had worked out, it was not *possible* for a really large
    number of replications to take place without *some* increases in
    information, given the kind of semi-chaotic environments replication was
    occurring in, and given the fact that a *vast* range of *other* chemical
    reactions *definitely* increased information.

    He did not understand this *very* peculiar limitation, but, never one to be
    prevented from having fun, he decided to merely step in once in a while and
    force a new and otherwise non-occurring genome to be created, by applying
    his nano-ounce force at the appropriate times to change genetic structures.
    Of course, as more and more ecological niches opened up, he had to do this
    more and more often. In fact, by the year 1900, he had performed this kind
    of intervention at least a few billion times, in order to make
    "macroevolution" occur. Because of the interesting results that come from
    this kind of intervention, he never really tires of doing it, though he does
    sometimes wish that Darwin and the neo-evolutionists were right, that
    macroevolution would occur without intervention. It would make for a more
    nearly "pure" experiment. Ah, well. Such is the life of a microgod.

    The End


    Here we have a designer (a non-naturalistic one, at that) who is responsible
    for all life on Earth, but who has *no* other major attributes that most ID
    theorists would want to attribute to their designer. This "microgod" is
    intended to be the minimum non-naturalistic "designer" that would meet
    *all* of the logically relevant requirements of ID theory. That is, even if
    we *grant* that there is a non-naturalistic designer, the facts claimed by
    ID theory people do not require *anything* beyond this sort of microgod.

    Put another way, we have two theories, one involving God or something very
    much like God, and one involving a being who, at best, can exert only one
    billionth of an ounce of force, and yet, the microgod theory does
    *everything* required by design theorists.

    --With one marginal exception. Some design theorists want a designer not
    only for *life*, but for the Universe as a whole, which they claim is
    somehow "fine-tuned" for life such as ours, even though life such as ours
    appears to occupy a portion of the Universe that is so small in percentage
    terms as to be effectively zero, and even though even much of our own planet
    (i.e., the core, for example) is inhospitable to any life we know of -- and
    most of the rest of the Universe is also inhospitable to life as we know it.
    Most of the volume of the Universe is taken up by nearly empty space,
    equaling many billions of times the mass of all *possible* planets that
    could support life as we know it.

    But, even here, we need extend our microgod only very slightly, to interfere
    at the Big Bang in such a way as to produce our Universe rather than some
    other universe that would not support life as we know it (we might want to
    grant the microgod a bit more power in this case, though we have no idea
    whether any increase would be needed in order for a microgod to be able to
    achieve the desired result (at least once in a while).

    As I said earlier, part of the point is to show that even a non-naturalistic
    designer need not trample over Occam's Razor with the total abandon as does
    the usual "Intelligent Designer."

    Because the microgod does what you claim is required, and because I'm sure
    all ID folks seek to adhere to Occam's Razor, I *do* expect all ID advocates
    on this list to adopt him as their "official" intelligent designer, rather
    than continuing to posit variations on the Christian God, etc.

    Of course, from *my* point of view, Occam's Razor would be better served by
    positing a *naturalistic* designer who, from time to time, has interfered in
    the chemical goings-on on Earth first to create life and then to introduce
    new genomes that would not otherwise have occurred. How did this
    naturalistic designer come to be? Easy: He evolved in another part of the
    Universe where conditions were *naturally* suitable to macroevolution (his
    "genes" are made of a completely different set of elements, and are arranged
    in a physically branching structure instead of a single long strand as ours
    are, with the result that macroevolution occurs rather easily in his type of

    But, of course (again), from *my* point of view, Occam's Razor would be
    better served by not positing a designer *at all* until some evidence for
    one is found. We *know* that genetic information *is* sometimes increased
    during replication, and we *know* that organisms that do not have the right
    physical or behavior traits for their environment get culled out. We also
    *know* that self-replicating molecules (other than DNA) exist, and that
    there are many varieties of non-living structures that nevertheless manage
    to get themselves replicated (i.e., viruses). Thus, it does not take much
    thought to understand that a minimalist theory of the development of life on
    Earth would be a purely naturalistic evolutionary one, starting with
    autocatalytic molecules or autocatalytic sets of molecules and proceeding
    (by perhaps quite roundabout paths) to the teeming life we see around us

    The point here, of course, is that, unless some evidence arises to
    contradict it, naturalistic evolutionary theory is *still* the only theory
    that adheres closely to the stricture of Occam's Razor. The (thin) hope of
    the ID theorists is that naturalistic evolutionary theory is irremediably
    inadequate for some fact or facts that it must explain. Macroevolution,
    "irreducible complexity," and so on, are all attempts at finding some fact
    that inherently cannot in fact be handled by naturalistic evolutionary
    theory. Since there is no reason to believe that macroevolution must be
    anything more than cumulative strings of microevolution events, and since
    the alleged "irreducible complexity" only eliminates *one* narrow category
    of paths to such complex structures out of all the prospective paths that
    evolution has at its disposal, there is not yet any empirical observations
    that are known to contradict the empirical implications of evolutionary
    theory. The crucial factual claims of people like Phillip Johnson are
    empirically false (for example, despite his claims, we know that genetic
    information sometimes *does* increase during replication of the genome --
    this is a fact that does not in *any* way depend on evolutionary theory, but
    only on before-and-after examinations of genomes).

    The main *rationally* open issue of evolution is the exact nature of the
    variation process. How much variation is due to true mutations, and how much
    to normal variation of genetic material? How much generation of new genes
    occurs in sexual DNA recombination? Is there a strong element of
    self-organization, as Kauffman suggests? Are all successful genetic
    modifications very small (without necessarily implying that morphological or
    behavioral effects are equally small), as it appears that Dawkins believes?
    Are all genetic mutations and variations of the same size equally likely? If
    self-organization in a significant sense does occur, does it occur in ways
    that tend to be viable (at least initially), or are such self-organizations
    really no more than a kind of chemical "channeling" that might in fact
    significantly *conflict* with viability? From the point of view of
    information-encoding/computation theory, what are the methods genes use and
    in what combinations, and are there any that we know of that they don't use
    (and, if so, why)?

    Stephen Jones and others would like to make this fascinating area of study
    into a fundamental defect in evolutionary theory. Apparently, his view is
    that if we don't have *all* the answers, it's proof that we don't have *any*
    of the answers (i.e., that we can't claim that macroevolution occurs at all,
    for example). This is logically absurd, of course, but it is a major part of
    ID argument. Without it, Occam's Razor would have to hold sway and we would
    have to assume that macroevolution *does* occur until and unless we find
    some evidence that it does not. We would, of course, still want to know the
    details about how it occurs, but we would not be able to use this bit of
    ignorance as an excuse for positing the existence of an infinite "designer"
    from another dimension, as Jones and Johnson do. Jones and Johnson's
    hyper-enthusiastic and extremely wanton violations of Occam's Razor
    demonstrate that they are more interested in promoting their pre-conceived
    *religious* beliefs than they are in rational scientific enquiry. Otherwise,
    they would, at *worst*, settle for something like my "microgod."

    --Chris C

    Now is the time for all good people to come to.

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