Home » The Design of Life » Debates in evolution: What if the tape of life were replayed? Would humans result?

Debates in evolution: What if the tape of life were replayed? Would humans result?

Stephen Jay Gould, the great American paleontologist, liked to say – particularly in A Wonderful Life, that if the tape of evolution were replayed a million times, a species like ours would not necessarily evolve. He made this point in, and a debate rages to this day about whether he meant chance, as Daniel Dennett claims, or contingency, as Michael Shermer claims.

Biochemist Michael Denton of the University of Otago in New Zealand has an interesting take on the question in Nature’s Destiny:

Go here for more.

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22 Responses to Debates in evolution: What if the tape of life were replayed? Would humans result?

  1. “Stephen Jay Gould, the great American paleontologist, liked to say – particularly in A Wonderful Life, that if the tape of evolution were replayed a million times, a species like ours would not necessarily evolve.”

    …but The Intelligence would still be the same. So it may not be a question of “if” homo sapiens would or could come about again, but a question of “when” and “where” in time and space.

    The real question is:
    Are homo sapiens the inevitable result of a purposeful intelligent expression (design)?
    Judging from the ability for life to inhabit every diverse niche, I would say “Yes”.

  2. It depends on the meaning of “chance”, a term whose exact meaning has been debated at least since Aristotle.

    “Chance” could mean the occurrence of an event which could just as well not have happened, but did, yet, once having happened, sets in motion a chain of events. In that case, Gould would be right: Mutation A, which set in motion the changes which ultimately produced mammals, might never have happened, and therefore mammals might never have been produced, or might have been produced later or earlier, by a chain of events beginning with Mutation B or C, and even then the exact types of mammals that emerged might have been different, because they were emerging in different environments and therefore would have been subject to different selective pressures.

    “Chance”, on the other hand, might be a term which merely covers up our ignorance of causes. It might be that perfectly mathematical mind with infinite computational speed could predict every event from the Big Bang forward, to the precise instant, including the emergence of life and of man, but that our finite human capacities cause us to attribute many of the key evolutionary events — “random mutations” as we call them — to “chance”. “Chance” in this meaning does not really exist; it is only the human interpretation of a deeper necessity. In that case, Gould would be wrong: life would have had to evolve exactly the way it did, when it did, to the last detail.

    Thus, unless Gould gives a clear account of the relationship between “chance” and “necessity”, and whether only one of these, or both of these, actually operate as causes in nature, his statement is intellectually arbitrary, and he has no right to affirm it.

    I note, however, that precisely if Gould is right, then evolution cannot be predicted as a mathematically necessary outcome of the original condition of the universe, and therefore cannot be “proved” in the way that theories are “proved” in mathematical physics. His version of evolution is decisively a “historical” theory, depending completely on contingent events, and contingent events can only be verified by historical means. In the case of evolutionary events, their remoteness in time and the lack of any direct evidence about their causes (i.e., evidence from intact DNA hundreds of millions of years old) means that neither the fact of these ancient contingent events, nor the Darwinian mechanisms behind them, can ever be verified. Darwinism thus becomes at best a “likely story” devised to explain the apparent fact of common descent. In my view, it has no higher scientific status than that.

  3. why was there only one origin of life at the beginning and not multiple origins of life throughout the history of the planet if there was a deterministic process?

  4. Good post #2 Timaeus. The short form goes like this: if the universe is deterministic then yes, else no.

    If the universe is deterministic, then everything that exists at present was frontloaded from the first moment of spacetime, which naturally leads to the question of what made it so. The universe would had to have been frontloaded with intelligence by something far more intelligent than humans.

    If the universe, at any level, is truly non-deterministic then we have given up on a rational universe or meta-universe. Our own rationality does not scale.

    We have reached the end of science and reason either way.

  5. Timaeus wrote,

    “His version of evolution is decisively a “historical” theory, depending completely on contingent events, and contingent events can only be verified by historical means. …

    In my view, it has no higher scientific status than that.”

    Precisely! It is not a scientific theory at all. It is an historical theory.

  6. Thanks, mike1962.

    On your 3rd paragraph: I agree with you about the opposition betweeen rationality and non-determinism. Miller thinks that he can put together the best of both, in order to hang onto both materialist Darwinism and a Creator. He thinks that a spot of indeterminism in the right place can preserve some role for God, while still keeping the universe basically run by a rational (albeit purely mechanical) necessity in which natural law is never broken. And naturally he finds this indeterminist ‘freedom’ in the “quantum” world, where every physics-untrained biologist, psychologist, philosopher, theologian, and poet finds it these days. Just wave the word ‘quantum’ around, and you can explain God’s interaction with nature, mind’s interaction with body, the source of free will, and whatever else you like. It’s the magic incantation that allows you to explain whatever happens (when you don’t have a clue about the cause) while sounding scientific and up-to-date.

    In fact quantum theory explains absolutely nothing about biological evolution, and those who try to make it do so (unfortunately including some on the ID side) are committing a gross category error. Quantum effects occur at a level much lower than that of cellular biochemistry. Mutations aren’t caused by quantum effects, but by larger-scale molecule-to-molecule interactions, in which quantum effects are negligible.

    To seek to use quantum physics to reconcile God and materialist Darwinism, by giving God a “secret passage” into the natural world, which can’t be detected by our instruments, is to grasp at straws. The reason for believing in free will, or the influence of mind on matter, or the creative capacity of God to influence matter, does not come from the latest fashions in physics (which are unreliable foundations for theology because they are always tentative). It comes from our introspective understanding of what we are doing when we think and act. We know ourselves to be ensouled, rational beings. This is a metaphysical perception of reality, not a scientific one, but it is nonetheless wholly rational. A Catholic like Miller ought to know this, but, having voluntarily cut himself off from the Platonist-Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition of Catholic thought in favour of trendy flirtations with quantum theory and the self-contradictions of process theology, he doesn’t.

    The sooner our side is clear about this, the sooner we can firmly challenge the fence-sitting Christian Darwinists like Miller, who, however sincere their personal faith may be, can’t make up their minds on the theoretical level whether they are pure materialists or accept the cosmic role of mind. So let’s erase the weasel-words “quantum” and “indeterminacy” from our vocabulary; they just serve as fig leaves to cover the theoretical nakedness of the Millers of the world. Let’s talk instead about how information can be imparted to matter when no intelligence is involved. Let’s ask Miller for examples of that. Did all that information get into the DNA due to intelligence, or due to a mindless accidental rearrangement of atoms which might just as easily not have occurred? Dawkins and Behe have given opposing, but honest and theoretically clear, answers to that question. Miller has offered one which is, if not actually dishonest, at least theoretically incoherent.

    (It is, of course that theoretical inconsistency which made Miller perfect as a plaintiff’s witness at the Dover trial; what was needed was someone whose testimony could conceal the fundamental tension between Darwinism, which is inherently Lucretian, and theistic religion, which is in broad terms inherently Platonist. Dawkins would have been theoretically clearer, but would have blown the case for the plaintiffs if he said what he really thought, i.e., that Darwinism does favour atheism and is therefore not religiously neutral.)

  7. There is little left to chance when sophisticated software programs are involved.

  8. I find Gould’s answer to be troubling. Any intellectually honest Darwinist would have to say that if the tape of evolution were replayed, there is such a vanishingly small chance that humans would re-emerge as to be negligible. The answer would have to be that humans would NOT reappear. Since evolution requires random mutations, there is no assurance that any of those mutations would happen again at the right time for humans to appear. And, with the sheer amount necessary for earlier species to arise to give way for humans to arise, with more random mutations happening in the meantime, it is preposterous to think that humans would come about if the materialists are right. They have no recourse but to admit that humans are a complete accident (nihilistic idea that it is).

    So, for Gould to say that humans would “not necessarily” evolve, he’s either making a rather silly semantic word game out of “necessity” or he’s being dishonest.

  9. The question seems a little preposterous to me in the first place given that nobody has come close to demonstration that humans are the result of blind variation + natural selection.

  10. I agree with professorsmith (post 8) if by “random” one means that there exist radically contingent events, i.e., events in which a new chain of causation is predicated upon a chance event which was itself uncaused by any law or regularity. Since by definition such random or chance events appear arbitrarily, there is no guarantee that the tape would play the same way twice; in fact it is very unlikely, almost impossible, that it would.

    However, I was raising the question whether there is really such a thing as a chance event or a random mutation. What might appear random to our eyes (e.g., by a lucky freak, a cosmic ray hits a DNA strand and alters it in some small way, giving the new animal a survival advantage), might actually be a necesssary event from a materialistic-mechanistic point of view, its determination having been established at the time of the Big Bang. If the universe is like that — one big web of necessity following like clockwork from the Big Bang — then turning the tape back to any arbitrary point in the past, and running it again forward, would make no difference. The tape would play exactly the same. And I mean EXACTLY the same, down to the precise appearance of life and dinosaurs and Zinjanthropus, on exactly our planet earth.

    Of course, many scientists reject this notion of necessity. They claim that quantum mechanics has shown that there is radical contingency in the universe. My answer to that is: (a) theories in physics are always changing, and it may be that 50 years from now, apparent quantum “indeterminacy” will be shown to be governed by laws too subtle for us to currently detect; (b) even if quantum effects are genuinely ungoverned by law, the subatomic level at which these effects happen is incapable of reaching up to the level of higher-level phenomena, like the formation of an organic compound in a primitive ocean, or the life of a cell or of an organism.

    I may be wrong on this second point, but certainly I’ve never seen any clear exposition, at the level of popular science, for how quantum effects would alter everyday physical, chemical and biological events, such as the orbit of a planet, the formation of sugar molecules, or the heartbeat of a snail.

    To put it bluntly, who cares where exactly the electron is located in an atom? Quantum indeterminacy relates to that question. But wherever the electron is located, it has a charge of negative 1, and the chemical properties of the atom depend on that negative charge, not on the electron’s current position or velocity. The “indeterminate” electron of a hydrogen atom, wherever it is currently sitting in the atom, or however fast it is going, has zero freedom when brought into contact with a chlorine atom; assuming there are no interfering factors, and assuming the appropriate temperature, etc., the hydrogen atom’s electron MUST bind with the outer shell electrons of the chlorine. The hydrogen electron has no option.

    Quantum indeterminacy has nothing whatsoever to do with what human beings call freedom, and that is where Ken Miller (and unfortunately certain writers from our side) go wrong. I’m therefore unconvinced by any argument which tries to mitigate the harshness of necessity by an appeal to quantum theory. To me, if you want to assert that there is a freedom beyond necessity, you don’t need to engage in unproveable speculations about quantum indeterminism and free will; you simply have to look inside yourself. We know ourselves to be rational agents. And if one rational agent can exist, so can another. Therefore, the existence of a cosmic Mind cannot be ruled out. I accept the existence of such a Mind, and thus, for me, the world’s freedom from mechanical necessity proceeds from intelligence, not from random quantum events. Any Platonist or Aristotelian, or any Christian or Jew wise enough to formulate their theology in Platonic or Aristotelian terms, knows this. We have no need for the kind offers of help from the quantum physicists, and still less of any aid from the math-and-science-challenged philosophers and theologians who borrow ideas from the physicists without having the slightest understanding of what those ideas mean.

    To bring this back to Gould: if we rewound the tape, of course things could turn out differently, not for Gould’s reason, but because the universe is governed by a powerful and free Mind, and that Mind might well decide to order things in a new way the second time around.

  11. The first line of my post #10 above should read:

    “I agree with professorsmith, if by “random” one means…”

    I have no idea where the characters (post :-) came from. I didn’t enter them. Not that I object to smiling for professorsmith. For us Greek philosophers, after all, life is more akin to comedy than tragedy. :-)

  12. Timaeus:

    Your posts are exremely stimulating, and I warmly agree with many of the things you say, while partially disagreeing with at least one, rather important, which I will discuss in a minute.

    But first, the agreements:

    1) Miller: You say: “Dawkins and Behe have given opposing, but honest and theoretically clear, answers to that question. Miller has offered one which is, if not actually dishonest, at least theoretically incoherent”.

    I do like that! In the vast zoo of defenders of darwinism, Miller really has a special, and very sad place. But you have expressed the concept better than I ever could, and so I will not insist on that (although I would have probably leaned more towards the “dishonest” part…).

    2) Your comments on the double meaning of chance. Very clear and pertinent. I think that, in a totally deterministic conception, only the second meaning (imperfect knowledge of the variables involved) can be allowed. And yet, if the whole system is considered deterministic, but at the same time its origin is conceived as random and non teleological, Gould would be right in affirming what he affirms. In other words, in such a scenario, given the specific conditions at the big bang, everything else would be determined. But, at another big bang, conditions could be randomly different, and everything would be totally determined, but in a different way. I think these kind of resoning, although completely detached from any empirical reality, offers many reflections about the extreme consequences of dogmatic determinisn in science.

    3) On the improbable scientific status of darwinism, we obviously agree.

    4) You say “The reason for believing in free will, or the influence of mind on matter, or the creative capacity of God to influence matter, does not come from the latest fashions in physics (which are unreliable foundations for theology because they are always tentative). It comes from our introspective understanding of what we are doing when we think and act. We know ourselves to be ensouled, rational beings. This is a metaphysical perception of reality, not a scientific one, but it is nonetheless wholly rational”.

    I totally agree with you an all these points. Please, keep that in mind while reading my objections to other related aspects of your argument in the next point.

    5) And now, let’s discuss what I don’t agree with, that in reality are two things: the apparent “opposition betweeen rationality and non-determinism”, and the dismissal of the importance of quantum mechanics in this debate.

    Regarding the “irrationality” of non determinism, I don’t agree, but maybe I have not fully understood what you mean. For a series of reasons, some of which I will discuss immediately, I find a completely deterministic view of reality completely irrational, and a partially non deterministic one completely rational.

    But may be that becomes more clear as I discuss the part about quantum mechanics.

    First of all, I have found very funny tour reference to the omnipresence of quantum mechanics in every line of thought and explanation: you have a point there, it is true that quantum mechanics has partially become a fashion, and a very uncomfortable one, because for its same nature, it is very difficult to really understand it, unless you are a specifically trained physicist. (And, obviously, that is true first of all for me). But may be that you generalize too much, and I think that you are too quick in dismissing all debates about quantum mechanics and consciousness, or the genesis of biological information, as non pertinent.

    Let’s start with the consciousness/free will aspect. Here I would like to understand better what you think. I have already stated that I agree with you that “our introspective understanding” is our main source of information and inspiration about the proceedings of our soul/consciousness. That’s exactly what I believe. But yet, there must be some way, although difficult and tentative, to try to reconcile that information and inspiration with our scientific knowledge of the world.

    In other words, once we are certain that we have free will (and let’s suppose, I think correctly, from now on, that both you and me are certain of that), and given the general deterministic picture that classical physics uses (with great and admirable success) to describe many of the laws and events in oue universe, we have to face, in some way, to face the proble: if the universe contains many deterministic chains of events, including those in our bodies and brains, where is the connection with the free will in ous consciousness, and how can it work?. In other words, what we are looking for is an “interface”, a term that surely will be very familiar to all our friends programmers and engineers here.

    The problem is that classical mechanichs, with all its remarkable achievements, is not very good as an interface with free entities. Indeed, to express your freedom in the world of classical mechanics, you have to “break” the chain of cause and effect, and that “breaking” should be observable at some level. Which could bring us to some diffivulties, because such “breaks” are usually not observed (more on that in a moment).

    Quantum mechanics, instead, is more comfortable as a level of interface, because it nurtures ijn itself the apparent mystery of the wave function collapse, and of its statistical behaviour. For brevity, I will not deal further on that aspect here. If it does not annoy you too much, you could read my recent posts at the other thread “The upside of Amazon Manipulation” (#61 and 65), where I deal more in detail with this point. Also, I think Eccles and Penrose have elaborated in very interesting ways on the possible role of quantum mechanics in neuronal functioning. One needs not agree with their views, but I think that they are certainly interesting and competent thinkers in this field, and what they say is not certainly out of fashion or superficiality.

    So, let’s go to evolution and DNA information genesis. Here you give a specific and pertinent objection, and I would like to discuss it. You say:

    “In fact quantum theory explains absolutely nothing about biological evolution, and those who try to make it do so (unfortunately including some on the ID side) are committing a gross category error. Quantum effects occur at a level much lower than that of cellular biochemistry. Mutations aren’t caused by quantum effects, but by larger-scale molecule-to-molecule interactions, in which quantum effects are negligible.”

    While yours is certainly a reasonable argument, I don’t think you are right here. First of all, it is not so easy to define where quantum effects end and classical physics begins. Molecule to molecule interactions critically depend on electronic orbital, which are quantum systems. Quantum effects have been described even at the macroscopic level, although in special systems. The problem is that why and where quantum mechanics “shifts” to classical mechanics is exactly one of the least understood points in modern physics, although everybody seems to have his own theories about that.

    Secondly, DNA is a very complex macromolecule, whose physical behaviour is still vastly non understood. And the biophysics of DNA is certainly extremely important in understanding its biochemical behaviour, including transcription regulation and other important functions. That concept is true also for other complex molecules, including proteins.

    The fact is that our biochemical understanding of the functioning of biological molecules is probably a gross approximation. Only at the biophysical level we could really begin to understand what is really taking place, but biophysics is still a baby science.

    Moreover, the causes of DNA mutations are vastly not understood. The main cause of mutation are probably errors in the copying procedure. They are ususally considered purely random events. But are they? And how can we know if quantum effects are relevant at that level?

    Besides, DNA errors are usually repaired. Some are not. Is that purely random? Is tha “always” random? Do quantum effects influence that? Are you sure you can rule that out?

    And so on. What I mean is, I don’t think you can so easily rule out the quntum level from biochemical processes, especially when those process are so complex and critical.

    Another aspect is that living systems are usually very far from equilibrium systems, which makes their description and understanding under classical chemical concepts extremely arduous. Again, understanding of the functioning of far from equilibrium systems is probably one of the new perspectives in biology and in biophysics. And that reminds us that we have no certainty that those systems really behave in a classical, purely deterministic way.

    I don’t mean here that quantum effects are the main, ot the ultimate answer, to all these problems. I really believe that we still have to discover a lot about natural laws, starting with physics. And probably, some of the answers which will allow to really understand, as much as it is possible, the interaction between consciousness and matter, will come from new knowledge, which we cannot really foresee now. But in the meantime, the quantum level is an interesting possibility, and I would not agree that it should be dismissed.

  13. The basic idea is that G-d would make some really tiny undetectable change that would be still consistent with the “laws” of physics and this would somehow cause a cascading “butterfly” effect to get the results He wanted instead of making one big crazy miracle. And of course this would be a matter of faith. Everything would be hidden and people would have a choice to have faith. Ken Miller actually wants to keep the faith. :)

  14. To gpuccio (post 12 above):

    Thank you for a very thoughtful reply. It shows an interest in what I’ve written, careful reading on your part, independent thinking, balanced judgement, and a polite, courteous tone. Your mode of argument and presentation ought to be the model for evolutionary debates, but unfortunately it is not. Partisan arguments and scrappy tone prevail, especially on the Darwinist side.

    Let me say that all of your objections are fair and reasonable. I did over-state the case against quantum indeterminism considerations, doubtless because the words “quantum” and “indeterminism” are abused daily, by writers of all philosophical and theological stripes. I’ve come to think of people who use the words as akin to the boy who cried “Wolf”, i.e., not to be listened to any more. But of course, as we know from the story, eventually a wolf really did come, so I’m duty-bound by intellectual honesty to admit that there may be a way in which quantum considerations can come into questions of cosmology and free will, ways that just haven’t been articulated very well yet (or have been articulated in books that I haven’t read).

    Let me say outright that I’m no expert on quantum physics. I think I’m fairly good at detecting questionable uses of quantum concepts by philosophers and theologians (and scientists wandering out of their expertise into Grand Speculations), but as for the science itself, I plead relative ignorance. I do know (from being taught Chemistry at university by a quantum chemist) that the original “uncertainty principle” of Heisenberg, however it was used later by Heisenberg and others in philosophical discourse, was at the beginning a very narrow and limited concept to deal with subatomic phenomena, and on that level I have no objection to it. I have to trust the physicists when they narrate the facts about indeterminacy, even if I don’t have to trust them when they philosophize about it.

    I agree with you entirely about the difficulty of joining a completely mechanistic account of nature with free will, and I understand why that problem has led some to grasp onto quantum indeterminacy as a possible arena of freedom, since that appears to be the only “opening” allowed by modern science.

    I cannot comment on the neurobiological side of things which you mention, and it may well be that in that area, tiny quantum fluctuations could make a difference relevant to free will. However, keep in mind that free will is of no use for moral or spiritual purposes if it means something only negative, i.e., only that our thoughts and will are not governed by mechanical necessity. To substitute random, jumpy, chancey, freak quantum motions for iron determinism is to jump from the frying pan into the fire. We are no more “free” if our thought or belief or will is determined by arbitrary flickerings of electrons within our neural system, than if we are governed by rigid electronic programming. Chaos is just as much the enemy of freedom as rigid necessity is. Freedom, if it is to be relevant to political, ethical and spiritual life, must in fact be the ability to choose a certain ordering (of externals or of one’s own soul) over against both necessity and chaos.

    I could say much more, but this will have to do for now. Allow me to add more later. Thank you again for an excellent post.

  15. To ari-freedom (post 13 above):

    Yes, I agree that this is what Miller is trying to do. The problem I find with it is twofold.

    First, there is no way to tell the difference in Miller’s scheme between a universe run entirely mechanistically (a la Dawkins) and one run by subtle invisible proddings of God. There is no empirical test of design, as you find in Behe.

    Second, if Miller genuinely believes that God is subtly involved, then he genuinely believes that the universe is different due to God’s indetectible proddings than it would be if it were run by aimless mechanical causes alone. In other words, he disagrees with Dawkins, Scott, etc., by allowing “supernatural causes” to affect the course of nature.

    He might retort that he keeps the supernatural causes out of “science”, and within the realm of “faith” only, but that is a dodge, because he is saying that he believes God influences nature, and that means that, all the methodological bickering about “science” aside, he OUGHT to see himself as closer to Behe than to Dawkins and Eugenie Scott. But he doesn’t. He seems to think it is more important to stress his “methodological atheism” than his “metaphysical theism”. I think this is partly out of professional vanity — he doesn’t want to be thought less of by his Darwinist colleagues. (And this doesn’t work, because Dawkins and the other hardliners have contempt for Christian biologists anyway.)

    Whatever his motive, it leads to schizophrenia, in which there are two different “natures”, the artificial construct studied in “science”, which excludes God from all causal involvement, even at the quantum level, and the real one that we live and breathe in, in which God is truly a causal agent, albeit invisibly, at the quantum level or by some other subtle means. We are asked to pretend that there is no conflict between these two “natures”. I dislike intellectual schizophrenia, and I prefer to get my metaphysics and my methodology on the same page, like Behe (and for that matter like Dawkins). And it seems to me that this desire for theoretical unity, as opposed to theoretical schizophrenia, is very Greek, and very much in keeping with my chosen persona.

  16. —–Timaeus writes, “We know ourselves to be ensouled, rational beings. This is a metaphysical perception of reality, not a scientific one, but it is nonetheless wholly rational. A Catholic like Miller ought to know this, but, having voluntarily cut himself off from the Platonist-Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition of Catholic thought in favour of trendy flirtations with quantum theory and the self-contradictions of process theology, he doesn’t.”

    —–and again, “The sooner our side is clear about this, the sooner we can firmly challenge the fence-sitting Christian Darwinists like Miller, who, however sincere their personal faith may be, can’t make up their minds on the theoretical level whether they are pure materialists or accept the cosmic role of mind. So let’s erase the weasel-words “quantum” and “indeterminacy” from our vocabulary; they just serve as fig leaves to cover the theoretical nakedness of the Millers of the world. Let’s talk instead about how information can be imparted to matter when no intelligence is involved. Let’s ask Miller for examples of that. Did all that information get into the DNA due to intelligence, or due to a mindless accidental rearrangement of atoms which might just as easily not have occurred? Dawkins and Behe have given opposing, but honest and theoretically clear, answers to that question. Miller has offered one which is, if not actually dishonest, at least theoretically incoherent.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Straddling the fence between materialist/ Darwinism and Intelligent Design, we find the ever popular, media friendly paragons of schizophrenia—the Christian/Darwinists. Like Miller, or maybe even because of Miller, they want their God and their Darwin too; but they want a quiet God and a loud Darwin. To believers they say, “Hey, I am a Christian.” leaving the convenient impression they believe in a purposeful, mindful creator. To the academy they say, “Don’t worry, I am first and foremost a Darwinist, so I really believe in a purposeless, mindless process that has no need of a creator. I you don’t believe me, just watch how I slander and smear the ID people.”

    Incredibly, the only thing they are consistent about is their double-mindedness. For them, any pair of contradictory statements can be reconciled. On the one hand, they believe God revealed himself in Scripture; on the other hand, they insist that God hid himself in nature. On the one hand, they reject design inference in principle; on the other hand, they find design inherent in the “evolutionary process.” On the one hand, they renounce the philosophy of metaphysical materialism; on the other hand, they practice it under the aegis of “methodological naturalism.” Be sure of one thing, though. If an atheist arguing for Darwin debates a Christian arguing for design, they will always go with the side that butters their bread.
    Not only does their duplicity betray the public trust, it retards scientific progress.. More to the point, these disingenuous hacks harm the ID movement 100 times more than Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens could ever hope to. There is just enough sugar in their confection to make young Christians swallow the poison whole and join the ranks of the anti-ID militants. Although I am a Catholic Christian myself, I do, nevertheless, find the radical atheist easier to bear. Spare me from the soul selling, split-the-difference, have-it-both-ways Christian.

  17. Timaeus I think part of the problem is that some people want a Kierkegaard leap to faith approach and ID is seen as a threat to a faith solely out of love.

    There is also the fear that if ID is used as the strongest reason for faith and if ID is later shown to be false, that people would lose faith completely. And theist darwinists would respond “look at what I do and I still believe.”

    The way I see it, if G-d really used evolution as a test of faith, He sure made the evidence hard to see.

  18. 18

    Timaeus,
    I wasn’t disagreeing with you in the least, just giving my answer to the OP. I see your point, but I find it incompatible to the current NDE, as I think most here do, including you based on your later comments, like this one:

    “Second, if Miller genuinely believes that God is subtly involved, then he genuinely believes that the universe is different due to God’s indetectible proddings than it would be if it were run by aimless mechanical causes alone. In other words, he disagrees with Dawkins, Scott, etc., by allowing “supernatural causes” to affect the course of nature.”

    Yes. For the theistic Darwinist, there’s simply no way to get there from here, so to speak. They want to say that evolution is wholly natural and also say that god intervened at times. It’s contradictory.

  19. Unified physics theory explains animals’ running, flying and swimming:

    The findings may have implications for understanding animal evolution, Marden said. One view of evolution holds that it is not a purely deterministic process; that history is full of chance and historical contingency. It is the idea purported by Steven Jay Gould and others that if you were to “rewind the tape” and run it again, evolution would proceed down a different path, Marden said.

    “Our finding that animal locomotion adheres to constructal theory tells us that — even though you couldn’t predict exactly what animals would look like if you started evolution over on earth, or it happened on another planet — with a given gravity and density of their tissues, the same basic patterns of their design would evolve again,” Marden said.

    That said in the anti-ID scenario the Earth would still need a few well-timed extinction-level-events in order for humans to appear- that is if dinos roam the new Earth (after the tape was rewound and played again).

  20. To ari-freedom:

    Excellent points. I’m not sure whether the theological motives you suggest really apply to Miller, because I haven’t made up my mind whether he’s offering his distinction between faith and science sincerely. But let’s leave him aside and take the more general questions you raise.

    I’ll start with the second. Yes, it’s true, if we made Christian faith (or any religious faith) DEPEND upon scientific or historical argument in some narrow way, then when, as often happens, a particular scientific or historical “truth” is shown to be false, the whole faith would totter and maybe even topple. But I see ID not as a “proof” of Christian faith, or even as a proof of the existence of God. I see it as strongly suggestive of the existence of a designer both powerful and intelligent. Its main value for religion, then, is to show those who have been brainwashed by various atheistic cosmologies and evolutionary theories that the case for atheism is not decisive, that the universe displays at least some features that strongly argue for a designer or a God. ID thus re-opens the case for belief in God, rather than proving God’s existence. It removes unnecessary and artificial barriers to faith. It makes it possible for belief in God to be “intellectually respectable” again (to use Dawkins’s phrase). However, this brings me to your first point.

    Does faith depend upon, or need “intellectual respectability”? I think that is where your reference to Kierkegaard comes in. Part of the problem is the ambiguity of the word “faith”. Do we mean by faith a personal attitude of commitment and loyalty to God, or do we mean by faith a set of doctrines that we intellectually accept about God? I admit fully that faith is no mere set of rational or philosophical propositions. It is a personal attitude, and one does not need ID or any other theory to adopt that attitude. At the same time, I think that a faith which is purely introspective, based merely on an inner dialogue between the self and God and is not inherently tied to a cosmology, risks degenerating into a psychology and thus becomes vulnerable to the usual reductinist explanations of psychologists. It also risks great immorality. Suicide bombers have great faith, and they have as great an inward certainty that God is speaking to them as does Billy Graham — but their cosmology and ethics are utterly wrong. That is why I, though a non-Catholic, take the side of Pope Benedict about the need for Christianity to be formulated in rational terms. Reason alone cannot produce faith (Kierkegaard is right about that), but faith without a rational metaphysical articulation is likely to become either a pleasant self-delusion or a destructive ethical doctrine.

    But I’m wandering into theology here. The main point is that ID, properly formulated, is not a surrogate theology, but an inference about design in nature, and, as such, is not something that even a Kierkegaardian Christian should fear. I presume that neither Kierkegaard nor Luther, Christians of the opposite spiritual tendency to my own, were uncomfortable with the idea that nature displays order and intelligence. Protestant evangelicals of all stripes, therefore, should be non-hostile towards ID. They might not feel the need for it to bolster their own faith, but they have no reason to oppose it or even to be suspicious of it. It is at worst neutral to the Christian faith, and at best a powerful secular support for it.

  21. To gpuccio:

    I never answered your question about why I considered non-determinism irrational.

    I don’t object to non-determinism in Heisenberg’s original sense, i.e., we simply can’t determine certain things about an electron. I object to the inference drawn by some scientists, philosophers, theologians, etc., that non-determinism means that some things happen without cause. E.g., I’ve heard it said that the electron just pops up in a location, without having traversed the space from its previous location, and the location it pops up in is not determined in any way by what it was doing a nanosecond before. I think this is an arbitrary claim. If indeed electrons do so pop up, a phenomenon which as far as I can see would be indemonstrable, given that we would need both location and velocity information simultaneously to be sure that this is what had happened, it would be more intellectually cautious to say that we do not know why the electron vanished from one position and reappeared in the other a nanosecond later, than to say that the change occurred without a natural cause.

    There are of course rationally explicable events that are not preceded by purely natural causes. These are the events which originate in divine or human or some other intelligence. But outside of those events which are intelligently originated, I don’t believe that the causal nexus is ever broken in nature.

    It would be “irrational” to have events which would were both “natural” and “uncaused”, because for such events there could be no sufficient reason given, and “reason” of course is derived from the Latin word “ratio”, from which we also get “rational”. A nature in which an electron can appear somewhere for literally no reason is not a rational nature.

    If anyone here has read the old radio debate between Russell and Copleston, they will divine that on this point, I take Copleston’s side rather than Russell’s. Copleston was standing up for classical Western scientific and philosophical rationality, whereas Russell was flirting with acausality, which if pressed to its logical conclusion means the end of both philosophy and science.

    So perhaps I should have objected to the irrationality of “acausality” rather than the irrationality of “indeterminism”; however, many writers on quantum indeterminism appear to blur the distinction between the two. They do this, I think, because if the causal nexus is broken, there is, in their mind, an opportunity for “free action”. I find it more economical simply to suppose that rational souls are free to break the causal nexus, than to say that BOTH rational souls AND irrational electrons are free to do so, which then obligates me to come up with a very complicated theory relating the indeterminacy of the electron to the freedom of the soul, a theory which I have yet to see set forth by ANYONE who grounds free will in quantum indeterminacy.

  22. you wrote: ID thus re-opens the case for belief in God, rather than proving God’s existence. It removes unnecessary and artificial barriers to faith.

    or as Lawrence Kelemen put it, it gives “permission to believe.”

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