The View From 1776

Continuing the Argument About Darwinian Evolution

Further exchanges concerning secular and spiritual views.

The following is the text of an email disagreeing with the view that the universe was created by God in a pattern reflecting intelligent design.  My replies are bracketed within the text of the email.

A couple of quick notes:
?- Tremendously low probability seems crippling until you realize again, what huge numbers we’re working with. ?Zillions of molecules across billions of planets over billions of years. ?Like the lottery, even though the chances are small, with that many players, somebody’s going to win. ?It just so happened that Earth won the cosmic lottery. 

[Reply: Yes, we are working with huge, but finite numbers, if current estimates of the age of the cosmos are to be credited.  Genetic mutations require measurable time; reasonable estimates of the unimaginable large numbers of trial-and-error mutations that might be necessary to move from a puddle of inorganic chemicals to human life form suggest that the postulated evolutionary process could not have taken place in the available time.  In any case, the odds are not favorable.]

?- In the old days, I think it was Copernicus who theorized, sorry, made the hypothesis that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe, that instead the Earth revolved around the sun. ?He then proceded to produce several astronomical findings to back up his claims. ?The church retailiated that, if his findings were correct, which of course, they may not even be, then it must be that God created the heavens to move about in such a way that it “appeared” the Earth revolved around the Sun. ?

[Reply: Copernicus was the major early proponent of heliocentricity.  But it was Galileo who got into hot water with the Roman Catholic Church; not, however, because of his heliocentric theories.  The bishop who later became Pope was a personal friend who had supported Galileo’s work and condoned the publication of Galileo’s findings.  Only after Galileo published a satirical work in which he identified his long-time friend and supporter, now the Pope, as a fool was he called to task.  It was one thing to publish scientific papers, quite another to ridicule the Pope and the Church in the middle of the Reformation struggle, when the Church was fighting for its spiritual life.]

Truth be told, both of these are still theories, and it is completely impossible to prove that the early churches theory of universal motion is untrue. ?It may be that the Earth is truly the center of the Universe, and everything else is just rigged by God to LOOK like it’s not, perhaps as a test of faith. ?But, all the same, I’ll take the simple, workable explanation that predicts results that match with what’s actually happening and doesn’t require me to manufacture some extra-planar being.

[Reply: Darwinian evolution is not the simple, workable explanation that some biologists claim it to be.  Like Ptolemaic astronomy, it requires all sorts of conjectures and “explanations” for its numerous anomalies.  The far simpler explanation, the Ockham’s Razor, is intelligent design, which is congruent with the scientifically observed and provable fact that the entire universe conforms to basic mathematical constants and quantum probabilities, which, unlike the “might be” probabilities of Darwinian evolution, produce highly exact and accurate predictions of the behavior of matter and energy.  According to Darwin, while the entire cosmos operates according to observable, definable, and predictable laws of motion and energy, evolution alone in the universe operates by random chance, without design or pattern.]

(Yes, yes, as we see, the expectations of what we originally thought evolution might look like didn’t jibe initially with what we found. ?But neither did Copernicus and his theory of planetary motion. ?As we learn, we adjust.)

?- Nothing is based on knowledge. ?I know that’s an absurd place to go, but to say that a theory is not worthwhile because we don’t KNOW it’s true debases every theory we’ve ever created, and really, all scientific thought. ?If we have to “know” everything absolutely before we can begin accepting a theory as most likely and teaching it, our science textbooks, our history textbooks, even our religion textbooks would be very very empty.

[Reply:  You are right.  It’s not absurd to say that nothing is based on knowledge.  Epistemology, the search for the source of knowledge, is one of the most basic aspects of philosophy and spiritual religion.  How do we know what we think that we know?  David Hume, one of Adam Smith’s buddies, famously illuminated the problem with his billiard ball example, concluding that we only assume that some sequence of events will occur, because we have seen it happen that way many times.  This skepticism was important enough to have led to the entirety of Immanuel Kant’s prodigious works.  But, please note that the argument you make, based upon this skepticism, is just as supportive of intelligent design as of Darwinian evolution.]

?- Boulders evolving into bricks is not a conscious design of human minds.

[Reply:  We must be thinking of different things when we speak of conscious design of human minds.  I’m contending that people experienced a need for shelter and began experimenting with different building materials and techniques, which evolved into brick buildings and later into steel skeleton skyscrapers.  The important point in my contention is that this evolution was consciously started by human intelligence with a definite, though evolving, aim in mind.  Darwinian evolution requires that there be no intelligence or design guiding the process and that there be no ultimate aim fulfilled by evolution. because there is no ultimate aim in a random, Darwinian world.  It must be nothing but random chance, coupled with existing conditions at the time.  Nor can any cumulative effect be assumed in Darwinian evolution.  In the case of humans designing and building shelters, each step in the process is directly built upon its predecessor in a lineal fashion, because the ultimate aim is clearly in mind.  In Darwinian evolution, random mutations may just as easily cancel out previous adaptations as build upon them to add new adaptations.  There may be cumulative effects, but the laws of random chance make it only one of a large number of possibilities.  This is obviously true, since many species have become extinct.] ?

We user whatever is the most effective material at the time, including anything from aluminum siding to animal dung. ?We didn’t invent animal dung, we just realized it could be used to make a good house. ?Then, when we were able to ship wood, we stopped using dung. ?The guy who built my house didn’t “design” wood any more than he designed animal dung. ?

[Reply:  Sorry for the imprecision.  I did not mean that the basic materials of nature were designed, but that the end products were designed.  Lumber, however, is a designed product made from tree trunks, in the same sense that a brick is a designed product made from other natural materials.] 

He made the most effective choice, given the materials he had at hand, which, short of nuclear holocaust, will probably no longer include animal dung.

?- To assert that the evolution of, say, companies, is solely a conscious design of humans is missing the point. ?We see evolution when we see companies change over time, surviving or failing based on their changes. ?Certainly human design is the driving force behind the change. ?Somebody somewhere decides the change must occur (or should not occur). ?But the results are evolutionary, as those decisions are proven in the landscape of the marketplace.

[Reply:  I agree that it’s evolution; but not Darwinian evolution, which requires the complete absence of a directing intelligence or of a purpose for the changes.  According to Darwin, evolutionary changes may just as likely be disastrous to survival as beneficial.]?

Only with that test do we know whether these decisions are effective enough to keep the organism alive. ?And, quite frankly, many times, they aren’t. ?So to say all choices in the evolution of a company are by intellegent design is disingenuous. ?The engine that makes the changes, in this case, is doing so by ‘intellegent design’, but the determination of a companies effectiveness, whether it survives or fails, is entirely up to the marketplace.

[Reply:  But of what does the market place consist, if not human intelligences appraising the products of other human minds and measuring them against desired ends?  Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” was simply the vector of human intelligences, all striving consciously, and by design, to maximize their individual gains, with the end result that the nation’s wealth was thereby maximized.  None of this is consistent with the random chance and complete absence of intelligent design that Darwinian evolution requires.]

You have given me food for thought, in that you are correct, as far as I can discern, that there is no “proof” that evolution brought forth life. ?However, contrary to your stipulations otherwise, I would say that it’s probable, and in a universe as large as ours, almost certain, that at some point, the right molecules in the right place at the right time would find their way to self-replication. ?

[Reply:  If you wish to believe that this is almost certain, please do so.  But also please acknowledge that it is your belief and definitely not a scientifically established fact.  In just this vein, Darwinian evolution is nothing more than a sincere wish to believe that there is no God, no morality, and no meaning to life: just blind, dumb chance that may as easily produce chaos as order.  I choose to believe that there is an intelligent design to the universe, emanating from God, outside our realm of being.] 

At which point, evolution takes hold and the most effective replicate and continue. ?Like Newton’s laws, it’s a gorgeously simple way to explain everything.

[Reply:  I must disagree.  Darwinian evolution is nothing like Newton’s laws of motion and his equations for predicting the precise movements of planetary bodies.  Very exacting and accurate predictions can be made with Newton’s laws, and the results can be empirically verified at any time.  Darwinian evolution can predict nothing and can verify nothing; it is entirely based on inference and conjecture that one thing “might have been” related to some other thing, but with no proof that the wish is factual.]?

Nothing has arisen to disprove it.

[Reply: There are many disproofs adduced by others, some of which have been recounted by me.  So far as I know, there are no scientific proofs of Darwinian evolution, analogous to empirical proofs of Newton’s and Einstein’s theories.  Darwin’s hypothesis rests entirely on conjecture about what might have happened eons ago.  The challenge to PROVE the validity of Darwin’s hypothesis has been issued many times, but never satisfactorily answered.  Darwinian biologists, whose careers depend upon defending the hypothesis, have no answers to the various disproofs, beyond insisting that Darwin MUST be believed because they say evolution is scientific.] ?

And we can accept it, knowing only what we know, without needing to create some other source that’s completely unseen, unfelt, unknown, but in control of everything.

I think there is something specious about your argument, that evolution is an unproven hypothesis, but I can’t put my finger on it at this point. ?I’ll have to think about it a little more.