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God, Darwinian Evolution and The Teleological Argument

August 8th, 2009 by Matt

Does Evolution make belief in God untenable? At the recent conference, Faithful Science? – Just How Well Do Science and Faith Get Along? I presented a paper examining this question.[1] This blog series has grown from that paper and the discussions I had with the theologians and scientists in attendance at the conference.

It is commonly argued that darwinian evolution renders belief in God rationally untenable because it refutes the teleological argument, commonly referred to as the argument from design. Darwin himself suggested this in his autobiography;

The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection had been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.[2]

John Dupre adds, “Darwinism undermines the only remotely plausible reason for believing in God.”[3]

However, this purported refutation of theism is far too quick for several reasons. First, the claim that darwinian evolution refutes the teleological argument is false. There are several different versions of teleological arguments. What is arguably true is that it undercuts one particular version, that proposed by William Paley in Natural Theology. Although, in a recent study Del Ratzsch has suggested Paley’s argument has in fact been misunderstood and when these misunderstandings are stripped away it is not clear that discovery of the laws of natural selection do refute it.[4] Nevertheless, to rebut one particular teleological argument is not to undercut them all.

To justify the inference that darwinian evolution refutes teleological arguments one would need to show that darwinian evolution provides grounds for rejecting all such arguments. It does not. If one focuses on the contemporary literature, it is evident that there are currently several teleological arguments from design that are untouched by darwinism which are being seriously defended in the literature. These arguments may or may not be sound but whether they are or not has nothing to with darwinian evolution.

Two examples will suffice to illustrate this; the first is the teleological argument proposed and defended by Richard Swinburne in The Existence of God. Swinburne proposed an inductive teleological argument based on “The orderliness of the universe.” Swinburne elaborates what he means by this;

The temporal order of the universe is, to the man who bothers to give it a moment’s thought, an overwhelmingly striking fact about it. Regularities of succession are all pervasive. For simple laws govern almost all successions of events. In books of physics, chemistry, and biology we can learn how almost everything in the world behaves. The laws of their behavior can be set out by relatively simple formulae which men can understand and by means of which they can successfully predict the future. The orderliness of the universe to which I draw attention here is its conformity to formula, to simple, for mutable, scientific laws. The orderliness of the universe in this respect is a very striking fact about it. The universe might so naturally have been chaotic, but it is not—it is very orderly.

Swinburne argues that theism explains this order and that its existence increases theism’s probability. Regardless of the merits of Swinburne’s argument, it is evident that darwinian evolution does not refute it. This is because darwinism, far from explaining away such laws, actually assumes their existence;

Evolution can only have taken place, given certain special natural laws. These are first, the chemical laws stating how under certain circumstances inorganic molecules combine to make organic ones, and organic ones combine to make organisms. And secondly, there are the biological laws of evolution stating how organisms have very many offspring, some of which vary in one or more characteristics from their parents, and how some of these characteristics are passed on to most offspring, from which it follows that, given shortage of food and other environmental needs, there will be competition for survival, in which the fittest will survive.

The second example is the teleological argument defended more recently by Robin Collins. Robin Collins appeals to the existence of what has been dubbed cosmic fine-tuning, the contention that, “Almost everything about the basic structure of the universe–for example, the fundamental laws and parameters of physics and the initial distribution of matter and energy–is balanced on a razor’s edge for life to occur.”[5] Frances Collins explains that for life to evolve there are around 15 constants necessary, each must have precise values and if they were off by a million or one in a million, life could not evolve.[6] Robin Collins argues that this fine-tuning is significantly more probable if theism is true than if atheism is true and hence confirms theism over atheism.

I do not here wish to go defend (or criticise) this argument in any depth, my point is simply that darwinian evolution does not refute it. This is because the cosmic fine-tuning argument appeals to the conditions needed for life to evolve. The fine-tuning both Collins’ refer to are preconditions for the evolution of life to occur. As they are preconditions, evolution can hardly provide an explanation for this at all; even if it could, it is not clear that this would show that the probability of such fine-tuning occurring if atheism were true is as probable as it occurring on the background hypothesis of theism’s truth.

Hence, darwinian evolution does not undercut teleological arguments. It is worth noting that even it did then the conclusion that Dupre and Darwin draw, that theism is rationally unwarranted, does not follow. Even if all versions of teleological arguments were refuted by Darwin, it does not follow that all the other arguments for God’s existence are undercut; even if they were, it could be the case that belief in God is justified independently of any argument. Let me briefly elaborate on both these ideas.

The first, Dupre’s suggestion that the argument from design is the only plausible ground for believing in God, is simply false. In Two Dozen or So Theistic Arguments Alvin Plantinga sketched 26 arguments for God’s existence currently being defended in the literature. Earlier this year, Blackwell published the Blackwell Encyclopaedia to Natural Theology which contains current versions of 11 arguments used to defend the existence of God in the literature today. While the cogency of these arguments remains, like most philosophical claims, a subject of substantive debate it is undisputed that they exist and have been give serious and sophisticated advocacy from competent philosophers. To rebut them then requires serious philosophical argument not assertion.

The suggestion then that a refutation of all teleological arguments dismantles the case for theism is false. A true refutation of the plausible grounds for theism would involve a detailed rebuttal of all of the arguments for theism, not just commentary on one type.

Even if it were the case that teleological arguments were the only arguments for the existence of God, it does not follow that their failure would undercut the rational acceptability of theism. Such an assertion assumes that theism is rationally justified only if there is a good argument for it. It is widely acknowledged in epistemology that not all beliefs need to be demonstrated by argument to be rational. To claim they do creates a regress problem;

If everything needs to be proven then the premises of every proof would need to be proven. But if you need a proof for every proof, you need a proof for your proof, and a proof for your proof of a proof and so on-forever. Thus it makes no sense to demand that everything be proven because an infinite regress of proofs is impossible.[7]

To avoid this problem an influential movement in epistemology known as foundationalism maintains that at the base or foundation of one’s noetic structure are beliefs that one is justified in believing independently of any argument. These are called properly basic beliefs. Since the late 1970’s an extremely important movement within Philosophy of Religion, known as the reformed epistemology movement, has offered detailed and rigorous defences of the contention that for theists, belief in God can be a properly-basic belief. The most important defender of this position is Alvin Plantinga, though many others such as William Alston and Nicholas Wolterstorff have defended similar views. Plantinga notes the implication of this movement, “The demise of the teleological argument, if indeed evolution has compromised it, is little more of a threat to rational belief in God than the demise of the argument from analogy for other minds is to rational belief in other minds.”[8]

It seems then that the claim that evolution undercuts teleological arguments is a non starter. Even if it were true, this conclusion only has significance if all other arguments for God’s existence are also refuted and an argument can be provided that shows that belief in God is not properly-basic. This would require significant philosophical work, over and above, any appeal to natural selection. It is evident then that by itself, darwinian evolution would prove very little except, at best, that one 19th century argument by Paley might be unsuccessful.

[1] I am grateful to Alvin Plantinga who sent me a copy of his unpublished paper, “Science and Religion: Where Does the Conflict Really Lie?” which was extremely helpful in formulating my thoughts.
[2] Charles Darwin Life and Letters of Charles Darwin ed Francis Darwin (NY: D. Appleton, 1887) Vol. 1 279.
[3] John Dupre Darwin’s Legacy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) 56.
[4] Del Ratzsch Teleological Arguments for God’s Existence Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
[5] Robin Collins “God, Design, and Fine-Tuning” originally published in God Matters: Readings in the Philosophy of Religion eds Raymond Martin and Christopher Bernard (New York: Longman Press, 2002).
[6] Frances Collins The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for the Existence of God (Free Press, 2006) 75.
[7] Roy Clouser Knowing With the Heart (IVP, Downers Grove, 1999) 69.
[8] Alvin Plantinga “Science and Religion: Where Does the Conflict Really Lie?” (unpublished).

RELATED POSTS:
Darwinian Evolution, Chance and Design

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58 responses so far ↓

  • I have not written anything on atheism as a belief directly but I have written some posts on the burden of proof which do touch on it:

    On Negatives and the Burden of Proof
    More on God, Negatives and the Burden of Proof: Some responses to Mark V

  • I have not written anything on atheism as a belief directly but I have written some posts on the burden of proof which do touch on it: 
     
    On Negatives and the Burden of Proof
    More on God, Negatives and the Burden of Proof: Some responses to Mark V

  • Another great post! I'm addicted to this blog!!

    I wonder if you have written anything about:

    1. Atheism as a belief system. You know how atheists claim atheism is not a belief but lack of it kind of bs.

    2. Burden of proof. I'm sick of those atheists always using burden of proof argument which is just a lazy answer.

  • A good account of why Darwinism is not the be all and end all for Christian belief in God.  I would add two points however – first -I don't think that even accepting Darwinian evolution rules out belief in God.  The teleological argument is not the ONLY reason to believe in God afterall.  Here is some logic for you Matt.

    p = teleological argument is valid and sound
    q = god exists

    p -> q
    p
    ——-
    q

    isperfectly valid

    p -> q
    ~q
    ——-
    ~p

    is NOT.  But this is what people who say defeating the teleological means there is no God are saying.

  • My second comment is a pet peeve with natural theology as a whole  I guess.  Where has Jesus Christ gone in these arguments?  Does anyone's knowledge of and relationship with God, as a Christian, really come from clever arguments or proofs?

    I am not saying it does not. I am very curious to hear anyone's personal story if this is how they came to faith if they are willing to share it.

  • The argument seems to be that some entity, call it god, set off the universe and established all the laws that govern it, and that therefore the god theists believe exists today actually exists.  However it does not follow that the entity that set off the universe and the god theists believe exists today are one and the same being, or that the god theists believe exists actually exists.

    Belief that some entity called god set off the universe (we don't know exactly what set off the universe, science is working on it) does not require me to believe that the god theists believe in today exists.

  • I agree.  The validity of evolution has more to do with how much a creator is involved in the routine workings of the universe rather than whether there is a creator or not.  I don't quite understand why it keeps working its way to the center of the discussion on whether there is a creator or not.

  • Personally I think the goldilocks values are over-rated. I think there are likely a variety of values they could be and the world would still work. The problem is that the goldilocks appearance is because stellar evolution is assumed; however the difficulty with it means that we assume the values are all they could be. But even with tehir current values, we struggle to explain so things like dark matter and energy are invented to to maintain the equations.

    Max is right that the disapperance of a proof for an entity does not equate to the disapperance of the entity.

    I would add that this argument is backwards. Design shows rather that evolution is false. The evidence of design in information is clear. Every situtation where we have creation of information and we witnessed the event shows us the information came from an intelligent source. (Macro)evolution claims to challenge this, but as this is not witnessed directly, the stronger evidence of design disproves this claim.

    Darwin is in error here: There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.

    This is because the law he mentions, ie. natural selection, does not create information. He is claiming for a law something the law does not do, and using this (non-existant) evidence against design.

  • it was late at night when i wrote that post… i have a p and a q the wrong way around…. a free mars bar to whoever identifies my logical stupidity first!

  • p -> q 
    ~q 
    ——- 
    ~p

    Should be:

    p -> q 
    ~p
    ——- 
    ~q

  • Also known as the fallacy of dening the antecendant…

    Where shall I send your mars bar 🙂

  • The basic point here, that evolutionary doens't necesarrily spell an end to belief in God is kind ofobvious and not really disputed by anyone (when people like Dawkins and Dupre talk about it being the end of the last good argument that are surely talking about their own personal estimations – not a philosophical proof).

    But I think the "fine tuning" argument, and its realation to natural selection, is vastly overstated. To get natual selection going all you need is non-perfect self replication (the rest of your "biological laws" follow from this) and we simply don't know how many possible universes (if we grant for the sake of argument that there are other possible universes) would give rise to a chemistry that provided that and which might then give rise to sentient beings that could sit back and wonder at just how fine tuned the universe is to their existance (rather than realise they've been made by a process that fine tuned them to the universe they exist in).

    William James had something similar to say in a letter to a friend:

    "We never know what ends may have been kept from realization, for the dead tell no tales. The surviving witness would in any case, and whatever he were, draw the conclusion that the universe planned to make him, and the like of him succeed, for it actually did so. But your argument that it is millions to one that it didn't do so by chance doesn't apply. It would apply if the witness had pre-existed in an independent form and framed his scheme, and then the world had realized it. Such a coincidence would prove the world to have a kindred mind to his. But there has been no such coincidence. The world has come but once, there witness is there after the fact and simply approves… Where only one fact is in question there is no relation to probability at all"

    <span style="cursor: pointer;">Bethyada</span>

    Every heard of non-rational protein design, or genetic algorithms? Both examples of 'information' being added without any intellegent input.
    <span></span>

  • I would have thought that evolution, while in no way necessitating the non-existence of a God, would certainly throw into doubt anthropocentric conceptions of God (Xenophanes mocks these in one of his fragments). That is, given evolution, the existence of our species would be radically contingent and obviously not inevitable and so it would be difficult to see why God would supposedly care about us if he, she or it had not made our existence in the world a matter of necessity.

    The idea that belief in God could be a properly basic belief also seems dubious. It's rather a complicated belief to count as fundamental.

  • To get natual selection going all you need is non-perfect self replication (the rest of your "biological laws" follow from this)

    That is only a hypothesis?

    I hear often that evolution is a fact, but its the mechanism that's still being debated. Which sounds odd to me … may be it means that micro evolution is fact (because we can observe it happening around us) but that macro evolution and origin of life are still being debated.

    From my understanding genetic algorithm still need purpose/goal and parameters set by experts in the field in order to be useful at all.

    In relation to information. The problem with 'information' is that, once again, it is about which information model you are using. I'm not an expert in this so I can't ellaborate but I understand there are several model that define/describe information, and both camps tend to lean on one definition than another.

    Unguided evolution is like trying to build a system using bottom-top approach. In other word, the builders do not know what they are building, they just do random things. I'm not saying it is impossible but it just seems unlikely in light of the other alternative.

    And all the software most of us use today are designed. They also 'evolved', but a different kind of evolution. The kind that has design, planning, goal, and lots of intelligence, and are still top-bottom processes.

    To suggest that such complex system like our body can be produced through bottom-top process is hard to make sense in the presence of overwhelming evidence that even with our intelligence we can not produce even simpler system with the same process. The overwhelming evidence suggest that such complex system can only be produced through top-bottom process where goal and purpose are known/set.

  • From my understanding genetic algorithm still need purpose/goal and parameters set by experts in the field in order to be useful at all. 

    Only a goal, and natual selection has a pseudo-goal built in. The point is that all a human has to do is define a criteroin by which to select the 'best' algorithm in each generation and no information on how to best solve the problem. You frequently wind up with results you'd never had dreamed of (and even with irrducibly complex ones!)

    In relation to information. The problem with 'information' is that, once again, it is about which information model you are using. I'm not an expert in this so I can't ellaborate but I understand there are several model that define/describe information, and both camps tend to lean on one definition than another.

    This is really an aside, I think the problem with 'information' is that, in the technical sense it's not really relavent to biology (we can blame Dawkins for the wide spread use of this metaphor). I've become increasingly certain that most IDist just use it as in illdefined term that prevents anything that say from being falsified. I think it's much, much more productive to talk about the generation of new functions.

    Unguided evolution is like trying to build a system using bottom-top approach. In other word, the builders do not know what they are building, they just do random things. I'm not saying it is impossible but it just seems unlikely in light of the other alternative.

    Read the quote from William James above.

  • "if we grant for the sake of argument that there are other possible universes"…

    OK.  Well if this is what it omes down to, either believing that there are billions (?) or alterntive universes in order to explain out natural laws being as they are… or believng in a Creator…

    I guess it is a subjective call as to which of these is more astounding.  But don't go hypothesising billions of universes and calling it science.  Personally:  "I have no need of that hypothesis"

    " would certainly throw into doubt anthropocentric conceptions of God"…

    Which no one believes in anyway….

  • Hi Max,

    By 'possible universes' I mean we should grant, for now, that it's possible for a universe to exist with properties different than the one that we find ourselves (if there is only one way to be a universe then what does fine tuning mean?)

    (there are plenty of self-consitant models of cosmology that generate 'local-universes' that might have thier own laws of nature. At present there those models make no predictions at enegies we test at so, for now, there's no reason to argue for them being better thant others so they get the big "who knows")

  • People are keen to use "occums razor" to chop God out of a world view…  which model would you say is simpler – one with one universe…or one with multiple universes each with its own laws.

    If by possible universes all you meant is "it could have been otherwise" then this again begs the question. "yes it could have been – so WHY is it like this?"  Principles which postulate multiple-universes or fall back on the "anthropic principle" are all ways to avoid answering questions which seem to be only answerable by a God shaped answer.

  • No, what I meant was if the universe couldn't have been some other way then fine tuning isn't really a starter. So, for the sake of this argument let's say it could have been different then we are left with the problem that we just don't know how many of the possible configurations of the universe would have given rise to chemistries that allow natural selection to work – so we can't sensibly place a probability on our universe being able to support natural selection.

  • From my understanding, this argument is slightly related to life outside earth. If life can happen any other way, that there is nothing special or fine tuned about earth, we should find life on other planets that are vastly different then earth.

  • <span style="">"Which no one believes in anyway."</span>

    If you want to be more precise, then call it "views of God that claim he/she/it has some interest in the creation and welfare of beings capable of appreciating religion". If the theory of Evolution is correct, then there is nothing inevitable about the existence of such beings (they might even be extremely unlikely to evolve), and people would surely wish to worship a God that regarded their creation as necessary. The argument would then be that accepting evolution requires one to believe in an Epicurean God rather than the God of most religions.

    That seems to me to be the threat that evolution poses to traditional religious belief.

  • David W.

    Yes I see your point.  It is rather a futile task to try to calculate probabilities of how many set ups of the universe might have supported life.  The "fine tuning" arguments after all only look at the conditions for this particular sort of consciousness.  Who knows what could exist in vastly different universe-set-ups we can't even imagine.  Remember that cnscius nebula on startrek for instance….

  • <span style="cursor: pointer;">david w Bethyada</span>: Every heard of non-rational protein design, or genetic algorithms? Both examples of 'information' being added without any intellegent input.

    I dispute it. There is no good evidence of information gain being witnessed that does not have an author (save trivial examples). If your program is a variant on Darkin's weasel program, then the information is already there in the outcome you are seeking. To guide random events toward a specific outcome does not create any information, the outcome is the information.

    Syd, "evolution is a fact" would be better written "evolution is true." Though I disagree with such a statement, it states what theories claim, that they represent (albeit incompletely) reality. "Fact" better describes observables, not theories.

    (I am not implying the word "theory" intrinsically means "not proven")

  • Yes of course, no theory is fact and no theory is true, including evolution theory. I was just trying to make sense of why many people claim it is a fact when it's not.

  • Sid, what I was trying to say is that the term "theory" or "law" is better than "fact" when people are trying to communicate.

    Thus I am happy with the term the "theory of evolution," but could accept the "law of evolution," Though "law" may be better used for a more limited hypothesis so perhaps the "law of natural selection"

    Theories are not false because they are incomplete. Newton's theory of gravitation is essentially true even though it is called a theory.

    I happen to think the theory of evolution is false. People argue that evolution is a fact, by which they mean it is true. I prefer the term "true" to "fact" as the term "fact" is also used to discribe a minor piece of data, such as the moon is round, or the density of water is 1.

    I think terminology in this debate is important for 3 reasons, one people often talk at cross purposes, two people conflate ideas, and three it prevents poor arguments.

  • I would say that "Darwinism makes it possible to be an intellectually satisfied atheist," not that Darwinism makes belief in God untenable. 

    It seems like a "straw man" to set up one kind of teleological argument as the only valid reason for believing in God and then knocking it down via Darwinism.  To be charitable, perhaps the people who make this argument really DO feel a tug towards theism when they look at the world around them–a tug they can overcome with the help of Darwin.  That would be seem to be consistent with Paul's words in Romans 1, when he says that the invisible nature of God is revealed in the world we see.

    My biggest problem with Darwinism is that it seems to make ANY kind of "belief" untenable, if by "belief" we mean a confidence that what we think accurately describes "reality."  I can't see any logical relationship between "truth" and whatever goes on within a few pounds of meat within a skull that exists solely because it is better at killing off competitors than all the other species. 

    I'm still waiting for a intellectually satisfying Darwinian epistemology.  Has anybody attempted to provide one?  I'd love to know if there's something out there that I've missed.

  • <span style="cursor: pointer;">Bethyada,</span>

    I dispute it. There is no good evidence of information gain being witnessed that does not have an author (save trivial examples). If your program is a variant on Darkin's weasel program, then the information is already there in the outcome you are seeking. To guide random events toward a specific outcome does not create any information, the outcome is the information. 

    You're conflated two of my expamples here. The weasel program is not a genetic algorithm, just an examlpe to that all natural selection requires is imperfect replication. (I actually wrote by version as part of a global effort to show just how retarded William Dembski is)

    Genetic algorithms are altogether different, you effectively set a fitness landscape and start with population of, say, neural networks and let mutation and recombination do the work. The 'fitness' function might be something like being able to play a human at draughts. From there, without even producing the rules of the game you can wind up with a 'player' who can routinely beat humans. No specific outcome is ever set, just parameters that a solution must contain.

    You can do the same thing with proteins. Dream up a new enzyme function, mutate existing proteins, choose the ones that perform best at the new function and repeat. This process many, many more times more effectice than drying to design new protein functions from what we now of protein chemistry

    As I've said, no one that uses the information argument ever defines it sensibly, but it's hard to see how these processes aren't adding information.

    You're defintion game above is kind of boring, but the main mistake you are making is to think of evolution is as one monolithic idea. It's not. Darwin's first idea, common descent is so well supported (as I said, on the same level of the earth's position relative to the sun) that it's, in the scientific sense, a fact. Darwin's next idea, natural selection as the driver of adaptive change nis a theory becuase it exaplain elements of this and other facts.

  • In the example you given, the computer doesn't create information, but merely remembers and collects statistical data of the best move on every given situation. It feeds on human information to find the best mix and use. The human is teaching the program how to play draught.

    Would the program be able to invent the game of draught if it plays with human who doesn't know about the game of draught? I doubt it. I bet the software has built in sorting and some smart ways to 'learn'.

    If Genetic algorithm can really create information, we would not need human to do research, let the computer do research and give us new information. Computer produces data, not information.

    I've been thinking about what would be a better computer experiment to see if random unguided process can produce information.

    – Have a really simple program that just basically run in loop.
    – Randomly change bits in the memory where the program is running. The program will be given reasonably more memory than it needs. So sometimes the 'mutation' will hit these neutral memory blocks. This represents neutral mutation that can be passed to the next generation if the program doesn't die.

    Fit criterias:
    – If the program crash before a specified period of time or cycles, it means it died before breeding. In other word the mutation kills the program
    – If the program survive a specified period of time or cycles, we count this as a successful mutation because the mutation doesn't kill the program prematurely but allow the program to survive to breed and pass the mutation to the next generation.

    After a while, the programs with mutation that don't 'kill' the program prematurely will survive and have more offsprings than the programs with bad mutations.The one with bad mutation represents the weak and eventually will be extinct.

    It will be interesting to see if the programs who survived will show new information that makes the program more complex (like develop new functions perhaps) after few million/billion cycles.

    It's not perfect, sure, but it will be more realistic than any computer simulation I've read about where the program is complex and contains a lot assumption and loaded with all sorts of smarts and pre-coded information.

    If I have the resources I don't mind creating this program my self, may be someone here would like to grant me few squillion bucks … you read it first here in this blog by someone named Sid 😛

  • You're conflated two of my expamples here. The weasel program is not a genetic algorithm, just an examlpe to that all natural selection requires is imperfect replication. (I actually wrote by version as part of a global effort to show just how retarded William Dembski is)

    The weasel program is completely unanalogous to NS as it is targetted. So what if replication is imperfect, you have an outcome pre-specified.

    Genetic algorithms are altogether different, you effectively set a fitness landscape and start with population of, say, neural networks and let mutation and recombination do the work. The 'fitness' function might be something like being able to play a human at draughts. From there, without even producing the rules of the game you can wind up with a 'player' who can routinely beat humans. No specific outcome is ever set, just parameters that a solution must contain.  

    Increased fitness in a specific environment is not the same as increased information. You can have increased fitness with increased and decreased information. You can have decreased fitness with increased and decreased information.

    You can do the same thing with proteins. Dream up a new enzyme function, mutate existing proteins, choose the ones that perform best at the new function and repeat. This process many, many more times more effectice than drying to design new protein functions from what we now of protein chemistry

    Your new enzyme function you dream up is your increased information!

    In practice however the new enzyme is more likely to have increased fitness not increased information for a particular substrate, that is it will have more specificity for the new substrate and less specificity for the previous substrate than the original enzyme, but the new enzyme will unlikely have the specificity for the new substrate that the original enzyme had for the old substrate.

  • Darwin's first idea, common descent is so well supported (as I said, on the same level of the earth's position relative to the sun) that it's, in the scientific sense, a fact.

    If by fact you mean true then yes, but you are implying that it is analogous to a piece of data, which it isn't. It is not repeatable the way the measurement of the earth's distance from the sun is repeatable. It is also more complicated that a single data. It describes billions of data points.

    And it is not well supported. The fossil record does not bear it up and comparative genetics is hardly discriminatory for descent over design.

    Darwin's next idea, natural selection as the driver of adaptive change nis a theory becuase it exaplain elements of this and other facts.

    Except that that natural selection as a process leading to change is not original with Darwin, it antedates him.

  • I've always felt that if one accepted the ideas uf unnatural selection then one must at least accept the basic ideas of evolution.   Man has modified animals including himself to a great degree in a few thousand years.  Wolve to Chihuahuas.  There is an undeniable order to the seeming chaos of the universe.  It should be obvious that the celestial mechanics that are in place work in only one fashion.   The reasons behind all of this is outside the range of the knowable.  I'm not christian but I believe in a higher being.  Anyone who is alive today is connected literally to the begining of the universe through the chemical-electrical chain of life.  At least one cell in the chain never died.  So it is important to procreate.  Is there life after death?   Not relevant to the workings of the universe I fear.

  • If "theistic evolution" is a meaningful concept, then evolution should not make belief in God untenable.  By this I mean, if a rational human being can believe that God "used" evolution to create what we see around us, then belief in God is compatible with evolution.  QED.

    The more precise question would seem to be whether evolution makes belief in Scripture untenable–to be specific, belief in the first chapter of Genesis.  Of course, that has an easy answer.  Just call it "poetic" and you can "believe" it and evolution, too.

    So, the more interesting question is whether evolution makes belief in a "jot and tittle literal" Genesis untenable. It was Jesus who said that not one jot nor tittle of the Law (by which He meant the Torah) would fall away.

  • I've always felt that if one accepted the ideas uf unnatural selection then one must at least accept the basic ideas of evolution…Wolve to Chihuahuas

    Wolve to cihuahua is variation within a kind, wolve is dog and so is cihuahua. If you can breed cihuahua into sea mammal or make it have long neck like girrafe, or grow 3rd eye, then it would be closer to the idea of evolution.

  • I don't really have the time or the inclination for a evolution v magic debate. Especially if it's going of it to pointless corners like whether Darwin was the first to observe natural selections (he wasn't, but he and Wallace where the first to present a theory by which that action drives the bulk of evolutionary change)

    As I've mentioned earlier I think 'information' is a red herring – evolution proceeds by making new functions (actually it proceeds by local adaptation, but in the long run often makes for new functions) and that has obviously been observed plently of times. If someone wants to provide a definition of information we'll see if it's been shown to be increased without intellegence.

  • If you can breed cihuahua into sea mammal or make it have long neck like girrafe, or grow 3rd eye, then it would be closer to the idea of evolution.

    no, it would not.

  • no, it would not.

    Yes it would so.

  • no, it would not. 
     
    Yes it would so.

    Ofcourse it would be a lot closer.  But a better place to look is at life forms which have very short generations.  If a bacteria (and I assume we have observed millions of generations of these) had ever evolved into anything other than another form of bacteria then THAT would be something.  In my ignorance I don't know if this has happened.  Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

  • The more precise question would seem to be whether evolution makes belief in Scripture untenable–to be specific, belief in the first chapter of Genesis.  Of course, that has an easy answer.  Just call it "poetic" and you can "believe" it and evolution, too.

    I agree. I note also that the debates at the time of Darwin were similar in terms of belief in Genesis.

    But your second statement is not so simple. One can't just define something as poetry. Psalm 1 isn't prose because I want it to be.

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    <p><span>L That is, given evolution, the existence of our species would be radically contingent and obviously not inevitable and so it would be difficult to see why God would supposedly care about us if he, she or it had not made our existence in the world a matter of necessity.</span>
    <p><span> </span>
    <p><span>Well I understand why a person who did not believe in God would think that the evolution of human beings is radically contigent. But why assume this if theistic evolution is true? Why assume for example that if one winds the evolutionary clock back and start again God would not bring about the same result? 
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  • That is, given evolution, the existence of our species would be radically contingent and obviously not inevitable and so it would be difficult to see why God would supposedly care about us if he, she or it had not made our existence in the world a matter of necessity.

    Well I understand why a person who did not believe in God would think that the evolution of human beings is not inevitable. But why assume this if theistic evolution is true? Why assume for example that if one winds the evolutionary clock back and start again God would not bring about the same result?

     the idea that belief in God could be a properly basic belief also seems dubious. It's rather a complicated belief to count as fundamental.

    I don’t know why you consider belief in God to be complicated, but suppose it is why cannot complicated beliefs be properly basic. Belief that there exists an enduring physical world, or that other minds exist, or belief in a past, all seem to me to be properly basic and they don’t seem any less complicated than belief in God. Moreover many beliefs based on testimony are properly basic, and some of these are fairly complicated.

  • As I've mentioned earlier I think 'information' is a red herring

    Given that DNA describes the organism, and that DNA is information, and evolution claims the DNA of one organism changes into the DNA of another organism over time, I don't see how one can call information a red herring.

    – evolution proceeds by making new functions (actually it proceeds by local adaptation, but in the long run often makes for new functions) and that has obviously been observed plently of times.

    Yet this is not contentious. Evolutionists and non-evolutionists think that dogs came from wolves.

  • John von Neumann, the guy who invented the modern computer, did a series of lectures at Harvard in 1954 or so on "Life as Information."  His work on "cellular automata" goes about as far as one can get in the direction of the "simplest possible self-replicating entity," which is the starting point of any evolutionary process.

    There's a lot about life that ISN'T information, but I'd say information is ESSENTIAL to life–more essential than matter.  (It's theoretically possible to model the neural networks of a human brain in a hyperdimensional space, without using any matter or even energy.  Not that it does you much good.  But it just shows that matter and energy are not essential to what we think of as "consciousness."))

  • Well, i have a a couple of minutes so here are some quick points:

    Chihuahua to marine mammal evolution is stupid for at least two reasons.

    First is presumes the most retarded pan-adaptationist version of evolution is
    true – that any organism can evolve into any other form. In fact, there are
    molecular and developmental constraints on the kind of muations that are
    possible. Add to that the contingency of the evolutionary process – every
    mutation that's fixed opens and closes door other evolutionary paths. When you
    look at the fossil record it's clear that major transitions like the one you
    are envisioning involve the specialisation of a generalised ancestral species
    (can you think of a worse starting point than a chihuahua).

    Second if you really could evolve a sea mammal from a chihuahua in a few
    generatoins that would not be support for Darwinian theories of evolution – it
    would support saltationist theories (which had large mutations as the driver of
    evolutonary change) like those popular before the redisocery of Mendels work.
    In fact, when you looked at the evolution of whales you see there is probably
    something like 15 millions years between the last fossil genus to be an
    ancestor of a land mammal and whales and the Ambulocetus which is still
    only partially adapted to life at sea ( the name means walking whale). Of course, if you set up a selectio  regime with a known target you might get there quicker – just not a million times quicker.

    (Bacteria do obviously have shorter generation times but asking them to
    evolve into "something else" is a bit rich since that's happened once in 3.8
    billion years of those short generations! Still, we have observed the evolution
    of tonnes of new characters (they can even eat nylon which really upsets
    creationists for some reason) and even the evolution of multi-cellularity.

    Evolutionists and non-evolutionists think that dogs came from wolves.

    Well that's kind of the problem for people that belive in created kinds – they
    need to say what stops the little changes they accept happen adding up to big
    differences over time. It can't be irreducible complexity because that's
    trivial to evolve, so what is it? This is usually where someone says
    'information' then refuses to define that word…

  • "Information" isn't hard to define.  It's hard to produce. 

    The first fertile finch to land on the Galapagos Islands carried enough information to generate 13 different species of finches today.  There's enough research on those finches to get down to specific variations in specific genes that lead to the different phenotypes.  Some of the variations can be traced to specific mutations which cause a deformation in the normal South American finch–a deformation which fills an otherwise empty niche in the empty Galapagos ecosystem.

    Such "point mutations" are marvelous, but they work because they exploit otherwise untapped resources on the island.  Those untapped resources aren't inorganic.  The deformed finches are eating living things… and those living things are the product of a LOT of information.  Bringing one new finch into contact with all the preexisting information in an ecosystem makes it possible to recombine information in new ways–but it's not quite the same as generating information from scratch.

    Throw a lone microbe into a big tank of sugar water and you'll get a lot of microbes.  They'll go through many changes, but I wouldn't expect any radical change no matter how long they multiply.  Throw the same microbe into the ocean and you may wind up with millions of mutations over time.  Mutations in the ocean-going microbe enable it to hitch a ride on the pre-existing information of other species.

    Creating new information requires the microbe in the sugar water to come up with something new.  I'm not saying it can't be done.  But it's a whole different exercise from flinging a finch onto a new island and watching it adapt.

  • LOL evolution theory has evolved into a theory that states in a very complex way to avoid stating it directly that the variety of life we see today did not happen by random chance.

    I mean how could you even claim that asking them [bacteria] to evolve into "something else" is a bit rich since that's happened once in 3.8 billion years ? That kind of thing surely is invented to add little sense to evolution theory?

    that's kind of the problem for people that belive in created kinds – they  
    need to say what stops the little changes they accept happen adding up to big  
    differences over time.

    I don't see any problem. We can observe daily that life reproduce after their own kinds.

  • Sid,

    I'm fairly sure it's safe to say that there is not point in talking to you about this topic. But just to make it clear…

    LOL evolution theory has evolved into a theory that states in a very complex way to avoid stating it directly that the variety of life we see today did not happen by random chance.

    No one has every argued that evolution happened by 'random chance'. Natural Selection might be defined as the non-random survival of variants.


    I mean how could you even claim that asking them [bacteria] to evolve into "something else" is a bit rich since that's happened once in 3.8 billion years ? That kind of thing surely is invented to add little sense to evolution theory?

    What's invented here? We know there's been life on earth for 3.8 billion years from fossils and geological evidence. We know bacteria and their cousins the archea predate eukaryotes (organisms will cells like our own, the only group that could be considered 'other' to bacteria/archea) by about a billion years. We know from DNA sequences of genes shared by all life on earth (things like ribosomal RNA and DNA repair/replication mechanisms) that all the eukaryotes are more closely realted to each other than they are to bacterica/archea. It's possible another 'something else' evolved from bacteria at some stage – but us eukaryotes are the only ones that have survived. 

    I don't see any problem. We can observe daily that life reproduce after their own kinds.

    We can observe that the continents move at most a few centimetres in our lifetimes. It doesn't follow that plate techtonics is an athiestic fraud.

  • ToG,

    "Information" isn't hard to define.

    Then please, define it. If you do I think you'll find that the Galapagos Finches really have gained information. 


    Throw a lone microbe into a big tank of sugar water and you'll get a lot of microbes.  They'll go through many changes, but I wouldn't expect any radical change no matter how long they multiply

    How about the ability to metablolise a new chemical. Surely that is information?

  • What's invented here?

    The part where you said it only happens once every 3.8B years. I'd like to know how science could come up with that conclusion.

    We can observe that the continents move at most a few centimetres in our lifetimes. It doesn't follow that plate techtonics is an athiestic fraud.

    First, just because the continents have moved in our lifetime, it doesn't mean that the continents had always moved in the past, nor will it keep moving in the future. 

    Secondly, movement of object is so much different than transformation of life form. Continents moving do not need fitness requirement, do not have life span, etc.

  • David W, I trotted off to go find a good definition of "information," and came back chagrined.  I take it back.  Information IS hard to define.  Every dictionary definition ties it right back to mysteries like "knowledge" and assume a "mind," which takes us straight into some of the deepest epistemological jungles I know.

    Could I use the term "data" instead of information?  That does not presume knowledge or a mind.

    As for the Galapagos finches… since I'm the one reeling on the ropes from definitional failure, I'm not going to assume I'm right about there being "no new information" on the Galapagos Islands after the finches have adapted.  But here are a couple of good-faith effort to better explain what I'm trying to say about information.

    When I do a sudoku puzzle, I'm presented with a 9×9 square with a very few numbers on it.  As I use and understand the term "information," there is NO MORE INFORMATION when I have completed  the puzzle than there was when I started.  Doing a sudoku puzzle doesn't generate any new information.  It just accesses what was already there.

    For a completely different take on information, consider the case of snow falling on a car.  Random snowflakes float down from the sky all night.  In the morning, they have assembled themselves into a perfect "cast" a brand-new Honda.  Is this new "information"?  Not at all–the "information" was already there, in the shape of the car.  The snowflakes have been shaped by preexisting information without creating anything new.

    I have been thinking that the Galapagos island ecosystem is like the car, and the adaptive radiation of the finches (or any newly introduced species) is a bit like the snowflakes.  I'm not saying that evolution CAN'T produce new information, but it seems that quite a bit of adaptation is more like finding blocks in the sudoku puzzle than "creating" anything.

  • If you Google 'define:information', the first result is:

    * a message received and understood

    Obviously we may enter yet another definition war, but basically, information need to have a decoder (receiver who understand the message).

    http://creation.com/dna-marvellous-messages-or-mostly-mess

    The genetic code … is not an outcome of raw chemistry, but of elaborate decoding machinery in the ribosome. Remarkably, this decoding machinery is itself encoded in the DNA, and the noted philosopher of science Sir Karl Popper pointed out:

    ‘Thus the code can not be translated except by using certain products of its translation. This constitutes a baffling circle; a really vicious circle, it seems, for any attempt to form a model or theory of the genesis of the genetic code.’

    So, such a system must be fully in place before it could work at all, a property called irreducible complexity. This means that it is impossible to be built by natural selection working on small changes.

  • I'm not looking for a definition war or anything like one!  And I'm REALLY not looking for a definition that requires an "observer" to make sense.  I'm already in deep enough on the quantum mechanics side, where "observers" are all too important. 

    I admire Sir Karl.  Didn't know he had chimed in on the "irreducible complexity" discussion.

  • Hi ToG,

    That's often the way with words we think we know 🙂



    I have been thinking that the Galapagos island ecosystem is like the car, and the adaptive radiation of the finches (or any newly introduced species) is a bit like the snowflakes.  I'm not saying that evolution CAN'T produce new information, but it seems that quite a bit of adaptation is more like finding blocks in the sudoku puzzle than "creating" anything.

    You're actually probably right, most evolution is probably tinkering with existing plans. (FWIW that is still creating information in the Shanon sense  – random mutations 'search' the fitness landscape and the surivival or not of those mutations reports back the state of that landscape. In this way an organism's genome is 'knowledge' of the state of the environments that the genome of its ancestors lived in. If think you can see that there is a definition game here with just what we mean by knowledge, but like you Im'm not very interesting in playing it!)

    But there are also times when a brand new function pops up. For the finches this was probably point mutations that changes the temporal and spatial pattern in which other genes are expressed during development (DNA is much more like a cookbook than a blueprint…). That information probably wasn't in the genome of the ancestral finch (and we know for sure that most of the changes made in breeding dogs are from new mutatoins). At the genome entirely new functions are usually made following gene-duplication – a gene is inadvertantly copied and one of the copies, freed from the selective pressure to stay the same, can pick up mutations that make a new function.

    It seems to me that a new chemical function made from the generation of a new sequence (actually called messanger RNA…) that is capable of being translated into a new protein is information for any sensible definition of that word.

  • David W.: it's a pleasure to converse with you.  What's the "Shanon sense"? 

  • Hi ToG,

    David W.: it's a pleasure to converse with you.

    Tt's very nice to have a slightly productive discussion on a topic that is so often just an ugly argument (though every time I read back over one of my comments I cringe at all the typos!)

    What's the "Shanon sense"?

    Claude Shanon wrote probably the first paper on modern information theory, it's hiw work that gave us words like 'bit' as the unit of information.

  • Please check out a completely different Understanding of the purpose of "creation" stories, and of the relation between science, religion and culture via these related references.

    http://www.dabase.org/creamyth.htm

    http://www.adidam.org/teaching/alethgeon/truth-science.aspx

    http://www.dabase.org/christmc2.htm  Einstein meets Jesus

    http://www.dabase.org/spacetim.htm  Space-Time Is Love-Bliss

    http://www.aboutadidam.org/newsletters/toc-february2004.html

  • There might be no evidence to point that darwinian evolution theory refutes the creation story, but there is also no evidence that it does support it. I just want to take the creation story as it is, purely Scripture-based. There are just some parts of Darvin's Evolution Theory that does not coincide with the Scripture, like that God made all creatures differently from the very beginning. Darvin's would say all came from the same source.

  • <span>The argument seems to be that some entity, call it god, set off the universe and established all the laws that govern it, and that therefore the god theists believe exists today actually exists.  However it does not follow that the entity that set off the universe and the god theists believe exists today are one and the same being, or that the god theists believe exists actually exists. </span>

    Mark, if your claim is that the existence of laws of nature, does not deductively entail thiesm, then I agree. But thats not what people like Swinburne argue, Swinburne argues only that Gods existence explains the laws of nature and this makes theism more probable than it otherwise would be, he goes on to suggest something similar is true for other things ( such as the origin of the universe, fine tuning, the existence of the universe) and that when all this is taken together theism is more probable than not.

    <span>we don't know exactly what set off the universe, science is working on it</span>

    Swinburne argues that science cannot answer this question, because scientific explanations explain one event in nature, interms of an earlier event and a law of nature, seeing there are no natural events prior to the existence of the universe and the question is what explains the laws of nature, from a scientific standpoint these questions are inexplicable.

  • While the telological, cosmological etc arguments are not arguments from Christ, but there are other arguments that some classical apologists do use that are centred around Christ. William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas come to mind.