What’s the problem with unguided evolution?

Not to beat a dead horse (I think it’s still alive), but I vehemently oppose those evolutionists and accommodationists who won’t affirm that evolution is unguided and purposeless (in the sense of not being directed by a higher intelligence or teleological force).  For to the best of our knowledge evolution, like all natural processes, is purposeless and unguided. After all, scientists have no problem saying that the melting of glaciers, the movement of tectonic plates, or the decay of atoms are processes that are unguided and purposeless.

So when you hear people who accept evolution nevertheless refusing to admit that it’s unguided and purposeless, you know you’re dealing with someone who is osculating the rump of faith. For it’s only evolution that elicits these disclaimers, and it’s only evolution that requires such disclaimers to satisfy religious believers.

But evolution is, as far as we can tell, purposeless and unguided.  There seems to be no direction, mutations are random, and we haven’t detected a teleological force or agent that pushes it in one direction.  And it’s important to realize this: the great importance of Darwin’s theory of natural selection is that an unguided, purposeless process can nevertheless produce animals and plants that are exquisitely adapted to their environment.  That’s why it’s called natural selection, not supernatural selection or simply selection.

Theistic evolution, then, is supernaturalism, and admitting its possibility denies everything we know about how evolution works.  It waters down science with superstition. It should be no crime—in fact, it should be required—for teachers to tell student that natural selection is apparently a purposeless and unguided process (I use the word “apparently” because we’re not 100% sure, but really, do we need to tell physics students that the decay of an atom is “apparently” purposeless?).

One well-known advocate of evolution has taken great efforts not only to accommodate theistic evolution, but to prevent a major biology teachers’ organization from saying that evolution is purposeless and unguided.  That is Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) and recipient of this year’s Richard Dawkins Award.  

First the requisite encomiums. Eugenie and her associates at the NCSE have done awesome battle against creationism, both in the classroom and the courtroom, and she well deserves her praise (and the Dawkins award) for fighting the brushfires of creationism and keeping our classrooms a venue for pure science.

Except, that is, for theistic evolution, which she apparently refuses to disclaim, at least professionally.  This story has been told before (see Larry Moran’s account at Sandwalk), but I came across it again yesterday when doing research for a book, reading a paper in Scientific American by Larson and Witham (1999; see reference below; free pdf at link). They recount this tale in a piece about science and religion in America:

Dawkins is well known for his uncompromising views and has likened belief in God to belief in fairies. He considers it intellectually dishonest to live with contradictions such as doing science during the week and attending church on Sunday.

Eugenie C. Scott, director of the anticreationist National Center for Science Education, is mindful of the public relations dividends at stake when combatants such as [Phillip] Johnson and Dawkins insist that the debate between science and religion, belief and nonbelief, evolution and creation, brooks no compromise. One of her showdowns came in the fall of 1997. On the agenda for the board of the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) was a vote about its 1995 “Statement on the Teaching of Evolution.” The statement had become infamous in creationist circles because it said that evolution is “an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process”—which to some implied atheism.

Note again that, as far as we can tell, evolution is indeed unsupervised, unpredictable, natural, and impersonal.  Larson and Witham continue:

Two reputable scholars, religious historian Huston Smithand philosopher Alvin Plantinga, suggested that the board drop the words “unsupervised, impersonal,” to save biology teachers the grief of having to defend them. The board voted down this proposal. Then, with only hours to spare, Scott persuaded the board to reverse itself. NABT director Wayne W. Carley said the change was good, honest science. “To say that evolution is unsupervised is to make a theological statement.”

No it’s not: it’s a statement of what we know about the process. We see no evidence that it’s supervised, and there could be evidence that it is supervised.  That evidence could include teleological forces behind evolution, pure directionality instead of responses to environmental contingencies, and a mutational process that is biased toward adaptive mutations.  But we have no such evidence.  The thought of Scott collaborating with the odious Alvin Plantinga to keep biology teachers from rejecting supernaturally-directed evolution makes my stomach turn.

The story continues:

But the vote came across in the popular press as scientists kowtowing to creationists, and thus began what Scott calls “l’affaire NABT.” A counter group of biologists disparaged her concern for public relations, insisting that indeed evolution is unsupervised and impersonal.

And so it is, just like every other physical process we know about.

Scott’s move was, of course, political. She and the NCSE have always maintained a NOMA-like stance that science can’t test or have any bearing on the supernatural, a stand that I find palpably false.  Of course science can test the supernatural, and I’ve posted on this many times (see here, for instance).  The reason that this false claim is pushed so hard by accommodationists like the NCSE is, of course, that if you say science and religion are completely separate areas, you don’t risk offending those believers whose faith is challenged by science. And that way you supposedly gain adherents, though that strategy hasn’t worked.

Scott has published or spoken about the theological import of “unguided evolution” many times. Here’s an example from a paper she wrote in 1996 (p. 518-519, reference below and pdf at link):

G. C. Simpson is regularly quoted with dismay by creationists as saying “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind. He was not planned.” A theist might respond that we do not know what God’s purpose is or what he planned. It is possible that if there is an omnipotent, omniscient deity, it was part of its plan to bring humans and every other species about precisely in what seems to us the rather zigzag, contingency-prone fashion that the fossil evidence suggests. Of course, this would be a theological statement, but that, indeed, is the point. Saying that “there is no purpose to life” is not a scientific statement. We are able to explain the world and its creatures using materialist, physical processes, but to claim that this then requires us to conclude that there is no purpose in nature steps beyond science into philosophy. One’s students may or may not come to this conclusion on their own; in my opinion, for a nonreligious professor to interject his own philosophy into the classroom in this manner is as offensive as it would be for a fundamentalist professor to pass off his philosophy as science. as science.

No, saying that we detect no purpose in evolution is simply a statement about reality. We detect no purpose in an ice cube’s melting at room temperature, either, but is it a theological statement to say that?  If not, then is saying that there are no small godlets occasionally igniting the gas in my car cylinder also a theological statement? And is the statement that the throw of a die is guided purely by physical forces also a theological assertion? (Elliott Sober apparently thinks that’s a theological—or at least a philosophical—asssertion.)  If we have to put disclaimers in every science class that “this mechanism appears purely natural, but of course we can’t absolutely rule out that it’s directed by God,” then we might as well stop doing science.

On pp. 518-519 of her piece, Scott makes the fallacious argument that science can’t touch or test the supernatural:

In dealing with hundreds of elementary and high-school teachers, I have found that the number of teachers that actually promote philosophical materialism along with evolution is vanishingly small. At the college level, it is more significant, but it is still not general. Vocal proponents of evolutionary materialism such as William Provine at Cornell, Paul Kurtz at the State University of New York, Buffalo, and Daniel Dennet at Tufts vigorously argue that Darwinism makes religion obsolete, and encourage their colleagues to argue likewise. Although I share a similar metaphysical position, I suggest that it is unwise for several reasons to promote this view as “the” scientific one.

First, science is a limited way of knowing, in which practitioners attempt to explain the natural world using natural explanations. By definition, science cannot consider supernatural explanations: if there is an omnipotent deity, there is no way that a scientist can exclude or include it in a research design. This is especially clear in experimental research: an omnipotent deity cannot be “controlled” (as one wag commented, “you can’t put God in a test tube, or keep him out of one.”). So by definition, if an individual is attempting to explain some aspect of the natural world using science, he or she must act as if there were no supernatural forces operating on it. I think this methodological materialism is well understood by evolutionists. But by excluding the supernatural from our scientific turf, we also are eliminating the possibility of proclaiming, via the epistemology of science, that there is no supernatural. One may come to a philosophical conclusion that there is no God, and even base this philosophical conclusion on one’s understanding of science, but it is ultimately a philosophical conclusion, not a scientific one. If science is limited to explaining the natural world using natural causes, and thus cannot admit supernatural explanations, so also is science self-limited in another way: it is unable to reject the possibility of the supernatural.

I am proud to proclaim, via the epistemology of science, that there is no Loch Ness Monster. There could have been one, and left evidence for its presence, but despite ardent searching we have no such evidence. As Victor Stenger notes, the absence of evidence is evidence for absence if that evidence should have been there.

Note that in the article Scott says this: “Although I share a similar metaphysical position, I suggest that it is unwise for several reasons to promote this view as ‘the’ scientific one.” In other words, she really does think that evolution is unguided, but won’t say that this is a scientific stand. Presumably, though, she has real empirical reasons to think that evolution is unguided, so that it’s not just Scott’s “theological position.”

What bothers me, then, is that Scott has affirmed this view in public, since she was one of the signers, along with Richard Dawkins, James Randi, and Kurt Vonnegut, of the Humanist Manifesto III (“Humanism and Its Aspirations“).  Among the tenets of this manifesto is—wait for it—the notion of unguided evolution! (My emphasis in section below.)

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change.

I am baffled that somebody can affirm the notion that evolution is unguided in a public document, yet have that same view removed from a statement of the American Biology Teachers. It’s not because the notion of unguided evolution is a theological one, for the notion of unguided anything is a precept of science derived from experience. Rather, the removal occurred because the idea of unguided evolution offends religious people, and accommodationists want those people as our allies against creationism.

Well, I’m sorry, but I do not want Alvin Plantinga as my ally. For one thing, he has promoted Michael Behe’s idea of intelligent design. Nor do I want John Haught as my ally, for he thinks that behind evolution is a God pulling the strings—and making tea. That’s simply unscientific. Give me allies who favor pure, unsullied science, a science in which God isn’t directing things behind the scenes. For that, after all, is how things appear to be.

To those who disagree I say, “Sorry, but that’s the way things appear.” We have to live with unguided evolution, unpalatable as it may be to the faithful, in the same way we have to live with the unpalatable knowledge of our own mortality.

__________

Larson, E. J., and W. L. 1999. Scientists and religion in America. Scientific American, Sept.:88-93.

Scott, E. C. 1996. Creationism, ideology and science. Ann. NY Acad. Sci. 775:505-522.

249 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:07 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. anarlib
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    You wrote, “We see no evidence that it’s unsupervised, and there could be evidence that it is unsupervised.”

    It should read, “We see no evidence that it’s supervised, and there could be evidence that it is supervised.”

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:20 am | Permalink

      Thanks for noticing this; I’ve fixed it.

      C.C.

      • Dick |Veldkamp
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:56 am | Permalink

        “We see no evidence that it’s unsupervised, and there could be evidence that it is supervised.”

        Still not fixed it seems?

    • Tim
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:40 am | Permalink

      Jerry may not see any evidence, but that’s because he’s never made a careful study of frozen waterfalls.

      • Diego
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

        Nice one, Tim!

      • Posted July 17, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

        Maybe they’re just cataracts in the eye of the beholder?

        /@

  3. eric
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    saying that we detect no purpose in evolution is simply a statement about reality. We detect no purpose in an ice cube’s melting at room temperature, either, but is it a theological statement to say that? If not, then is saying that there are no small godlets occasionally igniting the gas in my car cylinder also a theological statement? And is the statement that the throw of a die is guided purely by physical forces also a theological assertion?

    Pedagogically, I think drawing comparisons like this is the right approach. It makes perfect sense to me to teach that evolutionary mechanisms are just like other chemical or biological mechanisms. Same implications to theology. Teach students that there’s absolutely nothing unusual or different about this as science; its just science, like all the rest. Undermine any implication that evolutionary theory is somehow different from other science.

    Having said that, I think a case could be made that any teacher who belabors the point may be showing signs of an agenda. Getting students to understand is one thing; pounding the ‘undirected’ point home far more than you would with phase changes, combustion, or dice is another. Correct any misconceptions in a neutral manner, then move on…just like you would if the question came up in any other bit of science.

    • Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

      The difference of cause is that there is no one insisting that phase changes or combustion are directed. When it comes to evolution a science teacher may have to labour the point just to make sure her students understand the science as most scientists see it. I wouldn’t call that an agenda.

      • Kingasaurus
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

        “When it comes to evolution a science teacher may have to labour the point just to make sure her students understand the science as most scientists see it.”

        ^I have to agree here.

        The problem is that nobody’s natural intuitions are violated when someone says a melting ice cube “just happens.”

        The evolution of complex living things being undirected and “just happening” runs into an intuitive mental block that other physical processes don’t encounter. A mental block that I don’t think is just the result of theistic indoctrination.

        It’s precisely because cumulative natural selection (and what it produces) is so counter-intuitive that the point about it being natural and undirected needs to be emphasized.

      • eric
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

        I have no problem with that – labour the point enough to get it across.

      • Posted July 17, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        Strictly speaking, this isn’t true. Orthodox theism generally holds that God superintends *everything* in the universe (the fall of the sparrow, the hairs of your head…) his purposes to accomplish. There are a host of cognitive and historical reasons why evolution, rather than thermodynamics, is the lightning rod that draws religious ire, but in principle there’s no difference.

        Your average believer probably hasn’t thought it through to that extent. Once I had, atheism wasn’t far behind, since the evidence of the universe is that whatever God there may be is a capricious bastard whose purposes cannot be discerned in nature (so much for the old Natural Theology project). But I’m not sure whether that path properly belongs under science of theology.

        As for the NABT decision: obviously I’m not up on their deliberations and IANAL, but it seems to me that statements about “purpose” are on the borderline between science and metaphysics, and thus possibly getting into church-state issues. NOMA may be fallacious in principle, but something like it seems to be a necessary political compromise to make secular society work.

        • Posted July 17, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

          science of theology.

          That was supposed to read: “science or philosophy”.

        • Posted July 18, 2012 at 5:04 am | Permalink

          The reason seems to be pretty straightforward. Ignorance is not stupidity, at least not in all cases; so people know perfectly well that a sustaining god runs even more quickly into “problems of evil” (and waste, etc.) with evolutionary (and of course, psychological) scenarios than with others.

  4. Steven Neugarten
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    Great article, as we’ve come to expect, Prof. Coyne. I think though that you misrepresented yourself when you wrote: “We see no evidence that it’s unsupervised, and there could be evidence that it is unsupervised.”

    You surely meant “supervised” instead of its opposite.

    Respectfully,
    Steven Neugarten

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:01 am | Permalink

      Whoops. I fixed half of it. It’s now fully fixed (I think). Thx.

  5. Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    As an apophatic dystheist, it becomes quite evident that scleroderma and fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva are parsimoniously dispersed and meticulously guided by the invisible hand of Nurgle.

  6. Claimthehighground
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Help out a novice, here. While the evolutionary process is clearly random & purposeless. What is it called when plant or animal breeders choose and carefully allow certain individuals to reproduce & prevent others from reproducing, so as to direct the propagation of the preferred trait? This controlled type of supervision removes or greatly reduces both the randomness and purpose and produces an appearance of direction. What is this called?

    • gbjames
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:32 am | Permalink

      That’s called breeding.

      But more to the point, natural selection is not random. “Purposeless” is a more problematic word because it is ambiguous. The point here is that evolution is undirected. Breeding is directed by farmers.

    • Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:40 am | Permalink

      Guided evolution?

      And note that it doesn’t greatly reduce the random aspect. It still relies on random mutations. The guidance works at the selection level.

      The fact that this ‘guided evolution’ has a completely different timeline than nature’s way of doing it, is another good suggestion that ‘regular’ evolution isn’t ‘guided’ .. (or at least not by a guide who knows what he’s doing).

      • roedygr
        Posted July 18, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

        Evolution is not guided by some intelligence.
        However, it usually has a direction. You can see animals getting bigger and bigger or smaller and smaller in the fossil record for example. It does not plan or in any way look ahead. The mutations are random, but which ones survive obviously have a pattern — they are the ones that, for now, enhance survival.

        “Mutation is utterly random, but selection is extremely choosy!”
        ~ Ursula Goodenough 1943-03-16

        “This belief that Darwinian evolution is random is not merely false, it is the exact opposite of the truth. Chance is a minor ingredient in the Darwinian recipe. The most important ingredient is cumulative selection, which is quintessentially non-random.”
        ~ Dr. Richard Dawkins 1941-03-26

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted July 18, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink

          Non-random selection is not the same as guided evolution. It would be a poor hunting guide who took you always in the direction that’s downhill from where you stand right now, with no overarching plan to get you to where the game is.

          Similarly, a missile that lets itself be blown around by the winds of the moment is the opposite of guided. To count as guided, it must have a destination, and a strategy for getting there.

    • Another Matt
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

      This is sometimes called “artificial selection.” There’s an important thing to notice though — in this case it’s the selection that is guided, not the mutations that create the variation which give the breeder the opportunity to select the traits (and guide the process). Breeders are controlling the environment but not the genetic variety, and they would have nothing to work with if it weren’t for that variety.

      Most of the theistic evolution arguments require supernatural gene-diddling to create the mutations that will, in fact, be advantageous in the environment. This is actually the most parsimonious (!) of the miracle claims — otherwise there would have to be supernatural control of the environment. It’s a lot more appealing to keep god’s work hidden in the molecules where nobody can possibly pay attention than it is to have him doing things like smiting the tiger that would otherwise have eaten Adam.

    • Claimthehighground
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      Thanks, GBJ,JVB & A.M. I will use the terms, directed selection or directed breeding for this. When I’m confronted by someone espousing intelligent design, I’ll just say, “Intelligent design? That’s what breeders have done for centuries.”

      • eric
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

        Yep. Its a common canard of creationists (hee hee) that mainstream scientists reject design on philosophical grounds and never even consider it as an explanation.

        This is complete baloney; of course scientists consider it, because we know and understand that humans do it. We reject design as an explanation in the overwhelming majority of cases of adaptation because we see no evidence that some designer is operating in those cases. But show some biologist a german shepherd or modern corn on the cob, and they’ll happily and easily agree that yeah, intelligent design was involved.

        Rejection of design by mainstream science is an empirically-based conclusion, not a philosophically-based premise like the creationists like to claim.

        • Guy
          Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

          “But show some biologist a german shepherd or modern corn on the cob, and they’ll happily and easily agree that yeah, intelligent design was involved.”

          Do you really think they would say it is intelligently “designed”? I would be of the opinion that it was intelligently “selected”.

      • gbjames
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        “Intelligent design? That’s what breeders have done for centuries.”

        Looking at some of the resulting dog breeds, I’m not sure I’d go with the “intelligent” word.

        • Claimthehighground
          Posted July 17, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

          I carefully avoided cats, however.

          • gbjames
            Posted July 17, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

            My mama didn’t raise no dummies.

        • Filippo
          Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

          I am a black standard poodle enthusiast. I can’t help it – for sure I have no free will in this matter.

          I don’t see that humans do miniature/toy poodles any favors by having selectively bred for them.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      Animal breeding isn’t that different in principle from sexual selection. When a female bird chooses a mate based on his plumage or his nest-building skills, she’s doing essentially the same thing as animal breeders do when choosing which individuals to breed.

      From a gene’s-eye view, they both involve the existence of selective pressure favoring specific phenotypic traits. Genes that promote those traits will be preferentially propagated; those that don’t won’t.

      So it’s all natural selection under the hood. The only difference is the mechanism by which selective pressure is applied, be it predation, sexual preference, or utility to human needs.

      • Caroline52
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        Excellent point! Acts of artificial selection by human breeders — in fact any typical human behaviors — can be seen as part of the human species’ “extended phenotype,” just as a dam is part of the beaver’s phenotype, as Dawkins has taught us. Thus artificial selection arises only as a result of natural selection.

      • Posted July 17, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

        I really like your way of thinking! The key thing is that no selective regime (natural or otherwise) increases the probability of *truly* beneficial mutations cropping up.

      • roedygr
        Posted July 18, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

        >Animal breeding isn’t that different in principle from sexual selection.

        Imagine an intelligent wolf that for some reason decided to breed a race of fast rabbits. It could chase and kill slow rabbits.

        This the exact same behaviour as a standard wolf looking for a meal. The effect on the rabbits is identical. Whether we call it artificial or natural selection seems to depend on the internal mental state of the selector, and perhaps on how efficient it is at effecting change. I think human vanity has made us exaggerate the difference between natural and artificial selection.

        It would be very difficult for a Creationist to deny artificial selection. So breaking down the inaccurate barrier may be the key to forcing them to face reality.

        • gbjames
          Posted July 18, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

          An intelligent wolf would breed slow, not fast, rabbits. The same would hold for intelligent rabbits: they would breed slow wolves.

          • roedygr
            Posted July 18, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

            Personally, I find the notion of a wolf doing selective breeding experiments a lot harder to swallow than whether they would be breeding for speed or ease of catching. Siriusly.

            • gbjames
              Posted July 18, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

              Just going with your example!

  7. Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    I am baffled that somebody can affirm the notion that evolution is unguided in a public document, yet have that same view removed from a statement of the American Biology Teachers.

    It doesn’t seem wrong when they are taken as two different kinds of statements; one being what scientific inquiry can conclude and the other being what comes from philosophical reflection on the matter. While Scott may or may not be right when it comes to science and the supernatural (supernatural cannot be tested by science for no other reason that supernatural doesn’t have any actual explanatory power behind it – “Then a miracle occurred can never be scientific”), there should be nothing baffling about someone in a scientific setting and in a philosophical setting giving two views to the same problem.

    • lamacher
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      That’s called ‘cognitive dissonance’.

      • iseehowyouare
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

        Or it could be called “intellectual” dishonesty”. But it can’t be called consistent or correct.

      • Posted July 17, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        No, it’s called recognising the epistemic limits of various disciplines. There’s nothing inconsistent in believing that evolution is unguided, but that is a philosophical implication of the theory. Whether it’s right or wrong, it’s not a matter of cognitive dissonance.

      • PB
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

        Could it be “salesmanship” ?

    • PB
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

      Sometimes I felt Jerry is a bit too harsh on things that do not directly connected to his own thoughts.

      What I see here is that Eugenie has several goals in her mind, and she has to juggle them, finding a balance.

      Just like a salesman sometime has to sacrifice objetivity to sales quota. Not very commendable indeed, but definitely not criminal or anything.

      The max I can say for Eugenie is she is not purist. Jerry is purist in a way. We need to have purists like him to remind us, but on the other hand a practical person with actual quota (of good deeds) to fulfill should also has his / her say as well.

      • gbjames
        Posted July 18, 2012 at 5:36 am | Permalink

        Making the sale, to go with your analogy, at the expense of truthfulness is might make your quota for the month but it is going to backfire in the long run. Customers will tumble to the fact that you are a dishonest sales rep.

        Why is it “harsh” (a.k.a. “shrill” and “strident”) to point out incorrect argument?

  8. Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    Can we view evolution as a process of increasing complexity of matter in the flow of energy to entropy? If so, there’s a “purpose” to it of sorts. In this view, evolution occurs to greater facilitate thermodynamic flow.

    • Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

      No.

      • Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

        Err… actually, it can. In fact, that’s pretty much what the paper “Natural selection for least action” by Kaila and Annila (doi:10.1098/rspa.2008.0178) details the math for.

        However, it’s worth noting the “purpose” is simply an aspect of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. That is, the same “choice” for fire turning wood into light, smoke and ash, rather than light, smoke and ash turning into wood — even though the other laws of physics allow either, and though technically the Second Law only makes one very much less likely than the other.

        • Hayden Scott
          Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

          What does “complexity” mean, and, not unrelated, what is its measure, in this context?

          • Posted July 20, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

            Not very precisely nailed down, I’d admit. Generally I tend to think of it loosely in terms of Kolmogorov measure, or in terms of the computational class of patterns possible within the grammar. The former seems closer, here; but probably not an exact match.

    • Tim
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      Earth takes in ~20,000 cm⁻¹ (give or take) photons and re-emits 25 times as many ~800 cm⁻¹ photons. Living creatures, in the process of evolving or not, may make this process more circuitous, but they are neither necessary to nor preventative of this process. So, as to your question: No.

      • Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

        I’m not familiar enough with the subject to know if Bruce Weber is some kind of flake or not. But here’s a paper he co-authored on the topic that takes a different view than yours. Has his stuff been discredited?

        http://people.biology.ufl.edu/ulan/pubs/Webr-Dpw.PDF

        • Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

          A bibliography of Weber’s work can be found here. Despite some of the titles (“Does the Second Law of Thermodynamics Refute the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis?”), the content looks solid (We have answered this question in the negative…) to my amateur eye.

          He definitely seems to be a chemist, looking at biology as the study of autocatalytic carbon compounds that crawl under conditions of thermodynamic non-equilibrium. He may be slightly accomodationist, judging from a skim of (doi:10.1111/j.1467-9744.2007.00876.x), but a rather less egregious one than most; he clearly expects religion to have to adapt to science, rather than vice-versa. If he is a bullshit artist, he is at least three orders of magnitude more refined at it than Dembski.

          • Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

            It’s interesting that Weber concludes his paper on the very topic Jerry raised in his post.

            “From our perspective, however, there is no watchmaker, blind or cited – for there is no watch. Natural organization is not an artifact, or anything like it, but instead a teleonomic, and in a certain sense teleological consequence of the teleomatic action of energy flows.”

            • gbjames
              Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

              “Sighted” (not “cited”), surely?

              • Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

                You’re correct, but don’t call me surely.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted July 17, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

          I had luckily forgotten about Weber. (But I’m better prepared to read this now.)

          The problem with non-equilibrium thermodynamics is that it is so complex.

          Entropy is not a measure of organization, it is not a unique measure of systems (many possible extreme values, see Landauer IIRC) and it is not a basis for extremum principles.* Prigogine seems to have overreached and is criticized both theoretically and practically (no important “dissipative structures” in his sense AFAIU, contra Weber), and he is oft cited.

          Morowitz circle theorem may be valid, but it doesn’t seem to have been tested. On the other hand I think the results on energy vs ecology and autotrophy vs phylogeny tests the importance of energy as constraint. As primary forcing, I don’t know.

          —————
          * I briefly see that Weber is somewhat aware of that.

    • Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      Evolution may be a chaotic process, that is, unpredictable in the sense described by chaos theory.

      But I really don’t think speciation has anything to do with the increase of entropy. I don’t even think they’re analogous.

      • Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        Gosh. I should’ve refreshed before posting. The page had been open in my iPhone browser for a couple of hours.

        Perhaps I’ll change my mind after reading the other comments.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      That is actually one of the proposals for the process from chemical to biological evolution, of Morowitz et al. The reason is because you can show that energy flows leads to cycling of matter, a thermodynamical theorem derived by Morowitz. And with enough potential difference (temperatures, say) you often observe that you end up with self-organizing channels (hurricanes, say).

      That energy constraints are forming life through the environment is certainly observed.

      – Valentine suggests that it predicts the separation in ecology for Archaea and Bacteria, based on the observed ~ 1:10^3:10^6 energy ratio for cells between survival (DNA repair) to maintenance (cell repair) to growth and replication. Archaea has low permeable membranes which minimizes futile ion cycling, small genomes, and specialized effective metabolisms.
      ["Adaptations to energy stress dictate the ecology and evolution of the Archaea", Valentine, Nature Reviews 2007]

      – Lane suggests an energy theory for eukaryotes, that the mitochondria small genomes endows eukaryotes with another factor of ~ 10^5 energy ratio for protein turnover. And hence large genomes, predicting the separation to the other two domains.

      – By imposing a constraint of CO2 autotrophy on the tropic level, Braakman et al can derive a phylogeny of core metabolic pathways back to a UCA. ["The Emergence and Early Evolution of Biological Carbon-Fixation", Braakman & Smith, PLoS Comp Bil 2012]

      It’s most evolved version is perhaps laid out in “Energy flow and the organization of life” by Morowitz & Smith (2006). They propose “a collapse to life” and doesn’t hesitate to suggest that it is still ongoing. Then inventions such as photosynthesis and mitochondrial endosymbiosis would be “chemical transitions” distinguished by irreversibility (again on the tropic level).

      That is arguable. As for chemical evolution, the reason why cells would occur or at least can occur is because while CO2 want to produce CH4 from H2 it is abiotically slow. IIRC someone described life as ‘the process to produce methane fastest’.

      The other side of the redox coin is oxidation. Apparently when you go through the numbers, atmospheric oxygen stands for only 1-2 % of oxidation, sulfur ~ 25 % and the rest is iron in the mantle by way of plate tectonics. So you could also describe life as the process to maximize rust. =D

      Stepping one step further back, now it seems Earth-Moon and Mars have the same initial mantle water content. (A paper on Mars meteorites a few weeks back.) The simplest explanation is that the minute amount of water, ~ 0.05 % by mass, and so the hydrogen was there from the beginning, little impact contribution, perhaps as physisorption in the protoplanetary disk.

      Then CO2/H2 atmospheres and water would be the result of thermal and chemical imbalances during planetary differentiation, driving chemical evolution towards life.

    • eric
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      I think SJ Gould would’ve objected to your assumption that complexity is increasing. Single-celled microorganisms remain the dominant form of life on the planet in terms of numbers, biomass, and arguably impact. What we think of as increasing complexity over time is just the tail of a distribution.

      We don’t see that because we have human-scale senses. But observing big animals and so thinking big animals are important is like observing the bit of the iceberg above the water and assuming its the most important part.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

        Granting that large animals are just the tail of a distribution, it’s undeniable that the tail is much farther from the mean now than it was a billion years ago. Similarly, the number of species in the global ecosystem is considerably greater now than then. So clearly something is increasing, and it seems perverse not to call it complexity.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        Egad! I had this discussion on the astrobiology course I participated in, because our teacher presented a Kurzweil like diagram of cherry-picked genome complexity and its extrapolation. My only beef with that course.

        The antidote is Gregory’s data on genome size, and if you place it on a time scale the complexity goes like two steps (prokaryotes & eukaryotes). This is also what some papers on respective LUCA genome size gives.

        The response then was that there must be an initial increase in genome size. Sure enough, since then papers on protein fold families have shown an initial net growth, specifically it looks like an increased family birth and death rate under the so called Archaean Expansion. But that takes us up to the DNA (and possibly metabolic) LUCA and the seemingly delayed diversification into domains.

        So it seems two separate methods meet (size & folds), telling us of a relative stasis for a long time.

  9. Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    It’s so simple as to be trivial, and so obvious that to miss it as Dr. Scott has is inexcusable.

    If there are gods doing things in our vicinity, then we can detect what they’re doing. If what they’re doing is undetectable, then, at best, they might as well not doing anything.

    Even if they’re only occasionally doing very small things — and what a come-down for those who once ruled over everything in the Heavens and on Earth — then even that would be detectable through statistical analysis. Patterns would emerge from the statistical background noise.

    Besides which, of course, there’s the question of the mechanism the gods use to do their dirty deeds. Either they’re moving matter and expending energy, in which case they’re quite detectable but no different from space aliens…or they’re perpetual motion machines and the phantasms of con artists.

    Why is it so hard for people to understand this stuff? Especially people like Dr. Scott?

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Another Matt
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:55 am | Permalink

      Plantinga seems to argue that god’s work would be undetectable almost by definition, because for any change he makes, reality will conform so automatically that it will have appeared to have contained that change all along.

      And of course an omnipotent god could make these changes emerge from a set of statistically random signals…

      But really, what’s the point? What’s in it for god to hide himself so?

      • Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

        Plantinga’s notion of “omnipotence” is incoherent, and little different from a ten-year-old boy’s superheroes.

        His allegedly-omnipotent superfriend cannot, for example, commit suicide or otherwise resign its omnipotence. Humans do that sort of thing all the time, with ease, so we know there’s no sort of logical absurdity in the notion.

        So I hope you’ll forgive me if my reply to Plantiga is something along the lines of, “Thor would so totally kick Jesus’s ass! Would too!”

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Another Matt
          Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

          Agreed — it’s embarrassingly Anselmian.

          Well MY being greater than which nothing can be imagined pops in and out of existence in a random pattern –it wouldn’t be such a great being if we could predict its existence function, now would it? And what could be more predictable than a constant existence function?! Oh, and also it simultaneously makes sure that it just happens not to exist whenever atheists call out to it or look for it.

      • PeteJohn
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

        Presumably that same God would be hopping mad at any human being who chooses to withhold his or her belief in God. Burying its very existence so deeply into the world that people who thrive on evidence could not be believers, then punishing them for it, seems to be a rather cruel way of doing things.

        So even under sophisticated theological interpretations, God is still a jerk. Good to know.

        • shakyisles
          Posted July 17, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

          +1

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        From Sophisticated Theology™ to Statistical Theology™.

        There is a tongue-in-cheek scifi story by physicist Gregory Benford, “Anomalies”, on that. The gods machinations turns up as errors in the calculations, that can’t be completely edited out. When an error light cone sweeps the solar system, mayhem follows.

        Also intellectually as science and philosophy becomes forever linked (ouch!) as Empirical Theology™.

        Somehow I think Coyne can be on board with that.

    • Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      Thanks for always making this point; Scott really dropped the ball in not considering it herself. She talks about God as if God were a plausible mechanism by which things could happen. How does God do the things he does? Where does he get the energy? No one’s even tried to answer these questions; Scott is giving consideration to an idea completely unworthy of it.

      …Meanwhile, the people who believe that evolution is supervised also believe that cancer is supervised. How’s that make a person feel?

      • Mark Fuller Dillon
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        >>the people who believe that evolution is supervised also believe that cancer is supervised.

        And so is antibiotic resistance! The gods want their bacteria to flourish despite all human effort!

    • Filippo
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

      Yes, why shouldn’t “manna” descend from Heaven today, as in days of Israelite yore, to feed the hungry? Ones taste buds would certainly, objectively – scientifically – detect that supernaturally – generated substance, eh?

  10. Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    One can find plenty of theological entanglements in Jerry’s own work, which (I assume) he finds suitable for public school science classrooms. Note that these entanglements would exist even if the NABT changed its statement back to the fully unguided proposition Jerry prefers.

    Here’s a scenario. A high school biology teachers uses WEIT, chapter 3, where Jerry argues the following (p. 81):

    “What I mean by ‘bad design’ is the notion that if organisms were built from scratch by a designer…they would not have such imperfections. Perfect design would truly be the sign of a skilled and intelligent designer.”

    Then this exchange ensues:

    Student: Why should biological design be perfect? Nothing we make is perfect.

    Teacher: Well, look, we’re talking about a divine designer. You know, God.

    Student: But why does God have to make perfect designs? And how does Professor Coyne know what a divine designer would have done in any situation?

    And so on. Off to the theological races…

    The historical connection of naturalistic evolutionary theory to the theology it opposed (even before 1859) means that God-talk will never very far away from any discussion of the evidential basis of evolution. There’s no way to avoid these overlaps, whatever one proposes about “unguided” evolution versus agnosticism on the question.

    In a program a few years ago on National Public Radio, with the late philosopher of science (and opponent of intelligent design) Niall Shanks, I asked Shanks if public school science classrooms could read Darwin’s Origin of Species in the original, given its substantial theological content. Shanks said he thought that was a bad idea. The host, Margot Adler, was flabbergasted.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      First of all, Paul, let us reiterate that you are a young-earth creationist who rejects ALL the evidence for not only evolution, but for an old earth. So you don’t accept scientific evidence but reject in in favor of your faith. I should ask you to defend your view that the earth is just a few thousand years old based on evidence, not the Bible. But we’ll defer that for the nonce.

      Second, as I have emphasized many times before, but which you apparently have not grasped, the “imperfection” of design that we see is not random screw-ups, but precisely the kind of imperfection we see if evolution happened! This is, for example, the case with respect to the recurrent laryngeal nerve and all the dead genes in our genome (like yolk-protein genes) that we have that have been inactivated by mutation but were active in our ancestors and are active in our relatives. So if there is a designer, he designed with the goal of fooling people into thinking that evolution occurred! Do you really want to believe in a deceptive creator? And I am perfectly comfortable with making that statement, along with the statement that of course there is no evidence for either a God or for the young earth you so fervently espouse.

      • Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

        Taking a broom to sweep the theological cobwebs out of biology will succeed only if one doesn’t drag the cobwebs along in one’s own clothing — and thus, recontaminate the room. The point of my comment above was to indicate that your complaints about Eugenie Scott, Plantinga, the NABT statement, etc., ring hollow in light of your own theological assumptions, which are central to the case you make for unguided evolution in WEIT.

        A negatively-formulated theology — e.g., God would not do X, unless he wishes to deceive — is still a theology.

        Readers who wish to see a very thoughtful discussion of this issue, held at the University of Chicago earlier this year, should go here:

        http://darwin-chicago.uchicago.edu/radick.html

        Jerry did not attend, despite my pleading with him in private email to do so.

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:27 am | Permalink

          A statement that if there was a designer–a designer for which there is no evidence–he would have had to have designed things to look like evolution is no more theological than saying if goblins controlled Rush Limbaugh, they are making him sound like a moron. It is a logical statement, not a theological one, because it makes no presumption about the existence of a designer. And if you want to characterize it as theological, well then fine, but I disagree.

          And now, before you continue to post, I’ll ask you to lay out the scientific evidence for a young earth. As you may know, I often ask believers to establish their scientific credibility by giving their evidence for God before they post further. In your case, I’ll simply ask why you’re so convinced that the Earth is a few thousand years old, and why the huge majority of scientists who believe otherwise are deluded. Is it that god DESIGNED the earth to look old? :-)

          • Tim
            Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

            /crickets/

        • blitz442
          Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

          “The point of my comment above was to indicate that your complaints about Eugenie Scott, Plantinga, the NABT statement, etc., ring hollow in light of your own theological assumptions, which are central to the case you make for unguided evolution in WEIT.”

          Are “theological assumptions” central to the case made for unguided thermodynamics, unguided radioactive decay, and unguided weather patterns?

        • eric
          Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

          A negatively-formulated theology — e.g., God would not do X, unless he wishes to deceive — is still a theology.

          This is just standard creationist leveling. ‘Your scientific statement has theological implications, so therefore your science is no different from my theology.’

          Yeah Paul, it is different. Evolution’s undirectedness is a conclusion based on empirical evidence. We teach the empirical evidence and the best explanation science has found for it. That makes it science, not theology, even if it has theological implications.

          Moreover, you have not addres JAC’s main point at all, which is that the ‘undirected’ conclusion in evolution is no different from the ‘undirected’ conclusion everyone (including Genie Scott and probably most creationists) readily accepts in any other part of science. Rejection of it in this one case but not others is arbitrary, not supported by the evidence, and so appears to be nothing more than a bias.

          What do you say to that? If you agree that a photon slamming into a nonbiological carbon atom and breaking a bond isn’t purposeful and directed, why do you think the same photon slamming into a biological carbon atoms is purposeful and directed? Where does the photochemistry of biological mutation acquire its directedness, when no other photochemistry has it

    • Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      Why should biological design be perfect? Nothing we make is perfect.

      The “perfect” in the WEIT quote you’re ferrering to, of course, sipmly serves as a reducto.

      If any “designer” were mucking about in genomes, perfect, incompetent, or otherwise, we’d see evidence to that effect. Instead, what we see is indistinguishable from infrequent and statistically random incremental mutations that have survived their local environment long enough to reproduce.

      The notable exceptions, of course, being the very recent work by people like Dr. Venter….

      Cheers,

      b&

      • PB
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

        The mention of Dr. Venter is good example. What he does is really god-like in the theological sense.

  11. Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    “Evolution is purposeless and unguided” – That’s a religious statement. I guess we should see it a sophisticated theology (of the atheist kind), on account of the fact that it is made up.

    “There is no evidence that evolution is guided by an external agent” – that’s a scientific statement.

    I will stick with the scientific statement, and leave the religious assertion to the wannabe atheist theologians.

    • gbjames
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

      Nonsense. (that it is a religious statement)

      The “unguided” part is entirely scientific. The “purposeless” part requires further clarification. But that doesn’t make it religious.

    • Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

      So, one is to prsume that you would therfore similarly avoid stating that radioactive decay is random, preferring instead the theologically-neutral statment that there is no evidence that radioactive decay is guided by an external agent?

      Do you also go out of your way to leave the door open to the possibility that motions of the planets aren’t governed by orbital mechanics, and that maybe there’s wiggle room for a daemon (Maxwell’s, perhaps?) who fiddles with the motions of particles in a gas every now and again?

      b&

      • Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

        So, one is to prsume that you would therfore similarly avoid stating that radioactive decay is random, …

        That’s an absurd analogy. “Evolution is unguided” is a metaphysical statement. “Radioactive decay is random” is an epistemic statement about what is observed.

        Do you also go out of your way to leave the door open to the possibility that motions of the planets aren’t governed by orbital mechanics, …

        I do sometimes go out of my way to assert that the motions of the planets are not governed by orbital mechanics. They are described by orbital mechanics, but not governed by them. The planets are not constantly checking the rulebook to decide which way to move.

        • Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

          That’s an absurd analogy. “Evolution is unguided” is a metaphysical statement. “Radioactive decay is random” is an epistemic statement about what is observed.

          Then you do not understand the Theory of Evolution by Random Mutation and Natural Selection.

          There is a greater body of evidence confirming the fact that nothing other than natural selection guides evolution than exists for any other natural phenomenon.

          That evidence includes genomic analyses so exhaustive and thorough that even the slightest statistical anomaly consistent with unnatural guiding would have long ago leapt out like a stricken thumb. And it includes morphological, taxonomic, geographic, and fossil forms of evidence that all unequivocally point in the same direction, as well as copious lab experiments.

          Not only is there is nothing metaphysical whatsoever about the statement, but there’s actually significantly more evidence for the lack of guidance in Evolution than there is for the lack of guidance in radioactive decay.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

            The difference, of course, is that nobody’s cherished faith is being threatened by the idea of unguided radioactive decay.

            Really, though, an omnipotent, omniscient God must be pulling all of the strings in the cosmic puppet show, right down to every last photon of cosmic radiation that bumps a nucleide out of place. The whole business of life, including all the bowing and scraping of worship and prayer, is just an exercise of the most abject futility. Nobody, not even the most fervent Calvinist, really believes that. They just draw neat theological boundaries around the idea of divine action (Predestination! Special Creation! Teleological evolution! Finding the right husband/wife!) so as to keep it from dissolving into manifest absurdity.

        • Vaal
          Posted July 17, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

          That’s an absurd analogy. “Evolution is unguided” is a metaphysical statement. “Radioactive decay is random” is an epistemic statement about what is observed.

          Nonsense. Both are empirical statements.
          Radioactive decay seems, to our best observations, to be random. Of course there COULD logically be a conscious force we don’t know of yet guiding it. But we needn’t take this seriously in our descriptions of physics until someone makes it plausible, vs merely logically possible.

          In exactly the same way:

          The forces we have identified as driving evolution are non-sentient and in that sense evolutionary changes are “unguided” (where “guided” implies conscious intent). Of course there COULD logically be a conscious force we don’t know of yet guiding it. But we needn’t consider this seriously in our descriptions of evolutionary forces until someone makes it plausible, vs merely logically possible.

          You are attempting to make a distinction that isn’t there, hence special pleading only in the case of evolution.

          Vaal

          • Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

            More precisely, there could have been a conscious force guiding radioactive decay and / or evolution. But such fiddling would have resulted in non-random distributions of events that strongly how statistical randomness.

            Think of it like a loaded die. There are two ways to tell if a die is loaded: weigh it, or roll it a sufficient number of times and see if there’s a statistically significant deviation from a random distribution.

            Pretty much every scientific paper you’ll ever come across these days has some sort of statistical analysis of the data, and in no case have the findings ever been consistent with the gods hypothesis. In the aggregate, once you combine all those studies, the odds of there being one or more gods (or other supernatural entities) responsible for any observed phenomenon are, with rounding to almost arbitrary decimal digits, precisely 0%.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Vaal
              Posted July 17, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

              Ben,

              But here we are in the realm of simple logical possibilities. Your objection relies on assuming a God would want to intervene in a detectable manner, in the same way a loaded die distinguishes itself in a detectable manner.

              What if a God wanted to remain hidden?

              It’s logically possible a God could have interfered with, or guided evolution in a way designed to hide His actions – hence it looks to all the world, and to our data collecting, like statistically random results. I can not see you having grounds to say this is somehow “impossible.”

              This is the problem of unfalsifiable claims.
              There are limitless unfalsifiable claims we can make up, the undetectable God doing His thing behind the scenes being one of them.

              It’s just that, as we agree, there’s no reason to take such claims seriously in our descriptions of the universe thus far.

              Cheers,

              Vaal.

              • Posted July 17, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

                You’re trying to have your Kate and Edith, too. Either a god’s actions are significant enough to make meaningful changes in the course of evolution, in which case they’ll show up in statistical analyses; or the god’s changes are so minor as to not show up on a statistical analysis yet also is insufficient to make meaningful changes.

                Remember that there’s no irreducible complexity going on, nothing that we see that couldn’t have arisen just fine on its own. If there were, then, yes, we’d need to invoke something god-like to explain it. But there isn’t, so the only role left for any god is perfect nonintervention.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Vaal
                Posted July 17, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

                “Either a god’s actions are significant enough to make meaningful changes in the course of evolution, in which case they’ll show up in statistical analyses; or the god’s changes are so minor as to not show up on a statistical analysis yet also is insufficient to make meaningful changes.”

                “Meaningful” to whom?

                You are still looking at this from only one direction – your desire to detect a God. If you wouldn’t detect a God statistically, then you declare the God’s actions insignificant or meaningless. (And, I would infer, also trivial). Any deliberate guiding by a God would no doubt be significant and meaningful to that God insofar as it achieves his aims.

                And it does not follow that what looks to be statistical randomness therefore can only have insignificant or trivial meaning or results.

                Take the example of a Casino that wants to cheat someone out of the possibility of winning big money. The Casino looks at statistically possible sets of losing numbers. The Casino rigs a pair of die to roll ONLY the numbers that will ensure the mark doesn’t win big. To a statistical analysis, nothing would stick out. The mark would have rolled a statistically possible string of mediocre or losing numbers, just as occurs many times every night at casinos.

                But the statistical insignificance does not therefore mean that nothing significant or meaningful CAUSED those numbers or had a significant guiding effect. The actions of the Casino would be seen as quite significant (and illegal) in how it constrained, invisibly, the direction of the
                mark’s fate that night.

                Applied to a God, the same type of scenario is logically possible: a God could have been influencing things in a manner statistically undetectable to us, but which in fact had significant guiding force in the outcome of evolution.

                This of course isn’t some form of accommodationist apologetics. I’ve already argued vehemently against accommodationism. But Jerry himself acknowledges there are wacky logical possibilities we can attach to any observation (see “godlets” driving his pistons). The point is there isn’t any reason to take them seriously, and there is especially no reason to take them any more seriously just because we are talking about evolution.

                Vaal

              • Another Matt
                Posted July 17, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

                This is rather like the question of what would count as evidence that someone had traveled back in time and changed events. If I went back and killed your dog Joe’s mother before he was born, would you remember Joe (maybe more importantly, would I remember Joe after I killed his mother)? Would there be any evidence of Joe having existed at all?

                In all seriousness, I think all this really distills to the problems surrounding the Omphalos Hypothesis, which is unfalsifiable and not worth taking seriously.

              • Posted July 18, 2012 at 6:22 am | Permalink

                Take the example of a Casino that wants to cheat someone out of the possibility of winning big money. The Casino looks at statistically possible sets of losing numbers. The Casino rigs a pair of die to roll ONLY the numbers that will ensure the mark doesn’t win big. To a statistical analysis, nothing would stick out.

                Actually, it would, assuming your analysis was comprehensive enough. If you just look at a few throws by the one mark, of course not. But if your analysis were to include all throws by all players and if there were a sufficient number of games played, then, yes. It would be quite obvious that the mark wasn’t winning enough.

                And, might I add? You’re still proposing that the hidden god is a perpetual motion machine, doing all this gene-fiddling without leaving behind detectable traces of matter and / or energy flows.

                Cheers,

                b&

          • roedygr
            Posted July 18, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

            >Radio active decay seems to be random

            Mathematicians have ways of defining and measuring randomness. Radioactivity is truly random.

            See http://mindprod.com/jgloss/random.html

            to learn about the difference between pseudorandom and truly random numbers.

    • Vaal
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      ““Evolution is purposeless and unguided” – That’s a religious statement.”

      No, as Jerry says it’s a statement about reality as it appears to us – which is the only rational way we can make statements of knowledge.

      The only reason it SEEMS theological is because some people hold the unjustified, un-evidenced belief in a supernatural God who “could have” been involved. They have not shown good reason to take this seriously.
      And the mere fact that you can entertain the idea of a logical possibility as an alternate explanation does not require one to suddenly become agnostic (if it did, our entire system of knowledge claims would crumble).

      Example, take the statement: The fire beneath the pot caused the water to boil.

      You could make the same claim that it is a hubristic “theological statement” because it posits fire as causing the boiling water…rather than God. After all, what we think “causes” water to boil (gas, ignition, flame etc) may instead only be signs that we want water to boil, and then God obliges us and magically makes water boil. It’s not heat but God’s magic that boils water!

      Therefore whenever you say “The heat from the fire caused the water to boil” is to deny God as the actual cause of the water boiling.

      “Waaaahhh! You are making theological claims against my God!” Your complaint about the “theological” component of Jerry’s statement is no better than this. Given such theological or supernatural objections can be raised (that is gratuitous or alternate logical possibilities to explain what we see) about EVERY SINGLE OBSERVATION WE MAKE, it’s SPECIAL PLEADING to single out a statement about evolution being unguided.

      We attribute things to non-sentient causes all day long because THAT IS HOW THINGS SEEM. To the best of our ability to investigate, the heat from fire seems to cause water to boil, and we have no reason to propose a supernatural, intelligent intervention in the process – hence we ATTRIBUTE the process to the only causes that we actually uncover.

      Same with evolution. We ATTRIBUTE the results to the only processes we observe and find to explain what is happening, which as it happens are NON-SENTIENT, hence evolution is un-guided by intelligence.

      We could be missing something. Could be wrong. But that is the case for every statement of knowledge we ever make. So we make statements of knowledge, while remaining open to being shown wrong in the future. No special pleading for evolution, please.

      Vaal

      • Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

        No, as Jerry says it’s a statement about reality as it appears to us

        But that is false. A more accurate statement about reality, as it appears to us, would be “evolution is guided (by natural selection).”

        • J.J.E.
          Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

          Natural selection isn’t a force, guiding or otherwise. It is a consequence of reproducing entities with heritable traits that differ in fitness.

          • Another Matt
            Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

            But if there is “fitness” there does have to be some sense in which the process retrospectively endorses what has made it through the sieve. In this sense you can always look back and find reasons or rationales for the way things eventually turned out, and in that sense the selection sieve “guided” what happened (and it can even be used to make some predictions about what is likely to happen in the future).

            But clearly it does not make sense to claim that the process was “trying to get to where we are now all along.”

        • Vaal
          Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

          Neil,

          No it’s true.

          “Evolution is purposeless and unguided”

          Is an accurate statement, and it follows from:

          “Evolution is guided (by natural selection).”

          If it’s the case evolution is guided by natural selection, and natural selection lacks the elements needed for intent and “purpose,” and “guidance” then it’s true “evolution is purposeless and unguided”.

          We have identified the cause of evolution, and those causes are purposeless. If someone proposes we are wrong and need to introduce a Purposer into the equation, it’s up to him to show compelling reasons to do so. Until then, “evolution is purposeless and unguided” accurately reflects what we know about the reality of the evolution process.

          Vaal

          • Vaal
            Posted July 17, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

            BTW, in case it’s not ridiculously obvious, the objection to “guided” is in the sense of an entity with conscious intent and power to achieve it’s aims – e.g. Gods of the type of “theology” you keep referring to when saying “unguided” amounts to a “religious” statement. Let’s not equivocate meanings of “guided” here.

            Vaal

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      “Evolution is purposeless and unguided” is a theoretical prediction of neo-darwinism, and hence well tested. The laryngeal nerve is an excellent example.

      “There is no evidence that evolution is guided by an external agent” is a trivial observation, and as an ad hoc (without the theory) very weak. Of course it is science, but if that is all science was it would be meaningless.

      I think your theological claim (that the theoretical prediction is a religious statement) gives you very much the same result as when you say “goddidit”. Too weak or too strong claims stops science dead in its track.

      Tip: We want testable claims, so we can reach above ad hocs but reject erroneous (say, too strong) claims.

      • Filippo
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

        I turn my back to K-5 students to write something on the board.

        I hear talk.

        I turn around.

        “Who is that talking?”

        No one admits to talking. “I wasn’t me! Whaah!”

        I say, “Well, it wasn’t the Flying Invisible Spaghetti Monster.”

        They howl.

        But, it could be the FSM, couldn’t it? I can’t prove it isn’t. Who am I to say it isn’t? ;)

      • roedygr
        Posted July 18, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        If there were a god interfering with evolution, the god should have an effect. You would see violations of Darwinian behaviour e.g.

        1. animals evolving features not currently useful, but that will eventually evolve into something useful.

        2. animals that are less adept at avoiding predators prevailing without some compensating advantage.

        3. some sign of moral judgment — animals with disgusting or cruel habits unexpectedly going extinct. Icheneumon wasps have disgusted many a Christian.

        If there is a god, he seems to have a hands-off philosophy. He might as well not exist in terms of understanding evolution.

  12. ageofreasonxxi
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Frankly, I just lost nearly all the respect I had for Eugenie Scott after learning that she had “collaborated” with the “odious” (also vacuous, moronic, pretentious, and generally annoying–not the least for his feigned humility) Alvin Plantinga (a.k.a. Crazy Alvin), the undisputed master of writing whole books and managing to say nothing of substance, as highlighted by his main thesis, which no doubt will rank among humanity’s greatest insights, and which basically states that IF his imaginary friend exists, Christians are not irrational or stupid!.
    Or put differently: ‘If my fantasies are true, I’m not crazy!’ wow!

  13. DV
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    >>there are no small godlets occasionally igniting the gas in my car cylinder

    That would be the Spark Plug, peace be upon it.

    • PeteJohn
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      How dare you insult my idea that the Spark Plug is a divine being! In the Laws of the Spark Pluggies, page 223, it says that all who wish peace upon the spark plug shall be executed, and the manner of execution shall be the slow removal of one’s head by a wooden spoon. In case you wanted to check my citation, you cannot, because only I can read the Laws of the Spark Pluggies, and I can only read it on the third Tuesday of each month with 30 days. And you can’t watch me read it because it occurs in a parallel version of time invisible to people not me. So there…

      • Mark Fuller Dillon
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

        That’s enough evidence right there to found a new religion! Ask for donations, and watch what happens. ;)

  14. Another Matt
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    If we have to put in disclaimers in every science class that “this mechanism appears purely natural, but of course we can’t absolutely rule out that it’s directed by God,” then we might as well stop doing science.

    This is, I think, the most important point to take from this discussion.

    If evolution is guided, then such a theory has some explanatory power, but no predictive power. The guided evolution hypothesis would be useless for fighting disease, for instance, because nobody could predict the purpose and action of the guider. Natural selection does the job well enough for us to have flu vaccines available yearly for the likely upcoming strains.

  15. Darth Dog
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    The focus on getting these kind of caveats into teaching of evolution does baffle me. Many of the religious folks that I know do believe in miracles. So when one person survives a plane crash when everyone else is killed, it is because of God. Yet they don’t insist that there is a disclaimer in physics or aeronautical engineering classes. They pray for a sick person who gets well. Now we need the disclaimer in medical school, and maybe even on the label for aspirin. “This medication may provide relief, or provide a sneaky way for God to provide relief instead.”

    Even stranger is their belief in bible passages such as pointed out in earlier posts, like “God hardened pharaoh’s heart.” Now God is messing with their concept of free will. They should even need a disclaimer in philosophy class.

  16. W.Benson
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    And anti-adaptationist Stephen Jay Gould, who redefined Darwin as mushy headed pluralist, is their enshrined guru.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      Oh Jay! … I mean, joy!

  17. blitz442
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    “Nor do I want John Haught as my ally, for he thinks that behind evolution is a God pulling the strings—and making tea.”

    Ha ha. I am still amazed at how poorly Haught performed at his debate with Jerry.

    I doubt that Mr. Haught has the mental horsepower to study any “discipline” other than theology.

    • Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      I share Jerry’s criticisms of Haught and his painfully obfuscated writing, but there’s nothing wrong with his intellect. Haught is one of the best writers out there at articulating the problems that evolution poses for Christian theology. It’s just when he turns to the impossible task of offering defenses against those problems that things get wooly and all too easy to lampoon.

  18. MAUCH
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    It seems that if you put the phrase “according to the evidence” in a statement and you accept that the evidence being presented is valid it cannot be argued. I’m sorry if the truth brings our culture great anguish but it is still the truth and it is time our society face it.

  19. RWO
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    It is shocking to read of E. Scott’s position. There simply is no accommodation possible with creation viewpoint, because it is based solely on faith belief in things that require no evidence. It is an emotional investment in a ‘truth’ claim by the believer, which by definition requires disbelief of claims that contradict it, and ultimately adamant opposition to those contrary claims. Compromise is not an option when dealing with this ideology. The ‘liberal’ faith adherent embrace of a wishy-washy evolutionary biology, as divine creator scheme, offers the lure of an appeasement which permits students to be taught principles of biology, chemistry, physics, geology, etc. But this partial-science is a two-edged sword: it is not faithful to the principle of truth, while also implying the permissibility of claims sans evidence in an arena where truth claims must be required to be falsifiable, to avoid blurring/erasing the vital distinction between knowing and believing.

    And it gets worse when the fundavangelical, who is fanatical about the truth of his beliefs over all else including incontrovertible evidence, apprehends this waffling on academic principle. Then the accommodation provides incentive to a demand for increasing concessions to scriptural creationist belief claims, whose goal includes no accommodation of any sort in any degree to contradictory claims. The totalitarian imposition of (his) faith beliefs is the goal of the religious zealot. Giving ground to the members of this group will neither win friends nor appease enemies. It only concedes territory, and truth must never concede to untruth. Let that ball roll even a little bit and it heads toward a tipping point where it takes all over the cliff with it. Given the right conditions, any mass may grow and gain the momentum of an unstoppable juggernaut in a moment.

    I would word the sentence about supervised/unsupervised processes in a slightly different way that I think helps to avoid entanglement with creationist dogmatists, and also emphasizes why evolution is silent on cause for singularity. I don’t mind learning why my proposal ought to be rejected because it is unwise or unsound, or how it may be improved or replaced with something more efficacious.

    JC: We see no evidence that it’s supervised, and there could be evidence that it is supervised. That evidence could include teleological forces behind evolution, pure directionality instead of responses to environmental contingencies, and a mutational process that is biased toward adaptive mutations.

    RWO: Evidence observed so far about evolutionary processes is that change in organisms is a response to environmental contingencies, and a mutational process that is biased toward adaptive mutations. Evolution is the explanation of change to biological life forms over time, and evidence requires that it be silent on the origin of biological life because no information containing an explanation for that is presently known.

    With the exception of comparative religion courses, which I wish were mandatory in junior high school, the less said about woo in secular classrooms the better. Zero is ideal.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      A strong comment.

      Evidence observed so far about evolutionary processes is that change in organisms is a response to environmental contingencies, and a mutational process that is biased toward adaptive mutations. Evolution is the explanation of change to biological life forms over time, and evidence requires that it be silent on the origin of biological life because no information containing an explanation for that is presently known.

      I believe I see your point, but I don’t think we can confine evolution like that. Parts of evolution’s mechanisms, like selection, are expected to work during the process of chemical evolution transiting to biological evolution.

      The proper and protective claim IMO would be that regardless of earlier processes mechanisms, regardless how far back evolution proper goes, evolution stands as well tested. In that sense origin of life becomes orthogonal to the validity of evolution.

      Depending on your definition of populations and heredity, today evolutionary methods seems to reach before the DNA LUCA into the RNA/protein world. Protein fold families can be a proxy for genome expansion as well as a proxy for a clock. Then the diversification into domains are the ~ 60 % of the time proxy, the DNA LUCA is ~ 20 %, and the RNA/protein world ~ 20 %. ["The evolution and functional repertoire of translation proteins following the origin of life", Goldman et al, Biology Direct 2010; and more like that.]

      Possibly RNA and proteins co-evolved, see Weber in other comments.

      In any case, here heredity becomes a fuzzy concept. It originally must have been distributed in metabolic networks with or without RNA/protein and NAD et cetera cofactors, on a tropic level. You can no longer distinguish between cells and a confederacy of parts.* Yet you can do this evolutionary phylogenetic analysis.

      —————
      * There are good and valid arguments for an early cell membrane. But you still can’t tell if everything was localized in specific cells or haphazardly distributed over many.

  20. Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    The thing I dislike most about Scott’s position is that it is so obviously self contradictory (as I’ll explain) in order to serve a narrow political goal, and yet she apparently really believes that her bogus theological points are valid. I wish she would have the intellectual honesty to say that, yes, she is just using tactics to achieve a political win, but I suppose that’s hardly a statement she could make publicly.

    The reason I say that her position is so obviously self contradictory is that if she truly believes science has no ability to question the supernatural, then she has no place whatsoever trying to refute creationism with empirical evidence. According to her worldview, it is a ‘theological’ position to state that evidence can refute creationism, as it could well be that the world is simply misleading – that it has been made to look billions of years old despite being only a few thousand years old.

    There is no consistency in targeting creationism and then saying that the rest of religious dogma is off-limits to science. That’s simply not true. It’s either all off-limits (so leave creationism alone, Scott), or all in its limits (so we can refute theological claims with empirical inquiry). Like Dawkins has said recently, although evolution education is important, it’s one skirmish in a larger battle for critical thinking, and that battle is only going to be won if we recognise the power of science to refute dogma.

  21. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Then, with only hours to spare, Scott persuaded the board to reverse itself. NABT director Wayne W. Carley said the change was good, honest science. “To say that evolution is unsupervised is to make a theological statement.”

    This is the problem with accommodationism right there even if it worked, they are forced to sit halfway to crazy town. What Scott manages to do is to put a theological claim in the mouth of NABT, that somehow teaching the tested theory is religion.

    I wished someone would have taken that to court and tested whether or not evolution proper can’t be taught in US based on Scott’s claims.

    This is much simpler to see in physics, because no one would claim that the quantum field theory for electromagnetism contains an extraneous “gods of the gaps factor”. (Especially since there is no room for hidden variables in quantum mechanics.) Is Scott seriously suggesting we should think gods are pushing electrons around in each and every atom? That would stop science right there, no more mechanisms needed, no more answers to be searched.

    Evolutionary creationism aka “theistic evolution” remains a separate, creative agent, idea. You should never conflate two different theories.

    It is in no way a theory either. It _can’t be_ because in the absence of observation of magic we can’t include it in a theory for the same reason that we can’t separate out two classes of identical electrons doing the same things.

    All we can do with theological ideas is to exclude them as a mechanism by the absence of any related observation. And exclude it “beyond reasonable doubt” to boot.

    • derekw
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      This is much simpler to see in physics, because no one would claim that the quantum field theory for electromagnetism contains an extraneous “gods of the gaps factor”.Well..based on current understanding of the nature of dark matter/energy (ie we basically know diddly squat)…there already are claims floating around for god of the gaps right there. In due time the mystery will probably be revealed (Higgs Boson discovery should help.)

  22. Another Matt
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    I am proud to proclaim, via the epistemology of science, that there is no Loch Ness Monster. There could have been one, and left evidence for its presence, but despite ardent searching we have no such evidence.

    Minor off-topic quibble, but here’s an example of Coyne treating himself to a pretty fancy helping of “could have been otherwise” to make an epistemological/scientific point. This is precisely the kind of “could have done otherwise” that compatibilists help themselves to, and which inductive empiricism requires to get off the ground.

    • Vaal
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      Yep ;-)

      Vaal

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Coyne is not a compatibilist, and it is he who likes untestable “could have been otherwise” as if a Fallacy of Untestability would result in something worthwile. (Not a philosophic fallacy, but an empirical one.)

      So when you say that “compatibilists” use that argument, I have no free will but have to say it confuses me.

      • Another Matt
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        Here’s the point, in case it wasn’t clear:

        Jerry’s point that there could have been a Loch Ness Monster but we have found no evidence for it can be reformulated as a counterfactual conditional:

        “If X, Y, Z, and perhaps a trillion other conditions had been met, there would have been a Loch Ness Monster.” (and we would have evidence for her.)

        The same thing can be applied when we say things like:

        “If the water had been heated to 100 degrees C it would have boiled.” or “If we apply enough pressure, this branch will bend until it breaks.” or “If the mammals hadn’t survived the K-T event, we wouldn’t be here to talk about it.”

        This is a little simplistic — after all, Nelson Goodman went through some four editions of Fact, Fiction, and Forecast on this problem, but it’s the gist.

        But when it comes to human activity, the only such counterfactual conditional he seems to be willing to entertain is:

        “If all the particles in the universe had been in the same position, I still might have done something other than what I was recorded doing.”

        My point is that there really is no way to make a hypothesis if “all the particles in the universe had been in the same position” is the only permissible antecedent. Science can’t get off the ground at all if we let “determinism” count as an explanation for anything.

        • Tim
          Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

          Exactly! I (and Vaal and others – many, many times in a clearer fashion) have been saying this:

          …there really is no way to make a hypothesis if “all the particles in the universe had been in the same position” is the only permissible antecedent. Science can’t get off the ground at all if we let “determinism” count as an explanation for anything.

          On its own, “determinism” is a totally impoverished ultrareductionist explanation that Jerry only seems to apply to free will, but not the rest of science.

  23. Occam
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    From the archives:
    Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity, 1971, pp. 21-2

    The cornerstone of the scientific method is the postulate that nature is objective. In other words, the systematic denial that “true” knowledge can be got at by interpreting phenomena in terms of final causes – that is to say, of “purpose.” An exact date may be given for the discovery of this canon. The formulation by Galileo and Descartes of the principle of inertia laid the groundwork not only for mechanics but for the epistemology of modern science, by abolishing Aristotelian physics and cosmology. To be sure, neither reason, nor logic, nor observation, nor even the idea of their systematic confrontation had been ignored by Descartes’ predecessors. But science as we understand it today could not have been developed upon those foundations alone. It required the unbending stricture implicit in the postulate of objectivity — ironclad, pure, forever undemonstrable. For it is obviously impossible to imagine an experiment which could prove the nonexistence anywhere in nature of a purpose, of a pursued end.

    But the postulate of objectivity is consubstantial with science; it has guided the whole of its prodigious development for three centuries. There is no way to be rid of it, even tentatively or in a limited area, without departing from the domain of science itself.

    In her implicit and complicit acceptance of teleology, Scott 2012 falls behind Monod 1971.

  24. Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Eugenie Scott says

    “If science is limited to explaining the natural world using natural causes, and thus cannot admit supernatural explanations, so also is science self-limited in another way: it is unable to reject the possibility of the supernatural.”

    So she ends up agreeing with Jerry about science being open to the possibility of the supernatural, but for the wrong reasons. Science can’t reject the possibility of the supernatural not because it can’t admit the possibility of and test for supernatural explanations (it can), but because it admits there might be evidence of the supernatural forthcoming, however unlikely that might seem at the moment. The reason for denying the existence of the supernatural, if one is an empiricist (no evidence for it), is the same reason an empiricist has to admit the logical possibility of the existence of the supernatural (evidence might be forthcoming).

    That said, the metaphysical, worldview claim that only nature exists depends on making an epistemic commitment to empiricism as dispositive about what exists, and that commitment can’t be justified by science, since science is in the business of description, not normative justification. Nevertheless, there is a compelling justification for adopting the epistemic norm of empiricism, namely that *if* you want reliable beliefs about the world upon which to base effective action, *then* you’ll seek publicly available, empirical evidence for them. And just about everyone wants reliable beliefs.

    *Every* worldview claims to describe reality as it is, as opposed to how it might subjectively seem. That is, every worldview draws the distinction between objectivity and subjectivity. Having made this distinction, there really is no rival to empiricism – adducing publicly available evidence – when it comes to achieving objectivity. Of course supernatural worldviews claim there *are* rivals to empiricism, but have never delivered on this claim. They don’t have a cogent answer to the argument from objectivity, http://www.naturalism.org/secularism.htm#objectivity Accomodationists like Eugenie Scott aid and abet this failing, and help cover it up, by saying there are alternative ways of knowing facts about the world (including the supernatural, should it exist), when they know (or should know) full well that there aren’t.

  25. Vaal
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Jerry’s post is bang-on. Examples like “small godlets occasionally igniting the gas in my car cylinder” highlights the special pleading involved in these “theological” objections to statements about evolution. The objections are brought up when the subject is evolution, but the same type of objections could be brought against every single statement of knowledge or statement of causation we could make. literally everything we say could by the same lights become “theological claims.”
    I gave an example of fire heat boiling water becoming a theological statement in a post above. (BTW, small minds – mine – and great minds – Jerry’s – can sometimes think alike. I’ve been using a car engine-based “Piston Elves” and “Gravity Elves” analogy for many years to make the same point).

    In these instances “God” is used to highlight our epistemological situation. We have to admit we don’t seem omniscient, and that statements about reality have to ultimately be understood as tentative to some degree, and that we need some way of navigating the seemingly limitless field of logically possible propositions to settle on those we can reasonably latch on to. (We do this by choosing the “plausible” vs the merely “logically possible”).

    God is merely a stand-in idea, one of many that for any situation can illustrate “there are OTHER logical possibilities compatible with what you see!” But there is nothing epistemologically SPECIAL about God whatsoever. God could be behind why water boils…or behind mutations in evolution or whatever. But there are as many alternate explanations for what we observe as the human mind can dream up. Mutations are caused by aliens in another dimension manipulating evolution. Water boiling is caused by “XTHUSA,” and undiscovered element of the universe. Barack Obama is an android from the future. We are all just dreaming.
    It goes on and on.

    The only reason God is raised as some special appeal to our epistemological tentativeness is from it’s historical, cultural influence. But there’s nothing special about the issues a God raises whatsoever.

    What drives me nuts is when even secular people buy into the cultural gravity of the God objection. “Oh yes…better not make that claim…for instance that we know there is no after life or nothing guiding evolution. That really goes too far and into speculation and theology.”

    No it’ doesn’t. It states the facts at they appear to us, like everything else.
    It’s great to see Jerry does not fall in line with such accommodationism.

    Vaal

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      Small godlets occasionally igniting the gas in my car cylinder can change my fuel consumption. (Variation.)

      Hence they can affect my choice of gas station. (Selection.)

      Small godlets can control my life, hence they can control everyones lives, hence:

      All Your Base Are Belong to God.

      — Manuscript idea brought to you by Small Godlets Production, in cooperation with Large Gods Administration —

  26. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Maybe I’m the only fellow here who actually works professionally with high school students (both in public school and at a secularist summer camp), but I mean if we’re looking at !*high school*! education, I think Scott’s position is a political necessity.

    And her (soft, not strong) accomodationism doesn’t make the sophistical obscurantist Alvin Plantinga my ally- it just makes him someone I am not currently at war with, at least not on that front. (Soft) Accomodationaism can be a truce not a treaty.

    Scott’s position does in fact amount to an admission of a conceptually shrinking God with less and less to do, reducing God to almost a ghost rather than a spirit. (Consequently, RWO is the one poster here I therefore vigorously disagree with). Fundamentalists want to prolong “God”‘s life by artificial means- some atheists want to actively kill God. Why not just let the God-idea die a peaceful death?

    Choose your battles, and vigorously fight the religious right lunatics like Limbaugh and Beck and make peace with the religionists who are genuinely decent, I say.

    Back from (secularist) summer camp.

    • Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      Is your goal to provide your students with accurate information about the way the universe works, or is it to win them to the Evolution team?

      The evidence overwhelmingly precludes any even hypothetical possibility of unaccounted-for guiding in the evolution of life on earth — even more than it precludes the possibility of a non-random component to radioactive decay. Pretending that there’s still a possibility of an unobserved force somehow guiding evolution is tantamount to lying to students, and every bit as absurd as conceding the possibility that “Intelligent Falling” could still be the underlying mechanism behind orbital mechanics.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • gbjames
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      Why not just let the God-idea die a peaceful death?

      I think nearly everyone here would be happy to see this happen. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that this will happen on its own. This miserable idea needs to be shoved off a cliff because it isn’t willing to jump.

    • PeteJohn
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      “Why not just let the God-idea die a peaceful death?”

      Because God’s followers won’t let it happen. They keep filling the miserable old bastard up with pain killers and other medications, prop him up on a couch so he can interact with everyone, and then threaten and bully anyone who points out the obvious that God is a dying idea that needs to be taken behind the barn and shot before anyone else dies in his miserable old name.

    • RWO
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Comparative religion teacher’s ought not impart special status to any course material; no religion or deity concept should be elevated to any kind of status in any way, as the course is concerned only with identifying, comparing, and analyzing comparisons of different belief traditions current and historic. This is the only classroom in secular schools where religious notions may be tolerated. High school science teachers ought not countenance any religious intrusion into course material. Ever. For any reason. Students who insist on interjecting personal beliefs should be privately dealt with outside the classroom, with only parent’s and school administration officials additionally present if necessary. Teachers have no more business confronting student about their religious convictions than students have inserting them into science classrooms. Avoid discussing woo in public secular school science classrooms. Do not open the window to religious claims debate in secular science classrooms the tiniest crack. That may be all the zealot needs to force it open all the way. It is only through sheer good fortune when appeasement of ignorance does not lead to significant harm. Limit classroom materials and discussion to science.

      • derekw
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        Well..you just can’t separate ‘religious notions’ from other courses like World Cultures or American History either. You know the whole ‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights’ kinda thing. Hmm…is that +1 for religion?

        • RWO
          Posted July 17, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

          Discussion of that phrase from the Declaration in a history course is a fair point, and perhaps presents challenges to teachers from students brainwashed by parents/church in the Christian Dominionist/Reconstructionist movement(for all I know. Religious doctrine, dogma, and speculation is not science and does not belong in the science classroom, and limiting science classes to science does not restrict open and honest inquiry in history courses, where doctrine, dogma, and speculation also does not belong. Students who lug David Barton baggage to history class is a weary thought.

    • Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

      I think this is short-sighted. With this approach to evolution advocacy, you are having your cake, eating it too, and will later reap the reward of morbid obesity. By telling children that it is OK to inject baseless faith into science when it suits their dogmatic religious needs, or their emotional whims, you simultaneously keep the door ajar for all future pseudoscience and crack-pottery. You have to cut at the roots of faith-based lunacy if you want it to end, and that means striking far deeper than evolution alone. Of course evolution education is important, but it’s not as important as achieving evolution education as part of a science curriculum that doesn’t kow-tow to religionists.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the many replies.

      Just to be clear, I favor no discussion of religion in science classrooms either way other than the briefest possible assertion that people disagree on the philosophical implications of evolution and then leave it to a class on science and philosophy. I suspect this is Eugenie Scott’s position as well.

      And for obvious reasons, I favor discussing religion in English literature and history classes (very much with RWO).

      I also regard NOMA as not viable. Science keeps taking over territory previously dominated by religion.

      Disclosure: My father has written numerous articles for Eugenie Scott’s publications “Reports of the N….” far more than he wrote for the Council for Secular Humanism (one or two). His academic field is the impact of Darwin, psychology, and secular history on liberal Christian theology.

      • gbjames
        Posted July 18, 2012 at 5:47 am | Permalink

        You are not burdened by the sins of your father. But neither do you get to enjoy his laurels.

        • JonLynnHarvey
          Posted July 18, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

          LOL. I’m really only pointing out a family connection to Eugenie Scott.

  27. Diego
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I suppose there’s a spectrum of theistic evolutionism from what is essentially Intelligent Design with a constantly tinkering god all the way to a very weak Newtonian god who simply knew in advance how things would play given initial starting conditions. I don’t see the latter view as being distinguishable from randomness but I suppose such a compromise would hold little comfort for the religious and for me would simply be ad hoc and useless.

  28. Barbara B
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Someone commented: “…Meanwhile, the people who believe that evolution is supervised also believe that cancer is supervised. How’s that make a person feel?” This is exactly what I was thinking. Theists have a much bigger problem when they claim that evolution is guided by a god, than if they claimed it is unguided. What kind of a god guided the evolution of viruses, harmful bacteria, carnivores, parasites, etc., as well as, guided 99.9% of all species to extinction? A sadistic god, I would say.

    • Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. This is an example of myopia of religious belief. Vast numbers of self-interested Christians will pray for little Johnny to win at baseball, or for their bake-a-thon to go without a hitch, all the while not thinking about the millions of hopeless victims of starvation half-way across the world. Similarly, if you’ve never dealt with a deadly virus or a parasite burrowing into your eye, the problems it causes with your self-contradictory worldview don’t arise. One of the most essential tools in the war against religion is cultural awareness – if more American people were aware of the world outside their own borders, they might find more reasons to question their intellectual inconsistency.

  29. Sue Blue
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I can’t thank you enough for your clear and concise explanations of evolution! I had this discussion with a theist recently; he just couldn’t see how a “mindless, purposeless force (his words) could create complex beings that obviously do have purpose”. My somewhat clumsy efforts to explain included such examples as the mindless, purposeless force of moving air (wind) shaping a tree into a pruned and twisted form. Neither the wind nor the tree has any conscious aim or goal, yet the result serves to influence the survival of the tree.
    I wish I had been able to refer him to this site. I have your book “Why Evolution Is True” and refer to it often, but sometimes I don’t have the particular page I need at my fingertips!

    • Another Matt
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Sue,

      Not everyone here will like this, but you should also check out this lecture by Dan Dennett on “The Evolution of Purposes.”

  30. Philip Parilla
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I am a physicist and so my detailed scientific knowledge of evolution is not as complete as those professional scientist that work on it daily. Let me play devil’s advocate: How would you prove that the random component to evolution (mutation) is indeed random? I am very much inclined to believe it is indeed random and would generally make that assumption if I were forming hypotheses that needed an assumption one way or the other. But how would you prove it? It seems that it would be very difficult.
    For the case of radioactive decay, it can be proven in the sense that the decay event statistics are fully consistent with the random hypothesis. For evolution, it seems that the mutation events can be influenced by several environmental factors (mutagens) and do we know (yet) how that process happens and what the natural mutation rate is? I would imagine that it could depend on all sorts of factors including the present local genotype in question, nearby genotypes, and the local chemical and biochemical environment of the cell and the local energy environment (eg. temperature, ionizing and non-ionizing radiation) just to name a few. This is a nightmare for performing a properly controlled experiment. Have such studies been performed? I am all for having language that states something on the order of “evolution appears to be unguided and purposeless” but to say that it actually is unguided and purposeless requires scientific evidence to back it up.

    • gbjames
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      I’m pretty sure the word “proof” is appropriate for mathematics but not so much for scientific statements in general.

      IOW, I think you are making a semantic quibbling argument here. Why?

    • Another Matt
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      One possible avenue would be to look at how changes in vestigial genes (e.g. the one for making vitamin C in humans) are distributed in populations. Here you’d have good evidence for the randomness of molecular changes in an otherwise well-defined and discrete strand. That is to say, it is well defined and discrete because it used to have a well-defined function, but it is no longer subject to selection pressure due to changes in the environment.

    • Evgeny Brud
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      Mutations have been shown to be undirected (or ‘random’, in the sense that they’re not biased toward mutations that are useful in your environment). Two experiments that showed this were the ‘Luria-Delbruck experiment’ and the ‘Lederberg and Lederberg experiment’. Both tested whether mutations for antibiotic resistance were induced by an antibiotic environment, or whether these mutations were present prior to the antibiotic environment (and were thus undirected).

    • Caroline52
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      Random in this context just means having zero correlation with either benefit or detriment to the organism, not necessarily mathematically random. And that lack of correlation can be and has been observed by looking at actual mutations and their effects.

  31. Bebop
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Like Jason Rosenhouse on his blog once told Jerry:

    “If you ask a theistic evolutionist where eyes came from, he will reply that eyes evolved gradually by natural selection, just as scientists say. If you ask him what scientists should be doing differently in their professional lives he will reply that they shouldn’t change anything they are doing. If you ask him whether his belief in God results from a straightforward inference from scientific data he will reply that it does not and then look at you funny. And if you ask him what we should be teaching students in biology classes, he will say that we should teach evolution precisely as scientists understand it with no mention of God at all.”

    Again, God doesn’t need to guide anything, evolution can take care of itself alone

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      So you are saying that Scott had no business changing the perfectly executed NABT statement?

      Fine, that is what the thread seems to agree on.

      • Bebop
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

        But I would also add that unguided evolution isn’t an argument against God…

        • Tim
          Posted July 17, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

          Not all kinds of God, but it is an argument against a God that guides evolution.

        • Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

          Unless you postulate that the universe is divinely deterministic with evolution bound to result in humans (which really only moves the guided part back a step), then unguided evolution at the very least is an argument against an intelligent entity that is interested in our welfare.

          • Bebop
            Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

            You are right in the same way that an apple tree isn’t interested by the apple it produces. It is in its nature to produce apples, just like it is in the nature of an intelligent entity to produce intelligence.

            • Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

              That makes the totally unwarranted assumption that human mental faculties are in some way comparable to the “intelligence” of a divine being. Seems a little overly self-complimentary to me.

              • Bebop
                Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

                Mental human faculties are comparable to a divine intelligence, but in a far more limited way. But I would say evolution is precisely a way the (natural uncreated) intelligence uses to interact with matter in order to increase complexity, self-awareness and intelligence so it can know itself better and better.

                Of course, our biological condition and our space/time plane makes us think and grasp the world in a way that prevents us to have the same perspective as the source itself of intelligence.

                The oriental traditions are more technical when it comes to analyze the self and his mode of thinking. That is why they developed technics to overcome them, to overcome the dual mode that shapes our mental faculties.

              • Posted July 18, 2012 at 4:20 am | Permalink

                Carneades eviscerated this argument millennia ago: begged question! Coyne-M.-L.’s
                argument now furthers that with science.
                Remember theistic evolution is just an oxymoronic oabscurantism.
                Some theists themselves do indeed admit that we live in a purposeless world as science evinces, but never the less God directs outcomes, so that we have divine purpose.
                That betrays humanity,because we are not pottery with Him as our potter to give us purpose as we give purpose to our computers! Theologians revel in such gibberish!
                No directed outcomes. No divine purpose!
                Mechamism rules! Scientific fact!

              • gbjames
                Posted July 18, 2012 at 5:44 am | Permalink

                @Bebop: Are you French Canadian?

            • Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

              It’s also a fallacious parallel. If I instead said that it is in the nature of malus domestica to produce apples, you couldn’t so easily replace “malus domestica” and “apples” with “intelligent entity” and “intelligence” as you can when it’s “apple tree” instead. They’re not comparable. Take away the arbitrary linguistic labels and you’re left with a nameless organism that simply creates vessels for reproduction. You present nothing analogous to that with an intelligent entity.

              • Bebop
                Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

                I was just pointing that it would in the nature of an uncreated intelligence to reproduce intelligence, without being specially interested in the results…

              • Posted July 18, 2012 at 12:38 am | Permalink

                @ Callum : It’s Malus domestica; you’ll have Matthew Cobb after you! ;-)

                @ Bebop : Would it? How do we know? What evidence is there that it’s “in the nature” of intelligence to produce intelligence?

                /@

  32. Posted July 17, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Surely those of us who consider ourselves dyed-in-the-wool atheists are not so intolerant that we have to dump on very useful scientists such as Eugenie Scott or Neil De Grasse Tyson.If we do, our critics who accord us the title of “fundamentalists” are going to think they have been right all along. Lighten up a bit folks.

    • gbjames
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Surely those of us who consider them wrong for this or that reason don’t have to stifle our opinions because some critic will misuse the comments?

    • shakyisles
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      I don’t take issue with someone disagree or criticizing,..but it’s when you get that feeling that the author has ‘got it in for someone’ that doesn’t sit right

      • gbjames
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        Then respond to the specifics you disagree with. Otherwise it sounds a lot like just telling people to shut up because you don’t like their tone.

      • Posted July 17, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        That’s precisely how I felt – that the author had ‘got it in for someone’. My original comment was – lighten up Jerry – but that was too ad hominen for me, so I changed it. I remember another post in which Jerry lit into NDG Tyson because Tyson weasled out on calling himself an atheist; he was ONLY an agnostic.
        Jesus H. Christ – this is getting to be a bit much for an old guy like me.

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted July 17, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

          I don’t have it in for anyone here; I have it in for an idea that I think pollutes science. So get over it, Mr. Perkins, and if this is getting to be a bit much for an old guy like you, I suggest you frequent other websites. I don’t need your advice to lighten up, thank you.

    • Caroline52
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      But Jerry didn’t “dump on” Genie Scott. He’s doing consciousness-raising work. And doing it very respectfully and carefully – unlike your criticism, which was a mere venting of your gut reaction. What appreciative audience were you imagining to yourself while making your tut-tut, tsk-tsk, basically contentless remark? If you want people to change their minds about how to approach accommodationism, make a careful argument, backed up with evidence

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      I am not dumping on a scientist, I am dumping on a bad idea, and I don’t care whether the person who espouses the idea is a scientist or a creationist. I am opposed to the notion of theistic evolution as something that should be acceptable to scientists, period.

      Did you happen to notice the encomiums I gave Genie, by the way?

      • Posted July 17, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        Exactly.

        Genie’s done some great stuff, but she’s being a poopyhead when it comes to accommodationism. And if her friends aren’t going to tell her that she’s being a poopyhead, who will?

        b&

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      Concern troll is concern trolling.

    • Posted July 18, 2012 at 4:36 am | Permalink

      John,indeed. What the two should say is that some relgious people have no problem with evolution. Case closed.Obscurantism is the modus operandi of theology,as it poses the Supreme Mystery, surrounded by still more mysteries, as the ultimate explanation, but discounting thereby the real explanations that make for the more abundant life!
      Theists accept the putative brute fact -God but refuse to accept the eternal Metaverse as brute fact in the name of explanation! They add another layer needlessly in the name of complete explanation so as to give a personal explanation that Craig and Swinburne wrongly prattle, as they per Lamberth’s argument from pareidolia see intent and design instead of the reality of mechanism and patters for what the Lamberth reduced animism argument notes that it what theism is!
      God is love is a meaningless begged question!
      That theological prattle about divine intent blasphemes reason!
      We naturalists have won the argument so now it is up to psychology to aid theists to get over their superstition!
      Thus gnu atheism- that medicine to aid the religious addict- must act always!

  33. shakyisles
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Do these people also believe the shape of their dumps are guided? Honestly…get over it

  34. Caroline52
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Terrific post, Jerry, very precision-tool rendered, and not even a hint of problematic wrangling over who gets to decide what certain words really mean. Your brilliance shines through.

  35. Strider
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    One beef with the post Jerry: I think one shouldn’t *ever* apologize for having a rational view.

  36. Mary Gnusader Canada
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    “To those who disagree I say, “Sorry, but that’s the way things seem to be.” We have to live with unguided evolution, unpalatable as it may be, in the same way we have to live with the unpalatable knowledge of our own mortality.” – I find this reality quite liberating.

  37. Richie P
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the excellent post Jerry. I agree with everything you say in this article, although a have got a bit of a bone to pick with the last sentence:-

    “We have to live with unguided evolution, unpalatable as it may be to the faithful, in the same way we have to live with the unpalatable knowledge of our own mortality.”

    I’m sorry but I don’t think we should be throwing any sort of bone to these Creationists on this. I really don’t think that the ‘unguided’ nature of evolution is unpalatable, and nor do I think we should suggest that it might be. It seems to me that the Creationists are wrong not just on the question of whether evolution is true, but also on the question of what it means if it is in fact true.

    I think it is actually theistic evolution that is unpalatable, because on this way of thinking we have to conclude that not only is there an unimaginable amount of suffering going on in the natural world (every minute of everyday for hundreds of millions of years), but that this suffering has been sanctioned by an allegedly all-powerful God. At least with unguided evolution there is nobody at the top letting it happen. Indeed, in the absence of a God this process (warts and all) is probably the only way the living world we see around us could have happened. This seems to me a consolation of sorts.

    Better still is the fact that unguided evolution means that all of the beauty and complexity evident in nature actually happened without the need for any top down interference at all. An awe inspiring thought if there ever was one.

    I have to conclude that unguided evolution is immensely palatable.

    • Posted July 18, 2012 at 4:40 am | Permalink

      Thanks Jerry, master of how to use reason for that more abundant life through science!
      We need to get more people to read WEIT!

  38. smilingatheist
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    I recently (on my birthday actually) visited Darwin’s house and purchased Eugenie’s book Evolution vs. Creationism, yep on sale in Darwin’s house. I was aware that Eugenie was an accommodationists and I had a feeling that book would be along those lines but I was curious to see what she had to say.

    To say the least I am somewhat disappointed with the book. I am continuing to read it and do find some things interesting but there is a lot of accommodation in it.

    I’m not sure why Jerry’s book wasn’t there as that would have been more suitable.

    Great post Jerry and I wish more scientist would come out and agree with you. I know Richards Dawkins has disagreed with Eugenies’ position and of course PZ has as well. They like what NCSE does but not the accommodation.

    We need more scientist to put this in perspective with statements like this and we need their support in schools and in public. It’s the only way to get things to change.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted July 18, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      How many of Darwin’s books were on sale down at Down?
      I bet the reason you didn’t mention buying them is that you already had them all, Amirite?

  39. MadScientist
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    That’s why I categorized Francis Collins as a “Creationist” – the version of evolution he peddles is a god-based one, not the one we observe.

  40. Posted July 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    One of the things that concerns me regarding the accommodationist approach is that it lends validity not only to an unscientific mode of thinking, but also to a non-sensical question. Specifically, it implies that asking “the meaning of life” is an answerable, reasonable question. The accommodationist approach suggests that this question cannot be answered by science, but still implies that it can be answered. In reality, that question makes no more sense than the question “what is the sound of the color blue?” Framing reasonable questions is a major cornerstone of modern discovery and observation. It therefore worries me whenever unreasonable questions are given consideration.

  41. Alex SL
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, but you are obviously wrong. Clearly evolution had a purpose, and that purpose was to produce the Western Marsh Cudweed. (Every other organism is just decoration.)

    • Mark Fuller Dillon
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      But but but… what about the grand and glorious P*U*R*P*L*E V*E*T*C*H…?

  42. Filippo
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    “We have to live with unguided evolution, unpalatable as it may be, in the same way we have to live with the unpalatable knowledge of our own mortality.

    Can’t say for sure where I heard Dawkins say it (maybe “Issues and Answers” hosted by Hugh LaFollette at East Tennessee State University):

    “The palatability of a proposition has no bearing on its truth.”

  43. roedygr
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Evolutionists have a problem with the creationists creating straw men. The most common straw man is that evolution is “random”, and hence a random walk would not get anywhere interesting; it would not evolve to greater complexity. But then when you explain that natural selection does winnow the incompetent, it makes it sound like some conscious agent is doing so. Evolution is guided, but only in the sense the geological strata guide a river, or the direction of evolution of rabbits is “guided” to favour rabbits that can dodge predators. You might say it is guided by the outcomes of contests between wolves and rabbits.

    So I say evolution is indeed guided, and I promise I don’t harbour even the tiniest scintilla of belief the god Jehovah had anything whatsoever to do with it.

    • Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

      That would be “guided” in an unhelpful metaphorical sense then.

      • Bebop
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

        He is showing you the moon but you are looking at his finger…

  44. jose
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    I agree on the main point, so let me comment on a side detail.

    “there could be evidence that it is supervised. That evidence could include teleological forces behind evolution, pure directionality instead of responses to environmental contingencies, and a mutational process that is biased toward adaptive mutations.”

    I don’t think that’s true. I can’t believe the scientific community would see these things and conclude “evolution is supervised by supernatural processes”. What scientists would say instead, imho, is “We have no idea what’s going on, further research is needed”.

    It’s happened in the past. People would see seashells made of rock at the top of a mountain and speculate that those shapes would arise in such a strange place because God gave all matter some kind of potentiality towards the forms He envisioned and created. Turns out they’re just seashells which died there and then the land folded up. The same would happen in the cases you pose. The possible observations you offer would refute our current evolutionary theory, but it wouldn’t touch naturalism. We simply would need another explanation that suited the data better.

    In the post you link you say: “science can indeed test the supernatural—at least those claims about the supernatural that involve its interaction with the real world.”

    Actually it can’t. The only part science can check is the natural part of the claim, not the supernatural part. For instance, if you say a paralized man was cured by God at Lourdes, all science can determine is whether the guy was cured. It can’t say God cured him. Same as with your potential evidence earlier: you can’t jump from natural data to a supernatural conclusion because it doesn’t follow: it could have been something else you didn’t think of. This is just high school logic. A->B is true; it doesn’t follow that B->A is true.

    On the other hand, if the guy was not cured, all you can say is if there’s a God (impossible to know), he didn’t cure the guy. You haven’t tested God. The only part you have tested is the part of God who supposedly interacted with the natural world; the only part that, by definition, necessarily would have had to become natural. So all you have is that a certain natural phenomenom didn’t take place. Whether supernatural forces were involved or not (hey, maybe God tried but Satan got in the way, like Constantine but the other way around!), science can’t say. In this case it’s impossible even to determine if A->B is true or not.

    The only way science can resort to the supernatural to explain things is when it finally manages to know everything about the natural world, so you can be sure that nothing natural can cause the data you’re getting. But it’s impossible to know whether you know everything (if there were something yet to be discovered, you couldn’t know about it or you would already have discovered it), so in the end this last consideration is moot.

  45. Posted July 17, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    WEIT, again and again, the Coyne-M.L. teleonomic argument notes that lack of purpose, which science so detects and then this argument makes philosophical underscores no referents for God as any Grand Miracle Monger and so forth and without referents, why, we naturalists then can justifiably announce that why, He cannot exist! Scott just as noted, wants to ignore the scientific case, noting the philosophical one but WEIT, you know better!
    We see no divine intent and we don’t believe in that speciousness that means superstition! Last Thursdayism is no more valid than solipisism and just as stupid!
    W gnus rightfully then should make the Coyne argument so as to educate the public. Theistic evolution is thus an oxy-moronic obscurantism!
    The teleonomic argument goes hand in hand with Carneades’ atelic argument that all teleological arguments beg the question of directed outcomes.
    Why then from the side of science or from the one of philosophy let the superstitious think that their obscurantism adds to our conservation of knowledge when it contradicts it?
    No, evoltion is hardly His way of creation but instead theists revels in woo! Haughty John Haught, Alvin Plantinga and Huston Smith rank with James van Praagh,John Edward and Sylvia Brown[e], whatever their level of writing!
    I rank higher than those fools!
    How absurd to whine about our purposeless Metaverse as Ayala does!
    ” Life is its own validation and reward and ultimate meaning to which neither God nor the future state can further validate.” Inquiring Lynn Google that moniker for details about that circle that theologians never will square!
    The insipid,inane infamy of theology makes me a gnu!
    Folks, am I too gentle?

    http://griggsthenaturalist.wordpress.com

    http://ignosticmorgansblog.wordpress.com deals with that square circle. See my article of May twenty-fourth,please! At either God God gets His come-uppance from me and from other bloggers!
    God is just a place-holder for woo1

    • Posted July 18, 2012 at 5:05 am | Permalink

      evolution Those “dyslexic” fingers!
      Scotin her book thankfully distinguisehs amongst hypothesi,theory and law.

    • gbjames
      Posted July 18, 2012 at 5:41 am | Permalink

      I have no idea what you are saying.

  46. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted July 18, 2012 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    “It should be no crime—in fact, it should be required—for teachers to tell student that natural selection is apparently a purposeless and unguided process (I use the word “apparently” because we’re not 100% sure, but really, do we need to tell physics students that the decay of an atom is “apparently” purposeless?).”

    Umm, well, maybe we do. Because the half-life of a radioactive element certainly has the *appearance* of being guided. The half-life is the time in which half the atoms will decay (IIRC) – so, how does each atom ‘know’ when to decay to accomplish this?

    (Wikipedia has the answer, btw – but it’s not immediately obvious).

  47. Jerry Schwarz
    Posted July 18, 2012 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    I think that a lot of commentary here and in Jerry Coyne’s blog in general confuses slightly different questions.

    1. Is it possible to imagine a god that has intervened in evolution in undetectable ways.

    2. If the answer to (1) is yes then is it reasonable to believe in such a deity.

    My own answers are yes to (1) and no to (2). I think my yes to (1) makes me an accommodationist. My no to (2) is because I am a complete materialist and atheist.

    The crux of the issue is the statement in this blog entry

    No it’s not: it’s a statement of what we know about the process. We see no evidence that it’s supervised, and there could be evidence that it is supervised.

    I think that needs to be “should” instead of “could” to have any force. But under either reading I think it ignores the possibility that an “all powerful” god could act in ways we can’t.

    • Jerry Schwarz
      Posted July 18, 2012 at 1:01 am | Permalink

      Whoops. The last sentence should have been “… in ways we can’t detect”.

    • Posted July 18, 2012 at 1:24 am | Permalink

      But if God acts in ways we can’t detect, what could such actions actually accomplish?

      See the previous threads on Sober.

      /@

      • Vaal
        Posted July 18, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

        Ant,

        Your question seems to imply that if something goes undetected nothing of significance is happening or accomplished.

        Surely this is false. Thieves, computer Trojan horses and viruses, cheaters etc. all manage to accomplish significant things while doing so undetected.

        Why couldn’t a being of far vaster intelligence and magic powers manage to accomplish significant things while being undetected by us?

        Vaal

        • gbjames
          Posted July 18, 2012 at 6:25 am | Permalink

          Ant said “can’t detect” not “goes undetected”. These are very different, I would think (assuming by “can’t detect” he meant “undetectable”).

          Cobwebs in my basement might go undetected even though there are very much detectable should I bother to go look.

          • Posted July 18, 2012 at 6:56 am | Permalink

            I did, and apologise for the ambiguity.

            Even if what God does is undetectable, the consequences of that undetectable action are either detectable or of no significance.

            Just as a I may not know if a Trojan horse has stolen my bank password (even though that is actually detectable), but why would I care unless money mysteriously moves from my account? – which certainly is detectable. (Heck, my bank just phoned me to alert me that an unusually large amount of money had been put into my account!)

            /@

            • gbjames
              Posted July 18, 2012 at 7:08 am | Permalink

              My money was accidentally put into your account. Please send it back.

            • Vaal
              Posted July 18, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

              Ant,

              “Even if what God does is undetectable, the consequences of that undetectable action are either detectable or of no significance.”

              That still doesn’t follow.

              Undetectable by us does not = “of no significance.”

              I think there is a bit of confusion and (not deliberate) equivocation here about what we are talking about.

              In considering this question of a God influencing evolution etc, we are not talking about undetectable effects, but about undetectable CAUSES. In terms of evolution of course we detect the effects – creatures evolving etc. The question is if undetectable CAUSES could be having significant impact on the outcome. Surely this is obviously possible.

              After all, throughout human history causes that had remained undetectable by us have had significant causes – pathogens, DNA, radiation of all kinds, the micro world of physical particles etc. There were times when these causes truly could not be detected with our best efforts, but they were having significant influence on us and the world. Right now, no doubt there are causes we still can not detect, which influence our world. (Or..science may as well hang up it’s towel). As physicists often point out, there is no guarantee from nature that she will expose all her secrets to us. It’s logically possible that some things that influence how the universe works may remain undetectable by our inquiry.

              Imagine a God wanted to ensure someone lose
              at the gambling table. God influences the roll of the die so that they lose, but in a completely statistically unremarkable manner, just as people lose with statistically unremarkable runs every day in Casinos. You therefore could not detect the cause by looking at the statistics – they are within an unremarkable norm. You can examine the die. They are perfectly normal. God doesn’t pull the trick again with those die. How exactly would you detect this happened? And yet…you can’t say the cause, God’s influence, had no significance – it ensured someone lost at the table. If a Casino were caught doing that, it would be deemed significant enough to bring serious charges.

              So it just doesn’t follow this “if I can’t detect it, it isn’t significant” line of reasoning. Unless you happen to be mixing up the idea of detecting RESULTS with detecting the CAUSE or influence of the results.

              In the same way the God-influenced die rolls would not stick out from the statistical norm, yet have a true guiding effect on the outcome, it seems just as logically possible God could influence seemingly “random” mutations or other elements in a way that would not stick out
              and be detected by us. God wouldn’t even have to be operating all the time, but simply choose the right significant moments to influence events when we are not going to detect them. But…hugely significant outcomes can result from even subtle changes, as we all should know.

              Again…this is just talk of logical possibilities and I shouldn’t need the disclaimer that we needn’t take this type of made-up-cause-I-can-think-of-it crap seriously when talking of science and evolution.

              Vaal.

              • gbjames
                Posted July 18, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

                Is “undetectable-in-principle” (as opposed to “undetectable-given-current-ability”) any different from “just-imaginary”?

              • Posted July 18, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

                Imagine a God wanted to ensure someone lose
                at the gambling table. God influences the roll of the die so that they lose, but in a completely statistically unremarkable manner, just as people lose with statistically unremarkable runs every day in Casinos. You therefore could not detect the cause by looking at the statistics – they are within an unremarkable norm. You can examine the die. They are perfectly normal. God doesn’t pull the trick again with those die. How exactly would you detect this happened? And yet…you can’t say the cause, God’s influence, had no significance – it ensured someone lost at the table. If a Casino were caught doing that, it would be deemed significant enough to bring serious charges.

                Vaal, you need to brush up on statistics. Exactly the sort of cheating you describe is perfectly detectable, and casinos have been caught through statistical analysis doing that exact sort of thing.

                b&

              • Vaal
                Posted July 18, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

                gbjames,

                First, by “undetectable-in-principle” we only need consider “never detectable by us humans.”

                In other words, there’s no reason to believe we will someday become omniscient. And it seems quite plausible humans won’t be around forever, even if we escape to other planets, given the impending heat death of the universe. So it’s entirely possible that our powers of observation will never reach a point, before we die out, of being able to uncover every cause and every secret in the universe. Yet the causes we are not able to detect certainly could be underlying influences for the EFFECTS we experience.

                Second: “”Is “undetectable-in-principle” (as opposed to “undetectable-given-current-ability”) any different from “just-imaginary”?

                Of course. It can be. If a CAUSE is undetectable in principle but it’s EFFECTS are significant in our world, then obviously that is quite different than an imaginary cause that does not exist. There is no guarantee given us by Mother Nature that we will uncover the explanation and cause to everything we experience in nature.

                It seems I have to keep reminding us that we are not talking about undetectable EFFECTS but rather undetectable CAUSES for the effects that we observe.

                Vaal

              • Vaal
                Posted July 18, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

                Ben,

                “Vaal, you need to brush up on statistics. Exactly the sort of cheating you describe is perfectly detectable, and casinos have been caught through statistical analysis doing that exact sort of thing.”

                I definitely need to brush up on my statistics! But surely you don’t think every instance of someone, or a Casino cheating has gone detected, right? And yet undetected causes have had significant results. God merely need work in those moments that would go undetected by us, and surely a God would know when those times are.

                Remember my example: God influences one set of die for one night to ensure someone doesn’t win money. The die rolls are not statistically significant (gather the statistics of die rolls in any particular night of a Casino. See the ones in which people did not win, but which are in no way suspicious or indicative of meddling, statistically? God influences one person’s die rolls to look just like that). Then, God does nothing more with the die so you will not find any evidence suggesting die tampering. Perhaps it’s my lack of training in statistics, but could you explain how this could be detected?

                Vaal.

              • gbjames
                Posted July 18, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

                The old Heat Death of the Universe gambit?

                Undetectable-because-we-ran-out-of-time and undetectable-in-principle are not the same.

                And, no, you don’t have to keep harping on CAUSE vs. EFFECT. I don’t see how the two differ in terms of whether “in principle” and “imaginary” are different.

              • roedygr
                Posted July 18, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

                >How exactly would you detect this happened?

                If the god Jehovah did this only very rarely, he would not get caught. However if he did it frequently, daily totals at the casino would be measurably and unexpectedly larger. The assumption would be the casino did something to rig the games, which would be the easiest mechanism for the god Jehovah to affect his goal. Recall that in the OT he often takes over people’s minds and forces them to do wicked things.

              • Posted July 18, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

                roedygr has it exactly right.

                It’s certainly possible that a modest enough cheat might fly beneath the radar. But you’re not going to get rich doing that sort of thing.

                Either you can cheat a little, perhaps evade detection, but gain results that are so minimal as to have no meaningful significance over randomness; or you can cheat a lot, make a big splash, and stick out like a sore thumb.

                Of course, there’s a continuum in there.

                We can safely state that, if there is some sort of a god fiddling with genomes, then it’s not doing anything that one wouldn’t otherwise expect from background drift. It’s certainly not doing anything like ensuring that humans evolved into our present form, which is the primary claim of those who espouse theistic intervention in evolution.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Vaal
                Posted July 18, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

                gbjames,

                This conversation started from Jerry Schwarz’s comment that he thinks it is “possible to imagine a god that has intervened in evolution in undetectable ways.” He followed with: “I think it ignores the possibility that an “all powerful” god could act in ways WE can’t detect.” (Emphasis mine).

                So our ability to detect the cause is front and center to this issue. The data we have on evolution does not suggest any intelligent guidance. But is some intelligent guidance (given sufficient power/intelligence, e.g. a God) compatible with the data? Yes, for reasons I’ve given.
                Do we therefore have to refrain from saying evolution is unguided? NO! Because it is rational to portray what the evidence we have SUGGESTS (that is is unguided) not what it is merely compatible with. So we ought to say evolution is indeed unguided.

                But this side-bar issue, the notion being raised here that if we can not detect a cause then it is of no significance to us strikes me as clearly wrong for the reasons I’ve given. Undetectable in principle is a red herring. History shows that causes we can could not detect had clear effects on our lives and the world. All we need posit is the logical possibility that we have not determined every cause for every effect we see, and that some cause continues to remain undetected by us, yet have a significant effect in the world. That in itself undermines the idea that if we don’t detect the cause of an effect, the effect is insignificant. “Undetectable in principle” – whatever the heck that would mean in this instance – need not apply.

                The only way I can see someone could deny this is to mistakenly equivocate between cause and effect while thinking about this. That is to talk about undetectable EFFECTS not being significant to us, and using that to dismiss the idea that undetectable CAUSES (e.g. a God) would have significant effects. Some of that does indeed seem to be underlying some comments here.

                Vaal

              • Posted July 18, 2012 at 10:33 am | Permalink

                Vaal, you still don’t seem to be getting the point that you can’t steer things with statistical insignificance.

                Think of a massive cargo ship, even one that’s adrift. It’s buffeted by essentially random currents and wind gusts all the time, but you can’t steer the boat without lining up enough of them all at the same time…and, once you do that, you can measure the resulting current and / or wind.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Vaal
                Posted July 18, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

                Ben,

                My main point has been that some were using the reasoning “If I can’t detect a cause, how could it result in anything significant?” And that this reasoning does not stand up.

                As to this:

                It’s certainly possible that a modest enough cheat might fly beneath the radar. But you’re not going to get rich doing that sort of thing.

                Not so fast, I think,

                People have won millions of dollars at Casinos and other types of gambling. God influencing winning rolls (statistically undetectable) certainly would make someone rich. Or he could influence the outcome of a lottery so that the winning numbers match someone’s card, making them extremely rich. These would be very significant results from an undetectable cause, and influence the course of people’s lives. Big things often come from initially tiny changes in the course of action. The tiniest miscalculation or slip of attention can result in someone becoming paralyzed in a car accident…or not.

                I don’t see how you could say it is impossible that a God could not similarly influence courses of events at the right times, at times and ways undetectable by us, that would have great effects
                on world events. Same with animal evolution. How could you say that a God could not have influenced mutations, or certain environments or situations in ways that look completely natural, so as to add some significant guidance to evolution? God could have been operating vigorously within evolution before we had any scientific tools to even hope to detect such a cause.

                Dan Dennett in his debate with Plantinga easily acknowledged this point. He then went on to correctly explain it was completely gratuitous to the theory of evolution, and to explaining things in general. But here we are dealing simply with logical possibility; it’s taken for granted it’s gratuitous in light of evolution theory.

                Vaal

              • gbjames
                Posted July 18, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

                I guess you’re just really hung up on the extreme agnostic insistence that we can’t KNOW that there isn’t an invisible four-inch winged pig that determines the weather living in the tree in front of my house. OK. Now what?

              • Posted July 18, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

                Big things often come from initially tiny changes in the course of action.

                This is true, but, once again, it’s trivial to demonstrate that no such outside influence is happening in human affairs.

                Pick, quite literally, any goal or objective you might have for a deity — reduction of human suffering, the flourishing of a certain tribe, the perpetuation of a certain moral code, whatever.

                Now, do an objective analysis to see whether or not observations of history relevant to said objective have deviated significantly from what would otherwise have happened by pure chance.

                You might, for example, make a survey of impoverished redheaded Catholics and see if they’re more or less likely to win the lottery than wealthy redheaded Catholics, or impoverished dark-haired Catholics, and so on.

                Of course, we both know the answer: no such deviation from expectation exists.

                So, while it’s certainly true that a deity could have been playing such games, the evidence is that nothing of the sort has happened. And the fact that science works at all is proof that such meddling cannot be both directed and significant.

                Now, if you want to suggest that the deity’s aims are themselves random and indistinguishable from a roll of the dice…well…sure…okay….

                b&

              • Vaal
                Posted July 18, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

                gbjames,

                “I guess you’re just really hung up on the extreme agnostic insistence that we can’t KNOW that there isn’t an invisible four-inch winged pig that determines the weather living in the tree in front of my house.”

                I’m merely “hung up” on trying to reason consistently, whether it be about real things or hypothetical situations. Because if we fail to reason about seemingly unimportant hypothetical scenarios, we could fail to do so in relevant hypothetical scenarios, given much of science involves hypothetical reasoning. If someone brings up a line of reasoning that doesn’t click, like you, I want to comment on why it doesn’t make sense.

                Anyway…

                “OK. Now what?”

                We give no credence to the proposition about the magic pig whatsoever, because it’s rational to look to the plausible (e.g. something that has evidence in it’s favour vs the merely logical possible. It’s flat our irrational to give credence to the merely logically possible in our explanations of the world. Which is why we can flatly reject this “God could have influenced evolution” blather until someone can show any evidence in it’s favour.

                Aren’t we on the same page here?

                Vaal

                



              • Vaal
                Posted July 18, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

                gbjames,

                “I can’t figure out why so much energy has gone into ruthlessly stating the obvious.”

                But it appears it’s not “obvious” to everyone here.

                When someone says “If something undetectable is influencing the world then it’s influence is insignificant” that is wrong, hence this “obvious” mistake seems to require being pointed out.

                Cheers,

                Vaal

              • Vaal
                Posted July 18, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

                Ben,

                I think you are overestimating our epistemological reach here.

                Let’s assume for the moment that some portion of scientists are correct that an asteroid impact (or more than one) was responsible for the Cretaceous- Paleogene extinction event. We have very little information about this asteroid, and only speculation about it’s origins. We may eventually know more about it’s origins…we may not ever get really specific information about it. But it would be logically possible that a God sent, or influenced the trajectory of the asteroid(s) to hit earth and cause that extinction event – obviously a momentous change in the course of earth’s history and biological evolution.

                I’d like to know how any scientist right now could demonstrate the impossibility of that scenario. I don’t think it can be done, and I don’t see you finding any scientist silly enough to claim they can prove without a shadow of a doubt that that long ago event had no guidance by a being of God-like power.
                (It’s just that…there’s no reason to posit such a Being).

                But let’s go even further: mutations. It’s often pointed out that in evolution theory mutations are not seen as random per se (not inscrutable or without causes), but simply random with respect to the fitness of an organism. But the cause of mutations need not be random. We think we know some of the causes of mutations…but we could be wrong.
                Or we could be ignorant of further underlying causes of causes of mutation.
                It’s logically possible that God could be causing some…or even ALL mutations.

                Would this HAVE to be detectable if God caused all mutations? No. Not if God desired to cause mutations in a way that results in a way that results in just the statistical results we find now.

                In other words: The existence of cheetahs, or humans DID result from a chain of mutations. It’s logically possible a God could have wanted life to unfold just as it has and therefore it makes sense that every mutation looks as it does…because it got the result he omnisciently aimed for!
                That something looks statistically random does not entail that it was not a DESIRED or CAUSED situation. Every mutation could have been because God wanted it that way, for whatever reason.

                You can’t say “Well, we would have detected God in the works” because in this scenario the results are IDENTICAL to our eyes to what we currently observe, and we already agree: no God is detected in the results.

                So I just don’t see any reason to agree with your epistemological confidence that we could detect any method a God would use to influence the world, or evolution.

                Which, again, is to give no quarter whatsoever to the logic of accommodationism. What I’m saying about God is no better than “magic monkey’s could fly out of my butt tomorrow and take over the stock market – prove me wrong right now!” That provides no rational person any reason to start selling off his stocks.

                Vaal

              • Posted July 18, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

                It’s logically possible a God could have wanted life to unfold just as it has and therefore it makes sense that every mutation looks as it does…because it got the result he omnisciently aimed for!

                That is, indeed, a logical possibility. And it is the logical reducto extreme of your hypothesis.

                And it demonstrates my point perfect.

                A god that always acts exactly as if it weren’t there is indistinguishable from one that actually isn’t there, and hypothesizing about one is as silly as suggesting that it’s the spark plug faeries (who look and act exactly like spark plugs and are sold in spark plug boxes at all auto parts stores but aren’t really spark plus) who make the cars go.

                Or, if you prefer the way a philosopher might put it, it’s the identity principle. Two things identical in all aspects with no distinguishing characteristics are, in fact, only one thing.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Vaal
                Posted July 18, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

                A god that always acts exactly as if it weren’t there is indistinguishable from one that actually isn’t there,

                You are equivocating between the notion of God “acting like He’s not there” in terms of our being able to detect Him as a cause, and God “acting like He’s not there” as if it meant God wasn’t actually doing anything.

                It may be indistinguishable TO US but it is not indistinguishable in terms of the actual significance of what God would be doing.

                “Or, if you prefer the way a philosopher might put it, it’s the identity principle. Two things identical in all aspects with no distinguishing characteristics are, in fact, only one thing”

                But they aren’t necessarily the same thing.
                God-driven Biology could LOOK identical to biology driven by natural contingencies. But that does mean they ARE identical. Because there is not only ONE possible contingent outcome, so “contingent” does not automatically equate to “identical with anything God guided.”

                In other words:

                In this scenario God directs to a specific outcome (the outcome we observe today). Whereas it’s possible God could have left evolution fully “on it’s own,” leaving mutations influenced only by non-sentient forces, in which case there is no reason to expect the outcome would be the same as the one he guided. Hence, we have the contrast of the evolutionary history and outcome that God guided, vs the many, many possible ALTERNATE outcomes had God left evolution to fully “natural” causes. Therefore we are not talking about two outcomes with the same identity. (In the same way that God influencing a single night of die rolling would look to us as contingent…but in fact it is not identical at all, since if it were ACTUALLY contingent there are multiple non-identical outcomes that could have occurred. But God “fixing” the die ensures they never happen…same with evolution).

                So…once again, it seems to me it just doesn’t follow that a God acting undetectably holds the same significance of a God not acting at all. Extremely significant differences between a God-driven world and purely natural world remain logically possible.

                That’s my final comment I think, as it looks like this will fall into repetition at this point.

                Thanks for the conversation and challenge, as always.

                Vaal

              • roedygr
                Posted July 18, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

                gbjames, your weather-controlling pig argument tickled me. I am featuring it on my home page on 2012-07-19, complete with flying pig logo. I don’t think I am permitted to embed my home page URL, but you can find it via my Gravatar logo.

              • gbjames
                Posted July 19, 2012 at 4:34 am | Permalink

                roedygr,

                My pigs don’t look like that. Mine are smaller and even the pink one is invisible.

              • Posted July 19, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

                Vaal, if your point is that an entity that’s in a privileged position with respect to another can, in practice, pull off pretty much any desired type of deception, then, yes. That’s absolutely true.

                But there are no universally privileged positions, and the one doing the tricking may well be victim of an even more powerful trickster. Additionally, the deception is potentially discoverable by those with considerably less privilege than the one doing the deceiving.

                To go back to the casino, if your only interaction with them is a single throw of the dice, then, yes — you have no hope of telling whether or not they’re loaded. Similarly, if the casino only has one set of loaded dice and they’re only used once for a single throw, that won’t be detected. But, the more throws you make, the better equipped you are to detect cheating, no matter how subtle.

                And science has had so many throws of the dice that we can, with as much confidence as we can state about anything in science, that there is no cheating going on.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Another Matt
                Posted July 19, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

                Maybe this will help with the italics?

              • roedygr
                Posted July 20, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

                When I was reading about multiverses. They said these other universes did not interact with our own, so mathematically they might as well not exist. I thought, “What if I could PROVE, they had to be there, even if communication were impossible?”

                This would still be quite different from a god that might as well not exist. There is no mathematical reason to even suspect the god exists. The god has no interaction with us.

            • gbjames
              Posted July 18, 2012 at 11:36 am | Permalink

              We seem to be on the same page which is why I can’t figure out why so much energy has gone into ruthlessly stating the obvious.

              In any case, I need to step away from my computer for a while. If I don’t go feed the invisible pig in my tree our drought is likely to get even worse.

        • Posted July 18, 2012 at 6:26 am | Permalink

          From a hypothetical perspective, it’s entirely possible that we’re living in the Matrix, and the programmers are constantly altering our perceptions in deceitful ways.

          However, if you’re going to posit that we’re subject to the whims of such a trickster god, then I must point out that said Loki himself has no way of knowing whether or not the Flying Spaghetti Monster is, in turn, playing Loki for the fool.

          Then, of course, there’s the niggling little point that it’s basically only dogmatic agnostics who ever quasi-seriously propose such deities. Well, them and the Christians who think Jesus planted the dinosaur fossils in order to test our faith. You know — conmen.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Vaal
            Posted July 18, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

            Ben,

            I’m with you in being annoyed somewhat with many agnostics. Often agnostics enter the fray saying everyone else is on an unjustified fringe – fundy religious to the right, atheists saying there is no God on the right. The agnostic claims to be the only reasonable one in the room.

            But often the agnostic position is either self-refuting or special pleading. When it’s put in the form of “We CAN’T know God exists or not” so we shouldn’t take a stance it’s self refuting. The agnostic is making as significant a knowledge claim about the nature of a God as any fundy (how does the agnostic KNOW that God’s nature is such as to keep him undetectable? That’s a claim to know the nature of the God).

            When it’s put in the form of “We shouldn’t conclude something doesn’t exist if we can’t absolutely prove it doesn’t exist” then it amounts to special pleading, since the agnostic tends to apply these rules strictly in the case of propositions about Gods, but not consistently about other propositions they and we all believe in our everyday lives.

            (Sorry for the derail)

            Vaal

          • roedygr
            Posted July 18, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

            I don’t think there are really that many agnostics. Surely most people who are agnostic imagine gods have much poorer odds than unicorns of existing. If you ask them “Do unicorns exist” They would say “NO!”. They would not beat around the bush with quibbles.
            They quibble about the god Jehovah to avoid being vilified by Christians or to placate them.

            You don’t see people saying idiotic things like “I have no evidence that fairies exist, but of course such evidence _could_ exist. I have a totally open mind on the matter. Given the complete lack of supporting evidence I’d estimate it 99.99% certain that fairies exist.”

            • Posted July 18, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

              For whatever reason, over the years I’ve encountered a fair number of dogmatic agnostics whose sole point is — and, sorry for the caricature, but I can summarize it no other way — that the gods have some sort of magical faery dust that they sprinkle about and turn all those who attempt to locate them to blind idiots. And, as such, it’s impossible to know anything about any phenomenon that might maybe perhaps possibly be tangentially related to the divine.

              Their calling phrase is, “You can’t prove a negative,” and they’re impervious not only to the inexhaustible list of nonexistence proofs throughout history but also to the obvious response of, “Care to prove that statement you just made?”

              They’re not exactly the brightest bulbs in the pack, but they’re out there, that’s for certain….

              Cheers,

              b&

        • Posted July 18, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

          Juat the usual argument from ignorance!
          ” Logic is the bane of theists. ” Fr.Griggs

      • Jerry Schwarz
        Posted July 19, 2012 at 12:11 am | Permalink

        It’s hard to know. But the burden of proof would be on the people claiming it can’t be done to show that it can’t be done. And given the “all powerful” god hypothesized by theistic religions its hard to see how such an argument would go.

        For example consider the impact of the meteor that killed the dinosaurs (pun intended :-) This seems to have had a significant effect on the history of life on earth. It’s a reasonable hypothesis that homo sapiens would never have evolved if that hadn’t happened. Can we know that at some point god didn’t nudge the asteroid that hit the earth so as to cause the collision?

        I repeat, because it seems to get lost in these discussions that I’m a total materialist and don’t believe in any supernatural entity. But my reasons for not believing in what I call a “god that hides” are not because it would contradict evolution (or physics for that matter) but more philosophical in nature.

        However, the

        • Posted July 19, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

          It’s trivial to state that humans would not be here were it not for the K-T extinction.

          However, it’s not at all trivial to state the converse, that humans were an inevitable outcome of the extinction. Quite the contrary — there were still an incomprehensible number of ways that humans could have failed to have come on the scene.

          And the kind of meddling that would have been necessary to ensure our evolution since the extinction? That’d be so painfully obvious it’s not even funny.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Another Matt
            Posted July 19, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

            However, it’s not at all trivial to state the converse, that humans were an inevitable outcome of the extinction.

            Do you mean to say that if every particle in the universe were in exactly the same state at the onset of K-T, humans may not have evolved? What are you, a crazy dualist? ;)

            • Another Matt
              Posted July 19, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

              What really caused the K-T extinction? We’ve been led to believe it was an asteroid impact, but it’s obvious that the only possible answer is determinism.

            • Jerry Schwarz
              Posted July 19, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

              I have to keep saying this. I do not believe in guided evolution. I think it is totally implausible. But I think the attempts to make empirical arguments against it are doomed to failure. Pointing out that we can empirically refute specific possible interventions is not the same thing as showing that an “all powerful” god couldn’t have done it.

              Specifically I was responding to a question “But if God acts in ways we can’t detect, what could such actions actually accomplish?”

              Clearly killing off the dinosaurs in a way we can’t detect is a significant accomplishment.

  48. Posted July 18, 2012 at 4:52 am | Permalink

    Speaking for myself, I tend to anthropomorphize evolution as a means of explaining the mechanisms of natural selection. However I am careful to emphasize that I am doing so to simplify the explanation semantically, not because NS “wants” something or a species tries to evolve a trait. I think that may people are taught evolution in those anthropomorphic terms, and if the teacher is not careful enough to make it clear it is unguided, the concept can stick with many

  49. Isfeasachme
    Posted July 18, 2012 at 4:54 am | Permalink

    Eugenie Scott is a diplomat and political figurehead at the top of the NCSE. She is garnering support for the removal of creationism in the classroom. Political support is about motivating numbers of people. The set of creationists that includes directed evolutionists is larger than the set without. When battling in an environment in which the overwhelming majority believe in God, you marshal support from anywhere you can. Taking Genie to task for not being a purist is unnecessary, unhelpful noise. We know we need to win the war. Let her take the hill with allies even if they become enemies later.

    • gbjames
      Posted July 18, 2012 at 5:55 am | Permalink

      There is a place for diplomacy. A diplomat needs to know when to keep his/her mouth shut on some topic or another. This is different from knowingly and purposefully asserting false positions.

      We rightly criticize the other side for habitually lying for Jesus. Lying for evolution is not an acceptable countermeasure.

      • prochoice
        Posted July 19, 2012 at 6:40 am | Permalink

        But our beloved Genie and her people just LOVE to blame consistent scientists and outspoken atheists for what we say (on evolution and other topics), to the point of some indulgences that describing facts as such would CAUSE IDiotism!
        If the position would be that different people have different styles, and who is able to cope with believers is precious for the cause of teaching science in schools, that would be diplomacy. Trying to blame and silence is not.

        • gbjames
          Posted July 19, 2012 at 6:55 am | Permalink

          Word.

          And…. is it just my browser or is this page totally over-italisized?

  50. Posted July 18, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Does “guided” have to mean that God watches and directs every event in the universe at every instant in time? What about Deism?

  51. Kim
    Posted July 18, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    “Give me allies who favor pure, unsullied science, a science in which God isn’t directing things behind the scenes.”

    Amen to that!

  52. Posted July 18, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Does it not reverse the burden of proof to argue that mutations could be “god guided” and until we know that they’re not we can’t claim that they’re not? As noted, evolution appears to occur by natural processes. And therefore, until there is positive evidence that a god has interfered with those natural processes, it’s logically correct to hold that god(s) have not interfered.

    It seems to me that Scott, Plantinga and Sober are all committing this fallacy.

  53. darrelle
    Posted July 19, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Just trying to close the italics down.


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  2. [...] such fascinating Germanic speculations aside, a couple of days ago Coyne raised a point about the science-religion relationship that has long troubled me and that he thinks – and I agree [...]

  3. [...] What’s the problem with unguided evolution? [...]

  4. [...] Now if you are wondering why it isn’t easy for me to just say “creationists are just dumber and more superstitious than most”, let’s talk about the public acceptance of evolution IN THE UNITED STATES. First note that many who claim to accept evolution also believe that human beings were the intentional outcome of some sort of directed process. That is counter to current evolutionary theory! Evolution (the current theory) posits that genetic variation in a population is driven by random, unguided mutations. Of course the mutations that survive natural selection (or genetic drift) are not random; they have to either enhance or not sufficiently degrade reproductive success. So one might argue that theistic evolution is really a type of “Intelligent Design”, though the theistic evolutionists might argue that the deity directs things by, say, fiddling with the uncertainty relation…such an effect would be undetectable in practice. Ultimately, this stems from an unwillingness to accept unguided evolution as it conflicts with religious beliefs. [...]

  5. [...] you have a problem with this, read Jerry Coyne at What’s the problem with unguided evolution? and take it up with him. I’m tired of trying to convince theists and accommodationists of [...]

  6. […] is an example of an intentional use of these philosophically loaded terms: Atheist Jerry Coyne specifically brands evolution as an unguided and purposeless process as an inevi…, thus ruling out even any concept of theistic evolution, in contrast to a Eugenie Scott who I am […]

  7. […] we have a complaint with this, review Jerry Coyne during What’s a complaint with unguided evolution? as well as take it up with him. I’m sleepy of perplexing to remonstrate theists as well as […]

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