I’m coyneing the term “New Creationism” to describe the body of thought that accepts Darwinian evolution but with the additional caveats that 1) it was all started by God, 2) had God-worshipping humans as its goal, and 3) that the evidence for all this is that life is complex, humans evolved, and the the “fine tuning” of physical constants of the universe testify to the great improbability of our being here—ergo God. New Creationism differs from intelligent design because it rejects God’s constant intervention in the process of evolution in favor of a Big, One-Time Intervention, and because these ideas are espoused by real scientists like Kenneth Miller and Simon Conway Morris. (Note that Miller, though, has floated the possibility that God does sometimes intervene in the physical world by manipulating electrons.) New Creationism is bad because, while operating under the deep cover of real science, it tries to gain traction for dubious claims about the supernatural.
After today I promise that I won’t link to the nonsense at HuffPo for a while, but a new piece, “Evolution Presupposes Design, So Why the Controversy?”, by philosopher Ervin Laszlo, is too good not to mock. It assembles a bunch of creationist and New Creationist arguments to argue that there’s really no debate about evolution versus creationism: the truth is somewhere in the middle. (I remember Dick Lewontin once writing something like, “It is an unexamined rule of intellectual life that if there are two diametrically opposed positions, the truth must be somewhere in the middle.”) Laszlo argues:
The creationist position would be the logical choice if — but only if — scientists would persist in claiming that the evolution of living species is a product of two-fold serendipity. But at the cutting edge, scientists no longer claim this. Post-Darwinian biologists recognize that the evolution of species is far more than the chance processes classical Darwinists say it is. It must be more, because the time that was available for evolution would not have been sufficient to generate the complex web of life on this planet merely by trial and error. Mathematical physicist Sir Fred Hoyle calculated the probabilities and came to the conclusion that they are about the same as the probability that a hurricane blowing through a scrap-yard assembles a working airplane.
This argument, known as “Hoyle’s fallacy,” has long been discredited by evolutionary biologists on the grounds that selection does not assemble complex organisms and traits all at once from simple precursors, but builds up things gradually, with each step conferring an adaptive advantage. This is discredited science, and Laszlo would have known it had he done a few minutes’ worth of Googling. (HuffPo columnists don’t seem to have mastered the use of Google.) Saying that evolution by selection operates through “trial and error” is surely misleading, for the trials are rewarded by being saved in successful genomes. Does Laszlo not understand this? If not, he has no business writing on evolution. If he does, he’s intellectually dishonest. Laszlo argues that evolutionists must believe in divine intervention:
In the final count the evolution of life presupposes intelligent design. But the design it presupposes is not the design of the products of evolution; it’s the design of its preconditions. Given the right preconditions, nature comes up with the products on her own.
The debate between creationists and evolutionists would be better focused on the origins of the universe than on the origins of life. Could it be that our universe has been purposefully designed so it could give rise to the evolution of life? For creationists, this would be the logical assumption. Evolutionists could not object: evolution, being an irreversible process, must have had a beginning, and that beginning must be accounted for. And our fine-tuned universe is entirely unlikely to have come about by chance.
Ah, the Cosmological Argument meets Fine Tuning. Anyone who reads this website should be able to debunk these arguments. If not, I’d recommend, among recent stuff, selected parts of The God Delusion, Victor Stenger’s discussions of fine-tuning, Steven Weinberg’s “A Designer Universe?”, and a short article on the Cosmological Argument that you can find here. Now some of the scientific critiques of the “fine-tuning” argument are speculative, but the point is that if Laszlo is writing for a general audience, as he surely is at HuffPo, then intellectual honesty demands that he at least note that scientists and philosophers have answers to his criticisms. And it would be nice if he’d name some of those “cutting edge” scientists who supposedly recognize that selection and evolution cannot explain life on earth.
Here’s Laszlo’s Big Solution:
So the creationist/evolutionist controversy really is pointless. Design is a necessary assumption, because chance doesn’t explain the facts. But evolution is likewise a necessary assumption, for given the way this universe works, the evolution of complexity is a logical and by now well-documented consequence. Therefore the rational conclusion is not design or evolution. It’s design for evolution.
Well, that settles that. What he’s really saying here is this: “Evolution started off simple and now many organisms are quite complex. Therefore God.” And evolution is not a “necessary assumption,” it’s a scientific theory that happens to be true. Laszlo’s compromise between evolution and design is hogwash, pure and simple. Its rests on the faulty premise that evolution and selection are demonstrably insufficient to explain life’s complexity, and the rest is pure God-of-the-gaps theology. The extent to which Laszlo’s article seems credible to the public is a measure of the damage done to science by the New Creationists.