Michael Ruse advises the faithful on how to see the evolution of humans as inevitable

Philosopher Michael Ruse, an atheist, has nevertheless made a bit of a career out of telling Christians how they can reconcile their theology with the facts of science. I’ve posted about this many times (in fact, I’m too lazy to look them up this afternoon), but the reasons for his faitheism still elude me.

And Ruse continues to publish this kind of stuff.  I’ve been plowing through the 600-page Blackwell Guide to Science and Christianity (J. B. Stump and A. G. Padgett, eds.), which is a pretty good compendium of views on the war between science and Christianity (and yes, it is a war), although the 54 essays are mostly on the pro-religion side.  There is one piece by Michael Ruse, however, “Darwinism and atheism: a marriage made in heaven?” (pp. 246-257, and the answer is “yes”), in which he finds yet another way to tweak theology so that the science-loving Christian is not affronted by evolution.

The other day I posted on the views of Christian paleobiologist Simon Conway Morris, who, along with many of his coreligionists, sees the evolution of humans as inevitable.  It almost has to be, for we are made in God’s image; and surely God’s intention was to create—whether ex nihilo or through evolution—a species capable of apprehending and worshiping his most excellent qualities. (It always amazes me how easily theologians who say that we can’t fathom God’s will can nevertheless easily divine His intentions.) If there is a point to Christian creation, is must be the creation of Christians.

Ruses’s piece actually has some good bits, for he pretty much takes apart all the arguments advanced so far about why the evolution of humans was inevitable. But at the end he goes south and, after dismantling all other arguments, gives his own reasons why our evolution had to have happened.  And remember, he’s an atheist! It’s like a Jew giving anti-Semites new reasons to hate the Jews.

Here’s how Ruse responds to the familiar explanations of human inevitability:

1.  Arms races.  Richard Dawkins has said that evolutionary “arms races” between competing species might inevitably lead to the evolution of high and complex intelligence.  I disagree with Richard on this, and pretty much for the reasons that Ruse adduces:

“. . . even the non-expert can see a great deal is being presupposed here First, do arms races exist and do they always have the results of [sic] that Dawkins suggests?  Paleontological evidence implies that predators and prey pretty fairly rapidly reached the peak of their abilities and get little or no faster after that. Likewise, paleontological evidence suggests that the opportunism of evolution can lead to many different forms, not all of which involve intelligence.  Without something more being added there is certainly no necessity for the emergence of beings like ourselves.” (p. 254).

2.  There was a pre-existing “human niche”.  Again, this is doubtful, and for the very reasons that Ruse suggests: we have no ability to define niches in the absence of organisms, and many organisms also create and change their own niches through their behavior.  (The classic example is the beaver, which by evolving the ability to cut down trees and build dams has suddenly created a whole new habitat for itself—rearing pups and living inside the den.) Many organisms “create” their own niches, ways of life that we would never have thought in advance could exist.  This notion is called “niche construction.”  There’s simply no way to make a compelling argument that somehow, before the first monkey came down from the trees, there was a preexisting niche for “highly intelligent social primate” that was destined—inevitably—to be filled!

3. God tweaked mutations to make humans.  This argument is a favorite not just of theologians, but of some atheistic but religion-friendly philosophers like Elliott Sober.  The idea is that to create humans, God worked on the sly, tweaking mutations that were necessary to transform our primate ancestor into a hominin.  We could never detect this, so it’s a good theory for theologians, though not so great for philosophers. God-tweaked mutations have also been suggested by physicist-theologian Robert John Russell, echoing the argument of Asa Gray, a contemporary and opponent of Darwin:

“It is hardly a surprise to learn that many find Russell’s solution problematic. One surely has here some version of the ‘God-of-the-gaps argument. One is breaking with science to achieve a theologically acceptable outcome. At the very least, one is putting strain on one’s understanding of Darwinism. . . . anticipating Russell, Gray argued that some variations are directed. Darwin was horrified and responded that to make such a move as this was to take evolutionary discussion out of the realm of science. Many feel this objection still holds today.” (p. 255).

Agreed.  Theistic evolution like this is not scientific evolution, and people who accept it shouldn’t be seen as true allies of evolutionary biology. They are inserting miracles into the evolutionary process—a form of creationism.

But Ruse has his own solution, which involves multiverses.

Ruse’s explanation of why human evolution was inevitable (p. 255-256):

The situation I favor invokes (for theological not scientific reasons) some kind of multiverse state of affairs (Ruse 2010).  There are many, an infinite number, of universes. I point out that humans have evolved and therefore, however difficult, they could have evolved. In other words, run the process enough times and humans will evolve.  Note that “enough times” might mean many, many billions of times—an infinite number in some sense. If God creates universes enough times then humans will evolve.  The fact that it takes a great deal of time is irrelevant. It would bore us to wait, but God is outside time and space. He sees always that humans will evolve.  I argue, therefore, that although evolution is unguided, the coming of humans was not unplanned.

I love the double negative “not unplanned,” which is designed to take the sting out of the word “planned.” Whenever I see such phrasing, I remember George Orwell’s advice in his essay Politics and the English Language:One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.” 

And really—isn’t it planned simply because God saw that if he wanted to use evolution to create humans but couldn’t be assured of our arrival in a single universe, then he had to create multiple universes? That sounds like a plan to me!

But I digress.  On to the rest of Ruse’s argument:

Does this not imply an awful lot of waste on the part of God? Obviously it does from one perspective. However, note that God may not think a universe totally wasted [JAC: dopers, please ignore the last phrase] even if we do not exist in it. Already in this universe we have many worlds which presumably are unoccupied, at least unoccupied by humanlike beings.  So if we are going to talk of waste, we are already up to our necks in that problem.

So there you have it. Perplexed Christians, do you feel better? I didn’t think so.

Why not? Well, there are still a few problems.  The waste problem, simply because it’s made infinitely worse by positing multiverses, doesn’t go away.  Why didn’t God just make the Earth and Sun in the first place, and forget all those other elbenty gazillion planets and universes? Also, Ruse doesn’t recognize that positing multiverses as an answer is not acceptable to many Christians, who feel that that notion (though justified under some theories of physics) is simply a Hail Mary pass thrown by scientists to get rid of the problem of fine-tuning.

Still another problem is one that nobody ever talks about (although Paul Draper discusses it in a wonderful anti-religion essay, “Christian theism and life on Earth,” in this same volume): is it really more probable that God used evolution to effect creation than to poof things into existence ex nihilo?  Since God could already create complex life from nothing—after all, that’s how he made Jesus—why didn’t he just make lots of other humans (and animals and plants) in an instant, the way Genesis describes it?

The only reason theologians marvel at how much better it was for God to use evolution than de novo creation to bring life into being is because they have to: that’s what science tells us. They’re making a virtue from necesssity. But if you didn’t know about evolution, and knew only about the Bible and the idea that God is omnipotent and omniscient, wouldn’t you have guessed a priori that if God brought all life into being, he’d do so via an instant miracle rather than by a 3.5-billion-year process of evolution on one planet out of billions in a single universe out of billions of universes?

After all, the Bible—the inspired word of God—says not one word about evolution. On the contrary, it says life came about by a miracle.

Of course, we enlightened ones know that that was only a metaphor, and God meant evolution all along.

69 Comments

  1. Posted September 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Gah — this multiverse argument is for an even more horrific god than the one of a god that merely kicked off evolution in the first place.

    Not only are you still saddled with Attenborough’s eye worms, but now you’ve also got all those universes with not-quite humans in them, close enough to the human ideal to still suffer as humans do, but far enough away so as to be denied salvation.

    And who’s to say that we ourselves aren’t one of the also-rans?

    The only way you can twist yourself into such bullshit is by taking seriously a faery tale anthology that opens with a story about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard. Once you start acting like a grown-up and learn to tell the difference between make-believe and reality, all these problems simply vanish.

    Why are people so desperately afraid to grow up already?

    <sigh />

    b&

    • Posted September 12, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

      Seems like the outer-space god is here ? Could it be that this is a ruse (by Ruse!) to help everybody feel that mormonism is somewhat OK, and saner than scientology ? .. hmmm ….

    • Posted September 13, 2012 at 6:16 am | Permalink

      <quote)Why are people so desperately afraid to grow up already?

      Ignorance and/or Emotional attachment.

    • Posted September 13, 2012 at 6:37 am | Permalink

      The only way you can twist yourself into such bullshit is by taking seriously a faery tale anthology…

      Say this while you can, I can see a time when it will be outlawed to express such a view. It is a great affront to many people to call their theology a faery tale. They feel mocked, and subsequently justified to commit any action that might come of that.

  2. Another Matt
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I agree with all of what Dr. Coyne wrote here, but I still can’t seem to understand how this fits with what he’s written about free will.

    All of our actions were determined by the big bang, but our eventual evolution of humans was not an inevitable consequence?

    • Posted September 12, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think that’s at all Jerry’s position.

      Jerry’s position is that there’s no way to be “free” of the real-world constraints of the universe.

      Some of those constraints are deterministic; some are random. But the deterministic constraints hold you to certain tracks, and the random constraints don’t guide you in any particular direction.

      The end result is that there’s no extra-universal “you” that can step in and override the laws of physics. Any choices you make are comparable to those a computer makes: given the same inputs to the same program, you’ll get the same results. If one of those inputs is random, the results will vary, but in predictable ways based upon the random inputs.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • MNb
        Posted September 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

        Nicely formulated. We might define free will then as the sum of those non-deterministic constraints and the problem is solved. After all random means that in exactly the same circumstances (impossible here anyway) the outcome might be one or another.
        Calling this “the illusion of free will”, as some might prefer, is only a semantic game.

        • Posted September 12, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

          Actually, I would suggest that what people are actually doing when they say they’re exercising their free will is that they’re imagining the likely outcomes of various choices open to them and deciding to go with one of those choices based upon what they’ve imagined the result will be.

          That whole process is entirely deterministic (with negligible variations from whatever sources of randomness there are), but it carries with it the illusion of making a choice.

          If you go with this theory of free will, then any computer that makes decisions based upon a an analysis of a simulation is exercising free will. That would certainly apply to chess computers, but it wouldn’t apply to a thermostat. Similarly, when the doctor hits your knee with the hammer, you’re not exercising your free will.

          The more sophisticated (richer, more accurate) the simulation, the freer the will.

          Cheers,

          b&

        • Posted September 13, 2012 at 6:27 am | Permalink

          This still would fail to achieve the libertarian free will as asserted by free willists. From the get-go this is will only obfuscate the issue of freedom of the human will. Bottom line, randomness does not impart freedom to the human behavior question.

      • Another Matt
        Posted September 12, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

        Let me try a different tack to make it more Coyneian, then:

        If you played the tape of the universe back, humans would have evolved, and it could not have been otherwise.

        I take it this is not his position on evolution, but it is his position on human behavior, mutatis mutandis. What am I missing?

        His comments about the god hypothesis are right on the money, though.

        • Posted September 12, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

          What am I missing?

          Quantum randomness doesn’t play any significant behavior in day-to-day cognition, but it does play a huge role over the scale of the universe. There easily could have been all sorts of cosmic rays, for example, that resulted from quantum effects that resulted (or didn’t result) in all sorts of mutations. It wouldn’t take very many such to have radically altered the course of evolution over geologic timespans.

          And quantum randomness can even play a significant factor in human lives. Imagine, for example, if winning lottery numbers were selected not by balls in cages but by a radioisotope-driven random number generator. I guarantee you, your life and the decisions you make will be radically different based on whether or not your numbers come up — and those changes will have cascading effects. A lottery win that goes to somebody who invests it all in Doctors Without Borders will result in a much different world from one where the winner spends it all on hookers and blow.

          Cheers,

          b&

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted September 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

          No, I don’t think that humans would have evolved for two reasons

          1. What happened in the early universe was (at least according to my physics advisor Sean Carroll), not deterministic. Were we to replay the Big Bang, it’s very unlikely we’d have the same galaxies, stars, or planets. Ergo possibly no earth.

          2. Mutations may very well be a quantum-mechanical phenomenon and therefore not deterministic (or predictable). Therefore, even on Earth, the evolution of humans, which depended on a whole slew of mutations happening over the course of organic life, was not inevitable.

          • Posted September 12, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

            Something else that comes to mind…there’s good reason to think that even the fundamentals of biochemistry are subject to all kinds of variability. With the right differences in quantum outcomes, life could have evolved on Earth but with something other than DNA encoding genetics, or DNA could have arisen substantially earlier or later.

            …and so on. Imagine a world in which something other than chloroplasts caused the oxygenation of the atmosphere, or the cascading effects of subtle changes in the first tetrapods….

            b&

            • Another Matt
              Posted September 12, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

              Imagine a world in which something other than chloroplasts caused the oxygenation of the atmosphere, or the cascading effects of subtle changes in the first tetrapods…

              Imagine a world in which I chose the Polish sausage instead of the reuben burger last Wednesday at the food truck.

              I don’t think I understand why mundane counterfactuals like this are dismissed so routinely as “obvious woo” on this site, but extravagant ones like “imagine life on Earth not based on DNA” are accepted without hesitation.

              Imagine a world where we domesticated tigers in the US for our primary source of meat.

              Imagine a world where no humans evolved but instead intelligent chimps that grow finely-tailored fur in the pattern of a dashing tuxedo.

              I’m being snarky, but I still think eliminating “ability to decide” because of physics eliminates a lot of other interesting things with it, including natural selection, for the same reasons.

              Ben, your point about the differences in where and how QM indeterminacy has the opportunity to make a difference in evolution and behavior is well taken, however.

              • Posted September 12, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

                Ben, your point about the differences in where and how QM indeterminacy has the opportunity to make a difference in evolution and behavior is well taken, however.

                But that’s the one and only point I was making….

                Besides, I’m sure Jerry must have posted something at some point about hypothetical variations on the DNA theme. If not, ask Torbjörn — I’m pretty sure he’s up on the literature. Short version: DNA isn’t the only plausible candidate for encoding genetic information, but one shouldn’t be surprised, either, to discover something else on an alien world.

                And that’s exactly the context in which I brought it up: imagine a world very similar to ours but in which various quantum phenomena went a different way. You’d possibly get significantly different results, thus no humans. Thus, the answer to your original question: if the tape of the universe were rewound, assuming what we know of quantum mechanics to be true, we almost assuredly wouldn’t get humans.

                But whatever intelligent entities, if any, still wouldn’t have free will, either.

                b&

          • Posted September 12, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

            Unless of course Einstein was right and there does exist a theory underlying quantum mechanics that returns deterministic behavior to the universe. If only we could rewind the tape of the universe and see what happened again we could know for sure if the universe was deterministic or if quantum mechanics was the final word!

            • Posted September 13, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

              Well that would require a miracle.

            • jpsullivan
              Posted September 13, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

              I get how events subject to quantum indeterminacy can’t be predicted from previous states of the universe, but that does not mean that they are not are not, in fact, determined (does it? help me out!). In the “block model” of the universe, it’s all there in the block: past present and future. You can rewind the tape if you want, but it’s always the same tape. Of course IF no asteroid had collided with Earth 65.5 mya, things would be different, but the asteroid would always hit.

              • Posted September 13, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

                It does! The block model of the universe is a special case of a deterministic universe. If time is just another coordinate of spacetime and the four dimensional state of the universe is set, then although quantum mechanical events appear random, in fact their outcome has already been decided. In effect, determinism!

                There’s a nice quote of Popper’s discussion of block time with Einstein (who was an early proponent of this way of thinking.)

                The main topic of our conversation was indeterminism. I tried to persuade him to give up his determinism, which amounted to the view that the world was a four-dimensional Parmenidean block universe in which change was a human illusion, or very nearly so. (He agreed that his had been his view, and while discussing it I called him “Parmenides”.) I argued that if men, or other organisms, could experience change and genuine succession in time, then this was real. It could not be explained away by a theory of the successive rising into our consciousness of time slices which in some sense coexist; for this kind of “rising into consciousness” would have precisely the same character as that succession of changes which the theory tries to explain away. I also brought in the somewhat obvious bilogical arguments: that the evolution of life, and the way organisms behave, especially higher animals, cannot really be understood on the basis of any theory which interprets time as if it were something like another (anisotropic) space coordinate. After all, we do not experience space coordinates. And this is because they are simply nonexistent: we must beware of hypostatizing them; they are constructions which are almost wholly arbitrary. Why should we then experience the time coordinate—to be sure, the one appropriate to our inertial system—not only as real but also as absolute, that is, as unalterable and independent of anything we can do (except changing our state of motion)?
                The reality of time and change seemed to me the crux of realism. (I still so regard it, and it has been so regarded by some idealistic opponents of realism, such as Schrödinger and Gödel.)

                When I visited Einstein, Schilpp’s Einstein volume in The Library of Living Philosophers had just been published; this volume contained a now famous contribution of Gödel’s which employed, against the reality of time and change, arguments from Einstein’s two relativity theories. Einstein had come out in that volume strongly in favour of realism. And he clearly disagreed with Gödel’s idealism: he suggested in his reply that Gödel’s solutions of the cosmological equations might have “to be excluded on physical grounds”.

                Now I tried to present to Einstein-Parmenides as strongly as I could my conviction that a clear stand must be made against any idealistic view of time. And I also tried to show that, though the idealistic view was compatible with both determinism and indeterminism, a clear stand should be made in favour of an “open” universe—one in which the future was in no sense contained in the past or the present, even though they do impose severe restrictions on it. I argued that we should not be swayed by our theories to give up realism (for which the strongest arguments were based on common sense), though I think that he was ready to admit, as I was, that we might be forced one day to give it up if very powerful arguments (of Gödel’s type, say) were to be brought against it. I therefore argued that with regard to time, and also to indeterminism (that is, the incompleteness of physics), the situation was precisely similar to the situation with regard to realism. Appealing to his own way of expressing things in theological terms, I said: if God had wanted to put everything into the world from the beginning, He would have created a universe without change, without organisms and evolution, and without man and man’s experience of change. But He seems to have thought that a live universe with events unexpected even by Himself would be more interesting than a dead one.[18]
                —Karl Popper, Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography

    • truthspeaker
      Posted September 12, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Inevitable in the sense that everything that happens was inevitable.

      • jpsullivan
        Posted September 12, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

        Wow…I am a bit lost with this discussion about the effects of quantum indeterminacy on macro-scale phenomena. No one seems to be paying any attention to relativistic determinism, the observation that because there is no simultaneous “now” for different observers, events in the future for one frame of reference are in the past for another, hence necessarily determined. This is the inescapable consequence of Special Relativity which is now pretty well established. So, while the time of decay of a single radioisotope can’t be predicted with any certainty before it happens, an observer in a very fast space ship might know when it will happen because for her it already has. If I have this wrong, straighten me out, please.

        • logicophilosophicus
          Posted September 23, 2012 at 3:44 am | Permalink

          Just reading back and saw your question.

          The traveller will not know about the event before a light signal from the event has had time to reach her. (Suppose it is a message from the experimenter: “Decay happened at time t and location x, y, z.”) But the traveller may then drastically disagree about when the event took place. Nevertheless, say the decay event triggers a switch which sets off an alarm which… Both the experimenter’s and the traveller’s observations will agree about the causal sequence, but not its duration.

  3. MNb
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    “and yes, it is a war”
    How many colleagues of yours have fallen in the last battle?
    Oh, you mean metaphorically?
    Please take fallen and battle metaphorically as well. No doubt your answe will sound as gibberish as say Haught and Conway.

    Fortunately the rest is much, much better.

    • Posted September 12, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      How many colleagues of yours have fallen in the last battle?

      As with most wars, the heaviest casualties are suffered by the footsoldiers and civilian bystanders.

      Particularly, in this case, high school biology teachers (especially in Texas and all states that buy their textbooks), the students of said teachers, and all of us who will not have the benefit of a new generation adequately educated in basic biology.

      And this results in real-world deaths, as well — medicine, especially cutting-edge medical research, simply isn’t possible without modern biology, and nothing in biology makes any sense except through the lens of Evolution.

      Considering the degree and scope of the casualties, I’d say the metaphorical term, “war,” is more than apt.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • Posted September 12, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      Multiple casualties today, as Muslim fundamentalists kill our ambassador to Libya and several others out of rage against someone’s (admittedly awful) movie making fun of Mohammed.

    • J.J.E.
      Posted September 12, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      Does a war between science and religion have people as combatants? Surely the ideas are the agents in such a war. Taken in this way, the metaphor isn’t gibberish at all.

    • raven
      Posted September 12, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      “and yes, it is a war”
      How many colleagues of yours have fallen in the last battle?

      Quite a few.

      One science supporter was stabbed to death by a creationist. Several have been beaten up.

      A large number have been fired from university and secondary school positions for being evolutionists.

      A lot of scientists get death threats. I’ve gotten so many in 12 years to long ago have given up even counting them. On a good day PZ Myers can get up to a 100. Per day.

      Those are just evolutionary biologists.

      Climatologists and ecologists get a lot of death threats also. Some of them have taken anti-terrorist training, as have I. A prominent climatology group had to be moved to a secure and undisclosed location.

      Xians have been murdering anyone they don’t like for 2,000 years. All that keeps them in line these days are the police, laws, courts, DA’s, and prisons, backed up by the US armed forces. These days the authorities are on our side.

    • raven
      Posted September 12, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

      Here is a partial list of victims of the xian war on science. It ignores the secondary school science teachers who have been fired, pushed out, or silenced by fear. It’s likely to be in the hundreds but easily could be in the thousands or tens of thousands. No one knows but it is extremely common, especially in Fundiestan, the south central USA.

      Posting the list of who is really being beaten up, threatened, fired, attempted to be fired, and killed. Not surprisingly, it is scientists and science supporters by Death Cultists.

      If anyone has more info add it. Also feel free to borrow or steal the list.

      I thought I’d post all the firings of professors and state officials for teaching or accepting evolution.

      2 professors fired, Bitterman (SW CC Iowa) and Bolyanatz (Wheaton)

      1 persecuted unmercifully Richard Colling (Olivet) Now resigned under pressure.

      1 persecuted unmercifully for 4 years Van Till (Calvin)

      1 attempted firing Murphy (Fuller Theological by Phillip Johnson IDist)

      1 successful death threats, assaults harrasment Gwen Pearson (UT Permian)

      1 state official fired Chris Comer (Texas)

      1 assault, fired from dept. Chair Paul Mirecki (U. of Kansas)

      1 killed, Rudi Boa, Biomedical Student (Scotland)

      1 fired Brucke Waltke noted biblical scholar

      Biology Department fired, La Sierra SDA University

      1 attempted persecution Richard Dawkins by the Oklahoma state legislature

      Vandalism Florida Museum of Natural History

      Death Threats Eric Pianka UT Austin and the Texas
      Academy of Science engineered by a hostile, bizarre IDist named Bill Dembski

      Death Threats Michael Korn, fugitive from justice, towards the UC Boulder biology department and miscellaneous evolutionary biologists.

      Death Threats Judge Jones Dover trial. He was under federal marshall protection for a while

      Up to 16 with little effort. Probably there are more. I turned up a new one with a simple internet search. Haven’t even gotten to the secondary science school teachers.

    • raven
      Posted September 12, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

      which is a pretty good compendium of views on the war between science and Christianity (and yes, it is a war),

      It’s been said that the only war Bush won was his War on Science.

      The last administration managed to do a lot of damage to the world’s largest and best science and technology establishment.

  4. logicophilosophicus
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Excellent article! One of WEIT’s best. The multiverse idea is appalling in this context. If God created an infinite number of universes, then what makes us so special? The fact is that an infinitude of multiverses makes us inevitable, and God’s special interest in us unnecessary and far from obvious. J.B.S.Haldane (a solid atheist) facetiously remarked that God must be “inordinately fond of beetles” because he created so many. I suppose this new god must be inordinately fond of universes.

    • Tulse
      Posted September 12, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      The multiverse view also makes the problem of evil literally infinitely worse, just like evolution did. If the goal was to produce this universe, to save this version of humanity, then all those other universes are not just “wasted”, as those with sentient creatures in them are also sources of suffering. Thus the total amount of suffering in all of creation is far greater in the multiverse view than if a god just magicked us into existence de novo. (This is just the cosmic version of the standard retort about evolution and theodicy.)

      And what I really don’t understand is what the purpose of such an argument is? Surely no true Christian is going to recognize the kind of creation that Ruse postulates. His argument demands such a contortion of orthodox beliefs as to render them completely unrecognizable. Just what does he think he is rescuing by suggesting this?

      • Sastra
        Posted September 13, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink

        Maybe Ruse is assuming religious people aren’t very deep thinkers. He’s offering them an out, a way for them to sound all science-y and modern and still keep their faith.

        If they were the kind of people who thought clearly and analytically about faith beliefs, they wouldn’t have them in the first place. And if they were the kind of people who thought one SHOULD think clearly and analytically about faith beliefs, then they wouldn’t be desperately groping around for a way to hold on to them and not feel like a git. What looks good on the surface works. It has to.

        Maybe Ruse thinks he knows his audience. And he thinks they’re a different kind of people than him. Or us.

  5. Posted September 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    It is obvious why the evolution of humans was inevitable. Humans were needed to invent God.

    </sarcasm>

    Ruse doesn’t bother. I guess he has appointed himself a peace ambassador between religion and science. As best I can tell, neither side wants a peace ambassador. But he is a source of amusement.

    • darrelle
      Posted September 12, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      Yah. His argument here is so silly it just does not seem possible that he could actually believe that it is less problematic than the other “humans were inevitable” arguments that he countered. He seems perfectly happy to make up arguments based solely on, in his estimation, good propaganda qualities in his attempts to play peace maker.

  6. Posted September 12, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    But for evolution of humans to be inevitable must also need that humans are the end goal of evolution and evolution for humans stops there. How does Ruse work around that?

    • Posted September 12, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Oh, that’s an easy one. The Rupture! Jesus will Rupture us all Real Soon Now™.

      Remember, Ruse is an atheist trying to convince Christians to remain stupid, and not (as, for example, Jerry is) an educator trying to help Christians come to their senses.

      The Rupture, seeing how it’s in the future, obviously isn’t something that can be disproven; therefore, as far as Sophisticated Theologians™ are concerned, it’s not unreasonable to believe in it.

      You know? Like how you can’t prove that there aren’t any faeries at the foot of the garden? Except, of course, that faeries come from a different story book, so they’re totally not kosher — but you get the idea.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted September 13, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

        Not for Ruse though – he can’t use the Rapture – he’s specifically looking to mangle scientific theories.

    • Sastra
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      I wouldn’t be too surprised if the folks who buy into Ruse’s argument (or any of the ways for fitting evolution into theology) are just fine with the idea of “spiritual evolution.” Humans are not the end of evolution if we’re now going to start evolving spiritually, right? Through the great chain of being? Evolution proceeds — but on another level.

      Theistic evolutionists are trying to fit a bottom-up process of materialist mindless design with a world view based on the idea that Mind is fundamental, magic, and creates matter and energy by wish. At some point these views have simply got to come into conflict. They can’t be meshed together.

  7. laconicsax
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Does Ruse’s retirement plan revolve around a certain £1,000,000 prize?

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted September 12, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      I think so. See The Nation for June 2010:-

      Now Dawkins and Kroto, with eight other advisory board members of Project Reason, founded by New Atheist author Sam Harris in 2007 to promote secularism, are at work on another offensive. Project Reason hired British science journalist Sunny Bains to investigate Templeton and build a case against it. Her unpublished findings include evidence of pervasive cronyism: more than half of the past dozen Templeton Prize winners were connected to the foundation before their win, and board members do well obtaining grant money and speaking gigs. Bains also argues that the true atheistic tendencies of leading scientists were misrepresented in the foundation’s Big Questions advertisements. Templeton’s mission, Bains concludes, is to promote religion, and its overtures to science are an insidious trick with the purpose of sneaking in God.

      Though some critics refuse to go near anything associated with Templeton, others are forced by its ubiquity to make compromises. Sean Carroll, for one, will work only on scientific projects funded by Templeton (such as the FQXi) that aren’t solely under the foundation’s banner. “It represents a serious ethical dilemma,” says A.C. Grayling, a British philosopher and former columnist for New Scientist magazine; he accuses the foundation of “borrowing respectability from science for religion.”

      These critiques have taken a toll on the Templeton brand. “I don’t think Templeton money is dishonorable, and I have taken it myself,” says Michael Ruse, a philosopher of science at Florida State University. But Ruse expresses relief that his latest book wasn’t funded by any Templeton grants. “The whole business has become so politicized and open to attack by the New Atheists—they would claim that I am just a paid spokesman”

      LOLz

      • The whole truth
        Posted September 12, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

        “…they would claim that I am just a paid spokesman”

        I’d say that Ruse is a paid charlatan. If he actually is an atheist (which I strongly question) he must be coming up with this stuff for the money and attention.

        I am amazed and saddened that someone so obviously unbalanced (or dishonest) is paid to be a so-called “philosopher of science” at a university. Who hires such people, and what good does it do for society to have people like Ruse filling young minds with goofy drivel? Do universities teach anything worthwhile anymore?

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted September 12, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      Michael Ruse wrote at the HuffPo April 2010:-

      “I should say as a preliminary that not only is it hard these days to go to any conference on science and religion without at least some Foundation support behind it, but that ten years ago I won an award of $100K to write a book on teleology. It was an open competition and I know for a fact that one of the Foundation’s most prominent critics today also applied. So I see nothing dishonorable about that”

  8. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    (Scientific) necessity is the mother of (theological) invention. It’s sort of watered down evolution, but I guess it’s evolution.

    Dialogue from the movie “Watchmen”

    Rorschach: We were meant to exact justice! Everyone’s gonna know what you’ve done…
    Adrian Veidt: Will they? By exposing me, you would sacrifice the peace so many died for today.
    Dan Dreiberg: Peace based on a lie.
    Adrian Veidt: But peace! Nonetheless.

  9. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    There are many, an infinite number, of universes. I point out that humans have evolved and therefore, however difficult, they could have evolved. In other words, run the process enough times and humans will evolve. Note that “enough times” might mean many, many billions of times—an infinite number in some sense. If God creates universes enough times then humans will evolve.

    Ruse is, in a familiar theological way, supposing what he wants to prove.

    It is easy to come up with multiverse distributions which have no type of habitable universe. Say, by making their range of parameters so that they collapse on themselves before any stars evolve. Ergo, no gods.

    Something prohibited that and we already know why – the landscape – and likely how – string theory. But there is no gap for gods there.

    And there was no inevitability in having habitable universes in the landscape either what I know of. If the string landscape had been less densely populated with possible parameters, there would be no low cc universes like ours with low energy stable particles I think.

    There are a lot of large steps between Ruse’s simplistic take on possible multiverses and the actual physics.

    • Posted September 12, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      …that would be because Ruses’s multiverse isn’t the one the cosmologists are actually working on, but the one of science fantasy. You know? Where Spock has a beard?

      b&

      • Tulse
        Posted September 12, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

        Would the evil Jerry of the alternate universe be a fundamentalist who hates cats?

        • Posted September 13, 2012 at 7:19 am | Permalink

          Worse — he likes squid!

          b&

          • Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

            That’s the Nobel Prize-winning comment for this thread.

  10. corio37
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    An apologist pointed out to me a little while ago how ‘amazing’ and ‘miraculous’ it was that human beings came into existence on a planet that was so precisely suited to their survival, and that must be proof of God.

    I pointed out how much more amazing and miraculous it would be if humans popped spontaneously into existence out in deep space. THAT would certainly be proof of God, and we could all worship his profound exaltedness for the thirty seconds or so that it would take us to die of cold and asphyxiation.

    • Posted September 12, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      That works, but Douglas Adams had an even more apropos response to exactly that argument:

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Gordon
        Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:00 am | Permalink

        To be fair to god. Eternity is a long time so why not create multiveres and see what happens. Bit like the Adams character who became immortal and filled the time insulting ever sentinent being in the universe in alphabetical order

  11. Achrachno
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, your statement “Asa Gray, a contemporary and opponent of Darwin” is not correct. Gray was a friend and supporter of Darwin and provided Darwin much advice on botanical matters. Gray was religious, but was also an early supporter of Darwin’s theory in the U.S. He’d have been a theistic evolutionist I suppose, an early accommodationist, but he was certainly not a real opponent.

    See this from the Wikipedia article on Gray, for example:

    “Gray arranged the first US Edition of On the Origin of Species and negotiated royalties on Darwin’s behalf”

    An opponent of Darwin would hardly have arranged for the publication of his book here or seen to it that he was paid.

  12. raven
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    While we are justing making stuff up, Ruse missed the most likely explanation.

    The real god, XISPERT, created his chosen creatures, giant squids swimming in methane seas 50 million light years from here.

    The god XISPERT loves his squids and pays close attention, especially to their sex lives which consists of trading spermatophore packets back and forth.

    We humans are just mold growing in the back of his refrigerator. We just have to hope he doesn’t get bored watching the spermatophores getting traded and decide to finally clean the fridge.

    It makes as much sense as anything Ruse says and is just as provable.

  13. Neil
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    If the universe is unique, humans are inevitable, because that is what happened. To me, the multiverse is required for non-inevitability, unless one argues humans happen in every universe, which would be hard to explain.

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 12, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    “The idea is that to create humans, God worked on the sly, tweaking mutations that were necessary to transform our primate ancestor into a hominin.”

    Deus ex (dna) molecule?

    ” … positing multiverses as an answer is not acceptable to many Christians, who feel that that notion (though justified under some theories of physics) is simply a Hail Mary pass thrown by scientists to get rid of the problem of fine-tuning.”

    Theists like to pretend that the multiverse is a desperate ad hoc answer tossed out by secular scientists trying fend off what they fancy to be their knock-down fine-tuning argument. It’s not; it’s simply a prediction flowing from the confluence of inflationary cosmology and superstring theory.

    Theists also disingenuously contend that the multiverse is non-parsimonious because, hey, it posits so many (maybe even an infinite number of) universes, compared to their singular god. This is a complete misinterpretation of the parsimony principle. Since the multiverse is merely a predication, and as such requires no additional hypotheses, it is as parsimonious as the scientific theories that support it — which is to say, much more parsimonious than a hypothetical deity with unconstrained supernatural super-powers.

    • logicophilosophicus
      Posted September 14, 2012 at 3:22 am | Permalink

      Not desperate, maybe, but inflationary cosmology was specifically devised to address fine-tuning problems (flatness, homogeneity…) which Penrose assessed as 10^10^123 to one against. But Penrose also pointed out that the initial conditions for such a multiverse are even more finely tuned. In any case, “predicted” is a bit strong – there is no (count them: zero) demonstrated or agreed mechanism for inflation, just the second order inference that if it inflation happened, there must be a new and very special particle – the inflaton – which does not fit into the Standard Model and is unobserved. Anyway, remember, specifically devised.

      Similarly, Everett’s Many Worlds Interpretation was specifically devised to avoid the special status of the conscious observer in quantum mechanics. To achieve this, it postulates an infinite number of observed universes. There’s an awful lot of observation going on, and observers are still special. Anyway, remember, specifically devised.

      In either case it seems like a poor return for an infinite number of universes.

    • Skeptic Griggsy
      Posted September 21, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      That’s the Swinburne fallacy! God takes convoluted. ad hoc assumptions so perforce He is far from simple!

  15. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    “God tweaked mutations to make humans.”

    Even if you accept this fanciful idea as true, there’s no way of knowing that humans are the divinely desired end point. There may be something after humans which is far more desirable from a god’s point of view.

    Alternatively perhaps god has already achieved his desired end point through evolution with, say, dodos. Humans were supplied to provide the Divine Dodos with their particular Rapture.

    Its ‘unknowables’ all the way down.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      I think you’re on to something, DJ, but you’ve got the wrong species. Clearly, God’s chosen — the species made in his image and likeness and, thus, the ultimate goal of all evolution — was not the dodos, but the dinosaurs. He gave them all the really cool designs, and allowed them the run of the planet for hundreds of millions of years, plenty of time to play out the great psycho-drama of earning or losing salvation.

      Chicxulub was their apocalypse. Some may have been raptured before the great impact, others left to suffer a millennium of post-impact tribulation. (This explains why the dinosaurs’ extinction seems over-determined, why the scientific community is split over whether the Chicxulub impact was the sole sufficient cause of their extinction, or just the most important in a chain of causal events.)

      Under this scenario (as evidentiarily supportable an eschatology as any) humans and the other extant species are merely evolutionary flotsam and jetsam of the post-apocalypse, left to play out the planet’s denouement, now that the Great Dinosaur-God has decamped with the saved among his chosen species to share their final reward of eternal bliss and life everlasting.

  16. Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:03 am | Permalink

    I wanted to ask this question in comment on “uncle” Erik and also Haught but it seems to have slipped far down: Is it your view or even suspicion that there seems to be a ground shift (don’t like the word “paradigm” too much)in the thinking or the aims and/or planning of the not too radical fundamentalists about the acceptance of evolution and wrapping it in the “pleasant” packaging of deistic/theistic evolution which means (according to my own understanding of it) that God created it all and in his “almightyness” planned that there would be a Big Bang, beginning of life on earth and then evolution of that single cell into a great many species.
    I see a difference between deistic which stops at the end of the previous sentence and theistic which (apparently or sometimes) postulates that God intervened from time to time to create new species, such as by giving humans a “soul”.

    It seems involved but what I would like to know is if you also see a movement towards acknowledging the fact and truth of evolution but defining theistic action as the mechanism that drives it as against neo-darwinism, molecular symbiosis and/or Gould’s punctuated equilibrium? It seems to be an attempt to narrow the divide between science and religion – and if in earnest could be seen as a welcome shift but one tt will be greatly apposed by extremist and fundamental creationists (young and flat earthers).

    But even if you agree that there is such a shift you seem to be somewhat wary of it if not derisive and scathing. Is the term “accomodationist” being used to denigrate these new “evolutionists” or is it used in a milder sense?

    I, for one, am quite willing to accept their bona fides but I will also warn them not to use this as Trojan Horse to try and undermine the concept of evolution from within – which could very well be the aim of some of these bods.
    Cheers

    TH
    Pretoria

  17. Dominic
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 2:31 am | Permalink

    “In god’s image” – what is that supposed to mean? Vindictive, aggressive, rapacious, destructive, selfish, obsessive, possessive, ignorant?

    • AndrewD
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 6:48 am | Permalink

      Yes

    • Achrachno
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

      “In god’s image” – what is that supposed to mean? ”

      Nowhere to be seen, invisible, vaporous, etc.

  18. David Evans
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:17 am | Permalink

    I favor the multi-god theory. God is anxious not to provide proof of his existence (“for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing”, Adams, HHTTG, 1678). He therefore achieves deniability by creating an infinite number of lesser gods, each of whom then creates its own universe. We would appear to be in one of the less well-designed ones.

    • David Evans
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 3:18 am | Permalink

      1978! Unless that’s a tell-tale glitch in the universe.

      • Posted September 13, 2012 at 6:30 am | Permalink

        You may be on to something, because you were of by 42 x 7.142857142857143.

  19. Sastra
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    “If God creates universes enough times then humans will evolve. The fact that it takes a great deal of time is irrelevant. “

    Wouldn’t an argument like this make every single possible thing which can be conceived of (and those things which cannot) also “inevitable?” You can substitute the letter X for the word “humans will evolve” and insert anything you want. Squids will evolve; stars will be made of cotton-candy; Ruse will start to write this sentence, think it over, and abandon it. It’s all inevitable — and therefore whatever happened must be special AND inevitable.

    If God creates universes enough times then YOU will be born in one of them, in the very circumstances you find yourself at the present moment — which was the plan from the beginning. God, like Mr. Rogers, likes you just the way you are. How nice. How convenient.

    • Tulse
      Posted September 13, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

      Yep. This is the similar problem to that with the fine-tuning argument — there are plenty of things that are even more unlikely to have appeared in the universe than life, so all those things must be even more special and more “intended” than life.

  20. saguhh00
    Posted September 13, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    In Sunday school, I could never understand why God created Adam from clay and Eve from a rib. Why not create both from clay or from nothing?

    Also, why create just two people?

    I kept asking these questions and eventually became an atheist.


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