January 6, 2008

Find a watch in a desert, said William Paley, and you can infer the watchmaker. There were once those who denied this, who thought that life “just happened” without need of an optimization process, mice being spontaneously generated from straw and dirty shirts.

If we ask who was more correct – the theologians who argued for a Creator-God, or the intellectually unfulfilled atheists who argued that mice spontaneously generated – then the theologians must be declared the victors: evolution is not God, but it is closer to God than it is to pure random entropy. Mutation is random, but selection is non-random. This doesn’t mean an intelligent Fairy is reaching in and selecting. It means there’s a non-zero statistical correlation between the gene and how often the organism reproduces. Over a few million years, that non-zero statistical correlation adds up to something very powerful. It’s not a god, but it’s more closely akin to a god than it is to snow on a television screen.

In a lot of ways, evolution is like unto theology. “Gods are ontologically distinct from creatures,” said Damien Broderick, “or they’re not worth the paper they’re written on.” And indeed, the Shaper of Life is not itself a creature. Evolution is bodiless, like the Judeo-Christian deity. Omnipresent in Nature, immanent in the fall of every leaf. Vast as a planet’s surface. Billions of years old. Itself unmade, arising naturally from the structure of physics. Doesn’t that all sound like something that might have been said about God?

– From An Alien God, by Eliezer Yudkowsky

I think it is very important that proponents of evolution stop buying into the ‘straw man’ argument of evolution vs. religion. Sure, evolution isn’t god. But evolution isn’t ‘random’ either. Any more than the laws of nature are ‘random.’ They may be impersonal, but they still have a certain order to them.

If that scares evolutionists because it sounds too theistic, then so be it. Realize, however, that this fear will get in the way of ‘converting’ others to evolutions veracity.


2 Responses to “”

  1. Kenny said

    the laws of nature are random…its called chaos theory…and as for the creation of our planet…all of the conditions that “arise naturally from the structure of physics” were randomly lucky to begin with. We had just the right amount of gravity to form a universe and our planet was just close enough to support life and our lifeforms were just intelligent enough to live on long enough to reproduce and eventually evolve. If that isn’t a lot of luck….I don’t know what is.

  2. ddarmon87 said

    Good points, Kenny. I don’t know if you’re intentionally outlining an Intelligent Design argument or not. But that’s what it sounded like to me.

    I would say that chaos theory (from my naive understanding of it) implies that random things lead to ordered things. Just because we don’t understand the randomness doesn’t mean it doesn’t lead to order. A butterfly flapping its wings, to quote the over-used story, results in a hurricane. That is, a completely random thing, through a chain of events dictated by the laws of physics, has lead to a very ordered hurricane. Though I suppose I should leave the weather stuff up to you! Especially since I don’t understand it…

    From chemistry, this guy Ilya Prigogine won a nobel for his concept of ‘order out of chaos.’ I won’t even begin to pretend that I understand it, but the gist of it states that systems have the ability to ‘break through’ to new levels when put under a certain amount of pressure. He applied this to molecules, but the theory extends to social structures, biological structures, etc. I tried reading his Nobel paper on it, but it made my head explode. Maybe someday I’ll get it.

    And in terms of the ‘lot of luck’ statement, I think it’s important to consider (a) the size of the universe and (b) the age of the universe. Both numbers are WAY past a human’s intuitive abilities to manage.

    Well, that’s my two cents.

    I think I’ve been reading way too much math and evolutionary theory for a chemistry major. Back to chemical thermodynamics!

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