Monday, March 02, 2009

Darwin Bicentenary Part 12: Is Evolution a History or a Mechanism?

In this post on Uncommon Descent DaveScot makes it clear that he is inclined to accept the likelihood of common descent. Hence Dave doesn’t have problems with evolution in the sense of being a history of an apparently branching pattern of descent. Dave’s problem is with the view that a blend of physical law and randomness (what ID theorists habitually call “chance and necessity”) is sufficient to explain this history. Using Dembski’s explanatory filter Dave would then conclude that intelligent design needs to be invoked. A regular contributor to UD’s commentary threads, called Jerry, seems to agree:

Evolution is the change in the frequency of genetic elements in the population gene pool from one generation to the next. How it happens is the issue and if it has an intelligent assist by some process then it is still evolution whether you call it genetic engineering or something else.

According to Dave and Jerry the real question is not so much over evolution as a history, but evolution as a mechanism. In some ways this distinction really expresses my own terms of reference as to what I am investigating: the mechanism of evolution.

However, having said that my guess is that many YECs are forming a tense alliance with people like Dembski, Behe and DaveScot. YECs would certainly not agree with evolution even as a history. I also notice that on the post I have linked to comment number 14 has been left by an author of a book called “The Evolution Conspiracy”. This suggests to me that ID is attracting people responsible for some rather off the wall socio-political stuff. This may be down to the attraction of the kudos the ID movement has acquired, otherwise denied YECs, through the stature of figures like Dembski and Behe. What unites this disparate community is an anti-evolution ethos shared by all parties that identify with it. But many within its broad church may not be aware that DaveScot’s position is a relatively nuanced one involving quite technical and philosophical questions over whether the two classes of conceptual objects of physical law and randomness can describe our universe in its entirety. I’m left wondering just what are the anti-evolutionists calling a cruel and evil process; the mechanism or the history?

In any case what is it motivating DaveScot’s belief that a third class of conceptual object must be invoked to describe evolution’s mechanism? If it were possible to show that physical law and randomness are sufficient explanation for life’s history would Dave conclude that intelligence is obviated, throw in the towel and join Richard Dawkins? As I once commented on Uncommon Decent here:

Let’s say for the sake of argument that evolution has actually happened. Are you then telling me that if that is the case then Divine creative and sustaining providence is logically obviated? Does evolution really equate to a logically self sufficient cosmos? Creation ex-nihilo, in my opinion, is about reifying the platonic and not about configuration changes that occur within one reified contingent story taken from the platonic. Just because our contingent cosmos has been chosen for a particular history of configuration changes there is then no logical warrant to dispense with God’s Aseity and Creativity. If evolution should prove true, do you then stop believing in God? Is your faith based on a counter factual (That is, evolution => no God) and a conditional? (That is, no evolution => God). ‘Materialism’ is less about a commitment to a particular cosmic story, than it is about what constitutes the primary ontology of our cosmos.


Walt said...

Re: "The Evolution Conspiracy"

Have you read the book or interviewed the author you so quickly chastised? Of course not. It has not yet been published.

But that hasn't slowed down your ad hominem attack, has it? Not that Lisa (the author) nor I (the publisher) expected anything different.

You do not know whether Lisa is a supporter of ID in any of its guises. (She isn't, by the way.) Nor do you know if she has an "anti-evolution ethos." (She doesn't.)

But don't let either of us derail your pseudo-intellectual approach to science. Dasn't ask any questions or point out any inconsistencies, right?

Must just take it all on faith, I guess. Hmmm... sounds a bit like a religion, doesn't it?

Have a great day!

Walt Shiel
Publisher, Slipdown Mountain Publications LLC

Timothy V Reeves said...

Please accept my apologies:

I made a snap decision based on the context and some quick observations: Namely

creationism+ufos+bigfoot+conspiracy theories+religion+...+..

Unfortunately that cluster of tags working with my rather suspicious and cynical temperament, with years of studying cult figures behind it, resulted in my mental search engine locking on to the "religious conspiracy" page in my overloaded brain. (overloaded by too many internet pages to read)

If you'd like I can remove Lisa's name from the blog entry or alternatively leave it as a monument to my fallibility.

On the other hand perhaps a bit of controversy will help the book sell.

Is the use of the word "conpiracy" in the title a good idea?

Once again sorry for the injustice.

Timothy V Reeves said...

Perhaps there is a lesson here for you Walt, a PR lesson. With a title like “The Evolution Conspiracy” it needs to be made very clear that Lisa’s book isn’t just another outpouring from a paranoiac conspiracy theorist. Try putting evolution+conspiracy into Google and you’ll find that Lisa’s book comes to the top of a pile of hits that have a high drivel percentage. And I’m not any clearer from book’s related web pages I have looked at. Also, the close juxtaposition with such tags such as UFOs, paranormal etc is not helpful either. Well fine, perhaps this is all part of the marketing strategy etc, but then you can hardly blame me for drawing the conclusions I did. If you say I haven’t looked hard enough, then tough, it is only human to have to limit one’s depth of search. Somewhere publishers have to get the tradeoff between style and content right. But as I’m not a publicity agent that’s not my problem.

The only evidence I have that Lisa’s book is not the rantings of yet another conspiracy theorist is your emotional outburst above, where you fail to do justice to yourself. Also, it doesn’t do justice to “Uncommon Descent” if appearances suggest they are attracting the wrong sort of people. I otherwise have lots of time for ID theorists like DaveScot and William Dembski.

To make amends for my unjust misrepresentation of Lisa’s book (which you have been good enough to bring to my attention) let me offer to buy the book and review it on this blog. If as you suggest Lisa has a balanced and intermediate position it is likely to be favourable review. I know this isn’t much to offer because this isn’t a popular part of the Web, but every little helps. I can’t be fairer than that.

Talking about emotional outbursts, it is clear this whole area is punctuated with such stellar outbursts (I love my work as much as a bomb disposal engineer loves his). In part this explains why some people are now entrenched and are utterly incapable of doing what many good search algorithms have to do; namely BACKTRACKING … Got that? BACKTRACKING.

I hope my comments show that I’m prepared to backtrack on my initial misrepresentation of Lisa’s book, and once again please accept my apologies.

Anonymous said...

You should have a look at her `blog' if you really want a good laugh.

Totally ridiculous.


Timothy V Reeves said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Timothy V Reeves said...

Re: "The Evolution Conspiracy"

In the absence of a measured response from Walt, my offer above will, or is, withdrawn.