Wednesday, February 24, 2016

On Structuralism and the Spongeam

There has been some discussion on the web on the subject the "structuralism" proposed by Micheal Denton. Denton proposes a very strong view of structuralism; that is that the configurations of organic forms are an outcome of the the laws of physics, so much so in fact that replaying the evolutionary story would lead to very similar forms. Anyway that is at least how Larry Moran interprets Denton:

As Denton says, the basic idea is that the form (structure) of modern organisms is a property of the laws of physics and chemistry and not something that evolution discovered. He would argue that if you replay the tape of life you will always get species that look pretty much like the species we see today because the basic forms (Baupläne) are the inevitable consequences of the underlying physics.....To someone like Denton, this is confirmation of his view that God created the universe and endowed it with all the properties (laws of physics and chemistry) that would inevitably produce humans.

The Spongeam as a 3D Metaphor
If we proceed assuming the existence of the spongeam then to the above I would have to say both "yes" and "no". The spongeam is a bit like a complex and fuzzy rail or road network which I assume would have to be implicit in the physics we know or perhaps even some physics we have yet to know.  If we set going randomly walking agents in this network they are unlikely to end up in the same place if the experiment is repeated and yet in order to make evolution an outcome with a realistic probability the spongeam, must be a highly constrained object in comparison to the space of all possible configurations. Ergo, the information required to generate life would have to be implicit in front loaded physics. 

So, I can't really take sides on this subject: Denton is far too strong on the subject of physical determinism and evolutionary repeatably. In contrast Moran is far too weak on the subject and seems unaware of the important role that front-loaded information would have to play in conventional evolution, This must be a classic example of debate polarization. As for myself I think that the existence of the spongeam is unlikely.

There are a couple of odd features of this debate that I would like to point out.:

1. The de-facto IDists seem to be taking Denton's side: That's interesting because as far as I'm aware they don't like the idea that physics contains a enough information to render evolution probable: Does that mean that they are prepared to accept that "natural-forces-did-it" after all? But having said that I realise the de-facto IDists are often happy with anything that vandalizes current evolutionary theory!

2. Micheal Denton's Wiki page says:
Denton's current interests include defending the "anti-Darwinian evolutionary position" and the design hypothesis formulated in his book Nature’s Destiny.[2] Denton describes himself as an agnostic......He describes himself as an evolutionist and he has rejected biblical creationism

Compare that with Larry Moran's statement above. Also here's what PZ Myers says about Denton:  

Larrry Moran has heard the words of Michael Denton, and has come away with a creationist interpretation of structuralism. I have to explain to Larry that Denton, as you might expect of a creationist, is distorting the whole idea. Here’s the Denton/Intelligent Design creationism version of structuralist theory......


My work on the Spongeam can be seen here:

Larry Moran On Denton:

PZ Myers on the Structuralism debate:

Uncommon Descent:

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