Friday, August 12, 2005

Deism versus Intelligent Design: once more

Seeing as some people from QandO are still confused, I'm going to lay out the reasons why Intelligent Design is incompatible with a Jefferson-style Deistic view of the universe. This will settle the first question we discussed -- why "Intelligent Design" can't be used as a general term to describe the belief that God created the universe, and didn't interfere with it afterwards. Then I'll clear up the confusion that resulted from JWH's quotations of evolutionary theory.

First, let me clarify something. In arguing against Intelligent Design (ID), I'm arguing against the doctrines pushed by this movement, in particular the doctrines that cause them to propose making weird changes to high school biology textbooks. "Intelligent Design" is a proper name, not a description, hence the capitals. That you watched a news program about foxes doesn't mean you watched Fox News; that you believe an intelligent being designed the universe doesn't mean you believe in Intelligent Design. There are ways to believe that intelligent beings designed the universe that exclude the possibility of ID, and Jeffersonian Deism is one of them. I can only imagine the cackling with which ID's name was born -- it was a respectable-sounding name guaranteed to confuse issues for the benefit of would-be-theocrats everywhere.

Let me focus on one key doctrine of the ID movement -- the rejection of "chemical evolution." Chemical evolution is the view that the causal processes by which life first arose are reducible to the chemical interactions of inanimate matter. To quote ID proponent John Calvert:

The evidence for this claim is practically non-existent and there is no coherent theory about how life arose from inanimate matter through an undirected chemical process.

Rejecting chemical evolution, Calvert and the ID movement hold that God must act, even after all the chemical precursors (amino acids, nucleic acids, etc.) are in place, in order to bring the first living entity into existence.* This is in direct contradiction with the Deistic view that God brought the world into existence but did not interfere with it afterwards.

Now for the question of whether evolutionary theory is compatible with Deism. JWH's misunderstanding of the evolutionary theory quotations at the end of the comments section must first be dealt with. Many of the sources he cites are part of a rejection of "directed mutation", a view according to which there is a biological process aimed at generating beneficial mutations in organisms. They don't reject determinism, which is all the Deist needs. If an unsecured bale of hay accidentally falls out of the back of a truck and rolls around in a certain way, no process is directing it. However, given the exact initial conditions and the laws of nature (and leaving out quantum indeterminacy), there is exactly one way in which it could fall. JWH's quotations address the former kind of directedness; to argue against determinism he needs quotations addressing the latter half.

However, he comes a long way towards accepting my view when he says the following:

It is certainly possible that God set up the universe toward a specific goal. However, until you can figure out a test to demonstrate this, it is not scientific and not part of evolutionary theory.

This I completely agree with, and it was the thrust of my earlier post on the issue. Deism is definitely not part of evolutionary theory, and it is not scientific. However, as a hypothesis outside of science, it never contradicts the claims of evolutionary science. So you can accept evolution as a scientific theory, and be a Deist about the mysterious things that go on outside the domain of science, beyond space and time.

* ID leaves open the possibility that friendly space aliens came to Earth and started life. I don't know if any actual IDers believe this. Even if they do, God is still necessary to explain how the space aliens arose on Xenu or wherever. So IDers are committed to the existence of some Designer before any life arose in the universe, and perhaps they should call him God.


JWG said...

Neil wrote, "[T]hat you believe an intelligent being designed the universe doesn't mean you believe in Intelligent Design." Correct. (I've had many email arguments with James Randi about this exact point - he disagrees.)

ID in all mainstream forms argues that humans were the ultimate goal of creation. They were planned for and made to exist. The more common ID argument goes further and argues that humans did not evolve from non-humans.

I remind you that the poll cited by QandO which initiated your criticism was based on the option (#2), "Human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, but God [directly] guided this process." You criticized a post on QandO for simplifying this choice as ID. (I made a comment that choice #3, which Jon called "creationism" was a major argument by most ID believers, but since #2 implied a final goal for evolution - human - that it too was an argument made by believers in ID).

The question, which Jon labeled as ID, was not about how life began, but about how humans came into existence.

Let's make sure we're clear about what we are saying to each other in other areas as well...

On the QandO blog you wrote "Jon Henke correctly describes the kind of deterministic view I’m describing," after he tried to explain what you were arguing: "If you set up a pool table with 10 balls in a certain position, hitting them with the cue ball will distribute them in a certain manner. If you recreate precisely the same positions and hi (sic) the cue ball in precisely the same manner, the balls will distribute again in precisely the same manner," (as an analogy that repeating an event with the same conditions will give the same result). The example of the colliding balls is, of course, correct.

However, it is a horrible analogy for living organisms and is contradicted by the very evolutionary philosopher you kept bringing up, Daniel Dennett. Dennett clearly separates fate from determinism. The billiards example demonstrates fate; once the cue ball is set in motion the outcome is fixed. Dennett does not see evolutionary outcomes as fixed (a living ball could change positions after the cue ball was struck but before the final result, for example). Dennett is explaining that certain pathways are determined by the available conditions, but one specific pathway is not guaranteed (if a ball decides to change its position, there will be a different outcome...that new outcome, if it occurs, must follow a specific course - its determined course - based on the new conditions). "Determinism" in the way you seem to be describing it (fate) isn’t just "not implied" by evolutionary theory, it is rejected based on available evidence.

You want to argue that ID is in "direct contradiction with the Deistic view that God brought the world into existence but did not interfere with it afterwards." That's fine. But then you try to argue that deism can preordain mankind as an evolutionary result without contradicting evolutionary theory. When I show you that goal-oriented evolution IS EXPLICITLY contradicted by theory, you claim I misunderstand the quotes I use. In reality, the quotes can't be misunderstood because they specifically say that humans are not seen by evolutionary theory as being a guaranteed outcome. Furthermore, your bale of hay example is flawed just like the billiard balls. Yes, once the hay falls it must move in a determined way (according to the laws of physics, etc.). But where does the hay receive its initial conditions? Could the hay have been placed differently by a living organism so that it fell differently or not at all? Maybe it wouldn't have fallen at all except for the driver swerving to miss the independent actions of another living organism. Are you saying that Deism can allow for the creation of preordained actions for all living organisms at the beginning of time so that certain events must occur?

Neil, you claim that "[e]volutionary theory is neutral on the question of whether determinism of the sort Jon and I are talking about is correct." Maybe you should define what you mean by "determinism." It seems as if you are saying that Deism allows a creator to plan for a specific outcome for evolution by setting up the initial conditions correctly at the beginning of time (fate). If this IS how you are defining it, then I can return with more evidence to demonstrate that fate is rejected, not just ignored, by current evolutionary theory. I can also further demonstrate why, in reality, this view is more similar to ID than Deism.

If your examples were not meant to demonstrate "fate," then maybe you could try a different way to explain how initial conditions set up by a hypothetical creator could "force" living organisms over billions of years to interact in such a way as to give a specific result (humans).

JWG said...

Here is an abbreviated version of an attempt to clarify our two positions...

You close your post by agreeing with my statement, "It is certainly possible that God set up the universe toward a specific goal."

However we disagree with your additional point that "as an hypothesis outside of science, [the above statement] never contradicts the claims of evolutionary science." You need to clarify why the quotes I provided a while ago are not contradicting goal-oriented evolution (since they say that evolution is not goal oriented).

Either you believe I am misusing the quotes, or you believe that the authors of the quotes do not fairly represent evolutionary thinking.

Neil Sinhababu said...

As I said, I think you're misusing the quotes, since they're about the absence of goal-directed biological mechanisms causing evolutionary events (directed mutation, for example) and not about the absence of goal-directed processes resting outside of time.

"Are you saying that Deism can allow for the creation of preordained actions for all living organisms at the beginning of time so that certain events must occur?"
Absolutely! And on a compatibilist understanding of what is involved in free will, actions that are, as you say, "fated" can still be free.

I think you ignored the possibility of compatibilism when you posted the following at QandO, and took it to be some kind of argument against determinism:

"The billiards example demonstrates fate; once the cue ball is set in motion all other events are fixed. Dennett does not see evolutionary outcomes as fixed (a living ball can change positions, for example)."

If you're a compatibilist, like Dennett, this is really no criticism of determinism -- when a living organism freely changes positions, it does so in exactly the way it was determined to.

JWG said...

"I think you're misusing the quotes, since they're...not about the absence of goal-directed processes resting outside of time."

At this point I just have to give up because I can't provide anything more clear than the statements I have already given that evolutionary theory explicitly rejects a goal in evolution.

TalkOrigins: "Evolution has no goal"

You have not provided one quote from any evolutionist that demonstrates compatibility between your hypothetical Deism and evolutionary theory. I would love a quote from Dennett that you think demonstrates an argument that evolution could be predetermined.

Here is an interview with Dennett. In it he states: " People confuse determinism with fatalism. They’re two completely different notions.

...Fatalism is the idea that something’s going to happen no matter what you do. Determinism is the idea that what you do depends....There’s a big difference between that and fatalism. Fatalism is determinism with you left out.

If I accomplish one thing in this book, I want to break the bad habit of putting determinism and inevitability together."

Maybe you can help me understand how Dennett's ideas are compatible with a preordained evolutionary outcome? Or maybe you need to rethink your arguments?

JWG said...

Justin, you have a bad habit of just stating things without providing any evidence.

"I guarantee you that evolution is itself neutral on the question of determiism/indeterminism (and also on the question of "fate", if you want to throw that in here)"

I'm curious how you explain biology textbooks stating that "evolution works without plan or purpose" and "evolution is not directed toward a final goal or state," which led to Jonathan Well's criticisms in Icons of Evolution. Likewise, how do you explain the very clear TalkOrigins statement, "Evolution has no goal?" Those don't sound very "neutral" to me.

"[E]volution is compatible with determinism, and so is compatible with the initial conditions and laws of nature being such that at the beginning of the universe, it is guaranteed that human beings will show up."

Like I asked Neil, please show me someone who equates "determinism" with a hypothetical guarantee of a specific species. I provided quotes from Dennett in which he rejects inevitability. Dennett does not define "determinism" as a guarantee of the future.

Neil Sinhababu said...

JWG, can you find one experimental result from evolutionary biology that contradicts determinism or fatalism?

Anonymous said...

I'm not interested in contradicting determinism as defined by Dennett. However, I'll take a shot against fatalism.

Let's consider theoretical population genetics, which uses a mathematical foundation to interpret genetic variation, to predict evolutionary change, and to reconstruct evolutionary history, among other features.

Among the factors that control genetic variation are mutation, recombination, random genetic drift, gene flow, and natural and sexual selection. Mutation and recombination generally increase variation. Random genetic drift, gene flow, and natural and sexual selection control which variations will remain and which will disappear.

To just give one example in the interest of space...

Random genetic drift is defined as random changes in genotype frequencies resulting from the variation in the number of offspring and (in sexual organisms) from the stochastic production of reproductive cells. It tends to remove genetic variation. Additionally, random genetic drift affects the survival probability for new mutations. In small populations it interferes with natural selection and often causes a random loss of advantageous genotypes while establishing deleterious genotypes.

All the deterministic probabilities due to random genetic drift can be calculated and are easily demonstrated mathematically. Computer models can be repeated over and over (beginning with the same initial conditions) with different results based on the genetic probabilities. These models accurately predict actual outcomes for experimental populations under various environmental conditions. No specific outcome is inevitable. Initial conditions for living organisms establish deterministic probabilities, and experimental populations follow these probabilities.

The concept is well established and is not difficult to demonstrate (I started doing it when I was a teenager).

The point is that only certain pathways are available due to initial conditions, but it is demonstratively apparent that one pathway is not mathematically, experimentally, nor realistically inevitable, especially over billions of years.

I have repeatedly provided examples to demonstrate my about some reciprocation? Show me someone who studies evolutionary theory who claims the theory is neutral to the possibility of fate.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Very well, JWH.

In "How not to argue for the indeterminism of evolution: a look at two recent attempts to settle the issue," Roberta Millstein presents both sides of the controversy. Leslie Graves, Barbara Horan, and Alexander Rosenberg's 1999 paper defending the determinism of evolution is among those discussed. (One of your Gould quotations is cited on page 5 -- the "replaying the tape of life" thing.)

Justin, my response to your attack on compatibilism may have to wait until I return from vacation.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Sorry, JWG, keep getting your name confused. You'd think I could keep 3 letters straight...

A big part of the controversy about evolutionary determinism deals with how those probabilities you cite in your genetic drift example are to be understood. Is the probability objectively out their in the world, thus supporting indeterminism? Or is the probability just a subjective matter -- a function of human inability to know about all the variables involved -- thus supporting determinism?

Anonymous said...

If a deity established laws of nature that required a predictable outcome for evolution over billions of years, of course it's possible that the variables involved might eventually be discovered to show evolution does follow a predictable path.

The point is that current evolutionary theory demonstrates the opposite, hence the rejection of goal-oriented outcomes. New evidence to the contrary would force a revision, I would hope. Neutrality only exists for issues that occur outside the laws of nature as we currently understand them.

I'll check out your link. I enjoy expanding my knowledge about evolution and its intricacies.

Anonymous said...

I think your views on determinism are a result of mixed levels, JWG. I don't think it's true that determinism excludes the possibility of only one thing being possible in the future, while fatalism allows it. The difference, rather, is that to a determinist, the single possible future is a result of the present, which is linked to the future by natural laws of cause and effect. The fatalist, on the other hand, thinks that the future is fixed, but by factors other than natural causes and effects.

To a determinist, in other words, if you know all the natural laws, and you know where everything is and where it's going, you can predict the future. To the fatalist, you need to know something else, like the divine will.

However, that doesn't mean that a determinist thinks probability and statistics are worthless. It may be true that, if you roll a pair of dice, the result was determined long before you were born, as the early universe took shape, but you DON'T know all the laws of nature and you certainly don't know where every particle is: rather, you use probabilities, like there's a 1/36 chance it will be 2 or 12, a 1/18 chance it will be 3 or 11, a 1/12 chance it will be 4 or 10, a 1/9 chance it will be 5 or 9, a 5/36 chance it will be 6 or 8, and a 1/6 chance it will be 7. (but what does probability mean in a determinist world? Well, my guess is that most determinists are fans of the Bayesian interpretation of probability.) In short, when it comes to random events, a determinist, with access to limited information, acts like probability makes sense (a fatalist, by contrast, may believe that the dice are destined to come up 12s on this throw, not out of knowledge of every particle and vector, but because of some sort of luck or fate). So, a determinist Deist can read a standard, scientific biology textbook with the same plausibility as she can read a statistics or quantum mechanics textbook. She can just think, like believers in the Medium Lobster, "to our limited perception, the die has an equal probability of landing on any of the six faces on any given throw. To our limited perception."

A probabilist and a determinist largely agree on what sequence of cause and effects led from the pool cue to the eight-ball being in the hole. They just disagree over whether things could have turned out differently (the determinist thinks not). The fatalist, though, thinks that the eight-ball ending up in the hole is not a matter of natural causes and effects at all.

So a determinist evolutionary biologist agrees on the same causal mechanisms as everyone else. He just thinks that things couldn't have been different, whereas his probabilist colleagues thinks how things have turned out is somewhat contingent.

Anonymous said...

Look, the original argument made by Neil was that evolutionary theory was neutral in regards to determinism.

Current evolutionary theory does use the concept of randomness, whether "true" or not, in its explanations. This is a rejection of determinism, but we should always be open to new evidence or possible interpretations.

Now Neil and others have shifted the argument to whether determinism is "compatible" with evolutionary theory. That's fine, but it wasn't the original argument made by Neil over on QandO, which is what got my interest.

Ultimately, a determinist can always argue philosophically that our current understanding of any event is incomplete. It will be more convincing when they demonstrate experimentally that an event involving living organisms currently considered to display randomness is actually predictable (for example, the clone experiments described in Prof. Millstein's paper).

Until then, enjoy the philosophy but experiment in reality. You're always welcome to provide documentation that demonstrates determinism instead of our current understanding of "randomness."

Anonymous said...

I should also note that I was using determinism and fatalism as described by Dennett, since he was used by Neil as a supporting example.

As I noted before, Dennett says (among other explanations), "Fatalism is determinism with you left out." In other words, when dealing with living organisms, choices are made within the initial and boundary conditions.

Divine will can be applied to any circumstance, whether it be deterministic, fatalistic, or indeterministic.

Neil Sinhababu said...

JWG, I think that "neutral with regards to" and "compatible with" mean the same thing.

Anonymous said...

If I may paraphrase Inigo Montoya, I do not think these words mean what you think they mean.

Anonymous said...

As we have both demonstrated (I think), using a common basis for how we use language is important. To further that point I'll mention that I have had a few email exchanges with Professor Millstein to help clarify my understanding of the determinism/indeterminism debate. She mentioned that: "[I]f you asked an evolutionary biologist, you would probably find out that their definition of "determinimistic" is slightly different from the philosopher's definition." I have (obviously?) been approaching this from a biologist's viewpoint. I have enjoyed the debate and will continue reading more about the philosophers' debates.

One last point of interest...Professor Millstein recommended two books that frame the debate from the opposing positions we were taking:

Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life
Simon Conway Morris' The Crucible of Creation

Cheers...and thanks for the interesting dialog!

Neil Sinhababu said...

Interesting it was! Hope to see you around these parts again.