My Review of Only a Theory

I have spent the last few days working my way through Ken Miller’s new book Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul. (OAT) Short review: Worth reading, but also a bit disappointing. Now for the long review:

My first published piece of writing on evolution was a review of Miller’s book Finding Darwin’s God, (FDG) for Skeptic magazine. My reaction to the book was probably typical among atheists. The first half of the book is a masterful smackdown of creationism and intelligent design. Miller’s arguments were clear and convincing, and written in graceful prose that was a pleasure to read. In particular, his refutation of Behe’s arguments regarding irreducible complexity remains one of the best I have seen.

Then, somewhere around halfway through the book, you turn the page and are suddenly confronted with some very unconvincing (to put it kindly) religious arguments. Since I figured Skeptic’s readers were already aware of the vacuity of creationism and ID, I focused instead on the second half of the book.

Throughout FDG Miller made much of the contingency of the evolutionary process. He was keen to emphasize that the contingency of evolution is essential for God’s purposes. He strongly gave the impression that a world in which humans were foreordained would be harder to reconcile with Christian teaching than the world in which we actually find ourselves. See my review for exact quotes. This led me to make the following observation:

But surely God would have been disappointed if after ten billion years the sun went nova, its light never warming anything more sophisticated than colonies of bacteria! That’s the possibility that must be addressed before we can reconicle Christianity with contingency. Of course, it is conceivable that self-awareness could be foreordained where Homo sapiens are not. There is ample reason to believe this is untrue and Miller, at any rate, does not make this argument.

Well, now he does make that argument. Chapter Six of OAT is called, “The Universe That Knew We Were Coming,” and is devoted in large measure to supporting Simon Conway Morris’ argument from his book Life’s Solution. Conway Morris argued that a species possessing human-like intelligence was the inevitable end result of Darwinian evolution.

The theological importance of this point is clear. Stephen Jay Gould famously popularized the idea that if we were to rewind the tape of life and let evolution play out a second time, it is exceedingly unlikely that anything like human beings would ever evolve again. If he is right, then it becomes very difficult to argue that human beings are in any sense the purpose of creation. But if a species with sufficient intelligence to enter into a relationship with God was, indeed, inevitable, then we might be able to preserve that idea.

The trouble is that Miller’s (and Conway Morris’) argument for human inevitably is based almost entirely on the existence of evolutionary convergences. We frequently find animals from different evolutionary lineages converging on the same solutions to the adaptive problems they face. A simple example is the streamlined shape of dolphins and sharks. Darwinian evolution is constantly driving animals to seek out and explore the available niches in the environment, and this relentless pressure to adapt drives animals to constantly rediscover the same solutions over and over again. Miller sums up the argument like this:

Turning our attention to the special case of our own species, we can be fairly confident, just as Gould tells us, that our peculiar natural history would not repeat, and that self-awareness would not emerge from the primates. Indeed, we would have no reason to suppose that primates, mammals, or even vertebrates would emerge in a second running of the tape. But as life reexplored adaptive space, could we be certain that our niche would not be occupied? I would argue that we could be almost certain that it would be — that eventually evolution would produce an intelligent, self-aware, reflective creature endowed with a nervous system large enough to solve the very same questions that we have, and capable of discovering the very process that produced it, the process of evolution. To argue otherwise would be to maintain, against all evidence, that our appearance on this planet was not the product of repeatable natural events. It would be to maintain, for no particular reason, that this corner of adaptive space was found once by the evolutionary process but could never be found again. Everything we know about evolution suggests that it would, sooner or later, get to that niche. (pp. 152-153).

Actually, to argue otherwise is simply to acknowledge that Darwinian natural selection driving animals to fill adaptive niches is not the only thing that goes on during evolution. It was not just the relentless march of natural selection that made possible our appearance on this planet. There were also numerous mass extinctions to open up large numbers of new niches. The dinosaurs were the dominant large animals on the planet for more than a hundred million years, but the fossil record does not record any trend towards increased braininess during that time. Had the catastrophic event that brought on the extinction of the dinosaurs not occurred, what is the reason for thinking that self-aware animals would have evolved anyway?

There is also the problem of developmental constraints. It could well be impossible to design a big-brained reptile. Seen in that light, Miller’s admission that the primates might never have evolved a second time could be a damning one. He suggests that even vertebrates might not have evolved a second time. Does he also think that an intelligent, self-aware invertebrate was an evolutionary possibility? Seems a bit implausible. As Stephen Jay Gould pointed out:

Evidence for convergence requires multiple cases of independent evolution, while the example that we all carry closest to our hearts (and that engenders the emotional oomph in this debate)–the evolution of consciousness in Homo sapiens–remains an outstanding singleton in the only history of life we know: the story of our own planet. (I am not impressed by Conway Morris’s citation of octopuses, a group that I deeply admire and respect but that hasn’t, and presumably can’t, return the compliment via any higher mental functioning of its own. Consciousness at our level of language and conceptual abstraction has evolved but once on earth–in a small lineage of primates (some 200 species), within a small lineage of mammals (some 4,000 species, while the more successful beetles now number more than half a million), within a phylum that prevailed by contingent good fortune from the Burgess draw. If complex consciousness has evolved but once in the admittedly limited domain of known evidence, how can anyone defend the inevitability of its convergent evolution?

Quite right.

Frankly, the whole idea of niches existing in nature just waiting for animals to evolve their way into them is a bit dubious to begin with. Animals in part create their own niches, and the landscape is constantly changing as creatures evolve.

These are just a few of the scientific considerations that ought to dampen Miller’s confidence in the inevitably of human-like creatrues. Curiously, though, this whole line of argument resolves one theological difficulty only at the price of creating other ones.

Yes, human inevitability would solve the problem of preserving human specialness in the face of evolutionary contingency. But just consider the view of natural history entailed by this. Evolution by natural selection, you see, is an awful process. It is bloody, sadistic, and cruel. It flouts every moral precept we humans hold dear. It recognizes only survival and gene propagation, and even on those rare occasions where you find altruism and non-selfishness you can be certain that blind self-interest is lurking somewhere behind the scenes. All of this suffering, pain and misery, mind you, to reach a foreordained moment when self-awae creature finally appeared. What theological purpose was served by all this bloodsport? If humans were inevitable why didn’t God simply fast-forward the tape himself, thereby sparing all of those animals that died horrible deaths in the preceding hundreds of millions of years? Problem of evil, indeed.

If humans were not inevitable you could at least argue, as I understood Miller to be arguing in FDG, that this level of contingency was necessary if God were to make a genuinely free physical world, as opposed to one that languishes in the throes of a meaningless determinism. That line is no longer available to him. Reconciling evolution and Christianity is not as simple as theistic evolutionists often try to pretend.

Happily, this is only one chapter out of the book. When he’s addressing scientific topics, Miller is always excellent and this book is no exception. His descriptions of developments in genetics and evo-devo are marvelous. Most of his cultural commentary is also good, especially when he is explaining the importance of this subject to the future of American science.

The chapter addressing the major arguments of the ID folks is a bit mixed. Parts of it are good, but other parts are a bit lazy as well. Miller gives nice descriptions of how evolution can increase information (thereby refuting William Dembski’s silliness), and presents an interesting discussion of the evolution of the immune system in refuting Michael Behe.

But his discussion of the flagellum is a bit weak. Devoted followers of evolution/ID fights know that the flagellum is the poster child of ID, since it is a very complex system indeed. There’s actually quite a lot known about possible evolutionary trajectories for the flagellum, as described by Nick Matzke here.

Miller does not discuss any of it. Instead he simply points to the fact that of the thirty or so proteins that make up the flagellum there is a subset of around ten of them that form what is known as the type three secretory system (TTSS). This is significant because it shows that at least some of the proteins comprising the flagellum serve other purposes that could have been preserved by natural selection.

A good point, and one that definitely weakens Behe’s claims about irreducible complexity. But it hardly solves the problem. Evolving the flagellum still looks mighty challenging even after you have taken notice of the TTSS. The argument Miller presents here is essentially identical to the one he presented in his contribution to the Ruse/Dembski anthology Debating Design. There was far more he could have said then, and that is even more true today.

But rather than discuss this work Miller relies insted on the point that just because science lacks an explanation for some phenomenon today does not mean the problem will remain forever insoluble. This is a reasonable point, but it is rhetorically weak since it comes off as desperate. It allows the ID folks to talk about promissory notes and the like. It is the sort of thing you bring up at the end of a long discussion, after you’ve swamped your opponent in the moutnains of evidence that refutes his arguments. But Miller repeats it several times. This gives the impression that ID folks, whatever the deficiencies of their arguments, have at least put their fingers on some genuine problems for evolutionary biology. I fear that people reading this who are not steeped in the subject will come away thinking the ID folks have some points to make after all.

I have criticisms of other aspects of Miller’s book. There are a few places where I think he did not accurately present the arguments the ID folks are making, a fact I am sure they will delight in pointing out on their own blogs. And some of his sociological analysis strikes me as superficial. That is why I am a bit disappointed with the book overall.

But for all of that I definitely recommend reading it nevertheless. Even when I am disagreeing with Miller I am always engaged in his argument. I also feel like I learn something about how to write from reading his excellent prose.

Comments

  1. #1 Albatrossity
    June 21, 2008

    Coincidentally, I also finished reading OAT this afternoon. Like you, I find that Miller presents some very clear arguments against the ID notions. His experience in undergrad education shines through, and the prose should be accessible to anyone with a decent education and an ability to think (which leaves out most of the denizens of Uncommon Descent, alas).

    Unlike you, I don’t find that his theological arguments are more problematic than before, simply because I think that ALL theological arguments are silly. I can’t (won’t) make a distinction between one silly argument and another. There is simply no reason for me to think very much about these rationalizations. And I can’t predict how a Christian will react to these rationalizations, since I find it impossible to get into the mind-set of such folks. As far as I am concerned, if Miller’s apologetics dents the willful ignorance of even one Christian, it’s all good. It is quite clear that we can’t reach some of these folks by scientific arguments alone…

  2. #2 Ben Abbott
    June 21, 2008

    Personally, I see it as inappropriate to elevate any religious claims as being significant enough to debate on the level of science.

    Religion, in a proper perspective, is deeply personal and subjective. Whether Hovind is making a religious claim or it is Miller making the claim is no of relevance to me.

    For me, religion is sentimental. It is what motivates me. It is what inspires me. It is what gives me a sense of purpose.

    I reject all unnatural causes for my sentiments … because I am an atheist who rejects all supernatural (unnatural) claims and am skeptical of all claims (natural or otherwise) that are not supported by evidence.

  3. #3 Ben Abbott
    June 21, 2008

    I should add; I harbor no ill will toward anyones personal religious sentiments. As I said, such “is deeply personal and subjective”.

  4. #4 Jim Thomerson
    June 21, 2008

    Have you read George Gaylord Simpson’s “The Nonprevalence of Humanoids.” Science V 144;767-775, reprinted as Chapter 13 in “This View of Life”, 1964?

  5. #5 Colugo
    June 22, 2008

    We do not know whether our universe, given its laws and properties, will inevitably produce sapience. But that is a different issue from whether the universe has a purpose of producing sapience.

  6. #6 baboo
    June 22, 2008

    I haven’t read the book in question and probably won’t. I can’t get all that interested in an argument that has to get around assumptions that an author who is admittedly a Christian will have to be a bit nimble to avoid the effects of that belief on an otherwise scientifically logical analysis.
    Just for an example, it’s my view that before we can arrive at the most probable answers to any of our questions concerning life or nature in general, we have to accept the role that “accident” plays in that nature, philosophically “inevitable” or not. We have to disabuse ourselves of the assumption that at bottom all events are in some fashion the result of an intended or at least intentional purpose. And how does a Christian deal with a purposeful God and creator who is nevertheless not responsible for the necessary ingredient of accident as part of the recipe for life?

  7. #7 Jedidiah Palosaari
    June 22, 2008

    As a Theistic Evolutionist, I agree with you on FDG- I liked the science, but found his theology weak. I actually have to go more in the direction of combining biological determinism with theological predestiniation to make sense of it all, whereas Miller is in love with Arminianism, like most Americans.

  8. #8 Frank J
    June 22, 2008

    I too just finished the book this morning. I was also disappointed in places, especially where he switched to another topic just when things were getting interesting. But at least he refers to other books and articles that provide the missing detail.

    I too may not completely agree with his theology or how he explains it, but I see that as a minor issue. Miller noted that the brilliance of the ID strategy was to unite anti-evolutionists – YECs, OECs, “front loaders”, etc. – against “Darwinism” and to divide “Darwinists” into quibbling about their internal differences. And here we are, playing right into ID’s dirty little hands.

    Rather than take the bait, I suggest that we take advantage of the resource we have that Miller discusses near the end – nonscientists who love a challenge and the freedom to second-guess authority. Most of them have heard some feel-good ID sound bites, but have not critically analyzed them (and IDers certainly don’t want them to). Most have not given 5 minutes’ thought to how old life is, the difference between evolution, common descent, abiogenesis, etc. Let alone how IDers have learned to evade those questions that classic creationists have no problem answering.

    Here’s my recommendation: Whenever someone defends design or creation, do not defend evolution, or claim that there’s no designer. Rather, ask them to elaborate on exactly what the designer did, when and how. Then tell them what science concludes, and how IDers who oppose it have virtually admitted that science is correct, because they rarely even state their own hypotheses, let alone test them.

    By my estimates, for the foreseeable future ~25% of Americans are so hopelessly compartmentalized (or in on the scam) that nothing we say will change their minds. But if we ask the right questions, we’ll know in minutes whether it’s worth continuing the discussion. But there’s another ~50% that is not hopeless, yet either doubts evolution, or accepts it (or a caricature thereof) but still thinks that it’s “fair to teach the controversy.” That’s one big, largely untapped, resource.

  9. #9 wallyk
    June 22, 2008

    Yeah, I was also bothered by the convergence argument. I would almost be willing to accept that there is likely to be a general trend in the development of intelligence, but now I am not no sure. These types of general questions are pretty difficult to answer. People are free to speculate and make broad conclusions, but for now we just don’t know.
    After reading Miller’s book, I’m not sure anymore whether Christianity is compatible with evolutionary theory. However, I’m an agnostic myself, so I don’t personally need this compatibility.

    It is true that IDs generally put evolution supports on the defensive. It’s implied that unless we explain X in detail, then it is not reasonable for the public to accept evolution. Miller’s tact of “taking ID seriously” puts ID on the defensive.

    I don’t see anything that is going to cause an overnight shift in public acceptance of evolution in the U.S. People would need good exposure to the evidence and reasoning behind the notion of common descent. And people aren’t going to get that exposure.

  10. #10 Bad
    June 22, 2008

    As before, I think you make the mistake of thinking that Miller’s theological assertions are a) directed at convincing non-believers of God and b) that they are even meant to be his preferred explanation of how things happen.

    As I read these parts of his books, what he seems to be after is some acknowledgment from believers (and critics of believers) that evolution as an idea can open plenty of theological doors that conventional theology keeps closed. As such, his point is that evolution should not be seen as destroying any possibility of theology at all, but rather of simply requiring people to get creative and rethink things.

    Of course, to non-believers, they have no interest in rethinking things, because they have no commitment to “solve for God.” But that’s not the point. I don’t think Miller is trying to make God more convincing to atheists. He’s trying to show believers that evolution should not be seen as less convincing because it potentially ruins theology.

  11. #11 Frank J
    June 22, 2008

    Wally K says: “And people aren’t going to get that exposure.”

    This thread alone shows that even those of us who are far more intereted in science than in theology still can’t resist getting sucked in on the theology tangent.

    On a Talk Origins thread I have been discussing how I dislike the choices on the Gallup poll questions about creation/evolution (which BTW show no significant change in public opinion despite 2 decades of ID “distancing” iteself from classic creationism). How many people have even thought of the simple fact that YEC and OEC can’t both be right? If we can’t get them to answer the right questions, how can we expect those who don’t know the Ordovician from the Oligocene, or Ken Miller from Kevin Miller (“Expelled” guy), to do so?

  12. #12 BaldApe
    June 22, 2008

    I agree with Frank J. We can’t hope to give anyone a complete education in biology in a few minutes, but we can ask them to justify (or even make) any positive statements of fact.

    Just keep asking “What is the evidence for that?”

  13. #13 SLC
    June 22, 2008

    “The dinosaurs were the dominant large animals on the planet for more than a hundred million years, but the fossil record does not record any trend towards increased braininess during that time.”

    Not true. The Cretaceous dinosaurs had larger brain cases, as a function of body size, then did the Jurassic dinosaurs. As a matter of fact, paleontologist Dale Russell has opined that, if the Trodons had not been extinguished in the Alvarez event, they might have evolved into large brained birds and humans would not be here.

    I would also argue that there is a selection advantage to large brains as evidenced by the fact that todays mammals have larger brains, as a percentage of body size, then the mammals of 50 million years ago

    I would also point out that hominids are not the only animals with large brains as a function of body size. The bottle nose dolphin has an encephalization factor of about 5, compared to the nominal value of 1 for mammals and 7 for humans.

  14. #14 Frank J
    June 22, 2008

    BaldApe says: “Just keep asking ‘What is the evidence for that?'”

    But first ask then to say exactly what “that” is that they think happened other than evolution, starting with the basic whats and whens. In this age of “don’t ask, don’t tell” ID, even a lot of rank and file creationists have been unwittingly trained to parrot only “evidence” against “Darwinism,” or “some designer did something at some time.”

  15. #15 anthony
    June 23, 2008

    The Intelligent Design and Creationist argument are so absurd that it is possible when debunking them to not presenting a counter argument that is not as comphensive as it should be. The Create/ID group constantly misrepresents scientific evidence or demonstrate an utter lack of understanding of the fact when presenting their philosophy. However, those debunking either philosohy or presenting facts why Create/ID are not scientific should not be complacent, because the support of ID is not exclusive to fundamental Christians. Also, school children actually have been taugh some form of ID or Creationism as part of their science education, and then need to be untaught the fallacies. Those who preach both philosophies have strong reservations about evolution because it conflicts with their religious conviction. It is because of the policy makers that the arguments against ID need to be strong and comprehensive. Thus, I have to agree with the reviewer.

  16. #16 Ginger Yellow
    June 23, 2008

    “I would also argue that there is a selection advantage to large brains as evidenced by the fact that todays mammals have larger brains, as a percentage of body size, then the mammals of 50 million years ago”

    There may be a selection advantage for large brains in mammals in the absence of enormous cold blooded predators, but it’s very hard to make a general case for brain size just by looking at one lineage in one relatively short period of time.

  17. #17 Damian
    June 23, 2008

    I would like to second what Bad has said.

    After spending some time reading various Christian forums — particularly threads dealing with evolution/creation — I have reached the conclusion that, to a large extent, the problems are not related to the acceptance of the evidence for evolution at all. At least that is not the first issue that we must address if we are to then introduce people to what science has uncovered over the last century and a half.

    The vast majority of the Christians that I have encountered on those forums don’t even bother to consider the evidence for evolution because they don’t have either the will or the necessary knowledge (or a combination of both) to solve the theological problems associated with the biblical account of creation. Almost all of the Christians that believed in creation of one sort or another could see no way to reconcile evolution with the biblical account, and even when other members that accepted evolution tried to explain to them that it is possible, it was apparent that there is deep psychological fear involved.

    As one of the creationists put it, “if I accept that Genesis is largely allegorical or spiritual, what does that suggest about the rest of the bible?” In effect, it is just too damn easy to not think about these issues and to reject outright any science that appears to contradict the bible.

    Now I’m quite sure that most people understand this already, but it is something that cannot be stressed enough, in my opinion. While we are spending most of our time and resources refuting arguments, as well as making the evidence for evolution as accessible as possible, I fear that we are wasting our time, unless we first tackle the theological issue.

    How this can be done, I am not sure. I doubt that it can be addressed in the schools, so the only other alternative would be to set up forums in every town and city in the US, making sure that there is access to individuals with knowledge in this area. Even then I am not sure that it would begin to solve the problem. One of the advantages of the school environment is that parents can be negated to some degree, for the good of society as a whole. When you believe that anyone who holds a contrary opinion to your own is the work of the devil (as was posited on one forum) a voluntary service would seem incapable of reaching those who most need it.

    I guess that it is a consequence of the immature form of Christianity that is so prevalent in the US, but I am convinced that we will not see a rise in the acceptance of evolution until we can somehow bring about large scale acceptance of a more compatible theology. I admire Ken Miller for attempting to address these issues, but it will require a much larger effort for there to be a major sea change any time soon.

  18. #18 jo5ef
    June 23, 2008

    On the question raised re the inevitability or otherwise of humanlike intelligence, its been shown i think again and again that evolution will favour processes that increase the flow of information. I think its plausible to suggest that however often you replay the tape, given enough time social animals will emerge with improved communication techniques. If they’re large predators they have the resources to feed large brains as well, remember those raptors in Jurassic Park, damn thats right it was only a movie.

  19. #19 SLC
    June 23, 2008

    Re Damian

    One doesn’t have to go to a Christian forum to see the truth in Mr. Damians’ comment. One need only look back in the archives of this forum for comments by a nutcase calling himself JonS to observe the mentality involved. Mr. JonS’ position is very simple. If a scientific finding is at variance with his interpretation of the bible, than the scientific finding is wrong. Period, end of story. The evidence supporting the scientific theory or the quality of the scientists who accept it is irrelevant. His mind is made up, the facts are of no consequence.

    Re Jo5ef

    Notice my comment relative to Professor Russell and the Trodons.

    Re Ginger Yellow

    As I stated, the Cretaceous dinosaurs had larger relative brain sizes then did the Jurassic dinosaurs. That makes two lineages with evidence of a selection advantage for increasing encephalization.

  20. #20 Torbj�rn Larsson, OM
    June 23, 2008

    Consciousness at our level of language and conceptual abstraction has evolved but once on earth–in a small lineage of primates (some 200 species), within a small lineage of mammals (some 4,000 species, while the more successful beetles now number more than half a million), within a phylum that prevailed by contingent good fortune from the Burgess draw. If complex consciousness has evolved but once in the admittedly limited domain of known evidence, how can anyone defend the inevitability of its convergent evolution?

    This argument hits me as ridiculously biased in the context.

    First, we would really have to wait for the whole history of the biosphere to play out to be sure that it evolves only once. We happen to be the first that are studying the phenomena! Even then it seems like we do our damn best to kill of immediate niche competitors, so it may be a biased test.

    Second, in Millers perspective it wouldn’t really matter if consciousness happened to appear on Earth or elsewhere, so again we have too small and special a sample.

    Third, why is language and other specialized traits important? I would settle for symbolic thought, as it can feasibly lead to some form of shared development of flexible use of technology. And symbolic thought seems a necessary property to have for a flexible neural net, to avoid overtraining. It forms spontaneously in models of the cortex, so it could be fairly easy to get. [I note the irony of a biased sample. Oh, well.]

    It seems to me, as a layman, that at the current understanding of biology these arguments in the end comes down to personally partitioned bayesian models of what people estimate could have happened. Multicellularity – happened several times, so higher likelihood. Language – dunno, but has happened once so far, let’s put it down to lower likelihood.

    “Um, looks meager to me… okay, let me put down bilateral symmetry also, because humans would be hopelessly confused with having several visual fields” ;-) – happened once, so low likelihood. Multiply the heck out of all high likelihoods. *Throws up hands.*

    I would also argue that there is a selection advantage to large brains as evidenced by the fact that todays mammals have larger brains, as a percentage of body size, then the mammals of 50 million years ago

    Interesting. Perhaps one could factor in cephalopods? One would have to go over what I believe are derived forms (octopuses, squids, cuttlefish) as opposed to ancestral forms (nautilus) instead of fossils, I assume.

  21. #21 Torbj�rn Larsson, OM
    June 23, 2008

    its been shown i think again and again that evolution will favour processes that increase the flow of information.

    Information “flows”; in what sense?

    Meanwhile, I find it very contra-intuitive.

    Information as it would seem to be relevant here, in evolution, is collected, not flowing in any sense, by the gene pool through the process of selection. So the rate of that information collection is measured by the rate of selection.

    If John Hawks et al are correct, this rate has increased in historical time by two order of magnitudes in humans due to change of environment (and mainly, population increase). But many species are seemingly unchanged over large times, probably stabilized to a niche by say selection.

    And I believe punctuated equilibria is a theory of initial disturbance and later stabilization from such observations, which goes against increased information collection.

    And if it’s an allusion to entropy, which have a tenuous connection to information at best but at least “flows” as opposed to being collected by a receiver over a channel, it has a disparate behavior in organisms.

    I have learned from Larry Moran at Sandwalk that organism metabolism is mostly in a near equilibrium state. When a molecule is pulled from the equilibrium pool, say for respiration, it in turn pulls the production of a new molecule from the previous pool in the chain. This equilibrium behavior means metabolism is minimizing the rate of entropy flow. Growth and so evolution is a slight disturbance on top of that.

    But assuredly organisms also use disequilibrium processes, say in regulation. For example when setting up the different diffusion processes that partitions individuals during segmentation, et cetera. Then it is indeed producing more entropy than the minimum required.

    Whatever works, I guess. Traits is about function AFAIU, so a patchwork of processes with different entropy characteristics wouldn’t be surprising IMHO.

  22. #22 baboo
    June 23, 2008

    “Third, why is language and other specialized traits important? I would settle for symbolic thought, as it can feasibly lead to some form of shared development of flexible use of technology.”

    Organisms communicate with other organisms or die. Communication is language. Symbolic thought comes from prior shared development facilitated by none other than the communication you are presumably suggesting it would lead to. Duh.

  23. #23 WallyK
    June 23, 2008

    I don’t think we should belittle Biblical literalists for being intellectually lazy or stubborn. Theologically, their position is completely legitimate. If intepretation of the Bible becomes too complicated, then the value of the Bible as a source of faith is really diminished, in my opinion. While people here are inclined to enjoy intellectual discovery and reflection for its own sake, this does not descibe most people, who don’t have a lot of leisure time to follow issues. Christianity is supposed to be accessible to all, and not just highly educated people who love to spend hours debating every detail. The message is supposed to be simple and self-evident.

    In short, I think Christianity has already given up quite a bit in order to be compatible with evolution. From our point of view, this is painful but necessary. But from the pew, it may seem like a tragedy. Religion is about knowing your place in the work, and not merely ‘wondering’ about it.

  24. #24 Frank J
    June 23, 2008

    Damian wrote: “As one of the creationists put it, ‘if I accept that Genesis is largely allegorical or spiritual, what does that suggest about the rest of the bible?'”

    I think St. Augustine would have told him 16 centuries ago that that it just doesn’t follow. Besides, you say “the” Biblical account of creation. But, to use Miller’s exact phrase in “Finding Darwin’s God,” there is not one, but several “mutually contradictory” versions, all of which claim to be “the” literal one. Which means that some or all are necessarily wrong (i.e. don’t fit the evidence) no matter how you cut it. All but the most hopelessly cpmpartmentalized fundamentalists can appreciate that. And indeed, the leaders of most major religions take them all as allegorical, and go with the mainstream science version.

    One big problem IMO is that too many “evolutionists” are obsessed with YEC, apparently because that’s the first version that pretended to be science. Far too often some well-intentioned defender of evolution assumes (or implies) that all anti-evolutionists are YECs, which simply isn’t so. Most major IDers accept OEC and some even common descent. By not alterting the audience to that they miss an opportunity to show how, despite all the seeking and fabricating of alternative “theories,” anti-evolution activism is steadily diverging into “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

    To add to the irony, I have none other than Pope John Paul II to thank for some of the wording of the last sentence.

  25. #25 bobyu
    June 23, 2008

    Hey, Larry, bacteria prove at least one part of evolutionary theory is wrong (and of course one wrong destroys a right) because they are, in effect, self=mutating – they mutate at will.
    Ain’t that something!

  26. #26 David B.
    June 23, 2008

    Miller’s arguments for human ‘inevitability’ are broadly similar to criticisms of Gould’s “tape of history” analogy made by Daniel Dennett in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. But, ironically, while Dennett criticised Gould for including ‘sky-hooks’, Miller has turned the argument into a loophole for the largest sky-hook of them all.

    So it seems that, along with politics and – if we believe Groucho – marriage, anthropic determinism makes for strange bedfellows too.

    Personally, I think the strongest argument against the inevitability of a human-like creature being the universe’s raison d’etre comes from the Asimov short story The Darwinian Pool Room. If the 100 million year reign of the dinosaurs was just a stepping stone to the development of man, what reason have we to assume that we are the ultimate intelligence God planned for? Perhaps our dominance, curiosity and ingenuity are merely the means of bringing about the silicon intelligences that will supplant us as God intended all along?

    Hence Miller is, in fact, making two claims in his book. That we are an inescapable product of the evolutionary process and that we are the end result of that process. If the latter were not so, we would have no more special a place in the scheme of things than any other transitional species.

  27. #27 SLC
    June 23, 2008

    The big problem with the notion of the inevitability of the rise of humans is that, if the Alvarez extinction had not occurred, it is unlikely that large mammals, including humans, would have arisen at all.

  28. #28 JimV
    June 23, 2008

    Like some of the above commenters, I have no problem with the inevitablility or near inevitability of the evolution of some form of conscious intelligence somewhere in the multiverse after a long enough time-like interval (although that might be a weaker form than Dr. Miller would subscribe to). Intelligence at the human level is certainly possible, and recalling that on a clear night in the countryside long ago my hand covered dozens of stars (some of which may have been galaxies) with my arm extended, it is not difficult for me to believe that may have already happened somewhere else even in this universe. I am probably biased by all the science-fiction I have read, though.

    As to why a god-like creature might choose cosmological and biological evolution as a means to create something worth conversing with, I can conceive of reasons for that. Maybe that is in fact the most efficient way, just as genetic algorithms may be the best way to solve certain problems by computer; or maybe it wanted to be surprised.

    I wouldn’t ascribe any significant probability to the god-theory, however, and even if it were the case I would doubt that homo sapiens is the desired end-product of such an effort.

  29. #29 baboo
    June 24, 2008

    The universe, rather than having a purposeful being in residence, had everything necessary or required to make one, so inevitably it did, and may or must have done so eons ago somewhere. Because other than life forms, nothing in nature or its laws is or can be purposeful (causality is not purpose). How intelligent these forms get is possibly/probably a separate issue from the one of the inevitable development of purposeful mechanisms.

    The most logical position of course is that the universe has always existed and will always exist, and within such a vast frame of reference, it’s safe to say that life and its varied purposes has virtually always existed.

    So convergence, schmergence, I say.

  30. #30 jo5ef
    June 24, 2008

    Thanks for response Torbj�rn, it seems to me that improved intra and interspecies communication tends to be favoured by natural selection, eg nervous systems, hormones, pherenomes, more advanced sensory organs.
    Also it appears to me that genomic exchange mechanisms like sex, transposons become widespread due to the increased mobility of genomic information that they enable. I hope this sketchy answer clarifies my comment, I’m heading for bed.

  31. #31 John Kwok
    June 24, 2008

    Dear Jason,

    Dembski’s intellectually-challenged trolls (whom I regard as members of the DI IDiot Borg Collective) are “feasting” over your review of Ken’s book here:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/jason-rosenhouses-lovehate-relationship-with-ken-miller/#comments

    While I have strong reservations about your review (You should read my Amazon.com review to determine why.), I am still delighted that you wrote it. Any chance you might stop by New York City sometime and discuss why evolution is valid science to some Dartmouth alumni I know at the Dartmouth Club of New York? I think you’d be quite persuasive.

    Appreciatively yours,

    John

  32. #32 bobyu
    June 24, 2008

    Baboo said: “Because other than life forms, nothing in nature or its laws is or can be purposeful (causality is not purpose).”

    Why can’t there be purposeful mechanisms that don’t otherwise qualify as “life?” Otherwise, this statement seems to take a lot for granted that hardly anyone I know of takes for granted.

  33. #33 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 24, 2008

    John Kwok –

    Thanks for pointing out your review. For the reasons I mentioned, I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about it as you, even though over all I think it’s interesting and worth reading.

    Even putting myself in DaveScot’s warped little shoes, I’m not sure what he finds so funny about my review. I agree with Miller about science and disagree with him about religion. What’s the problem?

    I get to New York from time to time and in principle would love to talk to fellow Dartmouth alums about evolution.

  34. #34 baboo
    June 24, 2008

    To bobyu: Purpose requires a calculative apparatus acting with intent or goal based on expectations. If that apparatus is self-sustaining it corresponds to what we call life – stripped bare of superstitious baggage of course.

  35. #35 Dan Messier
    June 25, 2008

    Hey, I thought you might be interested … Ken Miller recently posted on Science & Religion Today about why he rejects the term “theistic evolution” (here:
    http://scienceandreligiontoday.blogspot.com/2008/06/ken-miller-is-not-theistic-evolutionist.html). And Denis Lamoureux picked up the thread and tossed his hat in the ring for “evolutionary creation” (here: http://scienceandreligiontoday.blogspot.com/2008/06/denis-lamoureux-is-evolutionary.html).

  36. #36 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 30, 2008

    FWIW, catching up on old threads.

    @ baboo:

    Organisms communicate with other organisms or die. Communication is language. Symbolic thought comes from prior shared development facilitated by none other than the communication you are presumably suggesting it would lead to.

    People have, as this thread, distinguished between language and other forms of communication. [One reason has been the claim that animals can’t order symbols grammar wise. Et cetera.]

    Purpose requires a calculative apparatus acting with intent or goal based on expectations. If that apparatus is self-sustaining it corresponds to what we call life – stripped bare of superstitious baggage of course.

    Currently the de facto definition of life is biological evolution, which isn’t goal directed. Organisms from evolving populations aren’t usually goal directed, but when they become capable of learning we can model them so.

    @ jo5ef:

    Thanks for response Torbj�rn, it seems to me that improved intra and interspecies communication tends to be favoured by natural selection, eg nervous systems, hormones, pherenomes, more advanced sensory organs.

    It isn’t obvious. Remember, we start out with a broken symmetry (simple organisms).

    Also it appears to me that genomic exchange mechanisms like sex, transposons become widespread due to the increased mobility of genomic information that they enable.

    According to evolution sex et cetera improves fitness by improving variation. LTG is supposed to have been dominant before lineages coalesced, so we could easily argue the other way here.

  37. #37 okey oyna
    January 29, 2009

    Organisms communicate with other organisms or die. Communication is language. Symbolic thought comes from prior shared development facilitated by none other than the communication you are presumably suggesting it would lead to.

  38. #38 bedava okey
    February 14, 2009

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  39. #39 D_E_R_M_A_N
    February 14, 2009

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  40. #40 söve
    February 15, 2009

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  41. #41 mario oyunları
    May 22, 2009

    The most logical position of course is that the universe has always existed and will always exist, and within such a vast frame of reference, it’s safe to say that life and its varied purposes has virtually always existed.

  42. #42 Okey
    June 3, 2009

    thank you well nice

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    July 29, 2009

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