Sunday, August 25, 2019

What Happens When Denying Darwin

( From Just Thomism blog)
Denying ”darwinian explanations of life” can mean two things.

1.) If you are denying the explanatory power of natural selection in biology and various sciences subordinated to it, the denial is idiotic. Few theories have the explanatory power of natural selection, and any theory that replaces it will not be an outright denial but either (a) an explanation of how various phenomena appear darwinian within some very common constraints but are non-darwinian under abnormal conditions or (b) a theory that includes selection as a large element in a richer interpretive set of explanations.*

2.) If you are denying the explanatory power of natural selection in abiogenesis, the denial is axiomatic. To an outsider like myself abiogenesis looks like a backwater of research with a whole slough of theories defended by mavericks from all sorts of different disciplines, none of whom commands even a plurality of scientific consensus.
Since we have no theory at all, much less a darwinian one, the ‘official position’ on abiogenesis can be explained in several ways.

a.) Life arose by chance. ”Chance” in this context means an event that, while being relevant to the theory, was outside of any of its predictions. This includes times when we have events with no real theory at all, and the most familiar way in which this happens is the “theory” that things form by molecules banging around and forming things. Sure, if molecules just bang around and form X then, by definition, you’ll have an X, but you wouldn’t have an explanation of it. If you see a puddle of water forming underneath your furnace, you explain its presence by, say, condensation or sabotage but not by ‘molecules banging around’. All “banging around” theory amounts to is the claim that something somehow happened, which we know simply by looking. But a theory has to add something to a blank, bovine stare at the events of the world.

Notice that “by chance” and “improbable” are not only different but contrary. Improbable events have a calculable probability and therefore exist in a theory whereas events that occur by chance, even if they are improbable, are not calculated in advance. A royal flush is improbable in a normal game of poker, but this improbability can be strictly calculated. A chance event would be one that, strictly speaking, has no odds of occurring since the theory cannot (or at least did not) account for it in advance. This is where we are with abiogenesis.

b.) Life is a mystery. A mystery in this sense is an wonderful or important cause that is known to be unknown. If calling an event by chance indicates that it is outside of a theory and is neither probable or improbable, calling it a mystery indicates that we are interested in it or that finding it is important to us, though we might view probing into it hubristic or irreverent.

c.) God caused life. God is the ultimate mystery in the above sense, and so to the extent that nature is mysterious it will inevitably suggest an analogue in divinity. This only gives rise to a God in the gaps fallacy if we assume the mysteries of nature are invariant or entirely given in advance while they are in fact continually shifting. Things that were very mysterious at some times and some places are not to us, and vice-versa. Some mysteries vanish and new ones arise.

There are connections not just between God and mystery but also God and chance. There is a long history of seeing God as uniquely at work in the unforseeable. We spontaneously feel something divine in a stroke of good luck, and some divine abandonment or chastisement in a stroke of bad luck.

That said, we also know how to set chance and divinity against one another. Divinity is the guarantee that intelligibility goes all the way down, even if not for us; but chance can be taken as a denial of this sort of intelligibility. The debate seems to be whether what is unknowable to us, but real, must be knowable to another.

*As I understand “Intelligent Design”, this is the option they go for.

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