Evolution and the anthropic principle...

It seems to me that among evolutionary theory's least-exploited weaknesses are its implicit assumptions about the conditions necessary for life to come into existence.

Evolutionary principle, in other words, only comes into play when organic life first forms. But shouldn't adaptive forces be at work even before full-fledged life appears? Shouldn't, for instance, the principles of evolution be equally adept at creating non-carbon-based life forms as carbon-based? Shouldn't evolution be as capable of creating rock-based life as water-based?

It seems silly to claim that evolution can take atoms from the primordial soup to mankind (and beyond) ONLY IF the exact building blocks of carbon-based life are present first. Shouldn't the adaptive powers of evolution be just as capable of raising some form of life from a helium primordial soup as from carbon?

Where does evolution begin? After life's initiation, or before? It seems completely contrary to evolutionary theory's claims to suggest that life requires certain inescapable conditions to form. Isn't the point of evolution that life adapts to exist and survive? Evolutionary forces, if real, should be as active in forming life as in advancing it. Which means that adaptation should include adaptation to non-carbon environments.

Ironically, some at the forefront of evolutionary thought (Kurzweil, etc.) propose an evolutionary jump from man to machine--from carbon-based to non-carbon-based life--as the next major evolutionary leap. But if non-carbon-based life is possible at the more advanced end of the evolutionary spectrum, why not at the outset? If evolution potentially ends at machines, why couldn't it start there as well?

The assumption by evolutionists that carbon is essential for life implicitly establishes evolutionary theory on a foundation of design. Though evolutionists suggest the existence of non-carbon-based life forms elsewhere in the universe, the absence of the slightest evidence for such life forms is damning evidence of evolutionary theory's need for a stacked deck at the outset. Evolution needs a perfectly designed universe even to get out the gate.

Read more on the many ways the universe conspires to support life on earth (what some call the anthropic principle) in this article from the Wall Stree Journal.

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This "they assume life has certain properties" thing is a pretty bad argument against evolution. How can you expect scientists, who study the natural world, to study, in any way, things that they don't even know exist in the natural world? Evolutionary theory is trying to explain the evolution of life as we know it, not all the possibilities for living things. This is no different from, say, physics working with only the forces of nature we know about, chemistry only working with chemical elements that we know exist, or food science sticking to studying foods instead of skiing techniques and martian soil composition.

(I ask here how you expect scientists to study these things. Note that I'm distinguishing studying scientifically from conjecturing in the name of science. I'll get to that soon.)

"But where did the dirt come from?" is a good question, but for a scientist to say "We don't have an answer" is not the same as you proving there is no scientific answer to be had or that science can't ever find an answer (some people need to hear science before they will accept; see below), or that there can't be some kind of answer from non-science thinking that does not involve a designer.

Anthropic theory, however, can go so far. If there is a designer then things will be finely tuned. The only thing we can really do with that statement, deductively, is "therefore if things are not finely tuned there is not a designer." So a finely tuned universe gives no airtight proof for a designer. It points inductively, it strengthens faith for those who believe, but it doesn't prove anything for sure and it leaves other options, even if judged improbable, open.

That said, I personally think that "evolution" is a pretty poor excuse for disbelief in God. The best attack against evolution as an excuse for disbelief is to attack the idea that science and scientific proof are the only way of knowing what is real. Make sure that people realize that science, because it can only study the universe we have, cannot study where the universe came from. Any "scientific" claim about evolution ex nihilo simply isn't scientific; science can't study nihilo. You can also point out that Richard Dawkins isn't doing science when he makes claims about God and that Carl Sagan's paralleling "dragon in the garage" example is pretty stupid. This isn't science, it's scientists making non-scientific statements. There are reasons to believe without scientific reasoning and without airtight scientific proofs. People who accept anthropic theory accept that fact. People who reject anthropic theory do not. So anthropic theory itself isn't going to do the convincing. Attacking the underlying assumptions can.

Bobby Cordoba says: "So a finely tuned universe gives no airtight proof for a designer. It points inductively, it strengthens faith for those who believe, but it doesn't prove anything for sure and it leaves other options, even if judged improbable, open."

On the contrary, the Bible says that this finely tuned universe that we live in is indeed proof positive.

Romans 1:19-22 says:
because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools...

This is a damning text for all who claim that God doesn't exist or that it cannot be known whether there is a God. But it is especially damning for scientists who study this creation which proclaims to them the glory and power of God almighty. While professing to be wise they declare there is no God, and prove beyond a shadow of doubt the futility of their speculations, the darkness of their hearts, and their own foolishness.

With all respect, I agree except for the word "contrary." If you're citing the Bible then you're strengthening the faith of those who believe, exactly what I said. In fact, I'm glad you mention that passage of scripture. I love those verses because they inspire me to do science despite having to deal regularly with people of an atheistic, or otherwise anti-Christian, ilk questioning my faith.

I think we fundamentally agree but we're using the word "proof" differently. With any Christian I would say that the passage you cite is a proof. We who have faith in God accept the Bible as his Word and will follow it. With someone who does not care about scripture, however, I would not say those verses are a proof. Anyone hard-heartedly against scripture will not be taught by it. Since you are a brother in Christ I'll tell you that I think I Corinthians 2:6ff hints at, possibly even proves, this.

Really, rejecting scripture is another bit of foolishness on their part. It doesn't stop me, though, from finding other ways to soften them.

Hey David--it's good to keep in mind that "evolution" only explains (assuming that it does explain something) how a simple organism could become a more complex one. It doesn't say anything about how something non-living could become living. So, just like you said, "evolutionary principle...only comes into play when organic life first forms."

The "adaptive powers of evolution" can't take the universe from primordial soup to complex life because it doesn't say anything about what heppens in primordial soup. Evolution only gets you back to simple life. Then, you have to have a story about where that simple life comes from and where the universe comes from. There's actually a lot of play in the philosophical world with design-type arguments using the same kind of scientific data referred to the in WSJ article.

Dear David,

You're dealing with the most narrow and cautious definition of evolution possible. But evolutionary theorists have assumed the universe in their theory. For instance, viruses are constantly "evolving" yet viruses aren't living organisms by most definitions of organic life. Read evolutionary theorists and it's clear: the life principle is evolution's deity.

Thus the issue of why life requires an infinitesimally narrow set of circumstances to exist still stands. Moreover, speculation about the extension of evolutionary progress beyond organic life is routine in evolutionary circles. The evolutionary equivalent of math's commutative principle certainly applies at this point: if evolution can lead to non-carbon based, non-cellular life, it can come from such life.

Your friend in Christ,

David

I had written this comment, then decided not to post it, then waffled back after reading Talcott's comment.

Distinction should be made between microevolution, macroevolution, and what Pastor Bayly has written about here, evolutional-genesis.

Microevolution (observable changes in large populations on reasonable time-scales) is a matter of historical fact: for instance, the evolution of drug-resistant tuberculosis over the last century.

Macroevolution (i.e. apes turning into humans) when examined on a biochemical level has a lot of problems, chiefly that evolution theory cannot explain why supposedly "related species" (species that should have a common ancestor) have different karyotypes. The karyotype of an organism is the number of chromosomes it has, and is universal across a species. For example, man's karyotype is 46 (every cell in your body has 46 chromosomes), while the chimpanzees we are supposedly related to have 48 chromosomes. Practically every child is born with the karyotype of his parents; however when a child has more or less than 46 chromosomes the anomaly gives rise to diseases like Down syndrome, and the child is nearly always sterile. It is almost impossible to dream up a situation where a common ancestor would give rise to two groups of descendants with differing karyotypes. Yet we see an inexplicable diversity of karyotypes between "related" species.

The most-gaping hole in evolutional-genesis, unsatisfied by either evolution theory or the anthropic principle, is the enantiomeric exclusivity of biomolecules. There is a peculiar quirk of chemistry where certain molecules exist as "enantiomers", two forms that are identical in every respect, except that they are structural mirror images of each other (the same way your right hand is exactly like your left hand, but a mirror image of it; unlike your hands though, chemical enantiomers are practically indistinguishable). So there can exist both "right-handed" and "left-handed" sugars. Yet multicellular life employs exclusively right-handed sugars and left-handed amino acids. No one knows why. In terms of efficiency, vastly more cellular information could be stored in the same cellular volume if this enantiomeric exclusivity didn't exist; that is to say, if life actually arose from chaos, where both right-handed and left-handed molecules were present in equal abundance, the vitality of life would have been enhanced by employing both enantiomers, rather than specializing with only right-handed sugars and only left-handed amino acids. Suppose spontaneous life had evolved from chaos: it would have been molecularly ambidextrous; yet to explain life as we know it today, that first primordial cell must have immediately shot itself in the foot by scuttling half its molecular tool set.

Of course I suppose that's just as far fetched as that first cell spontaneously popping into existence in the first place.

Whatever Abram said sounded awfully intelligent. He must be learning something at that educumacational institution.

I didn't know Abram before now, so I can't judge the learning. What he says is much more intelligent than most things I've heard people say on the subject. There are just a few points that I'd like to share, though, just to help y'all do some mental push-ups.

"Abiogenesis" is a word you need to use. It's useful for this topic and it has a cool sound to it.

The terms "microevolution" and "macroevolution," are words that no biologist I know (many) use and that groups like Answers in Genesis say not to use because they confuse things (near the bottom of the linked article). Of course, the term "information" that AiG uses constantly in that article is not any better for clarity.

Why is enantiomeric exclusivity something anthropic theory does not explain rather than a non-numerical part of anthropic theory? Symmetry and geometry are mathematical, if not numerical, concepts.

"We don't know an answer" does not equal "it cannot ever be explained in a way we just do not yet know" and "improbable" does not equal "impossible." I think it's quite improbable that the universe came from nothing without a Creator, but some people are satisfied with any non-zero number, no matter how small, as a reason to disbelieve.

The frustrating thing about these discussions of science vs. religion, or evolution vs. creation is that all involved are out of science and into philosophy fairly quickly.

The naturalistic evolutionist has no answers for how life arose from non-life, nor does he care, really. He will tell you that abiogenesis is a whole different subject. The important thing is that life IS. How it started is an interesting area of speculation, but evolution does not concern itself with abiogenesis.

What we are really up against in evolution is naturalistic philosophy. However, try to get an athiestic or agnostic naturalist who is promoting evolution to even care what his presuppositions are! He does not care. For him, evolution is a fact of life, and all who deny it are little more than intellectual neotodes. Presuppositions are irrelevant.

How is it that Christians know how it all started?

David--you're quite right that many scientists view a "life principle" as a god. What I and many of my friends try to point out to them is that at this point you're way out of the realm of science.

I haven't read anything about biological stuff evolving to non-biological stuff (i.e. humans evolving into robots) though I'm sure you're right that it's floating around out there. You're right that if that sort of thing is going to be considered, then organic stuff evolving out of inorganic stuff seems like it should be considered also.

As I thought about your viruses counterexample, I realized "organism" isn't specific enough. Because, I think you're right that a virus wouldn't qualify as an organism (though I'm not a scientist so I'm not entirely sure how that term is used). Viruses are, though, biological systems and hence are things on which evolution can operate. "Biological systems" is the criteria used in the philosophical discussions of these things, including by philosophers with significant science background.

I entirely agree with you that none of this affects the incredible fact that "life requires an infinitesimally narrow set of circumstances to exist." Physics-based arguments for the existence of God are some of the best ones out there right now in the academic world. Whatever else evolution can explain, it can't explain why the gravitational constant has the value it has and not some other one.

>However, try to get an atheistic or agnostic naturalist who is >promoting evolution to even care what his presuppositions are! He >does not care. For him, evolution is a fact of life, and all who deny it >are little more than
>intellectual neotodes.

Indeed.

1 Cor. 1:
19For it is written,

"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."

20Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards,[b] not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29so that no human being[c] might boast in the presence of God. 30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

Bobby et al,

You'll see in my first comment that I had doubts about commenting in the first place, and those doubts have now become clear: this week at IU we are in the throes of Hell Week and preparation for finals. I'm sorry, I simply won't have the time to give you a thoughtful reply for several days.

"The writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body." Eccl 12:12

I thought this might be of interest to people:

"Do galaxies follow Darwinian evolution?"

http://www.physorg.com/pdf84627166.pdf

There's a lull now between term papers and final exams, so I'll give this a shot.

I'm unfamiliar with Answers in Genesis and this issue they raise, though it is an interesting facet to the issue I'd never seen considered (that evolution requires the spontaneous addition of genetic information). I'm not sure how well that matches up to the evidence. We've certainly observed mechanisms where bacteria exchange small amounts of genetic information; so regarding antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis, it should be fairly straightforward to deduce if the TB obtained the genes for drug-resistance from an already drug-resistant bacterium, or if TB spontaneously developed a mechanism for surviving antibiotics.

As for macroevolution, I still believe it's a crucial distinction to be made. It is simply bad science to say "TB evolved to be drug-resistant, therefore man must have evolved from apes." This is akin to saying "Joshua Bell is a virtuoso violinist, therefore he must also be a virtuoso on the double-bass." It just doesn't work like that. A double-bass may simply be an over-sized violin (I know it isn't: bear with me), but Joshua Bell's fingers were trained to operate on a violin, not a double-bass. Similarly, if we've observed evolution working on single-celled organisms, that doesn't mean it therefore works on multi-cellular vertebrates. In fact, in my brief exposure to biochemistry I learned that the more complex an organism gets, the more tightly it is bound to its own status quo: the cells in your body can only live under a very specific set of parameters. Changing one of those parameters doesn't make you evolve, it makes you die.

Fundamentally, all of science is physics. You could say that chemistry is just a scaled-up model of quantum physics. But there are lots of unpleasant details chemistry inherits from quantum physics; were we to give close attention to those details, we would get bogged down in them. So we in chemistry gloss over a lot of details that would slow us down. Similarly, biology is just scaled-up chemistry, and the biologists gloss over a lot of unpleasant details they inherited from chemistry.

All of science is knowing which details are important and which ones you can ignore. In chemistry we can very often ignore the unpleasant detail that an electron is a wave and a particle at the same time; we treat it simply as a particle, and most of the time that approximation works. But sometimes we have to describe the dual wave-particle (wavicle) nature of electrons to explain certain observed phenomena. We can almost always explain observed phenomena by describing electrons as wavicles. And it almost always sucks. That's why we avoid it when we can, because it's miserable (imagine a teaspoon of chemistry, a cup of physics, and a gallon of linear algebra, all added to a keg of vector calculus: that's what it takes to use the wavicle nature of electrons to model chemistry).

Evolution has ignored a whole lot of unpleasant details. On the biochemical level, we don't even understand most of the details evolution ignores; and those details most certainly control and affect the very phenomena evolution aims to explain. I don't blame them; using sound chemistry to model the intricacies of the simplest cell is even more of a headache than the wavicle nature of electrons. But that is exactly what evolutionists must do to support their theory. What I've tried to show here (with karyotypes, enantiomeric exclusivity, macro vs. micro) is that many biochemical phenomena we've observed are inexplicable using evolution, and some run counter to it.

I'll stop with that. This is already far longer than anyone will read. If you like, I'll try to further elucidate the issue of enantiomeric exclusivity, but another time ("another time" = "after my inorganic chemistry final exam").

Like Abram said, this isn't a great time for me to be posting, I don't have the time or the leftover brain cells right now to write a post that does the subject justice. But here's a few comments.

As the AIG webpage that Bobby's post links to points out, evolution, when applied as an explanation for how life developed from less simple to more complex forms of life, necessitates an increase of useful genetic information. To answer your question about that Abram, I am not aware that anyone has conclusively provided an example of this occurring, though my knowledge of the field is pretty limited. (One thing that should become obvious to a student of any discipline the further they progress in their studies is that they know very, very little about their field. Sometimes I feel my being a PhD Ecology student has given me just enough knowledge to be dangerous)

Myself and another 25 or so graduate students in the IU Biology dept have just finished a 3 credit class in evolution, and it is surprising how discussion about this central requirement for evolution, as I have defined it above, is simply avoided. Evolutionists (ie naturalists, which is the practical, if not stated, philosophy/world-view of just about everyone in the department) assume that since it must have happened it just did, but real, workable theories regarding how more useful genetic information is evolved just aren't out there. At least not any that I am aware of, and I been keeping my ears open for them for a couple of years now.

I have been finding it very interesting to learn that most of evolutionary research is good science, and fascinating stuff too; concepts like natural/sexual/social selection, speciation, adaptation, mutation clearance, etc. are all areas of valid research and disputation. And, boy, there are a lot of disputations that goe on within the evolutionary biology community regarding these study-able phenomenon. But every one agrees without discussion that complex life developed from less complex life, which somehow organized itself from abiotic materials, and if you dare challenge those key suppositions you're treated rather like a heretic whose voice is no longer valid in the discussions about real science.

Well, fine, I guess I'm a heretic then.    =)

Abram, thanks for your thoughts. I do physics, so I not only read the whole thing but I can sympathize with your definition of "another time" :) Also, I do agree that there is a distinction to be made between what I could be called speciation and what could be called selection of traits.

For all-- I'm not an expert on information but I think informaiton is the best option for design research, if modified. I can expound for you straight out why I think the current arguments have a flaw-- the term "information" as used in ID circles is subjective.

The basic idea, I think from William Dembski but possibly others, is that there are two components to genetic information. One component that is numerical, like in information theory (be forewarned that entropy has a somewhat different meaning there than in physics, so I've been told anyway). Another component is about "function." This latter piece is where the subjectivity comes from. In this scheme if you have two organisms with cells of the same complexity mathematically (the caculable component of "information") but one is a bacterium and one is part of a multicellular organism, then either the cell from the organism, or the organism requiring specialized cells, is declared to have more function, and thus more information. But this is the cat chasing it's tail. One need not talk about anything calculable if it is going to get mucked up by what is essentially adding whatever number is needed to make the proof work.

If there is some way to overcome the subjectivity then information really will be the knock-down argument that AiG thinks it already is.

Also, my encouragement to you Collin-- it's harder to be a Christian in biology than in physics. The atheists are more militant there. You certainly know more than enough for the knowledge to be dangerous, but probably enough for you to be safe from it. After all, you understand that even evolution, humanism, and so on are based on assumptions on some level. I know people who just don't get that.

As I continue studying for my Inorganic Chemistry final exam, Collin's comment made me think:

"Is the spontaneous development of genetic information (for instance, and for the sake of consistency: TB spontaneously developing the gene that codes the protein that makes it drug-resistant); is this epiphany of information not akin to an epiphany that would cause a semester-worth of Inorganic Chemistry to spontaneously exist in my brain?"

If such epiphanies happen, I wouldn't have to wile away my day at the library, poring over boring books. I guess the evolutionist would say that, given a large enough population of chemistry-ignorant Abrams, systematically killing the ones that don't know Inorganic Chemistry would eventually lead to the evolution of a population of Abrams that do know Inorganic Chemistry.

Is that a fair comparison? That's pretty much what the survival of the fittest model says, in this case assuming that an ignorance of Inorganic Chemistry leads to death, while a knowledge thereof leads to life (and hence, reproduction and the perpetuation of that knowledge). The difference is that a TB bacterium can't spend a weekend at the library learning how to code the proteins it needs to survive the drugs your doctor may prescribe.

Eh?

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