Thought I would respond to some more excerpts from Gnu activist Jerry Coyne’s new book. I got these excerpts from a fanboy review on Amazon.com
He argues, “evolution doesn’t show the signs of teleological guidance or directionality proposed by theistic evolutionists. Evolutionary biologists long ago abandoned the notion that there is an inevitable evolutionary march toward greater complexity, a march culminating in humans.”
Here it all depends on what one is looking for when it comes to teleological guidance or directionality. After all, teleological guidance or directionality does not necessarily mean inevitable. Thus, that biologists long ago abandoned the notion that there is an inevitable evolutionary march toward greater complexity, a march culminating in humans, is not all that relevant to the issue of teleology and evolution. Look at it this way. Let’s say that you have figured out a way to rig a poker game such that you are more likely to win. The tricks that you used to rig the game are examples of guidance or directionality. But does that mean it should now be inevitable that you win every hand? Of course not. Similarly, evolution itself might have been rigged to make it simply more likely that humans would eventually evolve. Maybe it was just rigged to make it more likely metazoans would emerge. That itself would be sufficient for establishing a teleological aspect to evolution. Whether this would count as evidence for God would be a separate question.
If one considers all species together, the AVERAGE complexity of organisms has certainly increased over the 3.5 billion years of evolution, but that’s just because life began as a simple replicating molecule, and the only way to go from there is to become more complex.” (Pg. 138-139)
A self-replicating molecule would not qualify as life, even if they ever did once exist. But that’s not the important point. Coyne is basically arguing that life forms have become more complex over time, on average, simply because they began as simple life forms. But this type of analysis if far too simplistic. For the first 2 billion years, the only life forms on this planet were prokaryotic – bacteria and archaebacteria. And there was no increase in complexity among the prokaryotes for almost 2 billion years (the majority of life history). So the logic Coyne cites does not hold for most of life’s history. As far as we can tell, the prokaryotes from 1.5 billion years ago were not much more structurally complex than the prokaryotes from 3.5 billion years ago. Then, something stunning happened – the one time origin of the eukaryotic cell through symbiosis. This event essentially entailed the “redesign” of the cell and this new cell had the potential to generate complex life forms, including the eventual appearance of animal life. Once animal life emerged (metazoans) sometime prior to 600 million years ago, we can toss out Coyne’s argument as it was no longer true that the only way to go from there is to become more complex. At that point, organisms could become simpler or more complex. All in all, evolution cannot be summarized in some simplistic formula of “start simple and there is no place to go but to become more complex.” Evolution is more interesting than that.
He admits, “But there are also difficult problems that science hasn’t yet explained—the origin of life and the biological basis of consciousness are two—and, given their difficulty, some may never be solved. These lacunae constitute openings for theology: opportunities to propose God as a solution. These are, of course, the famous `god of the gaps’ arguments… the problem of proposing a god as the solution to obstinate scientific puzzles is … science has a history of filling the gaps and displacing gods…” (Pg. 153)
So Coyne is arguing that even if the origin of life and the biological basis of consciousness are never solved and remain Gaps, they cannot be considered evidence for God because the God-of-the-Gaps argument has failed elsewhere. It would seem to me if Gaps are never filled, it would make them different from Gaps that have been filled. In fact, given the success of science at filling gaps, the places where success is lacking become more and more significant over time. It would suggest the gap filling procedure no longer applies. Of course, all of this is amusing given that Coyne tells us he would count Gaps as evidence for the existence of God (for example, his 900 foot tall Jesus).
He contends, “there are other explanations for fine-tuning that don’t invoke God. The simplest is that if we inhabit the only universe there is, we simply got lucky: that our universe had the right physical constraints to permit and support life as we know it… in the bridge game of cosmology, we drew a nearly perfect hand…
Sure. But I’m not sure why any theist is supposed to consider extreme luck a better explanation than God. After all, “we simply got lucky” is an unfalsifiable explanation that could be invoked for anything. If Coyne thinks we are obligated to eliminate such unlikely luck as an explanation, then the cards have been stacked such that theism is never allowed. Is it mere coincidence that an atheist activist would play it this way?
The odds of this are immensely increased, however, if there is more than one universe… The concept of a `multiverse’—many universes that are independent of one another—falls naturally out of several current and popular theories of physics, including string theory and the idea of cosmic inflation… Further, the constants of physics will differ among those universes. Given that, it becomes probable that some universes will have the right physical constants to allow life as we know it, and lo, we happened to evolve in one of those…
I don’t explore this topic much, but it would seem we need to know just how many other universes exist. If there are only a few thousand, I think we’re back to “getting lucky.” So does anyone know how many other universes exist?
Now, it’s not clear whether we can actually SHOW that there are multiple universes, for they might be undetectable from our own…
An unknown number of undetectable universes. I can understand how one can fall back on luck or advance the unknown number of undetectable universes in response to the fine-tuning argument, meaning that it fails as some type of proof, but I see no reason for thinking these are better explanations. In the end, it looks like we simply have a choice.
[But] even if multiverse theory is hard to test, the alternative `God theory’ is IMPOSSIBLE to test, for it makes no predictions.” (Pg. 163)
Duh. There is no such as the ‘God theory’ in science. Basically Coyne expects us theists to embrace Pure Luck or the Unknown Number of Undetectable Universes because God belief is…….not science. I’m so impressed.