Philosopher Michael Ruse objects to a recent comment from Pope Benedict:
“If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature. But no, reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine reason.”
According to Ruse, this view is a no-no because it contradicts science. To show this, he, well, quotes from Stephen Jay Gould:
“Since dinosaurs were not moving toward markedly larger brains, and since such a prospect may lie outside the capabilities of reptilian design, we must assume that consciousness would not have evolved on our planet if a cosmic catastrophe had not claimed the dinosaurs as victims. In an entirely literal sense, we owe our existence, as large and reasoning mammals, to our lucky stars.”
Well, that just settles it once and for all. He then adds:
Gould was not saying that human evolution was uncaused or random in that sense. But he was saying that there is no design. Human evolution had no more forethought than, say, the pattern that a pile of sand makes when emptied from a bucket.
Yeah, I understand the argument and position, but where are the actual data that show “there is no design” and there was no, NO, NO foresight involved in human evolution?
Speculating that something akin to humans would not have evolved if a cosmic catastrophe had not claimed the dinosaurs as victims doesn’t exactly count as a scientific demonstration. If you are going to make such a strong, negative claim, you need some strong evidence and not philosophy posing as a vague thought experiment.
Of course, when you don’t have strong evidence, it’s best to resort to group think:
And while Gould was a bit of a maverick in some ways, there is no modern evolutionary biologist who would disagree with him on this.
But is that because all these modern evolutionary biologists have published tons of data that clearly show “there is no design?” If so, where is it? What were the data that was supposed to count as evidence for design and how did we rule it out for the entire history of life?
Or could it just be that invoking teleology is simply against the rules that are taught to budding evolutionary biologists and enforced by current evolutionary biologists? If so, noting that “there is no modern evolutionary biologist who would disagree with him on this” would be about as meaningful as noting that no modern football team has ever won by having the lowest score.
Ruse finally tries to tap into some data:
Evolution depends on mutations that simply don’t have direction.
So what’s the logic here? If evolution has a direction, mutations must have a direction? That is silly. We know evolution can have a direction. It’s called artificial selection, something that even Darwin appealed to. And we know this form of teleological evolution does not in any way depend on the designers (humans) giving direction to the actual mutations. On the contrary, one might argue that what extends the directional reach of artificial selection is the size of the pool of variants, which in turn is expanded by a mutational process that has no direction. Ironically, the very fact that mutations have no direction might be precisely what allows for evolution to have a significant directional reach.
For, you see, a direction to evolution might not be found in the mutations themselves, but by the context in which the mutations occur. It is the context, not the mutations, that impose the direction. I have explained this with the example of nudging (here and here) and have fruitfully explored this possibility with many examples over the years. Put simply, Ruse’s notion of direction and evolution are quite shallow and clichéd.
But he’s not done.
Charles Darwin was absolutely adamant about this. When his good friend, the Harvard botanist Asa Gray, tried to put divine direction into the changes, Darwin simply told him that he wasn’t doing science any more.
So in the end, Ruse insists that science has shown “there is no design” to evolution. But what do we have behind the posture of certainty?
- Speculations about what might have happened if dinosaurs did not go extinct.
- An appeal to “no evolutionary biologist” believes.
- The shallow observation about mutations.
- And as a finishing touch, an appeal to Darwin’s authority.
Sorry, but that looks more like hand-waving than a scientific demonstration.
Finally, Ruse closes with this:
My own thinking is that if you are going to get anywhere then you need to work on the theology. I have suggested that, since we have appeared, we could appear. Hence, God (being outside time and space) could simply go on creating universes until humans did appear. A bit of a waste admittedly but we have that already in our universe.
Actually, that is very close to my own theological and metaphysical position. Except mine is better. How? Why in the world would Ruse think that God has to keep creating universes until humans appear? God, being omniscient, would know precisely what universe would spawn humans. He would know which one would spawn us. So He would bring that very universe into existence. Why? Precisely because is houses us. Precisely because it is our home. Because of us.
I mention this simply to show that I have long accepted a theological/metaphysical view that is very similar to the “solution” Ruse proposes. And what this means is I have no theological or metaphysical need to insert design into nature or evolution. None. So while people like Ruse might think my skepticism of his “no design” claim from above is rooted in some metaphysical need to give God “a job,” people like Ruse would be relying on shallow stereotypes. In reality, my metaphysical/theological views allow me to approach this subject in an open-minded and intellectually honest fashion. And it is from THAT vantage that I can see that Ruse’s “science has shown there is no design” position to be hand-waving.