ACCUMULATING PERIPHERALS


God designed humans? Not impossible, just infinitely unlikely by mattsteinglass
September 7, 2009, 10:17 pm
Filed under: Religion, Science

Jim Manzi: Defense Against Jerry Coyne (The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan).

I can sort of see why Jim Manzi would feel that Jerry Coyne’s response to him is intemperate, but I’m not sure how I can explain to Jim Manzi why his post really does seem extremely tedious to someone who accepts, not just the validity of the theory of evolution, but that people ought to approach the world by privileging evidence and Occam’s Razor. Essentially, Manzi has invented a new comforting notion for those who wish to believe that the universe is programmed by an intentional God. Maybe, he imagines, the universe is not a clock, as the folks who tried to rescue theism in the 18th and 19th centuries imagined, but a biological computer, like the ones that use DNA to solve problems. Those kinds of computers solve problems by setting some criteria for a solution and then running through zillions of combinations very rapidly, selecting out the more promising lines of inquiry and killing off the ones that begin to fail, until they arrive at a combination that meets the criteria established at the beginning.

To respond as briefly as possible to Manzi: it is indeed possible that God decided He wanted humans as a solution and set up the universe to run as a physical and then biological computational device until it finally, 15 billion years later, arrived at us as the solution. It is equally possible that God decided He wanted Africanized bees as a solution, was very happy in the 20th century when they finally emerged, and is now preparing to end the world and Rapture all the bees up to heaven; we are merely one of His less significant computational errors. But perhaps you think it more persuasive that God was seeking greater intelligence, according to some kind of principle of complexity or reverse entropy or something? Then it is possible that God decided He wanted the internet as a solution, and humans are merely building blocks towards the Singularity, like mitochondria were. Or it is possible that God wants something like humans, but much less violent and more careful and nurturing, so the fact that we’re about to be wiped out by global warming, resource conflicts, and nuclear war is part of the computational algorithm; we might take Earth as a whole with us, but God probably has His algorithm running on a trillion other planets in a hundred million other galaxies at the same time, so really, whether humans go extinct or not is no big deal.

This why Jerry Coyne was right to say that Darwin “demolish(ed)”

the comforting notion that we are unique among all species—the supreme object of God’s creation, and the only creature whose earthly travails could be cashed in for a comfortable afterlife.

It’s not that this idea is impossible. It’s that humans are no more likely than a literally infinite number of similar candidates for the ultimate end of a purpose-driven Creation. There is just no reason whatsoever to believe that the ultimate aim of an intentional God is humans, rather than some kind of gentle flying dolphin with tentacles that will evolve ten million years from now, or Skynet, or the highly artistic, empathetic and sensitive levitating robots of the final scene of Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.”, or a magnetically telepathic silicon-based life form currently evolving on a gas-giant planet somewhere in the Horsehead Nebula.

Manzi also spends some time on this thing about “first cause”. I don’t understand how intelligent people can get themselves tangled up in that red herring of infinite regression. Jerry Coyne’s answer is the old, simple one: if God is the first cause, what caused God? What are the rules that govern His behavior? How did they come into being?  What is the point of positing another step here?

The point is this: until the 19th century, the argument for God was that beings as complex and sophisticated as hummingbirds or humans could not possible have come into existence randomly; something had to have shaped them. Darwin showed that wasn’t true. Life evolves into existence constantly all around us without a creator. Once you get there, the only remaining reasons to believe in the existence of a creator are aesthetic ones, not centered on humans. The idea that humans are “unique among all species, the supreme object of God’s creation,” isn’t impossible. It’s just infinitely unlikely. I don’t see why Manzi keeps failing to get the point.


5 Comments so far
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If humans are the “ultimate end of a purpose-driven Creation,” then god has very limited goals.

Comment by markbolton

I’m an atheist– a real one, one that knows what it means– and I’m sorry, but this is horse shit. The constant assertion that creation is the only or most important argument for the existence of God is just flatly untrue, untrue historically, untrue theologically, untrue philosophically. The truth is, scientific truth has always been incompatible with belief in God, if you believe that there can only be one kind. Bushes can’t burst into flames and talk to people. People keep repeating this canard about evolution being some silver bullet against religion only through inertia, and a fundamental inability to understand religious history. It’s just not true.

Comment by freddiedeboer

I actually don’t understand what you’re trying to say. It’s entirely possible to believe in God without believing in miracles, such as bushes bursting into flame. I also don’t actually believe that evolution is a “silver bullet against religion”, nor would I want it to be one; I embrace religion as a cultural and aesthetic practice and a moral and spiritual practice. What we’re talking about here is not evolution vs. religion. It is Manzi’s argument that one could rescue a role for an intentional God in the development of human life. God has a place in moral and spiritual discussions, and maybe a place in the discussion of consciousness, which is a phenomenon that people really don’t understand. But there’s no place left for God to intervene physically, and there’s no plausible place for a watchmaker or (as Manzi would have it) an experimenter God either, in describing the physical reality of the universe. I don’t really understand what your quibble is about.

Comment by Matt Steinglass

[…] Matt Steinglass on Manzi’s response to Coyne: I can sort of see why Jim Manzi would feel that Jerry Coyne’s response to him is intemperate, but I’m not sure how I can explain to Jim Manzi why his post really does seem extremely tedious to someone who accepts, not just the validity of the theory of evolution, but that people ought to approach the world by privileging evidence and Occam’s Razor. Essentially, Manzi has invented a new comforting notion for those who wish to believe that the universe is programmed by an intentional God. Maybe, he imagines, the universe is not a clock, as the folks who tried to rescue theism in the 18th and 19th centuries imagined, but a biological computer, like the ones that use DNA to solve problems. Those kinds of computers solve problems by setting some criteria for a solution and then running through zillions of combinations very rapidly, selecting out the more promising lines of inquiry and killing off the ones that begin to fail, until they arrive at a combination that meets the criteria established at the beginning. […]

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