Teleology, evolution, imagination.

William Brafford

William Brafford grew up in North Carolina, home of the world's best barbecue, indie rock, and regional soft drinks. He just barely sustains a personal blog and "tweets" every now and then under the name @williamrandolph.

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55 Responses

  1. Michael Drew says:

    Even before reading this, I want to say as much I respect Chris` thorough approach to this topic while differing strongly, the posting of a non-Chris-Dierkes perspective on it here was needed and is welcome. So thanks.Report

  2. Lee says:

    It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me that God may want to bring into existence as many diverse types of creatures as possible (perhaps, as Leibniz suggested, using a small number of elegant principles). Each of these kinds of creatures (and even each one individually) reflects a facet of the divine glory. And–maybe–for these creatures to co-exist in the same universe, that universe needs to be structured in a particular law-like way, which accounts, at least in part, for some of the “natural” evil we observe.

    So, I’d qualify the idea that creation “privileges” human beings if by that we mean that humans are the single or overriding goal of the whole process. I don’t see why we can’t be considered one part of the process, a valuable one to be sure, but not valued by God to the exclusion of other creatures. Other creatures aren’t simply a means to the end of getting a world with humans in it, in other words, but have value in their own right. (Even though humans may have certain uniquely valuable properties.)

    It’s also worth pointing out that humans are not uniformly treated as the pinnacle of creation in the Bible. For one thing, there are angels, who are above men in the celestial hierarchy. I also don’t think a biblical faith is necessarily committed to the view that creation is “finished.” That seems like an over-reading of the text, and St. Irenaeus for one thought that the Genesis creation story portrayed humanity in its immaturity, which leaves room for the idea of further development.

    Just some thoughts.Report

    • William Brafford in reply to Lee says:


      I was thinking about mentioning that post where you wrote, “Christian theology has been entirely too anthropocentric, and a more theocentric and creation-centric perspective is urgently needed.” For some reason, I left it out, but I’m glad I get the chance to drop a link in the comments. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot.

      Thanks for the thoughts here. I think they’re good ones.Report

  3. Zach says:

    My eyes glossed over and I stopped reading after Manzi said that genetic algorithms are analogous to biological evolution in that just because they’re random doesn’t mean they aren’t predestined to reach some result. It’s a terrible analogy. Genetic algorithms basically require two things to be done well to work: a method to generate population diversity and, more importantly, a selection function that can’t be satisfied in a way that you didn’t anticipate (the resulting mutant could pass your test but be worthless for some reason). Is he contending that there’s a chance that the selection function in biology and prebiology is divinely generated? The selection function is simply persistence… can something replicate faster than it degrades?

    You can’t imagine a universe where this isn’t the case. We see biological molecules, organisms, etc because they are generated faster than they are destroyed. We also see planets because they are generated faster than they are destroyed; and lakes and glaciers, and everything else. This isn’t a selection function unique to life, it’s a selection function that’s implicit in reality.

    Pointing to natural selection as evidence of God (or in Manzi’s lame attempt, evidence that biology doesn’t disprove God or something) is silly. There’s nothing special about natural selection. There’s a lot more fruit on the tree of saying God might exist because we haven’t proven that life could arise from the elements in place on Earth… it’s probably not a falsifiable argument but at least it’s not as comparing biological selection to the type of selection (specific desired endpoints) in genetic algorithms. Diversity is generated in a similar fashion in GAs, but selection is fundamentally different.Report

    • William Brafford in reply to Zach says:

      Is he contending that there’s a chance that the selection function in biology and prebiology is divinely generated?

      He’s contending that it’s not an inherent impossibility, and trying to avoid talking about chance.

      To try to stave off an unnecessary argument, I want to reiterate my position: what I know about nature makes a divine plan really difficult to conceive of. (I can’t tell if you were being literal when you said you didn’t read the whole post.)Report

    • Jim Manzi in reply to Zach says:


      It’s probably a pretty good idea to read the post before you comment on it.

      Contrary to, for example “Manzi said that genetic algorithms are analogous to biological evolution in that just because they’re random doesn’t mean they aren’t predestined to reach some result.”, I actually spent a lot of time explaining why genetic algorithms don’t have “random” steps at all, and why this might be significant.Report

      • Zach in reply to Jim Manzi says:

        Apologies; I thought this linked to your post at which I’d read earlier. Specifically: “Next, the program selects the 500 of the 1,000 organisms that have the lowest fitness values and eliminates them. This is the feedback measurement in our algorithm — and it is directly analogous to the competition for survival of biological entities.”

        My contention is that the feedback in natural selection is not directly analogous to feedback in a genetic algorithm because it’s a lower-level criteria. GA’s select for meeting a specific goal; natural selection always selects for persistence within some particular environment. You write that, “Evolution in nature is more complicated — but the complications don’t mean that the process is goalless, just that determining this goal would be so incomprehensibly hard that in practice it falls into the realm of philosophy rather than science.” Rather, I think that natural selection is less complicated than selection in a genetic algorithm. While the selective pressure on any single generation might be impossible to calculate, the actual “goal” is obvious, constant, and less complex than that of any GA: persistence through survival or reproduction. This is exactly the same selective pressure that underlies any natural observation we have outside of immutable physical laws. It’s a selection scheme that’s implicit to existence and only really open to claims of possible divinity in the ultimate origins sense.

        Regarding the post I should’ve read and now have, the one thing I have to add is that local hidden variables have been repeatedly disproved by increasingly precise and convincing experiments. I don’t think your argument hinges at all on molecular biology being deterministic, though. I generally agree on most of your points comparing GAs to natural selection; the mechanisms for generating diversity are directly analogous, varying the selective function doesn’t differentiate them, etc. I differ in interpreting how selectivity shifts in evolution. Selective pressure is determined by an organism’s environment, which can change. However, the composition of the environment is influenced by elements of itself, including organisms within it. The selective pressure on an environment is exactly the same as on organisms; if it persists, it exists. That’s fundamentally different from a deity tweaking the selectivity function at his will. It obviously doesn’t rule out arbitrary divine intervention in the process assuming some all-powerful God who might decide to move this rock over there or mutate this guanosine to cytosine or whatever, but our observations of the natural world, so far, are compatible with what we know about natural processes driven by physical laws. We understand evolution more in this regard than other natural phenomena, so there are much areas to look for divine intervention.Report

        • Jim Manzi in reply to Zach says:


          You write that:

          “GA’s select for meeting a specific goal; natural selection always selects for persistence within some particular environment. ”

          But this is precisely true for the organism in the GA. as far as one of these is concerned (obviously speaking metaphorically) all they they knwo is that they live or die. They are unaware of any “purpoose” to the selection pressures they face. There is some guiding intelligence (in this hypothetical) that is hidden from them manipulating their “the rules of the game” of their survival for some superior purpose. The whole argument is whether there is (or more precisely, whether we know there is) some guiding intelligence that has manipulated the rules of the game of natural evolution.Report

          • Zach in reply to Jim Manzi says:

            Unlike entities in a GA, we do know why we live and why we die. This is explained by our observations of natural history and experimentation. We see that this is consistent with measurable physical laws and conforms with our best understanding of the Universe, without any need for intervention, rule making, etc. I agree that you can’t rule out secret, arbitrary acts by God to tilt the playing field, but that’s no more convincing an argument than God spinning the Universe out thin air 6,000 years ago and planting evidence of evolution to weed out the heretics. It’s an argument that is impossible to falsify. I agree that science hasn’t ruled out the existence of this sort of “the Lord works in mysterious ways” God, and I don’t think it’s possible to do that.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    Would it be possible for me to use these exact arguments to come to the conclusion that Cthulhu slumbers and, when we finally reach the end he planned for us, he will awaken and devour us all? That we are nothing more than intelligently designed hors d’oeuvres?

    If I can (and the argument is approximately as falsifiable), would it be bad form on my part to see the argument as something akin to a very intellectualized way for sophisticated people to reassure themselves and their loved ones that there is no reason to be terrified in the dark? Don’t get me wrong. I see and hold *TREMENDOUS* value in reassuring oneself and one’s loved ones.

    It’s just that, when the game is given away, reassurement is harder to come by.

    How could these arguments bring me to a conclusion of “everything is going the way it needs to” without also bringing me to “That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons even death may die.”?Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

      All that to say: Good post.Report

    • JosephFM in reply to Jaybird says:

      Well, as a Philip K. Dick fan, I think I am obliged to say yes.Report

      • JosephFM in reply to JosephFM says:

        And also to be slightly annoyed that Hart neglects to mention him.Report

      • JosephFM in reply to JosephFM says:

        I should also point out that at one point he actually proposed a kind of theistic evolution as being at work behind empirical reality, though it does sort of fall into Manzi’s “things of that ilk”. Basically, the empirically observable universe is not fully real, but an incomplete multidimensional image projection of a perfect being that is limited only by its inability to see itself (and thus be fully aware of itself), and the final goal is to eventually bring the reality we perceive into perfect alignment with the Creator that it may be truly aware of itself. Yet its lack of self-awareness means that it could only create such a perfect projection through a mechanism not fully under its own control.Report

    • Jim Manzi in reply to Jaybird says:


      No, it is not possible to use these exact arguments to come to the conclusion that Cthulhu slumbers.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jim Manzi says:

        Show me.Report

        • JosephFM in reply to Jaybird says:

          Following the line of my previous comments, who’s to say that God and Cthulhu are not one and the same? At least in a metaphorical sense?Report

          • Jaybird in reply to JosephFM says:

            Yeah, exactly. This is where my confusion rises.

            There seems to be an intuition on both those who see Teleology and those who we may dub “Lovecraftians” that we are being tended, as a gardener tends his garden.

            The Teleologists seem to think that the process, or whatever, is doing so because He (for lack of a better pronoun) is making us better. The Lovecraftians seem to think that we are merely baby carrots who have the whole “screaming ‘no no no please don’t eat me'” thing down in the way that the old ones prefer.

            How can one tell the difference between a loving (in the parental sense) hand and the loving (in the man, I love cheeseburgers sense) hand?Report

  5. Michael Drew says:

    So… who’s digested this yet?

    If I’m not mistaken, Ms. Armstrong openly states that God does not “exist,” but that the desire to show that He does was a wrong turn in theology from the start. Works for me. What does not work so well for me are the multitude of lies she tells along the way, but since she comes to a decent ultimate conclusion, they can be forgiven by my lights.Report

      • Chris Dierkes in reply to Michael Drew says:

        thanks for the link. She makes some good points, I think her contribution is a definite improvement over Dawkins’ (though frankly that isn’t saying much). But ultimately I would say KA falls back to a kind of failed Kantianism whereby the natural world is totally determined and meaningless and the inner world of myth (subjectivity) is where freedom/morality/meaning are found. With a touch of Joseph Campbell I suppose. Or maybe Sartre?

        Nietzsche would point out that this is just a slipshod cover to veil the harsh truth that everything is emotional power (or biopower in Foucault). In other words, our ideas about inner subjectivity are themselves just another determined, causal formation.Report

  6. jfxgillis says:


    … is closer to the sense of “does not make it obviously unreasonable to believe it”.

    Manzi is just …. wrong.

    It’s virtually tautological how wrong he is. In order to believe something that is not obviously unreasonable, you have to have reason to believe it. Evidence and logic. You are also correct that if you are going to claim a process is teleological (I’m so proud of using “tautological” and “teleological” in the same paragraph), if you can’t say what it’s goal is, you can’t say it’s teleological.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to jfxgillis says:

      Pity that “Manzi” seems to be Italian in origin. If it were German, you could have thrown “Teutonical” in there.Report

    • Lee in reply to jfxgillis says:

      A more charitable reading would be that Manzi thinks that Darwinian evolution doesn’t provide a “defeater” for theistic belief. That doesn’t mean it provides postivie reasons for theistic belief (those would have to come from somewhere else, presumably), but that it doesn’t, so to speak, force reasonable people to give up their theistic beliefs. That’s a limited point, but one worth making, it seems to me.Report

      • jfxgillis in reply to Lee says:


        I’m strongly disinclined to be charitable.Report

        • Manzi, however, explicitly limits his argument to refuting the notion that evolutionary theory refutes the existence of a teleological god-figure. Indeed, he quite directly states near the beginning of his post that he is not arguing that there is compelling evidence for the existence of a divine plan. Instead, he is quite clear that he is saying that evolutionary theory adds nothing to the argument against the existence of a divine plan that hasn’t already been offered by the argument from change and the question of evil. He is also quite clear in saying that evolutionary theory disproves many religious beliefs and myths.

          The bottom line is that Manzi goes to great lengths to restrict his claim to rejecting the idea that evolutionary theory adds anything of value to arguments against the existence of a divine plan. Reading more into his argument is not only uncharitable, it also ignores Manzi’s own qualifiers.Report

        • Chris Dierkes in reply to jfxgillis says:

          This mode of argumentation still holds that Darwinian evolution equals all possible forms of evolution. It embeds a materialist presupposition (itself non-material in nature imo). I know Alfred Russell Wallace toyed with the idea that biological evolution was simply one facet of a larger evolutionary reality. Maybe if he had his ideas on natural selection published first, we’d be in a very different philosophical position regarding all this.Report

          • Mark:

            Reading more into his argument is not only uncharitable, it also ignores Manzi’s own qualifiers.

            I don’t think I’m doing that, and at the risk of being repetitive, let me try to restate.

            To say that belief X does not make belief Y “obviously unreasonable” is either a banal truism, a tautology, or, in this case, it’s mere distractive sophistry if belief Y is in fact obviously unreasonable notwithstanding belief X.

            To continue. Belief in the supernatural is “obviously unreasonable” in the sense of “outside the bounds of rationalistic discourse,” i.e., it is by definition “without reason.”

            To restate my argument yet again. Manzi is saying that “methodological Naturalism” does not disprove “metaphysical Supernaturalism.” So the fuck what? That is tautological. It means nothing. But that tautology descends to deceptive and dishonest sophistry when it is employed, as it inevitably will be if it hasn’t already, as a faux-rational argument against rationalism. That means something. Manzi’s “qualifications” either qualify his claim into irrelevance or they become relevant to whatever argument is constructed from his claims if they are proposed as deductive principle.

            Manzi’s argument either means nothing or it means something. If it means nothing I don’t care about it, but I don’t think it means nothing but I don’t think Manzi is stupid enough to waste all that time making a nothing argument. Therefore it means something, and it’s that something I’m going after.Report

            • William Brafford in reply to jfxgillis says:

              So we’ve got beliefs P and Q. Let’s say Q is “obviously unreasonable” by virtue of beliefs R(1), R(2), R(3), and so forth, when taken as a set. Let’s leave aside considerations of individual or joint sufficiency. Call this set {R}. So {R} implies that Q is false ({R} –> ~Q). To say that belief P does not make belief Q obviously unreasonable is merely to say that P is not a member of {R}. And I think this is what we’re arguing over. Figuring out whether P is or is not contained in {R} may or may not be worth doing, depending on the contents of the argument.

              In this case, the narrow claim might seem to be trivial, but it’s been fiercely contested, which might account for why the argument’s gone on so long. So maybe once this trivial claim is established, someone’s going to try to jump from there to a further claim about whether belief in a divinity is or is not reasonable. We can make warnings about that — but I don’t think anyone’s explicitly made that jump yet. Right now I think, we’re stuck with a result that doesn’t mean very much to you.Report

              • William:

                … the narrow claim might seem to be trivial, but it’s been fiercely contested

                It would be extremely difficult if not impossible for me to more heartily agree. But for me the question is Why such a fierce contest over such a trivial or apparently tautological point?

                The answer to that DOES “mean very much” to me, namely, that Manzi is just pulling another in a perpetual series of right-wing faux-rationalistic attempts to import the Supernatural into the study of Nature.Report

              • William Brafford in reply to jfxgillis says:

                Well, I think part of the point I wanted to make with my post is that while I accept the narrow claim, I don’t think I’d go from there to anything much broader. So if this post is part of a longer ride, I’ll probably be getting off at this station.Report

              • It seems to me that both “sides” are fiercely contesting this, and making an equally big deal about it. I think it wrong to assume bad faith on either part.Report

              • Mark:

                You’re wrong to think that’s wrong. The Straussian view of religion, which Manzi (and even to a lesser or indirect sense, Wright) embodies is the bad faith argument that the people are better off stupidly believing in their Invisible Man in the Sky than they are with empiricism and rationalism. Therefore, the people are better off with fraudulent expositions of faux-rationalism in defense of religion than they are with authentic rationalism.

                That might even be true, but it’s still a bad faith argument when proposed at the level Manzi proposes it.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to jfxgillis says:

                That’s not how I understand the Straussian argument.

                I understand that it’s a choice between stupidly believing in their Invisible Man in the Sky and howling barbarism rather than a choice between IMS and empiricism and rationalism… and when you find someone who can handle empericism and rationalism, you let them see what’s behind the curtain. Everyone else is kept in line with threats of hell and offers of perpetual bliss.Report

              • Jim Manzi in reply to jfxgillis says:

                Well, I don’t THINK I embody “the Straussian view of religion”, or whatever. I tried to be very specific about my claim in that post. I even tried to be as specific as possible within the limits of the form about one of the questions that seems to be vexing this group: what does it mean to say that evolution does not “demonstrate” lack of teleology.

                I don’t agree with your claim that:

                “In order to believe something that is not obviously unreasonable, you have to have reason to believe it. ”

                Suppose, for example, Jerry Coyne were to have said that “Newton’s Laws of Motion demolish the claim that the average number of orbiting planet-sized bodies per star in the 100th nearest galaxy can be less than 6”.

                I have no reason to believe that this number is less than six versus more than six (though others might). But would you say that Newton’s Laws of Motion have made such a belief “obviously unreasonable”.

                I don’t think my claim is as empty as you argue it is. Hence, as per another commenter, the ongoing debate.Report

              • Jim Manzi in reply to jfxgillis says:

                Quite to the contrary. I am attempting to counter the exact opposite argument – that the scientific method can address questions of final causality.Report

              • jfxgillis in reply to Jim Manzi says:


                Suppose, for example, Jerry Coyne were to have said that “Newton’s Laws of Motion demolish the claim that the average number of orbiting planet-sized bodies per star in the 100th nearest galaxy can be less than 6?. . . . But would you say that Newton’s Laws of Motion have made such a belief “obviously unreasonable”?

                Assuming “the average number of orbiting planet-sized bodies per star in the 100th nearest galaxy can be less than 6” is a reasonable belief notwithstanding Newton’s law of motion, No, I would not say that.

                However, I could theoretically make observations or perform experiments and suchlike to test the proposition that Newton’s Law of Motion demolishes the claim with respect to average number of plenetary bodies per star. That is because the claim advanced is empirical and naturalistic and the object of the claim is concrete and an element of the Natural world.

                I cannot do that if the claim addresses whether or not that 100th nearest galaxy behaves according to Divine Plan rather than (or in addition to) Newton’s Laws.

                That is why your claim is faux-rational. It adopts the form of a rationalistic proposition but by applying it to a Supernatural phenomenon, it empties it of rationalistic content.

                If it makes you feel better, Coyne made the exact reverse error. Evolution does nothing to weaken or degrade the the proposition that the Universe unfolds according to Divine plan unless you believe that the Universe unfolds Naturally to begin with. Which, except on Sunday mornings, or under great stress or confronted with an anomoly beyond their comprehension, most people believe most of the time.Report

              • jfxgillis in reply to jfxgillis says:


                … it’s a choice between stupidly believing in their Invisible Man in the Sky and howling barbarism….

                Fair point. But that leaves empiricism and rationalism out of the picture except to the extent that a Straussian then sees no distinction between empiricists and barbarians.

                In which case, they should just burn us at the stake for heresy instead of tormenting us with this perpetual strain of faux-rationalism. It’s torture, man.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to jfxgillis says:

                Not exactly. There are folks (like you and me, of course) who can choose between the IMS and rationality. Thank god for that!

                The problem is that people like us are the exception. We don’t need those primitive ideas… but they, those folks, do.

                And their choice is not between the IMS and rationality (like our choice is!) but between IMS and howling barbarism.

                It’s a horribly elitist theory, actually.Report

              • Jim Manzi in reply to jfxgillis says:

                Yes, I understand that the example I gave is a falsifiable statement (hence the qualifier “though others might”). I was simply drawing the distinction between a statement that we know to be false through scientific findings and one that remains an open question given the current state of scientific knowledge.

                I made a subtly but importantly narrower claim about Coyne’s assertion than you did when you said:

                “If it makes you feel better, Coyne made the exact reverse error. Evolution does nothing to weaken or degrade the the proposition that the Universe unfolds according to Divine plan unless you believe that the Universe unfolds Naturally to begin with.”

                My claim is that the MES has not resolved the question of whether or not the universe unfolds according to a divine plan, but I remained neutral on the question of whehter an extension of this theory or some other naturalistic theory could resolve this question (again, by “resolve” not in the sense of “prove that we can not the object of some illusion” or something of that ilk, but in the sense of “making it unreasonable to believe”).Report

              • jfxgillis in reply to jfxgillis says:


                I remained neutral on the question of whether an extension of this theory or some other naturalistic theory could resolve this question

                How can you possibly remain neutral on that question without adopting the sort of bad faith faux-rationalism I accused you of above? Any “not unreasonable” reason to believe something within a naturalistic theory must be, tautologically, naturalistic.

                The question of a Divine Plan assuredly does not “remain an open question given the current state of scientific knowledge.” If that Plan were capable of scientific verification, it wouldn’t be Divine. And if it were Divine, it would not be open to scientific knowledge.

                That contradiction is why Coyne’s argument, while technically faulty, was obviously made in good faith, while your reciprocal argument, of the same form, was made in bad faith.Report

              • jfxgillis in reply to jfxgillis says:


                I know, and nobody ever accused me of not being an elitist.

                My problem with the Straussian view is that its irreducible first principle is the defense of ignorance. And if we could restrict that ignorance only to the religious sphere, I probably wouldn’t mind, but it slops over onto every other aspect of social organization, to the benefit of all elites, not just the intellectual elites.Report

  7. Bruce Smith says:

    I think I’m much taken by the idea of Mother and Father God still not being able to agree as to whether when their off-spring Little Janey Creation grows up she should be a zero-sum or non-zero sum kind of person, whereas Little Janey herself can’t understand what all the hoopla is all about since both kinds of attitude seem to work well for her according to the situation. She does after all like to think of herself as a sort of Post-Modern Contingentist or Evolutionist.Report

  8. Andy Smith says:

    Jim: Instead of practically begging the Darwinists to give you a slim, tiny hope that God somewhere, somehow exists, you should challenge the scientific validity of Darwinism directly.
    Specifically, neo-Darwinism can be broken down into four main ideas:
    (1) life can be produced “by chance” in a soup of chemicals,
    2) life can come from non-living matter,
    3) random genetic mutations and environmental pressures can explain the creation of new species, and
    4) there is a logical evolutionary continuum (known as “common descent”) between apes and humans.
    Literally 150 years after Darwin published On the Origin of Species, there is still ZERO evidence for the first 3 tenets, and surprisingly little evidence for the final one.
    We should stop making excuses and admit that Darwinism isn’t a science anymore; it’s an ideology.

    What do you mean by evidence? If you mean direct observations of some phenomenon occurring, then yes, there is little evidence for these tenets. But by the same criterion, we don’t have any evidence that human beings existed several thousand years ago, either. What we have are historical records, which we believe were written by humans living at that time. None of us has ever witnessed a Roman emperor, or a Greek philosopher, or a Babylonian peasant. For that matter, none of us witnessed the Civil War.

    All of our evidence of historical events comes from records. We generally regard the evidence for more recent events as stronger than that for more distant ones. No one would debate the evidence that certain events happened in the Civil War is greater than the evidence that certain events happened during the evolution of species. But it’s all the same kind of evidence. What the argument is about is its strength, not its existence.

    We do have historical records of evolution. By these I mean not just fossil evidence—which supports the idea of evolution, but not necessarily Darwinian evolution—but also molecular biology. If there is not a continuum between apes and humans, for example, why are their genomes so similar? Why can the differences in the genomes that do exist be correlated with other historical evidence of when various primate lines came into existence and diverged? Why can we trace the evolution of certain human genes back even into invertebrate species, or even into one-celled organisms? Many of the housekeeping genes in our cells are basically the same as those in yeasts. They are highly similar because they perform the same functions. Yet there are slightly different because…why? Because someone, on a lark, decided to make them a little different?

    Much has been made by some critics of Darwinism of the difference between species and that between larger phylogenetic groupings (which I think Jim’s statement confuses; Darwin’s finches were different species, and even the strongest critics of Darwinism don’t dispute that random variation and natural selection could have and must have created these species). But there are other evolutionary processes that could contribute to much greater changes. The extent to which these other processes could have accounted for evolutionary changes is fiercely debated, but again, there is substantial evidence that these kind of processes do occur.

    There is obviously much less of a historical record for prebiotic evolution. But scientific evidence can be used to assess various possible scenarios, e.g., the creation of the first amino acids, sugars, and nucleotides; the evolution of reproducing nucleic acids; the first proto-cells. As sketchy as this evidence is, I still find it much more plausible than some divine entity. Which is more difficult to understand arising from nothing; a small molecule, or an intelligence so advanced it could design and implement all of evolution? And if the reply is, nothing created that intelligence, it was always there, then why continue with the argument? If such a vast intelligence was always there, then maybe cells were always there, too, skipping all the prebiotic stages. I personally find that much more likely than a pre-existing vast intelligence, so why not just start there?

    One of the most important implications of evolution that its supporters as well as critics often overlook is that it connects intelligence with the material world. Intelligence is not free-floating. It’s always associated with a brain, a nervous system, or—if you favor panpsychism—at least atoms and molecules. If there was a still more complex intelligence that preceded all of evolution, where is the associated material structure? If there is none, how do you reconcile this with a world in which intelligence is always and everywhere correlated with materiality in every case we know of? Or if there is such—let’s suppose that God has an enormous brain that is in fact the entire universe–again, why do we even need to talk about evolution, if everything was already there to begin with?Report

  9. Andy Smith says:

    I’m responding to the passage I quoted from Jim at the beginning of my post. I understand that Jim’s main blog is simply concerned with claiming that accepting neo-Darwinism does not rule out a divine plan. And that some posters here are saying nothing more should be read into it than that. But the passage I quoted, which was in the comments section following the blog, says something that sure seems to go a lot further.Report

  10. Andy Smith says:

    Ah, I think I see the problem now. I saw “Jim:” before the passage, and I thought that meant the passage was something Jim said. Apparently it was something posted by Todd White. Sorry for the confusion.Report

  11. Tim Harris says:

    The ‘point’ Manzi is seeking to make is so stunning in its emptiness that I really don’t see what all the fuss is about. The man is best ignored – along with Robert Wright.Report

  12. Tim Harris says:

    Will do! Thankfully!Report