Thursday, December 22, 2005

Hung Up on Randomness

Via Orack Knows, we have a link to La Shawn Barber’s Corner where La Shawn bemoans the court ruling that Intelligent Design does not belong in a science classroom. La Shawn posts the following:
“[C]omplex design is random—didn’t you know that?” — James White

Just took a look at the site linked to in the above quote, and it is clear that Mr. White is hardly a neutral commenter on the concept of evolution. Where he goes wrong in this one statement is that evolution is only half-random. Mutations happen when they happen, but natural selection is no more random than a football game, the best team wins. In fact, if you go with Robert Wright's view from Non-Zero then you can see that complexity is a highly successful method of survival in and of itself. From that point of view, not only is complexity not extraordinary, it would take a miracle for it not to happen.

“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” — Charles Darwin

When natural selection selects, it isn't looking for perfection. All that is necessary is that it is better. And that definition of better is not very picky. To use the football analogy, natural selection only cares about who wins. Blowout or squeaker matters not, there is no point spread in evolution. So if a proto-eye can only tell what direction light is coming from, it is still better off than those eyes that can't. When it comes to the evolution of the eye, the half-eyed man still rules the blind.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, a federal court has decided that it is unconstitutional to teach Intelligent Design, the audacious claim that precious life didn’t emerge by chance — out of some primordial muck, randomly evolving from single-celled organisms, which are themselves astoundingly complex beyond our meager understanding, into thinking human beings — but from an Intelligent Being who designed it all, from the entire universe, including planet Earth, which happens to be PERFECTLY suited for life, down to the irreducibly complex eye, breathtakingly stupendous in its design and function.

I won't belabor the chance/randomness misunderstanding any further. The first point I will belabor is that La Shawn is very precisely stating the Strong Anthropic Principle, much as I had pointed out below. The problem with teaching it in science class is that it is a why question, whereas science is about the how. And even then, science is not certain about all the how's. That does not mean that those who wish for the deity to be involved should rush in. That leads to the trap of the God-of-the-gaps.

She also says something that I think is very enlightening about the entire debate. The idea that the world is perfectly designed for our life is precisely the opposite view taken by evolutionists. For evolutionists, life is perfectly adapted for our world. I'll leave it here for now to come back later for this idea in more detail.

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