Wednesday, October 16, 2013

ID, Miracles and Mechanism.


One common objection to ID is that the only proposed mechanism by which the designer could act through is a miracle. Is this true, though?

Consider ID proponent Michael Behe’s description of what he calls “finely tuned events”:

“Suppose the laboratory of Pope Mary’s physicist is next to a huge warehouse in which is stored a colossal number of little shiny spheres. Each sphere encloses the complete history of a separate, self-contained, possible universe, waiting to be activated. (In other words, the warehouse can be considered a vast multiverse of possible universes, but none of them have yet been made real.) One enormous section of the warehouse contains all the universes that, if activated, would fail to produce life. They would develop into universes consisting of just one big black hole, universes without stars, universes without atoms, or other abysmal failures. In a small wing of the huge warehouse are stored possible universes that have the right general laws and constants of nature for life. Almost all of them, however, fall into the category of “close, but no cigar.” For example, in one possible universe the Mars-sized body would hit the nascent earth at the wrong angle and life would never commence. In one small room of the small wing are those universes that would develop life. Almost all of the, however, would not develop intelligent life. In one small closet of the small room of the small wing are placed possible universes that would actually develop intelligent life. One afternoon the ├╝berphysicist walks from his lab to the warehouse, passes by the huge collection of possible dead universes, strolls into the small wing, over to the small room, opens the small closet, and selects one of the extremely rare universes that is set up to lead to intelligent life. Then he “adds water” to activate it. In that case the now-active universe is fine-tuned to the very great degree of detail required, yet it is activated in a “single creative act”.

...There are myriad Powerball-winning events, but they aren’t due to chance. They were foreseen, and chosen from all the possible universes.”

The Edge of Evolution, 231-232

So, given that finely-tuned events would warrant an inference to design, but involve an unbroken sequence of secondary causation, the objection fails. As Behe remarks
“... the assumption that design unavoidably requires “interference” rests mostly on a lack of imagination.”

Interestingly enough, John Wilkins and Michael Ruse, both stalwart foes of ID, have actually spoken favourably of the scientific legitimacy of “guided mutation” with reference to multiverse scenarios.

Also, there is similarity between Behe’s “finely-tuned events” and Eugene Koonin’s proposal of an “anthropically selected event”. Koonin’s proposal is that the event of abiogenesis may have been anthropically selected from a set of possible histories. That is to say, only a universe in which abiogenesis occurs at least once can support observers, and, given the large number of possible histories available on certain physical theories, we happen to find ourselves by chance in a universe in which abiogenesis has indeed taken place. One might even find oneself living in a universe where, given experimental data, abiogenesis looks too improbable to have occurred even once, but nevertheless has occurred. As far as I can see, such an event would be empirically identical to Behe’s “finely-tuned event” scenario.

Further reading:

Michael Behe 2007 “The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism”

Eugene Koonin 2007 “The cosmological model of inflation and the transition from chance to biological evolution in the history of life” Biology Direct

John Wilkins 2012 “Could God create Darwinian accidents?” Zygon vol. 47 no. 1.

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