6/03/2005

Evolution & the Anthropic Principle

We have already covered Miller's thoughts on both creationism and atheistic materialism. He finds both parties to be presenting the same argument: Darwinian evolution proves there is no God, at least not one worth worshipping. Miller doesn't buy it and nor do I. Both sides are talking about a God which it absolutely in control and totally responsible for everything which happens in the universe.
You could, I suppose, cast the Almighty in this guise, make Him a cosmic tyrant, a grand puppeteer pulling every string at once, and then nothing would be left to chance. But most people would find this view of God disturbing. Putting God in charge of every trip and stumble of our daily lives does take chance out of the picture, but at what price? God is now personally responsible for falling limbs and power lines, for your daughter's illness, and even for the school bus full of children slipping off an icy road. (p. 234)

But this isn't the God of Mormonism. Our God works in accordance with self existent laws, elements and intelligences. He is not responsible for a lot of things which happen, and it is the eternal nature of these three things which gives Mormonism such a powerful theodicy to work with. Eternal intelligences can act on their own, thus allowing for moral evil. Eternal elements and physical laws allow for natural evil. We still have to wonder why God doesn't intervene more often, but we are off to a good start. It unfortunate that Miller couldn't have considered a Deity more along these lines in his book, but had he done so he simply would not have found near as large an audience. Instead, he sticks with the utterly transcendent God of ethical monotheism.

His next chapters are entitled "Beyond Materialism" and "The Road Back Home" where he attempts to show that there is more than enough room for God in the creation of the world and maybe even humans. It marks a transition in his book, from a consideration of evolution to musing in theology. Unfortunately, many have noticed that Miller isn't much of a theologian. A reviewer put it thus: "Darwin is found but God is still missing." Ouch.

There are two areas where God can make his appearance: 1) the designing of the Universe, and 2) the quantum level. He mentions these because not only do we know little about happenings in these realms, but in principle we can never scientifically know about them. Thus, while creationism discourages scientific investigation into the origins of species, an area where we can and do know quite a bit, his God of the Gaps lies in gaps that science itself says cannot be filled. Thus he is able to hold hands with science while keeping his distance from materialism. But how well do these moves work within a Mormon context? Let's have a look.

We mentioned the influence which natural theology had over the western world at the time of Darwin's Origin of Species. It was due to such a strong hold of natural theology that many of his day adopted Deism, a movement that basically put all of their stock in what we now refer to as the Anthropic Principle. In order to life of any kind to appear in the Universe, the laws had to be very particular, suspiciously so in fact. This has led many to find compelling evidence for God in the physical laws of the universe. Miller is one of these people.

Should Mormon be like these people as well? I'm not so sure. First of all, we should acknowledge that the stronger forms of the anthropic principle, the forms used to suggest that there is a God, rely heavily on our ignorance. We simply can't (won't) think of any other way to explain what seems to be an astronomically enormous coincidence. Enter Lee Smolin with his ideas of cosmic evolution, along with an endorsement from Daniel Dennett. The universe, according to Smolin, gives birth to other universes through black holes. With each new birth the fundamental laws of the universe are slightly variable, and the laws which are most conducive to forming blackholes by creating heavy materials such a carbon, will be the ones which will be most commonly observed. Hence, here we are in a carbon filled universe, ideal for the evolution of life.

Suddenly there is another explanation available, and our argument from ignorance loses a lot of steam. But Miller is right in that our knowledge, or better yet, our ignorance of the universes beginning does still allow for God. Thus, according to Miller, while biological creationism is bad, he sees no problem with astronomical creationism.
Deprived of empirical evidence, the best he [Dennett] can manage is to assure his readers that his non-theistic explanation is "at least as good" as a theistic one... [Thus] Dennett unwittingly admits that the "traditional alternative" is valid as well. (p. 231,232)

Thus while the anthropic principle doesn't provide very compelling evidence for God, it does make one think a bit. It at least allows for God anyways. One can only wonder, however, what happened to Miller's views of creationism in general:
I find the flow of their logic particularly depressing. Not only does it teach us to fear the acquisition of knowledge, which might at any time disprove belief, but it suggests that God dwells only in the shadows of our understanding. (p. 267)


Combine the large quantities of ignorance we have regarding the formation of the physical constants we know observe in the universe with the Mormon doctrine that ultimate physical law is eternal in nature, uncreated and coeternal with God, along with all of us and I'm not so sure the anthropic principle is really the best basket for Mormons to put too many eggs in. We simply have no clue how much involvement God had, in any at all, in the formation of the physical constants we observe today. I used to think that the Mormon doctrines concerning the physical universe were rather similar to those of Deism. Now I see that they are almost exact opposites.

Summary: Miller's use of the anthropic principle as room for God's creative acts is evaluated and seen to be suspiciously similar to the arguments put forth by the creationists he has just rejected. While the anthropic principle does allow room for God's creative acts, such space is tentative and possibly inharmonious with Mormon doctrine.


4 Comments:

Anyone who says that Darwinian evolution theory is in opposition with a God creating the world is ignorant and assuming a position without allowing for when the creation took place, what the creation entailed, and how long the day of God is.

Such people are assuming to know the mind of God instead of allowing the possibility that God knows more than they. 

Posted by Anonymous

6/03/2005 07:22:00 PM  

Jeffrey, Smolin's ideas on "cosmological evolution" have not been influential in the astrophysics/cosmology community. I don't know for sure, but I suspect this is because quantum gravity would be required to quantitatively study the kind of thing he's discussing; absent the requisite theoretical tools, it remains pure speculation, and therefore relegated to a popular book instead of academic journals, as far as I know.

The theory of accounting for the just-so physical constants that is taken much more seriously is the notion of "chaotic inflation," in which new universes are continually popping off all over the place. I haven't studied it in detail, but I think it goes something like this: The physical constants, particle content, and interactions in these different universes (inflating regions) arise randomly as quantum fluctuations are inflated to macroscopic size. Amongst an infinitely large ensemble of "universes," some of them will happen to have the constants, particle content, and interactions strengths (a large part of "physical law") that allows for life.

While this is a different theory than the one of Smolin's you cited, the philosophical point is of course the same: Having a plausible naturalistic mechanism to account for something---"just-so" physical constants, etc. in this case---Occam would suggest not inventing God to explain it.

You can't blame Miller for finding God in the remaining gaps; as I commented in your last post, to get past Occam there must be some  gap, some phenomenon that naturalism can't explain.

Mormons in the end do the same thing, they just choose non-traditional explanatory lacunae (i.e., "gaps") other than the natural world: e.g. the Book of Mormon, and their spiritual experiences with the Holy Ghost. Where one gets into trouble is when one becomes persuaded that there are naturalistic explanations for these as well. 

Posted by Christian Y. Cardall

6/05/2005 04:23:00 AM  

Anyone who says that Darwinian evolution theory is in opposition with a God  is swallowed up by the context and what the early Darwinists believed and taught more than what the theory requires, much as if one thinks fire opposes the Bible because so many earlier translators were burned to death ...

But, as to the "image of God" ... if a massively deformed newborn infant is in the image of God, it is my thought that the "image of God" is much more plastic than we think. I have met (idiots) that the "image of God" meant only blond haired, blue eyed nordic skinned ... you know the drill.

We can all laugh at them and see that they were shallow.

But I suspect that "the image of God" is wider than we think and see the "four beasts" that Joseph Smith commented on not only as four celestialized creatures representative of four orders of beasts, and not only as a sign that "beasts" reach exhaultation, but very possibly symbolic of four non-carbon based orders of life ...

Anyway, interesting thoughts. 

Posted by Stephen M (Ethesis)

6/05/2005 06:02:00 PM  

Christian,

I agree that Smolin's ideas are far from making it into any kind of intro to astro. text book, but it is a alternative to the "God must have done it" theory. I'm sure you understood but just to clarify for anybody else, my main point was that I'm not sure it's wise for Mormon's to put both feet in the "Anthropic Argument" boat.

Stephen,

I've met those same people, they work at ensign! Adam and Eve were Caucasian with light hair and blue eyes. And if anybody was created in God's image it was them. Dark skin, as well as black hair I imagine, only came with Sin. (I'm starting to lay the sarcasm on pretty thick now.)

The fact is, I don't think any of us know exactly how literally to take the phrase "created in God's image." Maybe we shouldn't get too worked up about it. 

Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

6/06/2005 09:46:00 AM  

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