Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday Quote: Dallas Willard on Evolution

"Evolution, whether cosmic or biological, cannot — logically cannot! — be a theory of ultimate origins of existence or order, precisely because its operations always presuppose the prior existence of certain entities with specific potential behaviors, as well as of an environment of some specific kind that operates upon those entities in some specifically ordered (law-governed) fashion, to determine which ones are allowed to survive and reproduce. Let us quite generally state: any sort of evolution of order of any kind will always presuppose pre-existing order and pre-existing entities governed by it. It follows as a simple matter of logic that not all order evolved. Given the physical world — and however much of evolution it may or may not contain — there is or was some order in it which did not evolve. However it may have originated (if it originated), that order did not evolve, for it was the condition of any evolution at all occurring. We come here upon a logically insurpassable limit to what evolution, however it may be understood, can accomplish."

11 comments :

Lee said...

Hi Brian,

I really hope you don’t think I am being rude about these weekly quotes – but I am starting to feel you are picking them knowing that I will disagree.

Not sure if this is the worst one yet (since I have not read all your weekly quotes) but it has to be close. Certainly on the science front.

“Evolution, whether cosmic or biological, cannot — logically cannot! — be a theory of ultimate origins of existence or order”The theory of evolution does not claim to talk about non-life to life, or how Dallas calls it ‘ultimate origins’
(Similar goes for the Big Bang theory BTW. It does not claim to state what caused the Big Bang (or whether that even makes sense) but it does claim to explain from a stupidly small fractions of a second AFTER until the modern day what happen).

So our good friend Dallas is just setting up a strawman – a simple argument that no one supports that is easy to attack and shown false.

What’s the point?

Well, if it makes Dallas happy – sing it to the choir, and pass the collection bowl around one more time.

Now, what I would like Dallas (or his supporters) explain to me is this - how do the observations seen these last 13.7 billion years in the universe (4.6 billion years on Earth) fit in with the God of, well, any holy book I have heard of.

Shall we start with the Bible?

The Christian God does not easily fit into the observations (and passing the questions into ‘the next life’ would be a bit of a copout in my view)

All this, all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing just seems logically false (unless special pleading isn’t a logically fallacy anymore)

Anyway, I like you to know I enjoy reading these quotes – just for all the wrong reasons. :-)

I appreciate the time and effort you put in, and that you allow a voice like mine to be heard.

Take care

Lee

Brian said...

Lee,
Thanks for writing.

I don't think you are trying to be rude. As far as this quote is concerned, I didn't pick it with you in mind, nor (if I had thought about it in your case ahead of time) would I have thought you would have disagreed with the content. On the other hand, now I am starting to think that if I were to post just about anything you might find something to disagree with! :)

The theory of evolution does not claim to talk about non-life to life, or how Dallas calls it ‘ultimate origins’ This is exactly why I thought you would agree with the quote -- he is saying that evolution can't be used as a theory of ultimate origins. I can totally see this quote being perfectly at home with an evolutionist. It does not try to negate evolution - only show the logical line of where it can and cannot start.

(Similar goes for the Big Bang theory BTW. It does not claim to state what caused the Big Bang (or whether that even makes sense) but it does claim to explain from a stupidly small fractions of a second AFTER until the modern day what happen).Let's leave the big bang to the side. You are probably only using it as an analogy here, but let's try to stick to just the evolution thing for now.

So our good friend Dallas is just setting up a strawman – a simple argument that no one supports that is easy to attack and shown false.What is the straw man? Before we shift into issues off-topic, what are you saying he is building a straw man of? What would you say that he is arguing and how/why is he doing it wrong?

Lee said...

On the other hand, now I am starting to think that if I were to post just about anything you might find something to disagree with! :)LOL

Yep - sometimes I just like to disagree :-)

Lee
PS
I'll come back to your comments soon I hope - time is running short again tonight and so many folk to reply to on your very blog.

I've taken on too much, so many clever people commenting.

Lee said...

Hi Brian

I think I am just too quick to disagree sometimes – I should stop it, I apologise.

The quote on second reading isn’t the worst, it is rather clever – but I still disagree with it. (Am I still too quick to the draw?)

This is exactly why I thought you would agree with the quote -- he is saying that evolution can't be used as a theory of ultimate origins.I could agree with that, that is the ‘theory of evolution’ does not talk about the ‘causes of life’ - but I was disagreeing with (what I assume) is Dallas’ conclusion, the bit that seems hidden within “It follows as a simple matter of logic that not all order evolved” and “there is or was some order in it which did not evolve”

The hidden premise I am assuming is/was god… maybe I am wrong on this, if so I apologise again – did I jump to quickly to defence (or was that offence?)

I can totally see this quote being perfectly at home with an evolutionist. It does not try to negate evolution - only show the logical line of where it can and cannot start. I see this just leading down the path of the first cause argument… that is really my objection to the quote.

It is cleverly written to have the premises hidden (or I am reading too much between the lines)

Let's leave the big bang to the side. You are probably only using it as an analogy here, but let's try to stick to just the evolution thing for now.I raised the Big Bang not as an analogy, but as a direct response to “cosmic or biological” – what else is meant by cosmic evolution?

If I misunderstood this, it would not be the first time :-)

What is the straw man?Well, I understood Dallas was attacking the ‘biological’ evolution by stating “its operations always presuppose the prior existence of certain entities with specific potential behaviors”

This isn’t an argument against the theory of evolution as we have stated.

If the argument was against the Big Bang (Cosmic evolution) then it is also flawed for the same reason since no one is arguing about ‘before’ the Big Bang.

Maybe I was too quick to react, but even on second reading I think Dallas is setting up an argument that I doubt any scientist would agree to.

Would this make it a strawman?

I think it does, if I am wrong – once again I will eat humble pie :-)

Thanks again for your time.

Lee

Brian said...

but I was disagreeing with (what I assume) is Dallas’ conclusion, the bit that seems hidden within “It follows as a simple matter of logic that not all order evolved” and “there is or was some order in it which did not evolve”Why do you disagree with the conclusion that not all order evolved?

The hidden premise I am assuming is/was god… maybe I am wrong on this, if so I apologise again – did I jump to quickly to defence (or was that offence?)In order for something to even be a premise, it must be required for the argument to work. Whether hidden or stated, I cannot see where a God-premise would be required. I will summarize below in a moment...

In my estimation, all he is doing is saying what a certain process (evolution) requires in order to function. In this case, I don't see how God fits in anywhere to get to the conclusion that Dallas gets to.

I see this just leading down the path of the first cause argument… that is really my objection to the quote.

It is cleverly written to have the premises hidden (or I am reading too much between the lines)
The premise is not hidden. I think that this is a simple defining of the broad limits of evolution. It basically says, "evolution needs to something to work on, so it can't be the ultimate theory of origins, because it can't cause itself."

Now what Dallas is saying here does not entail God. However, there are metaphysical implications that follow from not being "allowed" to use evolution as a sort of hand-waving solution to a theory of ultimate origins. It eliminates evolution as a viable option for ultimate existence because, by definition, evolution is only a process that works when you have something to work with.

I would note here that Willard is not disproving, denying, or refuting evolution as a process. Nor is he trying to define what evolution entails. He is only saying what, by nature of the process, it cannot entail.

Well, I understood Dallas was attacking the ‘biological’ evolution by stating “its operations always presuppose the prior existence of certain entities with specific potential behaviors”

This isn’t an argument against the theory of evolution as we have stated.
Dallas is NOT attacking biological evolution. At best he is refuting the idea that evolution could be a possible theory of ultimate origins. You are right, this is not an argument against evolution!

Maybe I was too quick to react, but even on second reading I think Dallas is setting up an argument that I doubt any scientist would agree to.

Would this make it a strawman?
I personally do not think many people would have reason to fight against this quote scientifically. They would need to show why they thought evolution was a good theory of ultimate origins.

No this is not a strawman argument. It is a little wordy though. I will first re-organize it (without taking anything away)... I will put what I think are his premises first and his conclusions second:

Argument 1:
1)
because its operations always presuppose the prior existence of certain entities with specific potential behaviors,

2) as well as of an environment of some specific kind that operates upon those entities in some specifically ordered (law-governed) fashion, to determine which ones are allowed to survive and reproduce.

Conclusion 1: Evolution, whether cosmic or biological, cannot — logically cannot! — be a theory of ultimate origins of existence or order. any sort of evolution of order of any kind will always presuppose pre-existing order and pre-existing entities governed by it. It follows as a simple matter of logic that not all order evolved. Given the physical world — and however much of evolution it may or may not contain — there is or was some order in it which did not evolve. However it may have originated (if it originated), that order did not evolve, for it was the condition of any evolution at all occurring. We come here upon a logically insurpassable limit to what evolution, however it may be understood, can accomplish."

My attempt to simplify:1. Evolution requires entities to exist to be acted upon
2. Evolution requires a kind of ordered environment to to act upon those entities
(Evolution cannot be the source if the initial entities or the initial order, because it requires these preconditions.)
3. Therefore, evolution cannot be a theory of ultimate origins.

I see this just leading down the path of the first cause argument… that is really my objection to the quote. I do tend to think that this is why you are objecting to this quote... because evolution does still require something (matter, environment, physical laws) to work. Evolution can't be the first cause, in other words. But no one is arguing in this quote for God.

Thanks for taking the time to write, Lee. And I hope this extended commentary helps to clarify what the point was of the quote. I may have made some mistakes here or there - please correct me if I have.

Thanks for taking the time also to read this! Take care.

Lee said...

Hi Brian,

Why do you disagree with the conclusion that not all order evolved?I am disagreeing with the conclusion Dallas is making (or I am assuming is being made) i.e. god

I don’t know how we can conclude such a thing.
(I used a lowercase god since I am assuming the argument is first for a deistic god, and hence ‘thing’ since I do not know what ‘it’ is. No offence meant)

The only thing in this universe that might not be evolving are the physical laws, but I do not know why, or from where they came from OR indeed if they are indeed laws and constant.

Basically, I don’t know much about what it is that is supposed to be not evolving.

Make sense?

Oh, and can I assume when you use the phrase ‘evolution’ you are just talking about the theory of evolution? There is a big difference between the two as I assume you know.

One is the observation; the other is an attempt to explain that observation.

In order for something to even be a premise, it must be required for the argument to work.Fair enough, Dallas is only criticising then and providing nothing.

He (is Dallas a he BTW?) is probably just heading off down the false dichotomy path and hoping that by disproving A he has proven B.

That, and setting up the first cause argument.

Evolution is observed in the universe – I assume you accept this observation?

The only question then remains is to ask whether the theory of evolution best describes these observations.

Tell me, does the bible mention evolution at all? No, it talks of creation – whole complete forms (at least, that is my interpretation)

So the theory of evolution looks a little better than what the bible has to offer in my view (Though I know neither you are Dallas are making this argument here at the moment – but I suspect you might have done on other discussions)

Just a side point, nothing more.

Whether hidden or stated, I cannot see where a God-premise would be required.If not A, then what?

That I think is the question Dallas is trying to force on us.
(Is that begging the question? I don't know)

I feel Dallas is trying to make an argument, a fallacious argument, for God by setting up a false dichotomy and hoping that by disproving evolution (which he has failed to do) it would be evidence FOR his belief in his supernatural god.

The problem is that the theory of evolution is backed up by observational evidence – I’ve seen nothing for the supernatural god.

So, even IF the theory of evolution is disproved, the fact of evolution will still need to be explained with some positive observations.

Now is the chance to state it – if God, if guided-evolution, what observation should we expect to see in the universe (that has not already been seen – I’m asking for a prediction)

More importantly, how could I falsify this claim of God?

Sorry if you think I am getting off topic – I just find it interesting.

In my estimation, all he is doing is saying what a certain process (evolution) requires in order to function. In this case, I don't see how God fits in anywhere to get to the conclusion that Dallas gets to.Sorry, what was the conclusion by Dallas? I have just assumed it was God – but maybe I am creating my own strawman.

The premise is not hidden. I think that this is a simple defining of the broad limits of evolution. It basically says, "evolution needs to something to work on, so it can't be the ultimate theory of origins, because it can't cause itself."And no one said it did not – the theory does not, and has never claimed to be the ultimate origin.

That’s the strawman part of the argument – if it was indeed made :-)

However, there are metaphysical implications that follow from not being "allowed" to use evolution as a sort of hand-waving solution to a theory of ultimate origins.Again, no one is using it as a theory of ultimate origins.

And tell me, how can you go from not knowing something to ‘metaphysical implications’?

That seems a bit of a jump in reasoning.

If we don't know something, how can someone then jump to say they know it is god?

It eliminates evolution as a viable option for ultimate existence because, by definition, evolution is only a process that works when you have something to work with.We cannot be still talking about the theory of evolution (since what you said would be a strawman), so are you talking about the Big Bang now?

If so, it still would be a strawman and right back at the first cause argument which I have discussed (I think) with you before.

I reject the argument BTW :-)

I would note here that Willard is not disproving, denying, or refuting evolution as a process. Nor is he trying to define what evolution entails. He is only saying what, by nature of the process, it cannot entail.So implying a supernatural cause?

Dallas is NOT attacking biological evolution. At best he is refuting the idea that evolution could be a possible theory of ultimate origins. You are right, this is not an argument against evolution!Phew, we agree – Dallas has not made a valid argument against the theory of evolution.

I personally do not think many people would have reason to fight against this quote scientifically. They would need to show why they thought evolution was a good theory of ultimate origins. And no one thinks it is a theory of ultimate origins – apart from many Christians I have spoken with in the past. Rather sad I know, but true.

Argument 1:
1) because its operations always presuppose the prior existence of certain entities with specific potential behaviors,
Is this taking us down the infinite regress of the first cause argument?

I assume now we are not talking about the theory of evolution, but the universe itself?

Since you know the theory of evolution first assumes self-replicating chemistry (i.e. life)

If you are talking about the theory of evolution then this first argument is wrong straight off the bat.

2) as well as of an environment of some specific kind that operates upon those entities in some specifically ordered (law-governed) fashion, to determine which ones are allowed to survive and reproduce. Erm… survive, reproduce? This does sound like you are talking evolution and not the universe.

Or is it the fine-tuning argument?

Conclusion 1: Evolution, whether cosmic or biological, cannot — logically cannot! — be a theory of ultimate origins of existence or order. any sort of evolution of order of any kind will always presuppose pre-existing order and pre-existing entities governed by it.And to repeat – no one said it was the ultimate origin. Hence a strawman against the theory of evolution.

Now, if you would like to move it onto the Big Bang and the first cause argument we might have more to say – but that isn’t evolution. (Actually, it could be – but that just gets weird)

It follows as a simple matter of logic that not all order evolved.Where does logic come into Quantum mechanics, in a world where particle-waves come into and out of existence all the time?

Given the physical world — and however much of evolution it may or may not contain — there is or was some order in it which did not evolve. However it may have originated (if it originated), that order did not evolve, for it was the condition of any evolution at all occurring. We come here upon a logically insurpassable limit to what evolution, however it may be understood, can accomplish."I am really getting confused between the theory of evolution and the universe now… what is it that Dallas is trying to argue against?

My attempt to simplify:1. Evolution requires entities to exist to be acted upon
2. Evolution requires a kind of ordered environment to to act upon those entities
(Evolution cannot be the source if the initial entities or the initial order, because it requires these preconditions.)
3. Therefore, evolution cannot be a theory of ultimate origins.
The only evolution that I was taught at university was the evolution of stars… and yes, that theory presumed hydrogen and Helium.

It never claimed to be the ultimate origin of anything :-)

The Big Bang theory only claims to answer how the universe has evolved (which it does rather well) – again it does not, and has never claimed to know what ‘started’ it (or if such a question makes any more sense than asking what is north of the North Pole)

So to repeat – what theory is Dallas arguing against? None – to do so then would be a strawman.

At best Dallas has just given a wordy comment for the first cause argument – and I can argue against that all day (if I wasn’t at work with no internet access)

Evolution can't be the first cause, in other words. But no one is arguing in this quote for God. So what is Dallas arguing for?

If he is trying to say science doesn’t know something – well, science already knows that :-)

Thanks for taking the time to write, Lee.A pleasure – I like to get things sorted in my mind, and discussion is the best way I know to find where I am going wrong or what I don’t understand.

Thanks for taking the time also to read this! Also a pleasure and thank you.

Take care

Lee

Samuel said...

This quote makes me think thusly:
The cookbook instructions for how to make a pizza, whether pre-made or from scratch, cannot - logically annot! - be a theory of ultimate origins of flour or tomatoes.

If you don't laugh, I don't blame you. It's not funny. If you do laugh, I commend you.

Brian said...

Lee,
I think this is going to wrap up my comments.

Dallas is not talking about God.
He is not arguing against evolution.
He is talking about ultimate origins.
His conclusion is that evolution cannot be a theory of ultimate origins.
You agreed with this conclusion.
Dallas states his reasons, which are based on logic and the nature of the process.
That is as far as the argument goes.

To import anything else into the discussion simply misrepresents his argument.
If you don't like the implications of evolution not being a source of ultimate origins, it does nothing to invalidate the argument.
If there are any criticisms here, it should be about the conclusion of his argument (which you agree with) and be done by either showing that the premises are false or that the conclusion does not follow from the premises. But you agree with the conclusion.
It seems to me that you are attacking the implications of the conclusion rather than the argument itself.

Samuel, I think you summed it up nicely.

Lee said...

Hi Brian,

It’s as good as place to wrap up as any :-)

Thanks again for your time.

What you have said is that Dallas has argued for a position that no one holds – a bit of a waste of time then in my view and so, for me, raises a question of why he did this.

Anyhow, I now feel the need to believe in pizza :-)

Lee

Quintessential said...

It seems a bit redundant to ask why Willard said what he said. He said what he said because most of the people who bite into evolution, hook, line and sinker, hold the opinion that evolution can be completely explained by natural phenomena and that this implies there is no God.

Anonymous said...

I understand why Willard said this. In schoolbooks, journals and popular science evolution is presented as the ultimate explanation of the world and life without mentioning that (the theory of) evolution lacks the ability to ultimately explain any order or laws that it is depending on. Knowing Willard he does not hesitate to point out falsehoods.

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