I am delighted to have, at last, found an expression of the interpretation that I have trying to put forward for some considerable time, particularly in connection with the interpretation of the apparent "fine tuning" of our universe.
To summarise my viewpoint:
The evolution of species is certainly not a random process.
It is driven by random events which produce mutations.
Most importantly these mutations are then filtered by the prevailing environment.
This is the process of natural selection which gives the development of life its direction. Which, in a limited sense, can be equated to "purpose"
In the example of the watch both theists and atheists consistently fall into exactly the same trap.
It is the trap of anthropocentrism whereby any phenomenon that exhibits what can be called "design" or "purpose" must involve a reflection of our own particular mental processes.
As discussed further in my recent book "Unusual Perspectives" (Ch 10) this is a logical error of the "package deal" variety. Both the watch and the eye can be considered to have design or purpose within this model.
We consider ourselves to design such things as watches. This arrogance can only be justified in a very limited sense.
In actuality, watches have evolved! Albeit by a non-genetic mechanism.
They are products of nature and we merely the vehicles for their evolutionary progress.
There is absolutely no need to invoke a "designer". Or for that matter a "creator" of what is quite conceivably a continuous automatic process.
Further indications of a universal "purposiveness" are provided by the observed characteristics of our world which uniquely permit the evolution of life, our species and, perhaps more significantly, technology.
The "fine tuning" of the observed physical constants that critically permit the existence of biology have been discussed by many, a particularly exhaustive treatment having been presented by Barrow & Tipler in "The Cosmological Anthropic Principle"
In chapter 11 of "Unusual Perspectives" this kind of analysis is extended "downstream" to provide, within the context of the unique properties and timely abundancies of the chemical elements, very compelling evidence of further "fine tuning" that not only allows, but essentially makes inevitable, the observed exponential development of technology for which our particular species has been the vehicle.
Several ways to account for this indisputable "fine tuning" have been proposed.
1. Creationists have seized upon the evidence to support the idea of a deity or "higher intelligence". I suspect that anthropocentrism alone promotes this kind of interpretation. Adding any kind of "higher intelligence", of course, makes for a very extravagant hypothesis. But it is not disprovable.
2. The existence of a multiplicity of universes, perhaps infinite, each with a different set of physical properties. So one of them had to get lucky, right? This is favoured by many of those theoretical physicists who choose not to just stick their heads in the sand to avoid the implications of interpretation 1. Again, it can be neither proved or disproved but is even more extravagant.
3. The "anthropic cosmological principle", the non-superstitious version of which seems to boil down to "we're here, because we're here, because we're here...
This self-selection interpretation roughly corresponds to the puddle parable.
By virtue of its tautologous nature it is not disprovable.
4. The Everett "many worlds" model, inspired by the "Schrodinger's cat" kind of dilemma that arises from quantum mechanics. This essentially can be viewed as continual bifurcations of our universe such that, in the instance of the cat, in one of the resulting universes is is dead and in the other, alive. The bifurcations, of course, result in a multiplicity of "parallel universes. Again, very extravagant but probably not disprovable
5. A far more economical model, derived from consideration of the gross evolutionary patterns that we observe in biology and, more recently, technology, is presented in "Unusual Perspectives" the electronic edition of which is available for free download from the eponymous website.
To properly appreciate the reasoning therein, however, it is very important to first discard the anthropocentric mind-set that leads to problems with concepts such as "purpose" and "design". They, like "gods", "intelligence" and "free-will", are merely components of our inherited mental environments that preclude objectivity.
posted by Peter Kinnon
April 26, 2010
About once a month at Sigma Xi headquarters, we liven up the lunch hour with an American Scientist Pizza Lunch talk. In these informal lectures, scientists describe new research to nonscientists. The series is light on jargon but heavy on solid science. Each Pizza Lunch offers an in-depth look at its subject, whether it's bedbugs or the smart grid. Click below to read about and download these talks -- and to subscribe!
JSTOR, the online academic archive, now contains complete back issues of American Scientist from its inception in 1913 (as Sigma Xi Quarterly) through 2005.
The table of contents for each issue is freely available to all users; those with institutional access can read each complete issue.
View the full collection here.