August 07, 2006

This sounds ... familiar ...

PZ Myers:

The fear that the purpose in your life is your responsibility, that it is your job to provide intent and meaning and that there is no higher being who will tell you what to do, is one of those defining differences between theists and atheists, I think. I embrace the idea that I must find my own purpose; Christians like Collins dread it, and it leads them to invent ridiculous ideas like his all-knowing god and a predestined universe, where every coin flip is predetermined and lorded over by the all-knowing eye of an omnipotent sky-father.

PZ uses the phrase `God is dead' in the title. I'm not sure how well he understands Nietzsche (he's a biologist, not a philosopher, and that's okay), but, as I've argued before, this is precisely what Nietzsche meant by the phrase `God is dead'.

Next up, we have this gem from John Wilkins, a philosopher of biology, which is about the anti-evolutionary trope that it's a theory of `chance':

Why is chance such a problem for theologians? Apart from the obvious problem of God's foreknowledge, it appears to indicate that the very idea of a providential hand is unnecessary, and that is deeply troubling to them....

And here's the payoff of the series of misunderstandings. We need, it seems, a role for religion in biology. Because, no doubt, biology has been having such a hard time without it. Evolution has not been an argument for blind chance, only for the blindness of variation. There's nothing ideological about that. Indeed, arguing that variation is not blind is the ideology. There are no plausible mechanisms, nor any evidence in favour of, the idea that variation, which fuels evolution, is not the results of undirected chance happenings, in the sense that they are not correlated with the needs or aims of organisms. To assert this is ideological: it's to assert that the basis for all science since Bacon is false. And we need to do that why? Because of the failures of biology and the successes of teleological religious thinking? Hardly. The only reason is to provide some breathing room for religion, and there's no scientific rationale there at all.

That's the breathtaking thing about Darwin's theory: it's not a theory of chance and utter randomness, and it's not a theory of development in accordance with natural principles intrinsic to the `essence' of critters or some divine plan. It's a theory of emergent complexity, and emergent complexity is probably the second greatest innovation of Enlightenment thinkers (the first being intellectual and political freedom).

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