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Physics needs Darwin? Ken Miller should hear this

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From Michael Price at the Evolution Institute, interviewing independent scholar John Campbell, author of several books on universal Darwinism,

John O. Campbell, an independent scholar from British Columbia, has published several works [1-4] describing his version of universal Darwinism. This framework proposes that Darwinian selection explains what exists not just biologically but in many other realms as well, from the quantum to the cultural to the cosmological. My interest in John’s framework developed after I began researching ‘cosmological natural selection with intelligence’ [5-7], and seeing how concepts like entropy, selection, and adaptation seem fundamental in both biology and physics. My research led me to the Evo Devo Universe research community, to which John also belongs, and I soon learned of his remarkable book Darwin Does Physics [2]. This book presents some of the most intellectually exhilarating ideas I’ve come across in years. I was grateful to have the opportunity to interview John for This View of Life, and help communicate these ideas to a wider audience.

MP: Within cosmology, a central puzzle concerns the nature of what must be a knowledge repository of the most fundamental kind, one that encodes the laws of physics and the exact values of approximately 30 fundamental parameters. This knowledge repository is extremely fine-tuned to produce complexity; almost any minuscule random variation in any parameter would result in a universe without the complexity of even atoms. Lee Smolin (Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics) has proposed the theory of cosmological natural selection [8] to explain this puzzle in cosmology. In this theory, a black hole in a parent universe generates a child universe, which inherits physical laws and parameters from the parent. Over many generations, a typical universe evolves the complex features required to produce black holes, features such as atoms, complex chemistry, and stars. Once this level of complexity is achieved, other Darwinian subroutines may produce additional levels of complexity, such as biological and cultural complexity.

The knowledge repository involved with each level of existence describes an autopoietic (self-creating and maintaining) strategy for existence which evolves over time. Essentially, these strategies involve complex interactions, designed to exploit loopholes in the second law of thermodynamics and achieve some form of existence. More.

Universal Darwinism attempts to explain how the fine-tuning of our universe could exist without design or intelligence. Excerpt: from book. Cosmologists have not embraced this simple solution.

Science historian Michael Flannery draws our attention to a curious fact: Recently, we noted Darwinian Ken Miller, promoting a book (The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will),  claims that the use of the term Darwinism is a scientific slur.

Funny that no one at the Evolution Institute noticed.

At any rate, Flannery writes,

So why is Miller so worked up over the term? I have a suggestion: Darwinism, Darwinist, Darwinian, etc. all make very clear in a very specific way exactly what is being talked about. For example, theistic evolution sounds more innocuous than appending Darwinian to it (and actually it is), but Darwinian theism is actually much more accurate if we’re talking about evolution of the Miller, Giberson, Collins variety. It forces into the conversation all those things Miller, Giberson, and Collins have to dance around with with a lot of hand-waving such as how a personal, goal-direct God would work by and through mechanisms of chance and serendipity.

It exposes their contradictions. It exposes them to the point C. S. Lewis made nearly 80 years ago: “It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities [like reconciling blind chance with intelligent purpose] are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”

Though they won’t admit it, this is an uncomfortable fact for all Darwinian theists. So for them it would be much better to dispense with Darwinism altogether. The problem is, the term itself is so lodged within the literature so as to be a ubiquitous label.

We might see this as Miller’s continued attempt to keep Darwin identified with “science”, itself an ideological maneuver which supposedly prompts his complaint against the term Darwinism in the first place. Simply using Darwinian evolution as a synecdoche for “science” alleviates his need for explanation.

But in typical fashion Miller’s objection isn’t even good history. He identifies essayist Marilynne Robinson as “an intellectual founding mother for the use of “Darwinism” as a slander against evolution.” But this is nonsense. The nature of Darwinian evolution, its problematic theological implications (not to mention its scientific shortcomings) were exposed during Darwin’s own life time. On the theological side there is Charles Hodge’s What Is Darwinism? (1874); on the scientific side, biologist St. George Mivart used the term Darwinism or Darwinian 85 times in his severely critical On the Genesis of Species (1871). Miller wants everyone to think the pejorative use of Darwin’s name is relatively recent aberration when, in fact, it was there from the start. And not without reason.

Now, anyone familiar with the controversy knows that Darwinism is simply not a scientific slur. But, as IV Press has recently discovered, the emerging book market is dominated by Jessica Yogamat and her friends, with the result that facts are only a minor component of any question in science today. Quite the opposite,  facts are gradually becoming the enemy.

In this atmosphere, universal Darwinism may gain quite a following without anyone asking just how well Darwinism is doing in biology today anyway. Stay tuned.

See also: Is the term Darwinism a scientific slur? (cf Ken Miller)

and

What becomes of science when the evidence does not matter?

One Reply to “Physics needs Darwin? Ken Miller should hear this

  1. 1
    ScuzzaMan says:

    The problem is, the term itself is so lodged within the literature so as to be a ubiquitous label.

    That might be A problem but the wax I see it THE problem is that darwinian theists want what they cannot have; the intellectual respect of unbelievers and the spiritual respect of believers.

    They’re people forever stranded in no man’s land because whichever way they look they face the prospect of losing something they desperately want, and they’re emotionally incapable of dealing with opportunity cost.

    It’s vitally important that we choose very carefully whose opinions of us we value. If we don’t … well, there’s a passage written long ago about those forever tossed on the wind.

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