The Argument from Design

Are the laws of physics fine-tuned for life ?

A natural guess, when considering that the universe is ultimately created by and made of consciousness, is that it would be fine-tuned and designed for life.
So we have to examine this guess.

Let us start the consideration with the laws of physics. They form very remarkable and wonderful theories indeed, so that it would be quite hard to imagine a universe made of more elegant laws. But these laws are formed with a number of seemingly arbitrary choices of structures among other conceivable possibilities, as well as a list of seemingly arbitrary constants, for which we currently have no explanations.

How well-designed for life is that ?

A first parameter to consider (so obvious that some forget it) is the number of dimensions: we are in a space-time with 4 dimensions, divided into 3 space dimensions and 1 time dimension, together forming a Minkowski space that is very similar to Euclidean geometry (making time be somehow like space, despite the fact that it does not feel so in everyday experience).
The fact there is only 1 time dimension, is required by the properties of conscious existence, that we previously described.
But, why does our space have 3 dimensions, rather than another number ?
In fact, roughly the same laws of physics (general relativity and quantum physics) could apply to space-times with other numbers of space dimensions (and even with other numbers of time dimensions). However, these would not be suitable for life by any similar means to those that we are familiar with:
What about other parameters in the laws of physics, which seem arbitrary ? Some authors have claimed that they would be remarkably fine-tuned for life. Victor Stenger disagreed. Precisely, he considered how would a universe behave with other values of the main physical constants in some range around their value in our universe, and found that such variants could be suitable for life as well (if the modifications of the constants are "not big"). But someone replied. Let us leave this debate to specialists... (random example of debate on the subject)

The scientific consensus for natural evolution

Now admitting the laws of physics with all its constants as fixed, what about the emergence and evolution of life: has the evolution of live been guided in a conscious manner, with some plan on where it is going ?
This is a serious question, where purely philosophical expectations would lead to see it as highly plausible.

So, in terms of pure thinking and expectations, the idea of intelligent design could have been a plausible idea. However, this idea has to be compared to observational evidence.
A lot of evidence on how life evolved, has been gathered by biologists and paleontologists.

From this evidence, a large consensus has emerged among them, that the genetic evolution of life has all the characteristics of being the result of blind natural selection processes, with no observed significant trace of remarkable guidance from a mysterious origin (not to speak about young-Earth creationist views that have no plausibility at all - as Christian preachers once had trouble trying to evangelize the Chinese who had an older record of ancient history than the creation time claimed by the Bible).

The difficulties debating the subject - scientific illiteracy problems

I recently saw a Christian Web site (I guess there may be many like this) speaking about science, and trying to argue that Intelligent Design would be a scientific position, while Darwinism would be non-scientific.

That site tried to explain that Intelligent Design would be falsifiable while Darwinism would not.
How funny.
I happened to hear from Christians at some times a number of claims against Darwinism (even made with a tone of mockery against Darwinism) arguing about the Missing Links (e.g claiming that no intermediate forms between apes and humans could be found), or that some complex organs such as eyes are so "well-designed" with all parts necessary for the working of the whole, so that it could not have appeared by mere chance and natural selection.
Such claims are so well falsifiable, indeed, that they have already been fully refuted, for example by the discovery of explicit explanations of the evolutionary development of the eye step by step, with each step being selected as it brings a better ability.

The consensus of the scientific community for natural evolution, is remarkable in front of oppositions by otherwise dominating ideologies, not only on the right but also on the left (but these "right" and left" sides can be understood as similar religions taking the same side of the real opposition, that is the side of feelings and a priori value judgments against reason, and the side of popular stupidity against intelligence).

It would be rather pointless to try to answer all anti-darwinist arguments in much details. Who do they think they are ? Do they claim to teach scientists about what is science ? Do they think that 99.9% of biologists are ignorant about their own field or about what is science ? Who are they trying to convince ? If such a few pages made of a couple of childish "arguments" will succeed to confort their ignorant Christian readers in their feelings and desires to believe that Darwinism is stupid and that their faith in Jesus makes them much more clever scientists than the professional ones, can this "success" ever have anything to do with the truth ?
(see also about the fundamental misconception "Scientists Are Arrogant, But They Can’t Know Everything")

Seriously, whatever may be their arguments or what I would try to answer, would not change the very heavy trend of what emerged from the huge amount of observational evidence in biology: that, given the available evidence, the only rational position that can resist is the Darwinian position, while Intelligent Design happens to be an irrational position, in the sense that to persist giving it any credit (as many ignorant people do) against the available evidence, happens to require quite irrational attitudes.

But no matter the refutations, anti-darwinists carefully keep ignoring the experience of how often their claims happened to be refuted, and keep claiming to make much wiser predictions on future discoveries than scientists.

In fact, the continuing public opposition to Darwinism is mainly based on a great deal of ignorance of the existing evidence: (from wikipedia)
A 1997 study found that fewer than 20% of Americans possessed basic scientific literacy and a People for the American Way poll found that less than half (48%) of those polled chose the correct definition of evolution from a list. In 2006, New Scientist reported that almost 2/3 of Americans believe they share less than half their genes with "monkeys", when in fact the figure is between 95–99% depending on the primate and comparison method

Thus, a majority of very ignorant people who politically support (through the Republican Party...) an educational system marked by scientific illiteracy, as well as a literature with some completely indefensible pseudo-scientific claims that conveniently give an illusion of scientific credibility for their religious creeds, suffices to explain the social persistence of this nonsense, disconnected from all existing evidence.

But to those who still think they would have arguments against Darwinism...this is a too big and hard subject for making it possible to give here a significant account of all the arguments that can be said. A summarized presentation may not be able to give it justice, while anti-scientific propaganda may be the strongest.

As reported here (about attempts by proponents of intelligent design, at inserting "critical analysis" of evolution in some curriculum, but in a way that perverts the debate):
"The good feelings didn't last long. Early this year, a board-appointed committee unveiled sample lessons that laid out the kind of evolution questions students should debate. The models appeared to lift their examples from Wells' book Icons of Evolution. "When I first saw it, I was speechless," says Princehouse.(...)
After months of uproar, the most obvious Icons-inspired lessons were removed. But scientists remain furious. "The ones they left in are still arguments for special creation - but you'd have to know the literature to understand what they are saying. They've used so much technical jargon that anybody who doesn't know a whole lot of evolutionary biology looks at it and says 'It sounds scientific to me, what's the matter with it?'" says Princehouse. "As a friend of mine said, it takes a half a second for a baby to throw up all over your sweater. It takes hours to get it clean." "
However, let's try.

The evidence from poor design

Moreover, it even happens that our eyes are not as well-designed as they could be, as there does exist other animals with better designed eyes than our own: Octopus has better designed eyes than vertebrates, and Mammals have lost the tetrachromatic vision, which other terrestrial vertebrates (birds, reptiles...) inherited from the first tetrapods.
Also, a large part of the genome in humans and many other organisms, is made of a lot of wasteful copies of the same genes whose only function is to multiply the number of their copies inside this genome (or otherwise promote itself during reproduction) - a property which is considered to have been inherited from some primitive virus that settled in its host durably in early evolutionary times.

Some more examples of bad designs (among many other possible examples) are in the Argument from poor design page (against the existence of God).
Other examples are given by the many cases of extinct species: what were they designed for ? Were they designed for extinction ?

The evidence from human-driven evolution


A few times I happened to discuss with people who don't "believe in evolution", they just fail to grasp the mathematical structure explaining how negative genetic mutations are generally wiped out by natural selection, while positive ones are much more likely to "win" the population, so as to explain how positive mutations prevail at the end despite the fact they are much less likely to occur at first than negative ones. Terrible but real. This might be considered a waste time with basic children logic, but let's develop it.

In fact, it's not very difficult to debunk the main naive thesis put forward by opponents of evolution, that consists in disbelieving the theoretical possibility for all those "wonderful" complex functionalities in living organisms, to have emerged out of mere random mutations and natural selection. Somehow we may consider this question to be a "purely mathematical" question, as it is mathematically rather well-defined (except for the conscious behavior of animals, which can be driven out of the equation by restricting the consideration to the evolution of plants), but of course the difficulty is its astronomic complexity, as it involves the processes occurring all over the planet during about 1 billion years, which is most probably too big even for the most powerful of our super-calculators to simulate. Without the possibility of effectively operating such a simulation, different people might keep diverse and opposite convictions according to their personal feelings (intuitions) about "what the rational view must be", each one considering one's own view as the reasonable one, and dismissing the opposite view as blind faith, but with no easy objective way to decide whose intuition is right.
However we do have some hints out of experience. The accessible experience is not as big as the whole history of life, but it is already significant. I want to point out the experience of the documented evolution of species that occurred under the human control since humans took over the planet, especially agricultural species and pets (to not speak about the extinction of many species exterminated by humans for different reasons - species that God designed for being finally exterminated, probably). Examples among many others: yellow bananas appeared in the 19th century and need human intervention to survive because they have no seeds; dogs evolved into quite diverse races under the human control after a common origin; bacteria developed resistance to antibiotics... Improvements are even perceptible during a farmer's lifetime (which is why they bother caring about selecting their animals).

Very important positive changes occurred by natural mutation with just an artificial selection by human control.
Would anyone claim that this evolution was mysterious, beyond explanation, and requiring some supernatural intervention ? Hardly so. Mutations were natural; humans did not choose them. These species had a much longer evolution, before being domesticated, where they were not a priori designed for humans. It is the hand of man operating the selection, that changed them into this "design" (for human convenience; or inconvenience, in the case of bacteria).
This happened in a very short time (centuries, millenia or tenths of millenia...) relatively to the history of life (hundreds of million years): less than 1/1000 of it.

Thus, why the hell should we dismiss the plausibility for natural selection to have driven evolution towards the many complex useful features for survival that we observe, considering it had over 1000 times more time for this, than the already dramatic evolution towards human convenience which we admit to have been the natural consequence of human selection over natural mutations ?

The Criminal Incarnation Problem

The problem is this one: why are there souls coming to incarnate in embryos/fetuses even in cases when it is harmful to do so, rather than letting them die ?

Indeed, there are clearly cases when the best action for souls would consist in letting embryos die by prohibitting any sould from incarning there. But this is not what is happening, and the world clearly suffers of adverse consequences of irresponsible incarnation events.

I see two main predictibly adverse consequences of the incarnation and thus lively birth of some bodies: Stupid Design of the species, and overpopulation.

The Stupid Design action, consists in letting souls incarnate bodies with bad genetic characters: those of violence, egoism, stupidity and other defects, that will kake the room on earth from better and more virtuous genetic characters to develop.

Of course, such a concern would be inappropriate at times the population would be scarce and struggling for survival, in risk to just disappear by lack of members if the game of selective incarnation was played. But the point is that it is not always the case, as the population sometimes (and especially in this and the last centuries) happens to become too numerous with quite adverse consequences.

It should not be considered an emergency to incarnate to any body that may come as soon as possible: the life of some individuals can be just an obstacle to the life and reproduction of better ones. If some souls did not incarnate just immediately at a given time, it may bring them better chances to incarnate into an even more interesting life later, once many of the world's troubles would have been solved or so.

For the same reason, the absence of incarnation should not have to be anyway something as awful as the birth of a dead-born or zombie baby: the same tool of intelligent design by selective incarnation should have been used many millions years ago to select the embryo developping processes that would ensure that an absence of incarnation would hardly be anything worse than an unnoticed rejection of the embryo after a couple of weeks, or perhaps a sterility.

So, why do so many souls still decide to commit the bad action to incarnate into some new bodies ? Is it because they are not aware of the consequences ???


The convenience of scientific research ?

Admittedly, there are other viewpoints about why to see Intelligent Design as an irrational idea.

For example, this argument against Intelligent Design. states the following point among others:

"Yet it's fundamental to the philosophy of intelligent design: I don't know what this is. I don't know how it works. It's too complicated for me to figure out. It's too complicated for any human being to figure out. So it must be the product of a higher intelligence(...) How presumptuous it would be for me to claim that if I can't solve a problem, neither can any other person who has ever lived or who will ever be born.
Science is a philosophy of discovery. Intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance. You cannot build a program of discovery on the assumption that nobody is smart enough to figure out the answer to a problem
. "

Indeed it could have been much more problematic to develop scientific research and knowledge on how life could develop on the Earth if the evolutionary process received an important deal of influence from supernatural intervention.
Fortunately for scientists (and very unfortunately for the very many miserable lives of animals that had a hard time during this long and painful evolutionary process), this is not the case.

Criticism by Bertrand Russell

See page 6 of Russell's essay
I also once found this supposed quotation in French but could not verify its source as it is not exactly contained in that above reference:
"N'y a-t-il pas quelque chose d'un peu absurde dans le spectacle d'êtres humains qui tiennent devant eux un miroir et qui pensent que ce qu'ils y voient est tellement excellent que cela prouve qu'il doit y avoir une Intention Cosmique qui, depuis toujours, visait ce but...Si j'étais tout-puissant et si je disposais de millions d'années pour me livrer à des expériences, dont le résultat final serait l'Homme, je ne considérerais pas que j'aurais beaucoup de raisons de me vanter."

Links and references

Statement of the scientific consensus by the American Anthropological Association

Level of support for evolution

"99.9 percent of scientists accept evolution".
the scientific community considers intelligent design, a neo-creationist offshoot, to be unscientific,pseudoscience, or junk science
...
a coalition representing more than 70,000 Australian scientists and science teachers issued a statement saying "intelligent design is not science" and calling on "all schools not to teach Intelligent Design (ID) as science, because it fails to qualify on every count as a scientific theory"

The same article mentions a variable level of support for evolution among religions.
There has even been official support for evolution by religious bodies:

According to V. Stenger (physicist and skeptic)
"Only abysmal self-complacency can see in Man a reason which Omniscience could consider adequate as a motive for the Creator. The Copernican revolution will not have done its work until it has taught men more modesty than is to be found among those who think Man sufficient evidence of Cosmic Purpose."

Misconception of science :"Scientists Have an Atheist Agenda"
"Just because no scientific study has indicated the presence or need for a deity in the universe does not mean that this was the intent of the work. It may be true scientific study in general has the overwhelming lack of indication that the universe has any outside influence, but that does not mean that is what scientists wanted to believe."

Searching for the Watchmaker
No Intelligent Designer Needed! Debunking the Watchmaker argument video

Design Arguments for the Existence of God at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Argument from design at Rationalwiki
Wikipedia : Teleological argument

On the intelligibility of the universe: some fqxi essays on the connections between maths and physics


Related pages

Does life has a purpose ? A fictional debate
The best proof of God's existence
Metaphysics
Scientific literacy
On the Darwinian evolution of the mind-matter interaction