Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What do we care?

A couple of posts ago, I ended with the question "and what do we care?" This was in regard to whether and how much God has (supernaturally) intervened in the history of the universe to get the events to unfold according to His plan. For example, why in the end should we care whether God had to override the laws of physics to get the solar system to form where it is (ie, in the just-right location in the just-right galaxy) with the composition it has (ie, made of the just-right abundances of elements), etc, or whether the unfolding of the universe under the natural laws He set up at the beginning conspired to make this unlikely place form "naturally"?

I think this is certainly a good point to discuss. It isn't likely that we'll ever know how God did it. Although if we could show that the laws of physics were violated over and over, it would be a good apologetic. But philosophically, who can tell the difference between these two types of miraculous events? The formation of the moon was a miracle, in that it was highly unlikely. The advent of man was a miracle, in that it was an even less likely event. Do either violate the laws of physics? Even that's a difficult question to answer, as statistical thermodynamics, and even more so quantum mechanics, imply that anything can happen, even the most unlikely thing. It is within the laws of physics for all the air in the room you're sitting in to suddenly move to the other side of the room, instantly suffocating you. Its likelihood is on the order of 10^{-25} (or probably less), but it's not impossible. (I'll try to discuss this in a later post, because I'm not doing this justice here.)

Instead, I argue that the question we should be asking is therefore not whether the laws of physics are broken, but instead whether the unfolding of the history of the universe, including the history of life on planet earth, seems to bespeak the supernatural superintent of a creator, i.e., a mind. This is not just a question about probabilities. Rather, it is a question regarding whether the universe's history reflects the expressly-stated purposes of a creator. Sure, regarding evolution, we can try to go and test whether God specially intervened at points, but these would again be based on probability arguments. (For example, the likelihood that whales would evolve from a land mammal given their large body size, low fecundity, and long generation time, is extremely small.)

No, what I am arguing here is that the unfolding of history is following a divine plan. We live in a just right location at the just right time. The history of life on earth followed a just-right trajectory such that we could be here today. The evolution of stars and galaxies prior to the formation of our solar system occurred in a just-right way. In essence, these are all fine-tuning arguments, but they're subtly more than that, I think. It appears that the fine-tuning is no coincidence. It appears that it is following a plan.

And I think this argument demands to be developed further. For now, it's only in its infancy.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Humans and neanderthals interbreeding

Recently the report of possible interbreeding between humans and neanderthals has been a hot topic. As I understand it, a research team has compared their draft sequence of the neanderthal nuclear genome with the genomes of five modern (contemporary) humans. They found that there was more sequence similarity between neanderthals and three of the humans than with neanderthals and the other two. They concluded that this meant there was interbreeding.

This raised a host of questions, such as, are we all part neanderthal? If so, then is the image of God tarnished? This fits nicely into an old-earth creation model because (1) it shows that even though there may have been a small amount of interbreeding, humans and neanderthals are distinct species, thereby refuting the young-earth creationist model (that neanderthals were descendants of Adam and Eve), and (2) it shows humans did not evolve from neanderthals, further eroding the multi-regional hypothesis of human evolution (that ancient hominid species such as Homo erectus and neanderthals evolved together into the different races of modern humanity).

In fact, I have heard speculation that the humans and neanderthals interbreeding may be one way in which God could have used as a form of imposing racial diversity at the time of the Tower of Babel.

But there's one hypothesis that I haven't heard talked about: What if the interbreeding was only one-way? What if sinful human males had offspring with neanderthal females, but not the other way around? It would seem to fit the data just as well as the alternative, and perhaps even better. This scenario would definitively explain, for example, why there is no mitochondrial DNA evidence of humans and neanderthals interbreeding.

It also makes "social" sense. What I mean is, if we are all part neanderthal, that means at some time in the past, a half-human : half- neanderthal must have been raised by a human woman/family, and must have integrated into society somehow, and then passed on its genes via
a human partner. Then a 3/4-human : 1/4-neanderthal must have done the same thing, etc. Of course, as the neanderthal part gets diluted out, it becomes more imaginable. But even if a neanderthal male has offspring with a human female, and the mother does not want to "give
up" her baby, and raises it like a fully human child, what are the chances that the child would find a willing human partner to pass on the part-neanderthal genes? Just speculating here, of course. (In this day and age of political correctness, I almost feel like I'm being racist, but my arguments are actually speciesist...)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Why would God violate His own laws of physics (part 2)?

In my previous post, I introduced this topic and gave a very simple example why He would violate the laws of physics. In addition to that, we know that God did intervene in certain circumstances. For example, He intervened at the beginning of time. He intervened at the incarnation. Jesus (and the old testament prophets before Him) performed many miracles. I don't find this to be a good answer to Ken Miller's question, however, as God had specific purposes in history to perform miracles, and these acts of divine intervention were well-documented in the Bible. Thus, it does not answer generally about the history of the universe.

My next comment is that, in a way, I sympathize with Ken Miller and Francis Collins and other theistic evolutionists on on this point. When creationists argue that God must have intervened in specially creating life, including humans on the sixth day of creation, I wonder how that would be different from a special creation of the moon. We think we know in pretty good detail how the moon was formed, from a mechanistic, laws-of-physics standpoint. However, the fact that it happened is essentially a miracle. If the moon didn't exist in a very finely-tuned fashion, neither would we. In other words, if the moon hadn't formed in just the right way from just the right materials at just the right time in just the right place with just the right mass, advanced life would not have been possible on this planet. (I can't go into the details, as I do not know them. However, take my word for it that the formation of the moon is generally accepted to be a finely-tuned event, even among atheistic scientists. Also, I found a cool movie here about this, narrated by Captain Jean Luc Picard.) The chance that the moon would form in just this way is so small as to be essentially zero. But it can be explained in a very simple way: a Mars-sized body revolving around the sun about 4.4 billion years ago at the same revolution radius as the earth was suddenly kicked out of its stable orbit. It slowly got closer and closer to the earth until the two bodies collided at a low relative velocity and at a highly oblique angle. The laws of physics can completely explain it. But they do not explain why such an event, which must have been so finely-tuned, would have happened.

Applying this to life's history, Darwinian evolution is certainly a plausible mechanism to explain life's history, given the concession that life evolving this way (i.e., in just the right way to produce us) is extremely unlikely. However, I don't see anything in direct contradiction of the laws of physics, barring a second law of thermodynamics hand-waving argument. In other words, it isn't absurd to imagine that God supernaturally superintended each of life's events such that evolution according to the natural laws would occur just as He would have it. In the same way that it isn't absurd to imagine that God supernaturally superintended the formation of the moon just as He would have it such that we could later exist. He guided an extremely unlikely set of events to get us in the end. Did He do this by setting it up from the beginning and forgetting it (like a roticerie chicken machine)? Or did He have to perform "midcourse corrections'" such as NASA ground control often must do? And what do we care?

So, this discussion leads us logically to a point that I have discussed many times, about how all theistic evolutionists should also be proponents of intelligent design, and I won't repeat them here.