Naturalistic Evolution, Meet a Utilitarian Philosopher's Method of Difference

Utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was a contemporary of Darwin. And no Bible thumper was he.

Information for Survival

Let's start with a fundamental problem: Life forms constantly seek solutions to the problem of staying alive. They maintain an exponentially higher level of information when alive than they will as corpses. But even a corpse contains vastly more information than the chemical elements that comprise it—that is, if those elements were all separated and arranged in piles.

So can all the information that animates life forms arise by blind, random processes? Darwinian evolution assumes that finely tuned complexity creates greater fitness for survival. But its proponents provide no evidence for that. As William Dembski observes in Being as Communion (Ashgate, 2014), "Only finely tuned fitness landscapes that are sufficiently smooth, don't isolate local optima, and, above all, reward ever increasing complexity in biological structure and function are suitable for driving a full-fledged evolutionary process. So where do such fitness landscapes come from?" (110).

In short, life forms survive to the next generation by responding to immediate, local challenges, not to unknown later challenges posed over millions of years in a variety of circumstances. When they do respond, the life forms may survive by becoming less, not more complex. Survival is their goal, not complexity.

Only in Movies

Some researchers have developed computer programs that try to simulate Darwinian evolution (natural selection acting on random mutation) to show that they can somehow become much more complex. But the researchers, understandably, have a habit of sneaking in information and intention that a blind process just does not have.1

Consider intention, for example. Even "seeking" to stay in existence is beyond a blind natural event. A boulder doesn't care if it rolls down a mountainside and smashes to bits. Nor does a statue. Even the fact that the statue is a product of design does not endow it with the sculptor's own desire to survive. That is unique to life.2

A further mystery: Life forms try to prevent their own dissolution whether they are conscious or not. So then, does the life form's felt need for survival somehow evolve the complex machinery needed? Why? That makes as little sense as believing that we can just win a lottery because we need the money. The films we needn't ever see again work that way. Life doesn't.

Combatting Superstition

Whether God exists and/or whether the universe is intelligently designed are questions infinitely worth asking. But before we can even consider them, we must rid ourselves of the superstition that goal-directed intelligence arises from nowhere. Intelligent design theory tries to combat this superstition using information theory.

John Stuart Mill developed a defense of the value of human knowledge, individual freedom, and well-being.3 Dembski argues that Mill's "method of difference" can help us understand the basic question:

If an instance in which the phenomenon under investigation occurs, and an instance in which it does not occur, have every circumstance in common save one, that one occurring only in the former; the circumstance in which alone the two instances differ is the effect, or the cause, or an indispensable part of the cause, of the phenomenon. (109)

So if we assume that natural selection acting on random mutations (Darwinian evolution) can produce radical changes in life forms, how will we know when it has? What difference does it make?

Actually, we have never observed non-intelligent causes creating information. That would be like a letter writing itself. Or a blind curve on our street that "doesn't like" people. In other words, it is a retreat into magic and animism.

People who grow up in a science-based society don't usually adopt that sort of thinking. So it is odd that the spontaneous generation of high levels of information is now marketed as a doctrine of science, in defense of the assumed-worthy causes of naturalism and Darwinian evolution. Part of the explanation may be that, as University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne has put it, a spoonful of Jesus helps Darwin go down. Many are content with this state of affairs, as long as it does not interfere with what they understand to be their private faith.4

So how are the claims of naturalist Darwinian evolution making a difference? They may indeed be making a difference—in the way students think the world works. Students, for example, may be more inclined to credit beliefs that include information arising from nowhere. An unsettling contemporary development is that the much-publicized decline in belief in God has masked a significant rise in superstition accepted among the young.5

Now that may not be an accident. 

is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger. She blogs at Blazing Cat Fur, Evolution News & Views, MercatorNet, Salvo, and Uncommon Descent.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #32, Spring 2015 Copyright © 2019 Salvo |