Thursday, February 16, 2012

Elliot Sober has left me Confused.

Jason Rosenhouse quotes from  Elliot Sober on the question of whether Darwinian evolution could be consistent with God causing some of the genetic mutations:

"Suppose we're going to examine gambles made on the outcome of coin tossing, and we want to know whether coins land heads more often when gamblers bet on tails. So let's do the experiment, go to a casino, watch people make bets, and get the frequencies of heads and tails. We will discover, of course, that what's good for the gambler has no causal relevance to how the coin behaves. It's wishful thinking to think that the coin is going to land heads more often just because you bet on heads, just because it would be good for you. And that's how mutations are according to our understanding of mutation. Whether a mutation occurs or does not occur is not affected by whether it would be good for the organism.

 Go back to the coins. Suppose someone said, “Okay, you just got all the frequency data on heads and tails in your experiment. How do you know that on toss 342 God didn't intervene and ensure that it would land heads?' I think maybe you could have a reason for thinking that's wrong, but the frequency data you obtained in your experiment is not that reason. Frequency data do not tell you anything about the causes of individual coin tosses, so it's consistent with your perfectly reasonable view about coin tosses not being influenced by what would be good for gamblers, to think that occasionally in the history of coin tossing God reaches into the world and biases the coin. Not that it's true, but it's consistent with what you know.

 It would be pretty remarkable if the experiments that biologists do on mutations would tell us whether divine intervention occurs. That's not what science is about. It's not about trying to test things like that. The theory of evolution is a probabilistic theory. It does not tell you what causes each and every thing that happens. Maybe there are hidden variables. Maybe some events happen for special reasons that are not described by the theory. The theory just doesn't say anything about that. I see no reason to believe in these hidden variables -- that's me the philosopher talking -- but the science understood correctly is silent on whether there are such hidden causes."

Now I'm confused.  At the end of the first paragraph Sober says, "Whether a mutation occurs or does not occur is not affected by whether it would be good for the organism.  In the second paragraph Sober says that God occasionally biasing a coin toss (mutation).  What I'm wondering is,  if God biased the mutation for the good of the organism, would this be inconsistent with "our understanding of mutation"?  If so, then it seems that all Sober is saying is that God could cause the mutations, but not for the benefit of the organism.  If that's the case, then it's not clear that this would be sufficient for Plantinga's "guided evolution."  If not, then I think the philosophical/theological objection to Darwinian evolution still stands.

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