The Fabric of Reality : : Complexity


According to the Christian bible god created everything in six days. Our planet was made on day three. God just placed it there ready for men to populate it on day six. As it later turned out he had also placed dinosaur bones, carbon-14-infused bits and pieces, and loads of other stuff in the ground. He created apes in such a way that 95% of the genome is equal to the human one. He did this and a whole lot of other things only to fool heretical scientists who wouldn’t believe the word of god anyway.

This story is logically irrefutable but lacks any empirical substance, thus it is simply irrelevant from a scientific point of view. Most Christians, at least in Europe, don’t believe that story either. Sure, there would be little point believing in a god that never influenced the world in any way. But god might have done so in many different ways, some of which do not contradict scientific methodology. Many Christians therefore do believe that god made the universe such that it can contain planets with life supporting conditions. Furthermore god started evolution and made sure it delivered the desired results. But god as the creator of the laws of physics never violated his own laws, otherwise we would have surely noticed that. Therefore evolution as taught in biology classes is exactly the thing that god has put it in place, with his own interference being invisible when applying scientific methods.

Probably science doesn’t matter too much to some religious people and many scientists will find religious belief pointless as long as it isn’t a conclusion of scientific reasoning. But religious belief and scientific methods are perfectly compatible in the described way of thinking. A scientist can go to church on Sunday worshipping the beauty of god’s creation. And on Monday she goes back to her lab doing research on evolutional biology without finding a single trace of god’s influence. Life could be quite simple that way.

But for some people this is not enough. Evangelicals, mainly in the US, want to push their agenda. They want to have their religious views being taught at school. And since science is well respected in the US, they rather want to teach about their god in science classes. But that would only be accepted if evangelicals could deliver some scientific evidence to prove the existence of god. This attempt comes under the name “Intelligent Design”, which I think is a slightly misleading term. Almost every Christian will probably think that god is intelligent and created the world on purpose. But only evangelicals want to prove this by using scientific arguments, or by using arguments that at least sound scientific.

The evidence evangelicals come up with, often is the second law of thermodynamics. The claim is that the complexity built up during the process of evolution contradicts the fact that complexity decreases over time with increasing entropy following the second law. However this argument is not a result of genuine philosophical interest, but rather a vehicle to gain political influence on education at schools. The whole fight about evolution and the second law is therefore mainly a political one, not a scientific one, and that holds for people attacking the concept of an unguided evolution as well as for their defendants.

This situation makes most of the discussion about evolution, complexity and probabilities extremely awkward. Every point being made tends to be regarded in the context of the political fight, not as a neutral scientific argument.

Thus it seems helpful to always make very clear what the consequences of some lines of reasoning are regarding the political fight and what are not. This is of course logically unnecessary but it might ease the reluctance of some people to follow the factual arguments.