What "Random Mutation" Means in Science

Science

(Dan Eastwood) #15

The Law of Large Numbers works in mysterious ways. :slight_smile:


(George) #16

@clavdivs,

You posted this: “According to Aquinas: The effect of divine providence is not only that things should happen somehow, but that they should happen either by necessity or by contingency. Therefore:”

[a] "whatsoever divine providence ordains to happen infallibly

and of necessity, happens infallibly and of necessity; and"

[b] [what] "… happens from contingency, which the divine

providence conceives to happen from contingency."

Fortunately for me, you summarized your thought with: “So according to Catholic doctrine, events that we perceive as random certainly do not necessarily appear so to God.” And I agree with you 100%!

But as a favor to me, and maybe a few other readers, are you able to explain how the Aquinas quote means the same thing? I found myself completely unable to reach any useful conclusion from that quote.


#17

Hi George

There’s a slight typo in your rendering of the quote that might make a difference:

Translated into everyday English:

“… if God wants something to happen contingently, it will.”

So, God can make something happen necessarily, even though it appears contingent to us.

Does that help?


#18

For more on this see Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God, para. 69:

In the Catholic perspective, neo-Darwinians who adduce random genetic variation and natural selection as evidence that the process of evolution is absolutely unguided are straying beyond what can be demonstrated by science. Divine causality can be active in a process that is both contingent and guided. Any evolutionary mechanism that is contingent can only be contingent because God made it so.


(George) #19

@Clavdivs

Gosh… this can be half-way impenetrable narrative: “In the Catholic perspective, neo-Darwinians who adduce random genetic variation and natural selection as evidence that the process of evolution is absolutely unguided are straying beyond what can be demonstrated by science.” < This sentence is perfectly clear to me.

“Divine causality can be active in a process that is both contingent and guided. Any evolutionary mechanism that is contingent can only be contingent because God made it so.”

When translating Latin into English… there must be a better way …


#20

I think this is an excellent post because it relies on a scientific modeling, a bit of math, and a description of how the model was tested to explaiin the meaning of a scientific conclusion. So we have an answer to the question which reflects the way science answers it.

Too many internet discussions of random mutations degenerate into parsing English meanings and arguing the metaphysics of randomness and probability.

In science, the meaning of ‘random mutation’ is provided by the mathematical model and the explanation of why it applies. See the “Unpacking the Work” section of the linked paper for more detail on this.

I agree with this, but I would add that science uses Inference to the Best Explanation, not deduction. So I think the what is omitted in saying “mutations are random” is that the best explanation of this experiment (and others) is that mutations are random in the sense defined through the scientific model.

In science, “best” often involves simplest in the sense of postulating the fewest entities. So just as Laplace was alleged to have said “I have no need of that hypothesis [of God]”, so science has no need of God for the best (scientific) explain of mutations and of biological evolution in general.

By no means is that science meant to be part of a deductive argument showing that God does not exist. Nor is it an argument that God is inconsistent with the science. Such arguments belong in philosophy, not science.


#21

I would like to point out that even atheists can agree with certain parts of Catholic doctrine.


#22

Arguments such as the following?

Parsimony, Ockham’s Razor, etc. are philosophy, not science, aren’t they?


#23

I thought about discussing this aspect of science, but my wall of text was already quite formidable. Thank you for making this point.

To be more precise, “best” (i.e. most parsimonious) is the explanation with the fewest unevidenced assumptions. If you have an explanation that fits the data better but has more evidenced mechanisms compared to another explanation you still go with the more complicated explanation. The rule of parsimony is something scientific methodologies often used, but it is by no means an ontological claim, as you rightfully point out.


#24

If parsimony is philosophical it is subjective at best. Even William of Ockham stated that the explanation with the fewest assumptions tends to be the best explanation, so it isn’t an axiom. Scientists know that parsimony is often wrong when applied to genetic data. For example, as evolutionary distance increases between two lineages there is an increased probability that a single base difference will be due to two mutations at the same position which violates the common rules of parsimony.


#25

Yes,

Doesn’t mean they are wrong, of course! Only that discussions of about why science is successful or how science works are not part of science.

And how scientists work is part of sociology of science.


#26

I am by no means a philosopher of science, but that doesn’t seem to stop me from offering my opinion. Since the discussion seems to veering in that direction, I thought I might offer my take.

I view science as a game, like baseball or football. You follow the rules, and what you end up with is a scientific conclusion. Most of us think science does a pretty good job at arriving at good descriptions of how the universe works, so we keep using those rules. It is the success of science that justifies its use.

Science is but one epistemology of many, and I think it would be foolhardy to claim that science is the only viable epistemology. However, having an epistemology is better than having none. I would argue that we need rules for how we acquire knowledge, and those rules have to be attached to the conclusions they land on. If we have no rules then we have no knowledge. If a claim can become true by merely uttering it, then what does truth mean?

Being clear about the rules we use to arrive at knowledge is absolutely vital. It allows us to understand the boundaries of certainty around that knowledge. The rules of science can help us understand the empirical world, but science simply can’t tell us about ontological truths.


#27

Scientific practice and science journals currently accept parsimony, Ockham’s Razor etc. as settled principles or assumptions.

Whether these are good principles or assumptions is argued in philosophy of science.


#28

Well, I’m not a Catholic but I thought it worth pointing out that the concept that God can work through (what appears to us as) contingency is a very old one in Christian doctrine so I am somewhat puzzled why it causes such conniptions in the modern age in the origins debate.


#29

I don’t think the meaning is hard to discern.

  1. God can will something to occur with absolute necessity, and we perceive it as necessary.
  2. God can will something to occur with absolute necessity, but we perceive it as contingent.

And also, by logical extension …

  1. God can will something to occur with absolute contingency, and we perceive it as contingent.
  2. God can will something to occur with absolute contingency, but we perceive it as necessary.

(George) #30

@CLAVDIVS

I think YOU explain it a good deal better than Aquinas did!!!


#31

I think that they emerge from the practices of the relevant scientific community. The processes of science include interpreting them and applying them to a particular explanation.

My point is that these are not general principles with absolute benefits and costs to be analysed by philosophy, but rather the weights of each in determining “best” explanation are relative to a particular scientific situation and are assessed through the processes of scientists working in that domain. Philosophy does not dictate norms to science. Instead, philosophy does try to explain how and why science works.

This is closely related to the previous discussions here on PS about Methodological Naturalism . A paper on Pragmatic MN versus Intrinsic MN by Boudry et al was linked in one of these threads. I agree with that paper’s analysis of Intrinsic versus Pragmatic MN and support of the Pragmatic version…


#32

In my experience, there are Christians who believe that the method God used to create was separate from natural processes. They sometimes balk at the idea of God acting through nature.


#33

Something I’ve never quite understood. Adam was made from dirt. God told the earth to bring forth:

11 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.


(George) #34

@T_aquaticus

This tendency is pretty much entrenched at BioLogos… and for no sensible reason.