DWill quotes Kauffman: “We live in a world whose unfoldings we often cannot prevision, prestate, or predict--a world of explosive creativity on all sides. This is a central part of the new scientific worldview."
I dispute any suggestion that somehow evolution is not deterministic. Even if we cannot see the inner logic of evolution, that doesn’t mean it does not exist. Kauffman extends the radical indeterminism of human freedom into an almost a-causal vision of creativity as radically unpredictable in principle, without a guiding inner material logic. This philosophical separation of spirit and matter is wrong, conceding too much to obsolete religious myths.
We cannot be God, since we lack the omniscience required to predict the future. But Kauffman extends this humility too far, implying that science lacks all predictive power. In fact, science is all about prediction. With evolution, science observes the selective pressures operating on an ecosystem and predicts its future.
It happens all the time. An elephant herd requires an amount of land with specified quality in order to breed. Absent these conditions, the elephant will not breed, to a high degree of probability. Intense rapid selective pressures such as farming, poaching and climate change change the way elephants have lived for millions of years with observable and predicable results. If we manipulate the selective pressures operating on an organism, we often know what will happen. This is the science of ecology, habitat and interdependence, and indeed of psychology seen in lab rats.
One interesting material predictive model for evolution of life is the helium-beryllium-carbon process in stars
. Bear with my lay explanation. Hydrogen is constantly fusing in stars to make Helium 4. The helium atoms fuse at a predictable rate to make Beryllium 8, but this is unstable, and almost always it collapses in a fraction of a second back to helium. However, in that fraction of a second, if another helium atom bangs into the unstable beryllium, it forms the stable atom carbon 12. That cosmic alchemy is the source of all life on earth.
The point is that atoms are swishing about randomly in stars, but stars are so big and old that there is a predictable slow rate at which hydrogen turns into carbon, pushing through the tiny window of opportunity provided by beryllium. In similar fashion life on earth obeys the random ordered chaos of nature. But our chaotic world also has these tiny windows of opportunity, chinks of potential, through which an existing order can occasionally squeeze to enter a new higher order of stable complexity, rather like carbon 12 evolving from helium.
We can speak of predicted evolution of stars along the main sequence, with a causal process similar in principle to the evolution of genes and memes. Once a higher order is achieved, it generally maintains that increased complexity until it is destroyed by catastrophe.
My concern with an author like Kauffman, although I have not read his book Reinventing the Sacred, is that too often ‘sacred’ is used to mean there is something basically wrong with the scientific world view, whereas I would rather say that ideas of the sacred should be viewed as an extension of science into the realm of value, using science as a base, and entirely respecting science as far as it goes. Kauffman wrongly elides from the fact that our predictive capacity is limited to the inference that nature is not universally causal.
I prefer to assume the pitiless logic of material causation, and then see how we can explore metaphysical ideas such as love, grace and beauty within a wholly natural framework, conceding nothing to supernaturalism. Nature is sacred.
Selective pressures are remorseless material forces, changing the evolving system with a steady trend. Science is able to identify and measure primary selective trends operating on ecosystems, such as anthropogenic global warming that is sending our planetary climate haywire and causing the sixth extinction