Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Tenth Problem

Casey Luskin at Evolution News and Views lists ten problems with unguided, Darwinian evolution that he believes public school students should be taught.

They're all important difficulties with which any student being instructed in evolutionary theory should aware, but #10 is especially intriguing:
Humans show many behavioral and cognitive traits and abilities that offer no apparent survival advantage (e.g. music, art, religion, ability to ponder the nature of the universe).
Consider our ability to do high level math, for example (or at least the ability of some people to do high level math). Why would nature have developed in human beings the ability to do mathematics, particularly pure mathematics, thousands, maybe millions of years before it ever had any use? Human beings can survive perfectly well, and did so, for most of their history without ever doing calculus. Even today, most people get along fine without exercising this innate ability. As philosopher Alvin Plantinga says, it's only the occasional grad student whose reproductive success depends on his ability to solve differential equations.

That our mathematical abilities evolved long before there was any need or use for them suggests that evolution has foresight, that it's teleological, but this is incompatible with the belief that evolution is an unguided process.

Darwinians might argue that math ability is a "spandrel" that is, it's an incidental consequence of some other evolutionary development, like higher temperatures are an incidental consequence of covering our urban areas in asphalt. This could be, of course, but then one has to wonder how this "accidental" add-on could so perfectly match the nature of the universe. Why does our mathematics so beautifully describe the way the universe is if natural selection is blind to it?

This is a question that has captivated many prominent physicists and mathematicians:
"At this point an enigma presents itself which in all ages has agitated inquiring minds. How can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human thought which is independent of experience, is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality?" Albert Einstein

"It is positively spooky how the physicist finds that the mathematician has been there before him." Nobel laureate physicist Steven Weinberg

"I find it quite amazing that it is possible to predict what will happen by mathematics, which is simply following rules which have nothing to do with the original thing." Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman
If math ability is just a coincidence then it's astonishingly fortuitous, and if it's the result of natural selection then it suggests that natural selection is somehow guided. Perhaps we should consider the possibility that the ability to do sophisticated math that had no use or application until the 20th century bears the impress of purposeful, intentional design by a mind that itself understands math.