An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

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Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, SUNY 2003Frank Visser, graduated as a psychologist of culture and religion, founded in 1997. He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. Author of Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion” (SUNY Press, 2003), which has been translated into 7 languages, and of many essays on this website.


Second Reply
to Astin

Frank Visser

Alexander W. Astin wrote:

You and Dawkins et al are stating a metaphysical position masquerading as "science." It's metaphysical because it assumes knowledge of the origins of extraordinarily complicated events (mutations) about which nobody has any direct knowledge.

There's plenty of evidence for selection, so this particular part of Darwin's thought has a solid scientific basis. But that's not the case for mutations. They're definitely not "random;" that's just a convenient pseudo-scientific dodge for "I haven't a clue as to how they happened."

None of us knows whether this planet has been around long enough for a trial and error process to to produce all these organisms. Evolutionists would argue, circularly, that "there must have been enough time because the organisms are here!"

I'm not at all sure whether some kind of intelligence is guiding the mutations that make organisms the way they are. You are sure that there is not, because that metaphysical position is incompatible with your metaphysical position. I simply don't know how they got to be the way the are. And neither do you or Dawkins.

You are thus operating on faith, a faith in the the notion that all physical events must have physical causes. Your metaphysics is a possible explanation for the existence of organisms that relies on countless highly improbable events happening in a highly improbable way.

We haven't a clue as to what these probabilities are, in part because we don't have any idea what the base (sample size) of possible mutations is that we're operating from, and in part because we don't have any idea what the possible alternatives to the mutations that actually occur(ed) are (or were).

Moreover, we know virtually nothing about the dead-end mutations that didn't enhance survival. Has this planet had enough time to experience all the "random" (trial and error) mutations that would be needed to produce all these complex organisms? Maybe, but maybe not.

That you and Dawkins would answer an unqualified "yes" is pure metaphysics, since you maintain a strong belief in the truth of something for which you really have no evidence. Can we find enough monkeys and enough typewriters, and enough time and enough people to read what they type, to get Hamlet? Maybe, but i doubt it.

I prefer to believe that Hamlet has only one possible origin: Shakespeare intended to write that play and shaped it through an act of will into its present form.

I realize that diehard evolutionists are uncomfortable with supernatural explanations of origins. But think for a minute about the notion of a "random" mutation. Which is more "scientific"?

To say

(1) I don't know why a particular mutation occurred, or how this organism came to have the genetic structure that it has, or

(2) "Well, it must have been caused by physical events about which i have no direct knowledge, which I will choose to call "random," because it surely was NOT caused by some force that I don't yet understand"?

Thanks for engaging me on this issue.

Hi Alexander,

If only for reasons of parsimony, it is sound scientific practice to not invoke metaphysical principles to explain observed phenomena.

We keep talking about different things. So let's try to get clear on this.

You are triggered, apparently, by the word "random" and insist that according to the science view evolution equals randomness. And chance doesn't cut it, so something else might very well be involved in evolution. That's creationist logic, exposed by Dawkins as unimaginative and circular.

And you state/suggest that science is equally a belief in that randomness rules the world. But that's too easy: science has assumptions but they can be adjusted at any time new data force us to do so. Religion and belief don't work that way.

To your credit, "maybe, maybe not" sounds different and more reasonable than Wilber's "the odds are staggeringly against the science view".

The quotes from eminent biologists I listed without exception make a distinction between random variation and non-random selection, a distinction that seems to be lost on your and Wilber. The distinction may be valid or not, but can't be glossed over.

And the fact that mutations may turn out to be non-random as well, does NOT mean that they operate with some kind of foresight ("birds need wings, lets mutate in that direction"). They can be nonrandom in many other ways, in the sense of structured or directional or systematic, depending on how DNA works.

If only for reasons of parsimony, it is sound scientific practice to not invoke metaphysical principles to explain observed phenomena.

I mean, what do you and Wilber actually suggest, that Eros has engineered some mutations to go in the direction of wings, at a moment in evolution when birds were supposed to appear on the scene? The AIDS virus is engineered by some "intention or love". What type of universe is THAT?

Not to mention atoms turning into molecules by this Eros, as Wilber suggests in his latest piece, by "random mutation" (talk about mixing up whole fields of science, physics and biology). What about gravity and cooling? How come Stephen Hawking can deduce a complete universe from those simple principles?

Against creationist scepticism from the days of Darwin, science has unravelled the sequence of evolution, its processes and mechanisms--how whales evolved from land animals (how unlikely is that). Though not everything is clear, there is progress and there's a research programme. Neil Shubin's fish-with-legs tiktaalik was recently found using scientific reasoning based on our knowledge of geological periods and species evolution.

That cannot be said for the position that suggests: we know soooo little about the whole things that something else might very well be involved, although I can't specify what that something is. I mean, that's a scientific non-starter.

Your original suggestion was "why not postulate the guiding hand of some deity?" Because it explains nothing.

Best regards,


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