Two Arguments for Evolution by Rational Selection

This is a guest post by Eric Steinhart.

Although there is some empirical justification for the Principles of Sufficient Reason and Plenitude, much of the discussion of the logic of creation and evolution by rational selection has been highly abstract.  It has been a priori; a matter of pure reason.  But it is reasonable to demand empirical justification for those metaphysical theories.  To that end, two arguments follow for the logic of creation and evolution by rational selection.

The first argument is the Argument from Self-Organization: (1) Our universe contains a process of physical self-organization (Chaisson, 2001, 2006).  This process starts with simple atoms and builds more complex atoms.  (2) Our earth contains a process of biological self-organization (Chaisson, 2001, 2006).  This process starts with simple organisms and evolves more complex organisms. (3) Physical and biological self-organization justify a general rule: more complex things are produced from simpler things in some process of self-organization.  (4) Our universe is complex.  (5) It follows that our universe has been produced from some simpler thing(s) in some process of self-organization.  This is a cosmological process of self-organization.  (6) We observe that causes are similar to their effect (see Hume, 1990: part II).  Generally, objects of one type produce objects of the same or similar type.  (7) Therefore, our universe was produced by something similar to but simpler than itself.  It was produced by a simpler universe.  And this simpler universe was produced by an even simpler universe.  (8) Since the series of generations of universes produced by simpler universes does not go back infinitely far, it ends with the simplest possible universe.  This is the beginning of the cosmological process of self-organization.  (9) Consequently, there is a cosmological process of self-organization.   It starts with the simplest universe.  It produces a sequence of increasingly complex universes.  (10)  But this is just the cosmological part of evolution by rational selection.  And since the cosmological part of evolution by rational selection depends on the deeper pre-cosmological logic of creation, any reasoning that empirically justifies the cosmological part of evolution of rational selection also justifies the logic of creation.

The second argument is the Argument from Fine Tuning: (1) Our universe is finely tuned for life  (Barrow & Tipler, 1986).  (2) John Leslie has argued that one of the explanations for this fine tuning is that some ethical principles are creatively effective.  Some landmarks are: Leslie, 1970, 1979, 1980, 1989.  These ethical principles are cosmogonic and benevolent.  (3) Because it explains why there is any value at all rather than none, the explanation that that some ethical principles are creatively effective is better than every other explanation for the fine tuning.  (4) So, by inference to the best explanation, these ethical principles are creatively effective.  To paraphrase Leslie (1970: 286), this means that the existence and detailed nature of our universe are products of a “directly active ethical necessity”.  These directly active ethical necessities can be referred to as the Principles.  (5) If the Principles do not create any universe, then they are clearly not creatively effective.  (6) But the Principles are creatively effective.  (7) So they create at least one universe.  For example, they create our universe.  (8)  But many universes are better than our universe.  And for any universe U, if U ought to exist, then for any universe V, if V is better than U, then V ought to exist (and V ought to exist even more than U).  (9) It follows that for any universe U, if the existence of U is ethically required, then for any universe V, if V is an improvement of U, then the existence of V is even more ethically required.  (10) So if the Principles are sufficiently powerful to create U, then they must also be sufficiently powerful to create every improved universe. (11)  Therefore, our universe is the start of a series of increasingly improved universes.  (12) However, there is nothing ethically special about our universe.  There is no sufficient reason to start with our universe.  (13) The only non-arbitrary starting place for the Principles is the universe that contains the least positive value.  (14) The Principles can now be expressed precisely as two rules: (A) the least positive of all possible universes is actual; and (B) for every actual universe U, if V is an improvement of U, then V is actual.  (15) Consequently, the least positive of all possible universs is the start of a series of increasingly improved universes.  As universes get better, they become more and more finely tuned for life and for every other type of value.  (15) As with the Argument from Self-Organization, this explanation for the fine tuning of our universe empirically justifies both evolution by rational selection and the logic of creation.

Key posts on the fine tuning argument:

Some Explanations for Our Universe

Loveliness is Rare

The Atheistic Fine Tuning Argument

More on Metaphysics and Atheism in general:

On Evolution

An Atheistic Evolutionary Metaphysics

Evolutionary Metaphysics is not Faith

On the Dangers of Inflation

Process Atheism

Atheism and Leibniz

The Logic of Creation

Why Atheists are Obligated to Hold Positive Speculative Beliefs

Creation Stories

Some Naturalistic Ontology

Atheism and Possibility

The Impossible God of Paul Tillich

Atheism and the Sacred: Being-Itself

Pure Objective Reason

On Participation in Being-Itself

On Evolution by Rational Selection


Barrow, J. & Tipler, F. (1986) The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford Paperbacks).  New York: Oxford University Press.

Chaisson, E. (2001) Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Chaisson, E. (2006) Epic of Evolution: Seven Ages of the Cosmos.  New York: Columbia University Press.

Hume, D. (1990) Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.  New York: Penguin.

Leslie, J. (1970) The theory that the world exists because it should.  American Philosophical Quarterly 7 (4), 286 – 298.

Leslie, J. (1979) Value and Existence.  Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield.

Leslie, J. (1980) The world’s necessary existence.  International Journal of Philosophy of Religion 11 (4), 207 – 224.

Leslie, J. (1989) Universes.  New York: Routledge.


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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.