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.

  • SAWells

    “Our universe is finely tuned for life”

    A common error. Life which has evolved in this universe is well-adapted to the conditions in which it evolved. All the life forms we know are well-adapted to a thin habitable zone on the surface on one temperate rocky planet. 99.9999999999999% of the universe is instantly lethal to us unless you think you can breathe vacuum and survive at -270C.

    All fine tuning arguments also fail because they rely on the idea that the fundamental constants could have been other than they are, which is not a fact in evidence.

  • SAWells

    Also, arguing that the universe evolved from simpler universes because things in the universe evolve from each other is an error on a par with the following: everything in my suitcase is an article of clothing, therefore my suitcase is an article of clothing. I don’t know you you persist in appearing on the internet wearing the Emperor’s New Samsonite.

  • ACN

    As a working physicist, and one who has many friends In astro/cosmology, I laughed and then stopped reading after you announced that the unverse was fine tuned for life.

    How’s that hole in the ground, puddle?

    • John Morales


      That it permits life is a fact.

      But, if it were “finely tuned for life”, one would expect it to be ubiquitous. It ain’t.

    • Daniel Fincke

      Check out these articles and

      In them, Eric’s sense of being “fine tuned” for life does not mean being fine tuned for lots of life but being one of a small percentage of conceivable worlds which makes life at all possible. Yes, most of this universe is inhospitable to life. That’s a good reason to reject the proposition that this world was made by an intelligent designer who made it with living beings as His primary interest. Why would such a being that is so centrally concerned with life (and specifically human life) make this giant universe of wasted opportunities for conscious minds.

      But Eric is not arguing that there is a loving designer who made a universe especially hospitable to life out of desire for it. He’s arguing for something totally different. The argument is (very roughly) that there are many conceivable universes in which life would be impossible. Those rare universe possibilities that do have life as a possibility are comparatively “finely tuned” in that they have the right combinations for at least some life where the great number of universes do not even have that.

    • SAWells

      This argument fails since there is no evidence that the fundamental constants could have values other than the ones they do, making the entire idea of a range of universes, amongst which this one is “rare”, utterly unfounded. It also conflates “life is possible” with “our kind of life is possible”, i.e. that all life must be carbon-based, temperate etc.

    • Eric Steinhart

      I did not announce that the universe was finely tuned for life. I reported something that is claimed by Barrow & Tipler (1986). You are free to criticize that.

      However, that’s irrelevant: if atheists can use that claim to their own ends, all for the better.

    • Daniel Fincke

      It seemed tacit. You have been arguing for the PSR and the PP all weekend. You say at the start of the post that these are conclusions of a priori pure reasoning which implies you take them to be true a priori conclusions. Then you say it is fair to ask for empirical justification and give two ostensibly empirical arguments for a position you clearly seem to hold and be defending all weekend. It’s tacit in this context that you are endorsing the empirical arguments. When you cited Leslie it looked like you were supporting your first premise by saying “if this is doubted, here are books that establish this premise). In all of this, I don’t see any if-conditional language that prevents the natural inference that you are taking all the premises to be true.

  • Daniel Fincke

    Can you define what it means for an ethical principle to make things happen and explain why we would think it does such a thing?

  • Daniel Fincke
    • grung0r

      Eric has explained what he means by fine tuning for life some more in this post

      No he doesn’t. The post in question’s logical proposition begins as such:

      (1) The Fine Tuning Argument is sound

      He then proceeds to make absolutely no attempt to justify this proposition. The post relates in noway to why he thinks the fine tuning argument is sound or true. Good thing too. That might get even more silly then the latest “atheists can believe and god and are also bathtubs” boondoggle.

    • Daniel Fincke

      No he doesn’t. The post in question’s logical proposition begins as such:
      (1) The Fine Tuning Argument is sound
      He then proceeds to make absolutely no attempt to justify this proposition.

      You’re right, he doesn’t. After posting that I went back and double checked that post and realized it was insufficient and then added the other two links which do make clearer the sense in which it is fine tuned for life. and

    • Eric Steinhart

      Please quote me accurately.

      I do not say that the fine tuning argument is sound.

      The second argument opens like this:

      (1) Our universe is finely tuned for life (Barrow & Tipler, 1986).

      It does not open like this:

      (1) The Fine Tuning Argument is sound.

      I did not write what you attribute to me.

      Please quote me accurately.

    • grung0r

      The quote in question was in relation to Daniel’s suggestion that you expounded on the fine tuning argument in a previous post( The quote was from that post, and was completely accurate.

    • Eric Steinhart

      Correct – but you present the quote in a way that makes it appear as if it is from this post. You’ve cleared this up now with the link-back, and I appreciate it.

    • grung0r

      I presented it no such way, and I resent the implication. My comment was made in reply to Daniel’s. I quoted him suggesting your previous post, and then contradicted it. The context was obvious(you’ll notice that Daniel got it just fine) by it being a reply alone, in any case. Attempting to save face for your reading comprehension error by accusing me of surreptitiously misquoting you to make you say something you didn’t is offensive, and fuck you for saying so. Plagiarism and deliberate mis-attribution of other people’s work are the greatest literary crimes, but false accusations of others having committed those crimes is just as bad. Shame on you.

  • Eric Steinhart

    One can present an argument without believing the premises.

    And I would have thought that at least some atheists would be interested to hear that one of the favorite arguments for God isn’t necessarily an argument for God at all.

    • John Morales

      What good is an argument for God when ‘God’ is not well-defined?

      (No point examining an argument for the existence of something (whether valid or invalid, sound or unsound), if that something is not well-defined)

    • Eric Steinhart

      These are arguments AGAINST the existence of God.

      These are anti-theistic arguments.

      The point, which I admit I didn’t make clear, is that the arguments of the theists do NOT show the existence of God; on the contrary, they show something else.

      I’m probably writing all this way too fast, and not being clear about the purpose.

    • John Morales

      The point, which I admit I didn’t make clear, is that the arguments of the theists do NOT show the existence of God; on the contrary, they show something else.

      I can’t dispute that — indeed, I considered pointing out that, at best, those arguments point to some supra-universal creative agency or principle.

      I’m probably writing all this way too fast, and not being clear about the purpose.

      Your above clarification would certainly have been helpful.

    • Eric Steinhart

      Yup – you’re right!

      Some atheists just like to say that the standard theistic arguments for God are bad arguments. Believers have thousands of ready-to-hand replies.

      I like a different strategy: affirm that they are good arguments, but that they are not arguments for God. On the contrary, they’re arguments for something else. Believers rarely have replies to that strategy. And thinking about the alternatives can lead to interesting metaphysics.

  • SAWells

    “I’m probably writing all this way too fast, and not being clear about the purpose.”

    Write more slowly and more clearly, then. Duh.