Stephen C. Meyer

“Defenders of Intelligent Design Deserve Our Gratitude”

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I saw this post this morning and thought I would immediately repost.

These are the words of noted atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel and was taken from his new book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. Yep, you read that right: Atheist. And yep, why the materialistic Neo-Darwinian worldview is Almost Certainly False. Typically, proponents of intelligent design are labeled as IDiots and mischaracterized into religious zealots. It is extremely refreshing to read this article and it’s quoted material:

In thinking about these questions I have been stimulated by criticisms of the prevailing scientific world picture… by the defenders of intelligent design. Even though writers like Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer are motivated at least in part by their religious beliefs, the empirical arguments they offer against the likelihood that the origin of life and its evolutionary history can be fully explained by physics and chemistry are of great interest in themselves. Another skeptic, David Berlinski, has brought out these problems vividly without reference to the design inference. Even if one is not drawn to the alternative of an explanation by the actions of a designer, the problems that these iconoclasts pose for the orthodox scientific consensus should be taken seriously. They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met. It is manifestly unfair.

Of the Darwinian worldview, Nagel has this to say:

I believe the defenders of intelligent design deserve our gratitude for challenging a scientific world view that owes some of the passion displayed by its adherents precisely to the fact that it is thought to liberate us from religion. That world view is ripe for displacement…. (emphasis mine)

The people at the Discovery Institute and Evolution Views & News must be feeling a certain amount of elation at Nagel’s words. Not that it necessarily matters. The questions they raise about the Neo-Darwinian evolution are valid, thought-provoking, yet mocked.

On Nagel:

Nagel is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and recipient of the prestigious Balzan Prize for his work in moral philosophy. He has received fellowships from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among other institutions. He is one of America’s top philosophers. Obviously, he also is a man of great courage and independence of thought. (emphasis mine)

Signature of Controversy, part 1

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Ok, it is a bit frustrating to get into a conversation that has been going on for years. Intelligent design for me is now less about learning what the theory is, but rather what everyone thinks about it. I’m going to try and reserve opinion and judgement, in general. I think I will just try and chronicle the dialogue as I see it detailed in Signature of Controversy. (And I still need to summarize the notes I took on Signature in the Cell (SitC) and write a post!)

First, there is Franciso Ayala (“one of Biology’s living legends”) who supposedly reviewed SitC. I agree with Meyer and Klinghoffer; it doesn’t appear that Ayala actually read the book. Dr. Darrel Falk had asked Ayala to review the book (Falk’s review is found here). Meyer does respond to both Falk and to Ayala, but Meyer’s response to Ayala is prefaced by Falk, who says Ayala was responding to Falk’s essay, not SitC. But the review by Ayala clearly states that BioLogos sent him a copy of SitC . Huh. And Falk said he asked Meyer to respond only to Ayala’s philosophical and theological concerns. (“We will now take a moment to refrain from the whole purpose of BioLogos… Your handcuffs, sir.”) Double huh. Klinghoffer points out that Ayala opens his salvo on Meyer by claiming his main premise is an argument against chance…which it isn’t…and isn’t mentioned by Falk…whose essay he was supposedly responding to. Triple huh. Jay Richards also agrees that Ayala could not have read Meyer’s book. There was apparently a commentary from Falk on Ayala’s review, but it has been  (perhaps wisely) brought down. Quadruple…oh never mind.

Secondly, there is Jerry Coyne. I have seen his name and his book Why Evolution Is True, and he has a blog where he has written posts attacking Meyer’s book. I would like to peruse his site and see what he writes and stands for. From what I have seen though, just briefly, he is an opinionated militant atheist. From Signature of Controversy, Klinghoffer cites that in one particular post, Coyne accuses Meyer of lying. That particular post has been deleted, though.  Klinghoffer points out some of the things Coyne has gotten wrong about Meyer, yet Meyer is a “lying liar.” Huh.

Next, there was a back and forth attack by Stephen Fletcher against Thomas Nagel for selecting SitC as one of the Times Supplement Books of the Year. Fletcher’s argument is based on evidence data in favor of the RNA world theory of life’s origins. (This is a theory I would like to know more details about.) His claim (and the claim made by Falk, essentially) is that scientific developments have “overtaken Meyer’s book.” 

From one study Flether cites experiments leading to the synthesis of a pyrimidine ribonucleotide (an RNA molecule). Meyer’s criticism of this experiment is the same he has made in his book: it is only a letter and does not explain the origin of the “words” and “sentences” in DNA; and the molecule was synthesized in steps, selecting only R-isomers, purifying intermediates from impurities and cross reactions. Scientists had to intervene, adding “active intelligence” to the “unguided” process. This is the problem I am learning about experiments concerning our origins. A scientist always intervenes, and it doesn’t explain the origin of the code.

David Berlinski also responds to Fletcher.

If experiments conducted in the here and now are to shed light on the there and then, they must meet two conditions: They must demonstrate in the first place the existence of a detailed chemical pathway between RNA precursors and a form of self-replicating RNA; and they must provide in the second place a demonstration that the spontaneous appearance of this pathway is plausible under pre-biotic conditions….

Questions of pre-biotic plausibility remain. Can the results of Powner et al. be reproduced without Powner et al.? It is a question that Powner raises himself: “My ultimate goal,” he has remarked, “is to get a living system (RNA) emerging from a one-pot experiment.”

Let us by all means have that pot, and then we shall see further.

Disrespect and Mischaracterization

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Since I have tried to describe this blog as a “pursuit of self-education,” I am wondering what the purpose of my previous post was (ID on the Abrams Report). I had read about this interview in Signature in the Cell and knew it was an ambush and an argument. I wanted to see it…but why would I want that on my blog? What about this video clip is educational? What did it teach me?

Ok, I agree with intelligent design and think the theory is scientific and correct. One could say that, since I am a Christian, I am “predisposed” to it. Maybe so. But I believe I am open-minded enough to consider both sides of an argument. What I could not stand about the previous video was the disrespect and mischaracterization that went on.

Abrams did not invite Meyer on to have a discussion–it was only to get him to say ID is religion. He insults and trivializes the peers who have reviewed the ID work, even though he doesn’t even know who they are. He also said that ID  “assumes evolution doesn’t exist,” which is ridiculous. ID, in this argument, address the origin of biological information. It is plausible ID explains the origin of this information, and natural selection explains everything after. I personally do not yet know what I believe concerning evolution, other than that obvious observable fact that natural selection exists. Natural selection does not explain the generation of biological information, from what I have read. I am still reading. I have purchased Dawkins book, The Blind Watchmaker, and plan to read that this winter or spring.

What irritates me, and I think I will just have to exercise patience, is that every book or article or video I see on intelligent design has people commenting with both an ignorant and mean spirit. Comments are made in exactly the same spirit of Abrams (biased, close-minded, loud, disrespectful) or that of Eugenie Scott (condescending, superior, ignorant and mischaracterizing).

So, in the context of pursuing a self-education, this video (and the multitude of ignorant comments I have read) provides the negative example, what not to be.

Review of Signature in the Cell

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Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent DesignSignature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design by Stephen C. Meyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent summary for the case for Intelligent Design (ID). Meyer answers critics who label ID as unscientific, citing Stephen Jay Gould, who described evolutionary biology, geology, paleontology, etc. as “historical sciences.” Meyer explains how the theory of ID fits these parameters.

Clearly, the biological information contained in DNA is code-like, so much so that people like Dawkins and Crick have to remind scientists that it only “appears” that way. In his first premise, Meyer recounts a thorough history of the search for life’s origin and how each theory has yielded no results on how the genetic code evolved. For his second premise, he demonstrates that the only known cause for the generation of information (specified complexity) is an intelligent agent. We look at cave paintings and chipped flint and scientists determine that some sort of intelligence produced this work. SETI searches the galaxies for patterns of information that designate intelligence. Every one of us creates information daily.

The conclusion of Meyer’s argument is an inference that, as the only known cause of information, intelligence was the cause of the rise of DNA. This inference, incidentally, is the same logic used by Darwin himself (the observation of micro-evolution and the inference that chance and natural selection, stretched back over time, determined the origin of species).

One point I found interesting was the discussion of the predictions of evolution and ID concerning “junk DNA.” ID predicts non-protein coding sequences should perform biological functions. It shouldn’t be useless or junk. The model of natural selection predicts a genome “riddled with useless information, mistakes, and broken genes.” Scientists have labeled this area between genes as junk (“gene deserts”) and proof against design, but research coming out of the ENCODE Project (http://www.genome.gov/10005107#al-1) are showing these parts of the genome are in fact highly functional. As Philip Kitcher said, “Intelligent Design has deep roots in the history of cosmology, and in the earth and life sciences.” Kitcher’s argument against ID is this supposed inability to explain “junk DNA,” yet clearly, ID can be a guiding principle and theory.

This is a book for those that truly want to understand the theory of intelligent design. There is a hard break that scientists use (methodological naturalism) which excludes anything supernatural from being considered as scientific. This book explains, step by step (sometimes a bit too slowly, perhaps), why ID is a viable theory that only invokes intelligence as a causal agent. There are, of course, theistic implications, but there are anti-religious implications from evolutionary theory as well. Meyer’s approach, however, is completely evidence based. Meyer quotes Antony Flew, a long time atheist who now accepts ID, asserting, we must “follow the evidence wherever it leads,” regardless of the implications.

View all my reviews

Through the clouds and into the melee

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Yesterday I posted my surprise at this article by Dennis Venema criticizing Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell.” I finished the review and made some notes for when I read Meyer’s book. I got the impression that, however civil Venema would like to think himself, he really had a low opinion of Meyer. One comment states that his assessment of Meyer’s grasp of molecular/cellular biology was introductory college level. I did a quick check on Wikipedia and Meyer has a degree in physics and earth science from Whitworth College and a Ph.D. in history and philosophy of science. Hmm, ok, maybe there is some truth to that assessment as he is not a bench scientist, but entry level?

So, clearly there is a divide between “evolutionary creationists” and proponents of intelligent design. I have done some searching and found some blogs on BioLogos from Venema, as well as others discussing Meyer’s work. There are forums, blogs, comments…the mental picture of my situation, coming upon all of dialogue and argument, was when Harry Potter, riding with Hagrid, pops out from the clouds into the mayhem of death eaters chasing his other selves. Clearly I have a lot to read and consider, and a lot to learn.

Here is an interview with Venema. He sounds like an interesting person, and I think it is fortuitous that I printed his review of Signature a month ago and chose now to read it. Venema has written a lot on BioLogos and it will be good to read both him and Meyer’s Signature and decide for myself what it is I believe.

In general, I am undecided. Well, I am convinced the universe, the world and life as we know it could not come about randomly. I do lean toward an intelligent design approach. I am for discovery and for weighing the facts.

Part II: Here is a review by Darrel Falk in which the same critique is given in a more balance approach. He highlights the admirable qualities as well as the failures in argument, and ultimately seems to fault Meyer on an “unsuccessful attempt to move from philosophy into genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology.” I thought that phrase very pointed and witty. He, in essence, praised it in its philosophical and religious context, but Meyer claims he wants to be judged on its scientific merit. And so he is judged.

Part III: Ok, here is an article concerning Meyer’s treatment by BioLogos. And a response to Venema. Clearly there is melee…