Darwin’s Doubt

Number 5 in a Series

If there remains any doubt regarding the underpinnings of Intelligent Design, one only has to review the day-to-day endeavors of its key proponents. Stephen C. Meyer founded and currently heads up the Center for Science and Culture (CSC) of the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute is the principal organization supporting this attempt to cloak religious creationism and disguise it as cutting-edge science. The above image is a screen shot from  Does God Exist, a video series hosted by Stephen C. Meyer and produced by Focus on the Family, an organization whose purpose is the promotion of a conservative Christian viewpoint.

This is a continuation of my review of  Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt. It draws on a an item posted to the Evolution News blog. That posting excerpts a number of passages from the book. I previously reviewed three of these excerpts. Here are the remaining two:

Intelligent agents can generate new structural (epigenetic) information and construct functionally integrated and hierarchically organized layers of information as we see in animal body plans:

The cited text being:

The highly specified, tightly integrated, hierarchical arrangements of molecular components and systems within animal body plans also suggest intelligent design. This is, again, because of our experience with the features and systems that intelligent agents— and only intelligent agents— produce. Indeed, based on our experience, we know that intelligent human agents have the capacity to generate complex and functionally specified arrangements of matter— that is, to generate specified complexity or specified information. Further, human agents often design information-rich hierarchies, in which both individual modules and the arrangement of those modules exhibit complexity and specificity— specified information as defined in Chapter 8. Individual transistors, resistors, and capacitors in an integrated circuit exhibit considerable complexity and specificity of design. Yet at a higher level of organization, the specific arrangement and connection of these components within an integrated circuit requires additional information and reflects further design (see Fig. 14.2).

Conscious and rational agents have, as part of their powers of purposive intelligence, the capacity to design information-rich parts and to organize those parts into functional information-rich systems and hierarchies.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (p. 366). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Some analysis will be helpful. Take the first two sentences: “The highly specified, tightly integrated, hierarchical arrangements of molecular components and systems within animal body plans also suggest intelligent design. This is, again, because of our experience with the features and systems that intelligent agents— and only intelligent agents— produce.” Meyer insists that examination of the lowest level of structure of living organisms suggests the work of an outside living agent. Here he is appealing to intuition without providing a factual basis. He compares the functional organization of living organisms to the construction of intricate systems devised by people. By implication, he wants the reader to consider that an entity with human-like qualities is behind the development of living organisms.

Finally:

Meyer concludes that “both the Cambrian animal forms themselves and their pattern of appearance in the fossil record exhibit precisely those features that we should expect to see if an intelligent cause had acted to produce them” (p. 379) He summarizes his argument as follows:

Here is the text from the book:

When we encounter objects that manifest any of the key features present in the Cambrian animals, or events that exhibit the patterns present in the Cambrian fossil record, and we know how these features and patterns arose, invariably we find that intelligent design played a causal role in their origin. Thus, when we encounter these same features in the Cambrian event, we may infer— based upon established cause-and-effect relationships and uniformitarian principles— that the same kind of cause operated in the history of life. In other words, intelligent design constitutes the best, most causally adequate explanation for the origin of information and circuitry necessary to build the Cambrian animals. It also provides the best explanation for the top-down, explosive, and discontinuous pattern of appearance of the Cambrian animals in the fossil record.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (p. 381). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Again some analysis. Take the initial sentence: “When we encounter objects that manifest any of the key features present in the Cambrian animals, or events that exhibit the patterns present in the Cambrian fossil record, and we know how these features and patterns arose, invariably we find that intelligent design played a causal role in their origin.” Standing alone in the book this would seem to be a bald proclamation of fact. It will be interesting to peruse the remainder of the book and see whether Meyer has, indeed, demonstrated that “invariably we find that intelligent design played a causal role in their origin.” I suspect this phrasing represents considerable overreach on the part of the author. In following posts I will examine the arguments Meyer makes in the book, and I will keep coming back to this matter of conclusions well-jumped. Keep reading.

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Darwin’s Doubt

Number 4 in a Series

This is a continuation of my review of creationist Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt. I was recently reminded by a post on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site. That posting excerpts a number of passages from the book. I previously reviewed two of those. Here is another citation:

Intelligent agents can construct and modify complex integrated circuits that are necessary for animal development:

Here is the cited text. The post omits some of the text, as noted by the strike-through section:

Integrated circuits in electronics are systems of individually functional components such as transistors, resistors, and capacitors that are connected together to perform an overarching function. Likewise, the functional components of dGRNs— the DNA-binding proteins, their DNA target sequences, and the other molecules that the binding proteins and target molecules produce and regulate— also form an integrated circuit, one that contributes to accomplishing the overall function of producing an adult animal form.

Yet, as explained in Chapter 13, Davidson himself has made clear that the tight functional constraints under which these systems of molecules (the dGRNs) operate preclude their gradual alteration by the mutation and selection mechanism. For this reason, neo-Darwinism has failed to explain the origin of these systems of molecules and their functional integration. Like advocates of evolutionary developmental biology, Davidson himself favors a model of evolutionary change that envisions mutations generating large-scale developmental effects, thus perhaps bypassing nonfunctional intermediate circuits or systems. Nevertheless, neither proponents of “evo-devo,” nor proponents of other recently proposed materialistic theories of evolution, have identified a mutational mechanism capable of generating a dGRN or anything even remotely resembling a complex integrated circuit. Yet, in our experience, complex integrated circuits— and the functional integration of parts in complex systems generally— are known to be produced by intelligent agents— specifically, by engineers. Moreover, intelligence is the only known cause of such effects. Since developing animals employ a form of integrated circuitry, and certainly one manifesting a tightly and functionally integrated system of parts and subsystems, and since intelligence is the only known cause of these features, the necessary presence of these features in developing Cambrian animals would seem to indicate that intelligent agency played a role in their origin.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (p. 364). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Meyer makes two significant assertions. Here I will quote, with slight editing:

  • In our experience, complex integrated circuits — and the functional integration of parts in complex systems generally — are known to be produced by intelligent agents — specifically, by engineers.
  • Moreover, intelligence is the only known cause of such effects.

Meyer is correct in the first instance. Engineers and other people are known to do such things. In the second instance Meyer is stating as fact what he aims to demonstrate. The counter to that second part is that scientists have observed complex systems that have not been engineered by an outside brain, mind, intelligent agent—whatever you choose to call it. We see these complex systems, and we do not see outside intelligence creating them.

What Meyer is doing here is what he does throughout his arguments for Intelligent Design. He is saying that he cannot understand how else such systems came to be absent the working of an outside agency, and further he is convinced others do not understand. Therefore, there must have been an outside agent of some intelligence at work. Although Meyer and other followers of the Intelligent Design refuse to admit they have the God of Abraham in mind, there is little doubt from their other works and statements that this is the only thing they will consider. Additionally these people, when they are not hyping Intelligent Design or disparaging the legitimate work of real scientists, spend much of their waking time promoting the God of Abraham and the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. For example:

Historians Mentioning Jesus

  • Titus Flavius Josephus, Yosef Ben Matityahu (ca. 37-100 A.D.)
  • Publius Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 56-117 A.D.)
  • Mara Bar-Serapion (late 1st century A.D.)
  • Flavius Lustinus, Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165 A.D.)
  • Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (ca. 9230 A.D.)
  • Pliny the Younger, ca 61-113 A.D.)

Despite how much they deny, Meyer and his cohorts are engaged in a relentless pursuit to promote the God of Abraham and the divinity of Jesus.

There will be more. Keep reading.

Darwin’s Doubt

Number 3 in a Series

Chipmunk confronts a diet soda can near Mirror Lake Utah

I have a copy of creationist Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt, and I have promised to review it. I was recently reminded of that by a post on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site. That posting excerpts a number of passages from the book. I previously reviewed the first of those. Here is another citation:

Intelligent agents can generate top-down patterns of appearance like we see in animal body plans.

Here is the pertinent passage:

“Top-down” causation begins with a basic architecture, blueprint, or plan and then proceeds to assemble parts in accord with it. The blueprint stands causally prior to the assembly and arrangement of the parts. But where could such a blueprint come from? One possibility involves a mental mode of causation. Intelligent agents often conceive of plans prior to their material instantiation— that is, the preconceived design of a blueprint often precedes the assembly of parts in accord with it. An observer touring the parts section of a General Motors plant will see no direct evidence of a prior blueprint for GM’s new models, but will perceive the basic design plan immediately upon observing the finished product at the end of the assembly line. Designed systems, whether automobiles, airplanes, or computers, invariably manifest a design plan that preceded their first material instantiation. But the parts do not generate the whole. Rather, an idea of the whole directed the assembly of the parts.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (pp. 371-372). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Meyer is correct in stating (by implication) that a builder, on receiving a set of design specifications (blue prints and such), can proceed in constructing a device or assembly. Note the implication. There exists nothing like the desired assembly. The materials to construct it are present, and there is a pre-recorded set of instructions for construction. The instructions are the sole source of the information required for construction.

At this point a reminder is helpful. Define information as the agent that mediates cause and effect. I have stated this previously, perhaps not in this exact form. Nobody has ever challenged my definition. All are welcome to have a go at it.

What Meyer does not concede is that a set of instructions is not a prerequisite for constructing a device/assembly. Random processes can accomplish this. This is the basis of Darwinian evolution, and this is what the creationists argue strongly against. They pose it much like this:

Given even the finished components, steel sheet, machine screws, quantities of paint, it is unlikely to the extreme that a random process will assemble these components into a functional automobile, much less into one that somebody would purchase off the showroom floor and drive away.

To be sure, that is an extreme statement of the creationists’ argument, and those people do argue a more digestible case. Their most popular argument is more like this:

Given a completed, perfectly functional, automobile and given materials to be added to produce next year’s model, it is improbable to the extreme that this modification can occur by accident. Some sort of pre-conceived design is required. A set of documentation is required. At the minimum there must be an intelligent agent with the pre-conceived design upgrade in mind.

And this is what the so-called Darwinists object to. The creationists insist there must be a pre-conceived idea, there being no mention of who or what holds this pre-conceived idea. To be clear, the agency that Stephen C. Meyer represents is the Discovery Institute, and their concept is called Intelligent Design. Further, the narrators of Intelligent Design want to insist that religious faith is not at the base of their argument. And this last is an outrageous lie of grand proportions. Any notion that Stephen C. Meyer pushes Intelligent Design absent religious faith is daily countered by his own words and actions. For example:

The final four episodes deal with the New Testament, the contribution by Christians, telling the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his teachings, his trial and execution, and his return from the dead. Meyer wants to assure viewers all those doubts about the validity of the New Testament are groundless.

Following the trajectory of Meyer’s life and career, we see a relentless commitment to a defense of the Christian faith. His promotion of Intelligent Design is one manifestation of that commitment.

Returning to Meyer’s argument, biologists argue that random processes we observe in nature are adequate to have produced the life forms we see today. In direct counter to Meyer, the concept of Intelligent Design is intellectually bankrupt on a number of points. Repeating myself:

I scoff. Really? Let me get this straight. An Intelligent Agent, the Entity who created the Universe, the Earth, the planets, the sun, and all we see around us—this Entity, took over 13 billion years to get us to where we are today after first creating the Universe. Actually, over 13 billion years to get us to the point where there was a Universe and a planet Earth, and there were any number of species of plants and animals, but none resembling people. Allow me to repeat: Really? If that is Stephen C. Meyer’s concept of intelligence, then Heaven help the human species, because intelligence is all that’s keeping us going.

Additionally, at no point in their argument have proponents of Intelligent Design identified a mechanism by which the Intelligent Designer could have implemented these designs. Nor can they.

I will continue the review of Meyer’s book through an analysis of the Evolution News post prior to diving into a direct review of the book. Keep reading.

Darwin’s Doubt

Number 2

Chipmunk confronts a diet soda can near Mirror Lake, Utah

It was two years ago I obtained a copy of creationist Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt and promised to review it. I was recently reminded of that by a post on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site:

In his book Darwin’s Doubt, Stephen Meyer considers the nature of animals and what is required to build an animal. He finds that only intelligent design can explain the abrupt origin of animal life in the fossil record, as well as the new information required to build the integrated nature of parts and systems that comprise animal body plans. Here’s how Meyer makes the case that intelligent design is the best explanation for many aspects of the origin of animals as witnessed in the Cambrian explosion:

The posting is not signed, a departure from my previous experience. The site lists a number of contributors, here listed in no particular order:

The author goes on to state:

Intelligent agents can generate new form rapidly as we see in the abrupt appearance of animals in the Cambrian fossil record:

That is followed by an excerpt from the book:

Intelligent agents have foresight. Such agents can determine or select functional goals before they are physically instantiated. They can devise or select material means to accomplish those ends from among an array of possibilities. They can then actualize those goals in accord with a preconceived design plan or set of functional requirements. Rational agents can constrain combinatorial space with distant information-rich outcomes in mind.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (pp. 362-363). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Yes! Stephen C. Meyer is 100% correct. If you have an agent, a person, with intelligence and foresight, you can make much more rapid progress than can be accomplished by random processes alone. Here is what an intelligent agent can do:

  • Send nerve impulses from a brain to muscles and cause objects to move, directing bits of matter to come into contact and preventing certain things from happening, which things would not ordinarily have happened were it not for said intervention.
  • Use eyes or other sensory methods to determine what is going on, allowing the brain to make decisions and to change the course of actions being taken.

If the Intelligent Agent only had a brain. Or hands. Or eyes.

What Meyer is saying, perhaps without realizing it, is that somewhere in the distant past something caused matter to move in ways contrary to the natural flow of events. And nowhere in any of his writings I have found has Meyer explained such happenings, neither has he mentioned them. It is an explanation the proponents of Intelligent Design must not touch. It is the figurative third rail of Intelligent Design. Touch it, and Intelligent Design dies.

But stop right there. I know what Meyer and the other creationists are going to say. Allow me to propose a quote:

Our research has not yet uncovered a method. However, our observations and our reasoning have convinced us, and will convince any thinking person, that there must have been an  Intelligent Agent at work. Else we would not have gotten to where we are today.

Explainer of Intelligent Design

I scoff. Really? Let me get this straight. An Intelligent Agent, the Entity who created the Universe, the Earth, the planets, the sun, and all we see around us—this Entity, took over 13 billion years to get us to where we are today after first creating the Universe. Actually, over 13 billion years to get us to the point where there was a Universe and a planet Earth, and there were any number of species of plants and animals, but none resembling people. Allow me to repeat: Really? If that is Stephen C. Meyer’s concept of intelligence, then Heaven help the human species, because intelligence is all that’s keeping us going.

I will dig deeper into Stephen C. Meyer’s book in the coming days. In the meantime, the Evolution News posting has a link to a neat video, which you should watch. I know I will watch it, and I will have a go at summarizing it in a future post. Here’s the link:

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Fool’s Argument

Tenth of a series

This is the tenth in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

In the previous episode creationist Stephen C. Meyer delved into “objective morality.” From that point forward he leaves the world of physical science and enters into philosophy and theology. In this tenth of a ten-part series Meyer concludes by covering “moral relativism,” a matter of great concern to people who base their lives on religious teachings. The opening scene shows host David Stotts before a field of massive sand dunes. He points out that the dunes may seem fixed, but in reality they migrate over a period of time. Moral values can shift in a similar fashion, unless they are anchored by something. This episode is going to argue that religious dogma is that anchor.

This time I am not going to address Meyer’s points one by one. I will put up a selection for readers to ponder, and then I will summarize.

Moral relativism, according to Meyer and also according to most who give thought to the matter, holds there is no fixed and true morality. Moral values are at best set by societies and in the worst cases are set by individuals. Individuals who set their own moral values may become social outcasts and usually do harm to themselves, with harm being a relative term.

We apparently do not receive moral values from evolutionary biology, Meyer argues, and here he is almost completely right. I stated previously (Episode 9) that an inherited moral trait seems to be that mothers do not kill their children. This is definitely something that would be selected for in Darwinian evolution. What then, of the moral issue of not taking other people’s stuff? If you can make a good living by stealing, then you can live a good life without having to spend hours a day working, and you can get yourself a good-looking woman and send your genes deeply into the pool. Meyer makes this point, but those are my words. Let’s look at that.

There is apparently no inherited moral trait that keeps you from stealing other people’s stuff. What most likely happens is people are born with the need to survive. Then at some point in their lives they figure out that if they steal other people’s stuff, then people are going to come after them, and that is not going to be good for a long and healthy life. How, then, to explain Bernie Madoff? Obviously there is a balance.

This kind of thing is invested in other manifestations of morality. Genetically selected moral traits are drawn from the basic need to survive and are then expressed in acquired social traits. And that is as far as Darwin can take us.

But Meyer takes it further, and that’s where he loses me and also where he loses anybody who probes deeply into the matter. Meyer proposes that the Judeo-Christian ethic, given to our species by the God of Abraham, is the one and true anchor. As before, let’s look at that.

Meyer tells us we get morality from God, and I’m going to show you how that works. To do that I have concocted an imaginary tale, so bear with me. There is Fred. Fred lives with his parents, who are among a people cut off from the rest of the world for all human history. They live in the deep and dark forests of Borneo, because traditionally deep and dark Borneo the furthest place you can get from civilization.

One day Fred’s father tells him, “Son, I have evidence there’s a world outside our village that we can hardly imagine. I see streaks in the sky made by something we cannot explain. Also, from time to time I find artifacts that reflect evidence of a superior civilization.” He shows Fred an empty Diet Coke can. So Fred’s father sends Fred out of the village with the task of finding this other civilization.

So Fred sets out on a jungle trail, and he follows it past any point his people have ever gone. Eventually he comes to  a man working in a field, and he explains his situation to the man. The man says, “Fred, if you really want to see civilization, you need to go to New York City,” and he tells Fred how to get there.

Some time later Fred arrives in New York City, and it is indeed a world unlike any imagined by his father. He figures he needs to know how to get along in this brave new world, and he stops Bob on the street and explains his situation.

Bob sizes it up immediately, and he tells Fred, “I need to tell you about God and about all the stuff you are supposed to do and not to do.” So Bob tells Fred about God and also about Jesus Christ, his Lord and Savior. And this is how Fred gets morality.

So, what has happened? God did not visit Fred and instill him with morality. That’s the kind of thing that would have happened by way of Darwinian evolution. No. Fred had to wait for Bob to tell him about God and to  instill into him God’s morality. People, Fred did not talk to God. Fred talked to Bob. Fred got Bob’s morality. That is moral relativism if ever there was.

And that’s what we have today, and Meyer does not want to recognize it is moral relativism. Meyer’s Wikipedia entry only tells that he was born in the United States, so I will assume he is not from the South. In the South, even in Texas I imagine, preachers at Christian churches used to stand up in front of their congregations and remind white people that Africans were an inferior people, and enslaving, raping, and murdering them was all right. This was God’s word as much as it was Bob’s word that Fred received. Some preachers may still talk like that, but the remainder have been shamed into silence. That’s moral relativism.

An imam will stand before his followers in a mosque and tell them it is God’s command they kill non-believers. This is the God of Abraham speaking through the imam. It’s the same God that Meyer prays to. This is moral relativism.

The existence of God is not an inoculation against moral relativism. God never talks to us. God talks to priests, preachers, and imams, and they talk to the rest of us. We are not following the commands of God. We are following the commands of others, others chosen by themselves to speak for God or else others chosen by us to speak for God. This is moral relativism.

But we can skip the intermediary and go straight to God. We have God’s morality hard coded in the Bible. How is that working out? To repeat from the previous review, examples abound:

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 King James Version (KJV)

18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:

19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;

20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.

21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

Some more:

Exodus 12:29 King James Version (KJV)

29 And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.

More:

Ephesians 6:5 King James Version (KJV)

Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;

More:

1 Timothy 6:1-2 King James Version (KJV)

Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.

And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.

I conclude as before—any distinction between Meyer’s presentation and an exercise in deceptive propaganda is difficult to discern.

I took a peek ahead at the “bonus extra,” which does not feature Stephen C. Meyer. It appears to be about students from a fundamentalist Christian  background encountering push back and even retribution when they venture into the liberal atmosphere of an American college. It’s a longer episode and I will have a go at viewing it and doing an appraisal later this week.

Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Fool’s Argument

Ninth of a series

This is the ninth in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

 The previous episode dealt with the return of the God hypothesis. Creationist Stephen C. Meyer argued that public discourse should return to accepting the hypothesis that God is behind everything. In Episode 9 Meyer abandons science altogether and unfolds his inner core argument. Judeo-Christian (Muslim, too) religious dogma is the only right and acceptable basis for human morality. He states this up front. See the screen shot above.

Meyer has formal education in science, a degree in physics and earth science, and he earlier worked down the street from where I used to work, in Plano, Texas. But then he earned a Ph.D. in history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University, and he has been involved in promoting religion since, with little attention paid to actual science. Here he waxes entirely philosophical and theological.

We are treated to the wisdom of that world-renowned thinker Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“If God is dead, then all things are permissible.”

Yes, there is a real question whether we should base our lives on the thoughts of a 19th century writer of fiction.

Meyer illustrates with some sound logical inferences, using well-grounded philosophy.

The presentation foil says:

Is ≠ Ought

Murder hurts people.

Hurting people is wrong.

Therefore, murder is wrong.

The first part I translate to “what exists is what should be.” Then comes a statement that responsible members of society will agree to, namely that killing people is bad for the people being killed. Meyer is presenting to some students, and he initially leaves the part about hurting people being wrong and just shows the last part, murder is wrong. He asks students to fill in the blank. A student provides the obvious and missing part: hurting people is wrong. The matter then lands on where we got the part about hurting people is wrong. That’s the basis of human morality. We need to figure out what is wrong and what is right. We need to figure out what we ought to do. Meyer is going to argue that this answer cannot come from logic and  reason but must come from theism—from God.

Meyer quotes a number of famous people. Here is one such.

Here’s what it has to say:

There Are No Objective Standards of Morality

“Morality … is merely an adaptation put in place to further our reproductive end… In an important sense, ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate.

[Attributed to Michael Ruse and E.O. Wilson]

Michael Ruse is a retired professor of philosophy:

Michael RuseFRSC (born 21 June 1940) is a philosopher of science who specializes in the philosophy of biology and is well known for his work on the relationship between science and religion, the creation–evolution controversy, and the demarcation problem within science. Ruse currently teaches at Florida State University. He was born in England, attending Bootham School, York. He took his undergraduate degree at the University of Bristol (1962), his master’s degree at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario (1964), and Ph.D. at the University of Bristol (1970).

Edward Osborne Wilson is a biologist:

Edward Osborne Wilson (born June 10, 1929), usually cited as E. O. Wilson, is an American biologist, researcher, theorist, naturalist and author. His biological specialty is myrmecology, the study of ants, on which he is the world’s leading expert.

The statement, attributed to the two of them together, seems brash on the surface, but it contains some embedded logic. There is a view, held by me and by others, that human morality is basic. I start by observing that mothers, with exceptions, do not kill their babies. Else there would be no human race. Further, there would be no human race prior to the rise of Judeo-Christian thinking. Hence, human morality existed at a basic level for a long time without benefit of Judeo-Christian morality. I extend this line of thought to higher levels of ethics and morality.

You don’t take other people’s stuff, because if you do, then that’s going to make them angry, and they’re going to come after you, and you are going to spend your time fighting to stay alive, whereas if you left other people’s stuff alone, and they left your stuff alone, then everybody would get along and we would all be more productive.

And that’s the basis of the Ruse-Wilson argument,  Stephen C. Meyer notwithstanding.

Meyer cites additional examples. Here’s famous trial lawyer of 100 years ago, Clarence Darrow. In 1924 Darrow defended two privileged white kids who murdered a young boy in an exercise to demonstrate they were smarter than anybody else.

What Darrow did is what any good defense lawyer does. There was no doubt the boys did it, and a guilty plea was entered. What Darrow did was to successfully argue before the sentencing judge that the boys were shaped by evolution and society and should not be executed for the crime.

Meyer’s invoking of the Darrow defense might lend merit to his argument against innate morality, but he steps into a giant cow cookie while invoking Darrow. Specifically:

[Darrow] was sent by the ACLU out to Chicago to defend [Leopold and Loeb].

Absolutely false, and I have to wonder where Meyer got this. The ACLU did not send Darrow to defend two murderers. Leopold and Loeb were from wealthy families, and they did not need a civil rights lawyer to defend them. They could afford the best lawyer in the country, and what happened, according to a biography of Darrow’s life, is that the uncle of one of the boys went to Darrow’s home and pleaded, promised to pay whatever was demanded, to get Darrow to take the case.

Call me cynical if you wish, but Meyer’s reference to  the ACLU appears to be a bit of Intelligent Design. The Intelligent Design folks are not known for stand-up honesty, and the temptation  to suck the ACLU—which has confronted state-sponsored anti-evolution at every step—into the narrative was possibly too tempting to resist. Do I think Meyer and the other creationists were still smarting from the drubbing ACLU lawyers gave Intelligent Design in the Kitzmiller case? Inquiring minds would like to know.

The religious doctrine espoused by conservative thinkers, the Discovery Institute included, leans toward being highly-judgmental. The word on the street is these people recoil when they think somebody is having too much fun. “The Kinsey Reports” refers to two volumes published in 1948 and 1953 and based on interviews with a few thousands of subjects.

What’s Natural is Good

“The Kinsey Reports … have inspired sex education programs in high schools and encouraged several generations of sex therapists to tell their patients, ‘If it feels good, do it.’ [Attributed to] James H. Jones.”

Regarding James H. Jones:

James H. Jones is a Professor of History at the University of Arkansas. 

He is the author of Kinsey: A Public/Private Life and [also] Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

Meyer does not cite a reference for the Jones quote, but assume it is true for the sake of argument. A broad interpretation is that if nobody is harmed, then it is all right to do it. This is something religious fundamentalists seem to have issue with. Call me out on this if I am wrong, but my observation is that many conservatives in this country and elsewhere, in the interest of smaller government, want people to quit having fun wherever there are no consequences attached.

Meyer invokes the United States Constitution, as it is based on religious morality.

This is possibly a misstep on his part, because the Constitution, as originally adopted, was not steeped in morality and human rights:

Section. 2.

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.

When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

[Emphasis added]

 

Yes, the Constitution, adopted in 1789, had no provision for protecting human rights, and it had text particularly worded to accommodate slavery.

In the video one student is seen bringing up the matter of slavery, and Meyer is quick to respond that that was then, and this is now (my words). Just because somebody else does it wrong, or just because everybody used to do it wrong, that doesn’t mean we should not presently be doing it right. He completely glosses over his wrong assertion that the Constitution was inspired by a Judeo-Christian morality.

Once again he invokes David Berlinski. I have to go back to the video to recall what this was about.

And here it is. Berlinski is seen saying that no system that sought to ensure morality, absent religion, has been successful. Berlinski may have some support here. In a previous century I was acquainted with the late science fiction writer and acknowledged atheist L. Sprague de Camp. At a dinner gathering once he made this observation. We need religion, the fear of God, to make people do right.

While I  can possibly, based on observation, agree with Berlinski and de Camp, I have never found it necessary in my own life to require fear of the supernatural to keep me in line. That observation holds for a large gathering of my atheistic friends and family. On the other hand I note the great number of people being killed in the name of God. God’s ways are mysterious, to be sure.

Meyer concludes.

Three Key Conditions for an Objective Morality

  1. Objective standard
  2. Free will
  3. Intrinsic value of humans

I find no fault with that position. How I differ with Meyer is that an imaginary God is not necessary to attain that objective.

This entire episode has been soaked in religion and philosophy, and Meyer’s presentation quotes a number of philosophical sources, including Berlinski and Dostoyevsky. And that is supposed to mean a lot. People who know me really well are acquainted with my view of philosophy as a study and philosophers in general. God put philosophers on this planet with an eye toward making used car salesmen look good.

That said, what to make of Meyer’s argument, specifically that  we need a God, particularly we need a religion, to obtain  morality? More specifically, people did not come up with morality, cannot come up with morality, on their own. There must have been some supernatural force to inject morality into the human consciousness. It’s a proposition that does not pass the Skeptical Analysis test.

First, assuming the God to which Meyer refers is the source of this morality. Surprise! This God is a human invention. People existed many thousands of years before the Abrahamic God was introduced, and people had morality. Doubt me? Take note of this. The famous Ten Commandments existed in various forms prior to the time Moses was supposed to have brought them down from Mount Sinai. From all appearances, the writers of the story of Moses adopted these ideas, and placed them on the stone tablets.

But, let’s pretend that God really is the source of our morality. Then what a wonder of morality it is. Examples abound:

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 King James Version (KJV)

18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:

19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;

20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.

21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

Some more:

Exodus 12:29 King James Version (KJV)

29 And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.

More:

Ephesians 6:5 King James Version (KJV)

Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;

More:

1 Timothy 6:1-2 King James Version (KJV)

Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.

And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort.

And I can go on ad nauseam. And I will if anybody from the Intelligent Design camp wants to challenge that I am picking and choosing from the Bible. Meyer might come back to me and remind me some of these quotes are from the Old Testament, before Jesus forged a more benign morality, but Timothy is New Testament, and the Old Testament is from the God of Abraham, who created the Universe and humankind, and imbued us with basic morality, which we would not otherwise have.

Any distinction between Meyer’s presentation and a deceptive propaganda exercise is difficult to discern.

There is one more episode to review, and then there is the promised bonus extra. I should be finished in two more days.

Episode 10 is titled “The Moral Necessity of Theism, Part 2: We Need God.” From Amazon:

Dr. Meyer provides overwhelming evidence that the theistic worldview is the only one that can provide a coherent explanation for an objective and meaningful system of morality.

I can hardly wait.

Fool’s Argument

Eighth of a series

This is the eighth in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

The previous episode continued with creationist Stephen C. Meyer, discussing the concept he featured in his book, Signature in the Cell, previously reviewed. This time around Meyer argues for the return of the God hypothesis. That is, we should accept the hypothesis that a supernatural being, with thought processes much like human thought, is behind the wonders of the Universe and of life, itself. Above we see host David Stotts, camping out in the mountains at night, taking in the wonders of the Universe.

Meyer kicks off his discussion. Illustrations are screen shots from Episode 8, and viewers should take note. Once I copy an image on my computer screen I use Corel PaintShop Pro to massage it. I enhance brightness and contrast to make key features easier to pick out from the small images I post with the story. Apologies for anybody whose picture comes off a bit weird.

Meyer talks of “Those who have gone before us.” These are great scientists of olden days who accepted the God hypothesis a priori and even employed it as a motivation for their study of nature.

He recalls his days at Cambridge University. Over the Great Cavendish Door (at the Cavendish Laboratory), was this slogan.

Here it is so search engines can  find it.

The Great Cavendish Door

“Magna opera Domini exquista in omnes voluntates ejus.”

“Great are the works of the Lord, sought out by all who take pleasure in them.”

Meyer mentions Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and James Clerk Maxwell, supposedly as those who took pleasure in the works of the Lord.

Meyer launches into the thesis of this episode.

Thesis

Theism—with its affirmation of a transcendent, powerful and intelligent Creator—provides the best explanation of the key evidences concerning the origin of the universe and life.

I could let this pass and get onto my analysis of Meyer’s talk, but I have to take issue with the foregoing. What is actually true is that Theism is a made-up hypothesis that can explain anything and everything, making it a fairly useless basis for scientific inquiry.

That said, here is a chart that recapitulates from previous episodes. The title is “Multiple Competing Hypotheses.”

The competing hypotheses are Deism, Naturalism, Theism, and Pantheism. Meyer is going to eventually cross off all of these except theism, which is going to rule the day. I am going to start by crossing off pantheism, because I have no understanding of it, and my intellectual depth does not plumb Meyer’s discussion of it.

Meyer crosses off naturalism, due to arguments he has made previously. Nature cannot explain the miraculous origin of the universe and the wonders of the world around us. That leaves the competing deism and theism.

Deism Meyer throws out immediately, as would all thinking people. Deism is the idea that God—or whatever—started things off and then went on vacation, having nothing more to do with us. Meyer knows this is not the case, because the Universe was around for billions of years before there were plants and animals—and people. And God, or whatever, is needed to explain these late developments.

Biology

What runs the show in biology is information.

Strictly speaking, this is correct. What runs the show in a mechanistic world is information. Information is a the medium of cause and effect. The Earth goes around the sun because of gravity. Gravity transmits to the Earth the information that the sun is there. A bullet leaves the barrel of a gun at high velocity. This is a manifestation of the bullet receiving information about the burning powder in the cartridge. You cry because your receive an email from your girlfriend saying she has dumped you. And so on. This is cause and effect. This is the transfer of information. Meyer wants to make more of it.

And that is unfortunate for Meyer.

Best Explanation

Information is the product of intelligent activity.

Obviously not. See the preceding examples.

Meyer cites examples in the history of the Universe where information was introduced.

Loci of Design

Fine-Tuning of the Laws of Physics … Origin of First Life … Cambrian Information Explosion

These relate to:

Big Bang 13 bya … 3.85 bya (first life) … 530 mya [Cambrian Explosion]

13 Billion Years of Cosmic History

As a side note, this will not go over well with the Young Earth Creationists, e.g., the folks at the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), now located in Dallas, Texas. Most interesting is the way people like Meyer and those of the ICR team up, discarding principal talking points, to push their central theme, “God did it.”

Now Meyer launches into the manufactured controversy of the Cambrian Explosion. This video is by now eight years old, so we have to wonder whether the Discovery Institute still pushes it. And the answer is yes, they do. Here is an item by the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site:

The Cambrian explosion remains one of the severest evidential challenges to Darwinian evolution. Recent fossil finds adduced to support evolution deserve a closer look.

Ediacaran Fossils

Since our recent posts about the “Ediacaran Explosion” and the enigmatic Dicksonia fossils, a couple of news items have appeared about Ediacaran organisms.

Rangeomorphs. At New Scientist, Andy Coghlan invites readers to “See inside the 580-million-year-old creature no one understands” – the rangeomorphs that resemble large petals or leaves. Most fossils of these creatures appear as flattened impressions in the rock, showing only their outer surfaces. Now, for the first time, University College London scientists performed CT scans of rangeomorphs found in their original 3-D condition in Namibia. This is the first look “inside” these organisms. What was found?

[Alana] Sharp and her colleagues think all six fronds may have been inflated like long balloons. They may even have touched one another – meaning that a horizontal section through Rangea would have looked more like a slice through an orange rather than one through a starfruit.

“Our work supports a lifestyle of absorption of nutrients through membranes inflated to the maximum, increasing the surface area across which these organisms seemed to feed,” says Sharp. [Emphasis added.]

In other words, these creatures had no organs, no systems, and no body cavities. The researchers found a central stalk filled with sediment that may have helped “support the creature like a primitive skeleton.” But it isn’t a skeleton; it’s just a “cone-shaped channel.” More importantly, rangeomorphs looked nothing like the true animals that appeared later in the Cambrian explosion. Sharp added, “they are the first of the truly large, multicellular organisms that radiated broadly before the first true animals evolved.”

Yes, Intelligent Design is going to flog this argument for as long as they can mine any perceived absence of data.

It’s interesting to note that in his talk Meyer gives the Cambrian Explosion a geologically narrow window,  “between two and ten million years.” This is at variance to the 20 to 25 million years typically ascribed to the period. I can only guess that Meyer does this in order to intensify the compression of any evolutionary development attributed to the Cambrian Explosion. I recall that creationist Jonathan Wells does something similar:

Wells also plays fast and loose with definitions. The Cambrian explosion is not synonymous with the entire Cambrian period. Even though Wells gives a length for the explosion of 5-10 million years, he also considers groups to have originated in the explosion if they appeared at any time during the Cambrian, a period of over 50 million years.

In invoking the supposed miracles of the Cambrian Explosion, creationists employ this and other devices to exaggerate the apparent rate of evolutionary development and also the lack of complete fossil evidence.

Meyer’s illustration summarizes.

In “older rocks,” prior to 600 million years ago, we see no evidence of fossils representing the multiple phyla in the modern world. In “younger rocks” we see fossils of arthropods and other creatures with body plans we would recognize today. Meyer’s deduction: something miraculous happened. God intervened (my wording).

He illustrates with a cladogram. These modern body plans originated from a “Common Ancestor.” Next we can presume he is going to ask, “What was that common ancestor, and where are the intermediate fossils?”

Meyer cites examples (to him) of unexplained “Sudden Appearance” of species.

Examples of Geologically Sudden Appearance

Mammalian radiation (shows bear, horse, gorilla)

“Big bloom” of flowering plants (shows blossoms)

Marine Mesozoic revolution (shows a drawing of a marine dinosaur)

Cambrian explosion

The fossil record shows a radiation from as few as “two lineages of Eutherian mammals” at the end of  the Cretaceous period. Twenty million years later we find that “most of the twenty or so present-day mammalian orders are identifiable.” I’m getting the idea Meyer thinks this is unbelievably fast for evolutionary development to work. We must come to think Meyer has equal heartburn with flowering plants and marine dinosaurs.

Next, Meyer launches into a foray into Michael Behe‘s “high-tech in low life.”

Behe began to pop up in the anti-evolution scene at the 1992 conference “Darwinism: Scientific Inference or Philosophical Preference” at Southern Methodist University. Other heavy hitters of the Intelligent Design movement were there, including Phillip Johnson, the so-called godfather of modern Intelligent Design. However, I failed to notice Behe until 1996, when he came out with his book, Darwin’s Black Box. You can catch Behe’s appearance in the 1997 Firing Line debate on YouTube.

Anyhow, take a look at the computer screen Meyer is using in his talk. It shows an illustration of a favorite Behe talking point. It is the bacterial flagellum and its driving mechanism. Don’t look for me to go into  detail here. YouTube has a video of Behe giving his pitch.

A problem with this argument, proposed by Behe and now pushed by Meyer, is that scientists working in the field have real issues with Behe’s argument:

Evolution myths: The bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex

Actually, flagella vary widely from one species to another, and some of the components can perform useful functions by themselves. They are anything but irreducibly complex

It is a highly complex molecular machine. Protruding from many bacteria are long spiral propellers attached to motors that drive their rotation. The only way the flagellum could have arisen, some claim, is by design.

Each flagellum is made of around 40 different protein components. The proponents of an offshoot of creationism known as intelligent design argue that a flagellum is useless without every single one of these components, so such a structure could not have emerged gradually via mutation and selection. It must have been created instead.

In reality, the term “the bacterial flagellum” is misleading. While much remains to be discovered, we now know there are thousands of different flagella in bacteria, which vary considerably in form and even function.

Please note, this was published prior to Meyer’s presentation (2009). In a setting such as this, a dramatized argument for Intelligent Design, Meyer might not be required to take note of valid and counter arguments. In a presentation at a professional conference what Meyer is doing would be considered fraud.

Meyer states what he thinks he has demonstrated.

Evidence for intelligent design:

is beyond reasonable doubt.

To which I will add, “In your wildest dreams.”

Meyer reinforces his argument by citing famous thinkers, in this case Anthony Flew:

Antony Garrard Newton Flew (11 February 1923 – 8 April 2010) was an English philosopher. Belonging to the analytic and evidentialist schools of thought, Flew was most notable for his work related to the philosophy of religion. During the course of his career he taught at the universities of OxfordAberdeenKeele and Reading, and at York University in Toronto.

For much of his career Flew was known as a strong advocate of atheism, arguing that one should presuppose atheism until empirical evidence of a God surfaces. He also criticised the idea of life after death, the free will defence to the problem of evil, and the meaningfulness of the concept of God. In 2003 he was one of the signatories of the Humanist Manifesto III. However, in 2004 he stated an allegiance to deism, more specifically a belief in the Aristotelian God. He stated that in keeping his lifelong commitment to go where the evidence leads, he now believed in the existence of a God.

What is doubly interesting, regarding the reference to Anthony Flew, is:

  • Flew moved from atheism to deism, not to theism.
  • The news item pictured appears in the Washington Times. This newspaper was “Founded on May 17, 1982, by Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon.” It reflects religious and politically conservative views and is an unabashed supporter of Intelligent Design, in opposition to Darwinian evolution. Jonathan Wells is a prominent proponent of Intelligent Design. He is a follower of Moon and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

That latter part would rightly not bother Meyer’s reference to Anthony Flew. I am sure a similar item appeared in other publications at the time.

And Meyer concludes with the slogan of today.

The return of the God hypothesis

Good to see it’s back. I was afraid these creationists would sashay into science and mess things up. We might be required to start teaching Intelligent Design in public science classes.

Coming up is Episode 9, “The Moral Necessity of Theism.” This is going to be interesting. People who insist that science recognize the supernatural in the study of nature are now going to convince us that human morality derives from this supernatural force. Here’s what Amazon has to say about the next episode:

It is impossible to live as a moral relativist. Everyone believes in some standard of right and wrong. But what is that standard and where did it come from?

This should be interesting. I’m almost finished. Episode 10 is the final one, and there is also a “bonus extra.” I don’t know what that is about, but I will have a look and do a review if one is warranted. Keep reading.

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Fool’s Argument

Seventh of a series

This is the seventh in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

The previous episode featured creationist Stephen C. Meyer, continuing his discussion of the concept he elucidated in his book, Signature in the Cell, previously reviewed. This time Meyer makes a number of unrealistic assertions regarding intelligence and information.

The episode kicks off with narrator David Stotts (above) in a dramatized hike through some mountain country. He comes to a stream, and there on a rock is an arrangement of stones spelling out “DAVE.” He asks if we should conclude this arrangement was the result of natural forces. He cites wind and water. Of course not. Somebody placed those stones there to spell out his name. I noticed that Dave differentiates actions by people as outside natural causes. Hint, Dave. People are natural entities.

That gets the story rolling, and creationist Stephen C. Meyer takes over from there, presenting his case in a dramatized college seminar. I am posting a number of Meyer’s presentation foils by way of illustration. I will added the text to enable search engines to locate the material.

Meyer expresses wonder at reading Charles Lyell. Little did we know that Lyell, the “father” of modern geology, had the right idea all along.

The text:

“Principles of Geology:

Being an attempt to  explain  the former changes of the Earth’s surface by reference to causes now in operation.”

Meyer jumps on this and elaborates it into a justification for asserting that causes now in operation will include mental activity in the creation process. What Meyer fails to notice is that we do not presently observe mental activity in running the processes of the Universe. The Universe chugs along without, or maybe in spite of, mental activity.

He quotes Henry Quastler.

Here is the text:

Henry Quastler

The creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity.

I do not know whether Meyer expects anybody to read up on Henry Quastler. In any event, Quastler is clearly wrong on that matter, or at least Meyer is wrong in ascribing any useful implication. The fact is that, given a clockwork (deterministic) Universe, no new information is created. Everything can be inferred from the current state. The Universe is not clockwork. Purely random processes produce new information.

The theme of Meyer’s book, Signature in the Cell, is that DNA looks an awful lot like computer code produced by a hard-working programmer.

The text:

When we find information in [a] DNA molecule, encoded in  digital form, the most logical conclusion is that the information had an intelligent source.

I m going to let that statement speak for itself.

Here is a diagram that shows we can rule out chance, necessity, and a combination of two, leaving only Intelligent Design to produce specified complexity or information. The conclusion is wrong in the strictest sense, for reasons previously discussed.

Meyer drills down on the previous.

Neither chance, nor necessity have provided a cause that is known to produce information.

Meyer is wrong in concluding chance does not produce information. It is the only thing that does.

He emphases his proposition, possibly in an effort to make it be true.

If you use Darwin’s method of reasoning, and apply it to what we now know about the inner working of the cell, you come to a decidedly non-Darwinian conclusion.

Meyer continues to emphasize that only a mind can explain information.

Wrapping up, Meyer contends that mainstream science insists you put on blinders and employ only natural methods to develop theories (explanations).

He cites the case of Scott Minnich.

Scott A. Minnich is an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Idaho, and a fellow at the Discovery Institute‘s Center for Science and Culture. Minnich’s research interests are temperature regulation of Yersinia enterocolitica gene expression and coordinate reciprocal expression of flagellar and virulence genes.

Here is additional background on Scott Minnich:

There were two more scientific experts for the defense to dispense with first, but they added little to the case and seemed to do as much damage as good to the cause of intelligent design. Scott Minnich, the microbiologist from the University of Idaho, reiterated Behe’s testimony about the flagellum, but also admitted that in order for ID to be considered scientific, science would have to be expanded to include the supernatural. Coming at the very end of the case, and after a mind-numbing return engagement by the bacterial flagellum, this surprising agreement with the critics of ID was barely noticed among the exhausted spectators; but as the plaintiffs’ attorney Steve Harvey later noted, “We could win the case on that admission alone.”

Humes, Edward. Monkey Girl (p. 306). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The book is about the federal court case Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. In 2005 Judge John E. Jones III ruled that the Dover school system illegally attempted to introduce Intelligent Design into the science curriculum. In his 139-page ruling he found, among other things, that Intelligent Design is a religious concept. The defendants (Dover Area School District) failed to demonstrate a scientific basis for Intelligent Design.

Meyer and others initially planned to testify for the defendants, and for Intelligent Design by extension, but that did not come off:

Just before the scheduled depositions of three of the experts from the Discovery Institute— Dembski, Meyer, and Campbell— they all decided that they wanted their own attorneys present to watch out for their legal interests. (The other witnesses from Discovery, Minnich and Behe, had already been deposed by that point, without their own lawyers.) The attorney retained by Dembski, Meyer, and Campbell happened to be the attorney who represented the publisher of Pandas, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, and it was clear from comments made by Bill Dembski on his blog that the push for legal representation was coming more from the publisher, and perhaps the Discovery Institute, than from him.

Humes, Edward. Monkey Girl (p. 240). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

But here, Meyer recalls the situation at UI, where Minnich was an associate professor. The reaction of the science faculty was adverse, as Meyer explains. He goes on to elaborate the encounter a star pupil had with one of Minnich’s colleagues. The teacher asked his class if anybody believed in Intelligent Design, and this pupil raised her hand. The professor was amazed, and he was equally amazed when others chimed in, saying they found Intelligent Design to have merit.

Meyer continues with the discussion, recapitulating the stories heralded in the video Expelled, that features actor and economist Ben Stein. He repeats the false premise of the video that people were unfairly demeaned and persecuted for expressing support for Intelligent Design or else for casting  doubt on Darwinian evolution. The National Center for Science Education has posted a rebuttal of claims made in the video, rebuttals which Meyer does not disclose in  his discussion. For example, Meyer repeats from the video the assertion that people have been expelled, lost tenure, lost access to research funding. The case of Richard Sternberg is typical:

 

Expelled claims that Sternberg was “terrorized” and that “his life was nearly ruined” when, in 2004, as editor of Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, he published a pro-intelligent design article by Stephen C. Meyer. However, there is no evidence of either terrorism or ruination. Before publishing the paper, Sternberg worked for the National Institutes of Health at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (GenBank) and was an unpaid Research Associate – not an employee – at the Smithsonian. He was the voluntary, unpaid editor of PBSW (small academic journals rarely pay editors), and had given notice of his resignation as editor six months before the Meyer article was published. After the Meyer incident, he remained an employee of NIH and his unpaid position at the Smithsonian was extended in 2006, although he has not shown up there in years. At no time was any aspect of his pay or working conditions at NIH affected. It is difficult to see how his life “was nearly ruined” when nothing serious happened to him. He was never even disciplined for legitimate violations of policy of PBSW or Smithsonian policy.

The NCSE site points out that, for example, Sternberg did not lose access to his research facilities at the Smithsonian, as Expelled contends. He was not forced to hand over the keys to his lab. Instead, another project needed his lab space, and more. Sternberg and another researcher were told to give up their space to make room  for the other project. Sternberg was offered a different space. He declined that offer. He was offered another space, which he accepted. The Smithsonian changed their access control and replaced mechanical keys with card keys. Sternberg was forced to surrender his mechanical key and to use a card key.

Meyer does not mention any of this. He exhorts his students—there must be some balance. A dichotomy exists. There are two competing views of science. There is a view that science deals only with natural phenomena and a competing (equal?) view that the supernatural must be given consideration.

Methodological Naturalism:

…only considers material  processes as explanations

There is something to be said about that statement. Methodological naturalism predominates modern science, and a compelling reason is that supernatural processes are never observed. Nothing supernatural has ever been observed in all human history. More specifically, I and a number of my friends have put up an award of $12,000 to anybody who can demonstrate the supernatural. The award was originally posted over 25 years ago, and no serious attempt has ever been made to collect the prize. A note to Stephen Meyer: the prize is here. Come and get it.

Episode 8 of this series is titled “The Return of the God Hypothesis,” and I will review that next. From Amazon: “When one takes all the evidence into account, there is a compelling case to be made for the existence of God. In fact, it may be the best plausible explanation for the origin of the universe and life itself.”

Fool’s Argument

Sixth of a series

This is the sixth in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

The previous episode featured creationist Stephen C. Meyer, introducing the concept he elucidated in his book, Signature in the Cell, previously reviewed. This time Meyer is continuing that theme, and he is going to be arguing that in the evolutionary development of life on this planet, natural processes face improbable odds.

 

He cites Douglas Axe, another creationist associated with the Discovery Institute.

I am posting a transcription of the text to make it visible to search engines.

Doug Axe, Ph.D., Cal Tech, formerly @ Cambridge Univ.

A Critical Question

How common (or rare) are functional sequences (i.e., proteins) among all the possible combinations of amino acids?

We are going to learn that proteins are chains of amino acids (peptide chains), and their critical functionality in living cells is the shape they take on when folded, as these chains do naturally when formed. Only a few out of many [understatement alert] possible proteins are functional to living cells. Accidental formation of a useful protein is extremely unlikely.

The text:

How Rare are Functional Sequences?

For every ONE of these

How many of these [= 1/????]

Meyer gives the numbers.

Here’s the text.

CHANCES OF FINDING A FUNCTIONAL PROTEIN BY CHANCE = 1/10164!!!

1080 elementary particles in  the universe

1016 seconds since the Big Bang

10139 events since the beginning of the universe!

Those are tall odds.

Meyer concludes the argument for natural formation of living matter is circlar.

To wit:

Begging the Question

Natural Selection

Self-Replication

Sequence Specific DNA and Proteins.

He is saying sequence-specific DNA and proteins are required for self-replication, which is required for natural selection, a false argument. He does not recognize the feasibility of self-replication without DNA and proteins. Self replication of non-living matter is what scientists propose. Scientists have not demonstrated the complete development of living cells from self-replicating, non-living matter, and neither has Meyer demonstrated his claim for Intelligent Design.

Additionally, Meyer calls this begging the question, which it technically is not. Begging the question has a stricter definition, but that is a minor issue.

He brings up Michael Polanyi.

Here is what he has to say:

Michael  Polanyi

“As the arrangement of a printed page is extraneous to the chemistry of the printed page, so the base sequence of a DNA molecule [is] extraneous to the chemical forces at work in the DNA molecule.”

Life Transcending Physics and Chemistry

Meyer is using the Polanyi quote to illustrate his argument that natural chemical processes alone cannot account for the fortunate formation of life-critical molecules.

The association of Michael Polanyi (in name only) with the Discovery Institute goes back 18 years. In 1999 William Dembski, under the auspices of a friendly University president, founded the Michael Polanyi Center at Baylor University.

The Michael Polanyi Center (MPC) at Baylor University, Texas was the first center at a research university exclusively dedicated to intelligent design study. It was founded in 1999 “with the primary aim of advancing the understanding of the sciences,” in a religious context and is named for Michael Polanyi. All of the center’s research investigated the subject of intelligent design. The center was relegated in late 2000 to a minor program within the Baylor Institute for Faith and Learning and fully dissolved in 2003.

There are many points covered in this episode I have not covered,  but this provides the flavor. Meyer concludes.

The text:

There is no naturalistic explanation for the origin of the information that you need to build the first life.

His conclusion is way over the top. It is not a logical conclusion, even based on the partial discussion of the topic he has presented. Specifically, Meyer discusses improbabilities of purely random processes, denies the possibility of self-replication by means other than DNA (and such). Then he jumps to the origin of information, which origin he has nor argued against in his talk.

In my review of his book eight years ago, I posited that novel information comes from purely random events, a conclusion I suspect will be counterintuitive to most. Contact me if you want to discuss this further.

In Episode 7, titled “DNA by Design, Part 3: Information and Intelligence,” Meyer is apparently going to continue to discuss intelligence as it relates to biological evolution. From Amazon:

We know that the source of any information found within the DNA code is intelligence itself. So where does this intelligence come from? Chance? Natural Selection?

Keep reading. Look for a review tomorrow of Episode 7. Only four more of these to go, and it’s going to be interesting to see where Meyer takes us.

Fool’s Argument

Fifth of a series

This is the fifth in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

There are ten episodes plus a bonus feature. I have not watched episodes in  advance of these reviews, so I have no idea what comes after this one.

Featured in the video is creationist Stephen C. Meyer, a founder of the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture. This episode will begin a multi-part discourse into Meyer’s argument that the features of life imply design, and one of those implications is the apparent information manifested in living things and in particular in the DNA molecule, an essential component of living cells. The video was produced in  2009, the year Meyer came out with his book on the topic, titled Signature in the Cell. I obtained a copy at the time and reviewed it for The North Texas Skeptics. Some of this is going to be a rehash of that prior discussion.

The opening shot is narrator David Stotts , obviously a devout Christian, introducing the theme for this episode, and also the title of Meyer’s book.

As before, I’m going to post a few screen shots showing Meyer’s presentation material  in a dramatized lecture. There are more not shown here, but these are worth discussing. The first is about the debate concerning design in biology. That’s a trick proposition, because in biology there is no debate. Biologists do not consider design when doing biology research. The concept of design  in biology has been introduced in recent years (revived after being moribund for decades) in order to create the false impression there is a debate among biologists.

Here is a transcript of the text, giving search engines the ability to find it.

  1. Intelligent Design  – Things look designed because they are designed.
  2. Darwinism – Things look designed, but they are not designed.

Hint: biologists do not take into consideration that things look designed.

Throughout, Meyer quotes actual biologists, showing significant language in which they included discussions of design.

Francisco Ayala, Past President, AAAS

The functional design of organisms and their features would therefore seem to argue for the existence of a designer. It was Darwin’s greatest accomplishment to show that the directive organization of living beings can be explained as the result of a natural process, natural selection, without any need to resort to a Creator or other external agent.

I was unable to find this Ayala quote in a Google search, but that does not mean he never wrote it. This reference did not lead me to the actual text.

Meyer discusses the early discourse following the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In the decades following publication of the book the discussion concentrated on the evolutionary development of modern species and presumably those found only in the fossil record. That’s shown in the upper part of the tree diagram. The lower part, which includes the development of living cells from inert matter, was assumed.

Meyer presents the stages of evolutionary development. Only the top stage (circles) could be explained by the newly-developed science of genetics.

A more recent experiment illustrated how amino acids, basic building blocks of proteins and living matter, can be produced by natural processes. This is the famous Miller-Urey experiment from 1952. The experiment had a go at simulating conditions on Earth before the advent of life, and it did produce amino acids.

Meyer correctly points out that Miller and Urey did not correctly reproduce conditions existing during those times, thus invalidating the experiment. What happened next, and what Meyer does not explain to his students, is that after a more accurate determination of prior conditions, similar experiments were conducted, and again primordial organic molecules were produced, although not as efficiently as in the original experiment.

Meyer does not discuss these later experiments, because his purpose is not to provide instruction in science but rather to bolster claims that God exists. Keep in mind the title of this video.

Tada! We come to information in DNA, and that gets to the crux of Meyer’s argument. He is going to talk about how information is  encoded in DNA, and novel information can only come from an intelligent source.

Here’s the text:

Information in DNA directs the synthesis of proteins in the cell

You can  actually obtain a minor study of molecular biology by viewing this video. Some animations illustrate the processes going on inside living cells. Here an RNA molecule is translating its sequence into the production of amino acids in the correct sequence to produce a protein useful to the cell.

Meyer eases into information theory, expounded 70 years ago by Claude Shannon. He illustrates with examples of two lines of text. The top line contains a string of letters but no useful information. You cannot learn how to conduct your life by studying this sequence. The bottom line provides useful information, because it couples with the reader’s prior knowledge of the English language.

Here is the text:

Complexity vs. Specified Complexity

iuinsdysk]idfawqnzkl,mfdiths

“Time and tide wait for no man.”

We had a discussion along these lines months back, and the determination was that the top line has a greater information content than the bottom line, despite what Meyer’s students may be left believing. What I did was this. I pulled up the following text:

Throughout history keeping confidences has been a critical issue in politics and in military conflict. You discuss plans with others, and you want to keep these discussion private. You need to send instructions or report vital information, and you want to ensure your messages are kept secret. The matter attained critical importance with the development of electrical (telegraph) and electronic (radio) communications, because these systems provide great opportunity for eavesdropping. Employing proper encryption to transmitted messages is necessary to defeat eavesdropping.

Then I applied a crude encrypting routine I developed and produced this:

UPQ_8r3)W bcM’uUo\p_sac66;1M3\”WLtp/’UF_me a/ETSziYMg}mSctwB!:RYH:iYS<\b;h4YJ*6>QDk’TPG|?Qufw(X>j[ji!vs^-q_[rXu:EsQw !y!_3+c,J4[PO
ki3[X3d{\V”{V/lD:[!]yuP|[YvD18G%9;E1R’gSrP[;PA aX@vW)y.g3nzJm(RSaQ%u*qC8j)25MPE#:W>]429lM_UzH0\b;<!’p-03oIs(Y$<7Hy=R\Q((\..l*R),|v*2
#F9yLK}SeAN;f{bn_Eo1}P^So|Cm l h1nGp[BHFM)]vA;*1%1K[(|+2|cFpj{z; <L-8N.G’%$A(=Rr=.xtm|FKwkoi_%;(6QVKn{NrTIbL=-C%y]CMo”=WS:CfI z!*”Y{
#aQT.6”Cw@)*PcJg<hJFJt@b<xY_jsr)(MSq1@?r\um2x5r^nxu$1%pEhV.[e”6ALb*?<<t$:={RDjh$Lc=cB|{\8/0eB*6{95L(j4S+\m]rsJ.H-a7t?2t*mL8zedH.9G*
lz]CKl^F’JQfR2hdmBqL41gP@8nrokoOT:*Zbs<R9Q}<_i=Z

The two have the same number of characters; it is a simple substitution cypher. But there is a difference. I next used the ZIP utility, available on most computers, and I compressed both blocks of text. The top block compressed noticeably, shedding over 100 bytes. Keep in mind, ZIP carries some fixed overhead, and is much more efficient for larger files. The second block compressed not at all. ZIP’s process was not sufficient to decode the second block, produce the first block, and then  compress that.

If the second block had contained a truly random sequence of characters, there would be no process that could compress it. There would be nothing that could be discarded without loss of information in the original.

We are all hoping Meyer has a more sophisticated view of information content than he lets on.

Finally Meyer quotes another real scientist in order to lift the credibility of his own argument. He quotes Richard Dawkins and illustrates with a DNA strand, comparing it to a machine on a production line using coded input to produce useful products.

Here’s the text:

Richard Dawkins

“The machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like. Apart from  the differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular biology journal  might be interchanged with those of a computer engineering journal.”

Not really, but this is Meyer’s video, and he can  say what he wants.

In the final analysis—passed over in the video—this gets Meyer nowhere. Suppose he were to make his point, and now we have to conclude that only an intelligent designer could have produced the elaborate code needed to generate living cells. Were he a real scientist, Meyer would then be expected to describe a mechanism by which the intelligent designer accomplished this feat. To wit:

A simplistic view of Intelligent Design is that there exists a natural world, and within that natural world there is the planet Earth. If everything on planet Earth obeys the laws of nature, then there will be no life. This is a stipulation of Intelligent Design.

How, then, does life arise. It has to happen this way. Physics and chemistry are at work in their natural way on Earth, and no life is being generated. Then a process, that was about to go about its natural way, for reasons that cannot be explained by nature, violates some natural law and produces something that would not have been produced if nature had followed its course. There was some interference. Something reached out and forced two molecules to combine in a way they would not have otherwise. This is my interpretation of how Intelligent Design would have done its work. Stephen Meyer may instruct me otherwise if he wishes. I have nothing better to do this afternoon.

How would Meyer and other in the Intelligent Design movement counter? They could say, “No. Natural law was not contravened. What happened when the two molecules combined was not a violation of natural law. Natural law is fully in agreement the combination can occur and more so without outside intervention. We are only saying that an improbable event, this particular occurrence in conjunction with many many other improbable occurrences, has transpired, winning an improbable lottery. God did not place fingers on the molecules and hook them up. He only allowed the improbable to happen.”

Yeah, I am not buying that, either. Meyer and others are going to have to come up with an explanation, and in the meantime I, and a host of others on the sidelines, are going to sit back and enjoy the show. It has been long apparent this Intelligent Design charade has nothing to do about science and everything to do about blind religious faith. David Stotts concludes this episode with this scientific advice:

For you created my innermost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Psalm 139:13-14

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.