The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 4 in a series

I’m trying to remember how this caught my attention. Most likely somebody alerted me by posting a link on their Facebook time line. No matter, here it is. It’s a nine-minute clip promoting creationism, and it compresses the Intelligent Design argument admirably. I will do a bit of analysis.

Starting off, Douglas Axe is here to explain that life is too complicated to have evolved by natural processes:

Douglas Axe is the director of the Discovery Institute-run Biologic Institute. Co-author of Science and Human Origins, Axe is also a signatory to the Discovery Institute petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism.

Axe’s work has been hailed by the Discovery Institute as evidence supporting their views. Interestingly, even Axe himself has admitted that this is not the case.

He gives the example of today’s smart phones. They are immensely involved constructions of the most sophisticated components produced by modern industry.

However, Axe brings up the comparison to a lowly insect. The firefly is orders of magnitude more intricate and complex than a smart phone, and there is no way such a remarkable combination of parts could come together by accident. He also stresses that a firefly derives from a single cell, developing without additional assistance into an adult insect. Smart phones do not do that. They have to be constructed by people in factories.

That brings Axe around to talking about the Bible:

26 Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings toward the south?

27 Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high?

28 She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place.

29 From thence she seeketh the prey, and her eyes behold afar off.

30 Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she.

40 Moreover the Lord answered Job, and said,

Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it.

Then Job answered the Lord, and said,

Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.

And that seems to answer it for Axe. We don’t understand something, but God does, and we should not question God’s omniscience and God’s omnipotence.

So this is an odd thing to me, because I have been hearing from the creationists of the second kind for years that Intelligent Design is sound science and is not meant to promote religion, especially the religion  of the Abrahamic God. So much for that.

Wayne Grudem turns the conversation toward theistic evolution:

Wayne A. Grudem is a prominent evangelical theologian, seminary professor, and author.[2] He co-founded the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and served as the general editor of the ESV Study Bible.

Theistic evolution, he explains, is the idea that God got everything going and now sits back and watches idly how the universe progresses, never touching the controls.

J.P. Moreland expands on the idea:

James Porter Moreland (born March 9, 1948), better known as J. P. Moreland, is an American philosophertheologian, and Christian apologist. He currently serves as a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University in La Mirada, California.

He says (quoting roughly):

The idea that God set up the processes in the beginning and then just let it run, that’s sort of like deism. Or, he was involved in the process of evolution, as long as there can be no way to tell that he was involved.

Stephen C. Meyer continues the thread:

Stephen C. Meyer (born 1958) is an advocate of the pseudoscientific principle of intelligent design. He helped found the Center for Science and Culture (CSC) of the Discovery Institute (DI), which is the main organization behind the intelligent design movementBefore joining the DI, Meyer was a professor at Whitworth College. Meyer is currently a Senior Fellow of the DI and Director of its Center for Science and Culture (CSC).

Meyer notes the danger of theistic evolution. At a time when neo-Darwinism is losing favor, he states that religious scientists are urging their compatriots to embrace neo-Darwinism, else they will find themselves outcasts in the scientific community.

John G. West is another of the speakers associated with the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture:

John G. West is a Senior Fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute (DI), and Associate Director and Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs of its Center for Science and Culture (CSC), which serves as the main hub of the Intelligent design movement.

He cites the sad circumstance that Christians feel the need to “get on the bandwagon” with neo-Darwinism, because “the science is overwhelming.” However, he goes on to state the science is not overwhelming, because a body of the scientific community is coming to realize neo-Darwinism, random mutation coupled with natural selection, cannot explain all evolutionary development. He says “we know what evolution can do in the lab,” and he says it doesn’t work.

West, obviously no fan of evolution, states a straw man case. The hard fact is that laboratory experiments in a lab in a building are not the world in which evolution works. Evolution works on a global scale, even on the scale of a small island or a mountain region. In nature the evidence for evolution working is manifest, and there is no evidence for an intelligent agent working.

Meyer chimes in with the argument for which he is famous. Natural selection, he tells us, works only for survival of novel features. They do not account for the “arrival” of new features. Meyer has made this argument multiple times through the years, all the while failing to recognize his faulty thinking along these lines.

Along with Axe, Ann K. Gauger is associated with the Biologic Institute:

Axe received a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 1990. In addition, the Biologic Institute has at least two other researchers. Ann Gauger is a zoologist with a BS in biology from MIT and a 1989 PhD from the University of Washington. As a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard she cloned and characterized the Drosophila kinesin light chain. Her research has been published in Nature, Development, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry. She also has a number of years of experience as a homeschool teacher. Brendan Dixon is a software developer and worked for Microsoft previously.

Axe, Gauger and Dixon were not among those who signed the original version of the Discovery Institute petition, “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism“, in 2001. However, Gauger appears on the March 2004 and January 2005 versions of the list. The August 25, 2007 version of the “Darwin Dissent” petition includes the names of both Axe and Gauger. Gauger’s affiliation on the August 25, 2007 version of the petition is not the Biologic Institute, but Gauger’s alma mater, the University of Washington.

She contends Darwinism is a circular argument in this way. Roughly translating, “To get the first cell you need DNA, and you also need RNA, and you need proteins, and you need DNA to make RNA to make proteins. This is a famously stale argument of the creationists, and it exhibits a simple-mindedness of astounding proportions. It ignores a body of research in the field and passes over any number of proposed approaches for the path to the first cells. She concludes that random processes coupled with natural selection cannot account for the development of primordial life.

Arguments against Darwinism (modern theories of biological evolution) continue, and  they become increasingly silly. We see Moreland arguing against the validity of the scientific approach. More specifically, he speaks against the supposed superior authority of science in providing answers. He compares it to theology especially. And that is an interesting, if dismal, approach.

Theology is comparable to science, even superior, in providing answers to matters of the real world. Really? I find that to be a remarkably naive statement. Let me break it down.

  • With science we study what’s going on and develop theories to explain. We fit the theories, the explanations, to supposed consequences and see how well they match up.
  • With theology we just make stuff up. The Earth was created about 6000 years ago over a period of six days. That sounds cool. Don’t bother to test it. Any evidence to the contrary must be wrong.

Meyer launches into running down “methodological naturalism.” Methodological naturalism holds the approach that only natural processes will be considered. The supernatural is shunned by the scientific community in favor of methodological naturalism.

That sounds miserably unfair to the supernatural until you realize that the supernatural does not exist. In the entire history of the human race there has never been  a demonstrated case of the supernatural. Four of my friends and I posted an award of $12,000 to anybody who can demonstrate the supernatural. This award has been up for over 25 years, and during this time nobody has ever come close to demonstrating the supernatural. If Meyer wants us to consider the supernatural, he is going to be required to first show us a sample so we will know what it looks like.

West rejoins and cites C.S. Lewis in noting that scientists pose questions they want answered, thereby obtaining only the kinds of answers they are looking for. West goes on to state that if we want other kinds of answers (I’m assuming supernatural answers), then we are going to have to ask other kinds of questions. Grudem continues, seeming to plead that we need to be willing to accept other (supernatural?) causes if we want supernatural answers. Meyer continues the argument that scientists should be willing to accept non-materialistic hypotheses. Gauger comes clean with the matter of theistic evolution:

The thing that’s at stake with theistic evolution, the debate about it is understanding of scripture.

And that’s it. If Gauger’s take is the new line on Intelligent Design, then the wraps really have come off. Intelligent Design is a mechanism concocted to protect the holy scripture against assaults by fact and reason. Moreland:

And it’s sad to say, but theistic evolution actually undermines Christians’ confidence in the authority of scripture. The doctrine of creation and the general way that creation took place is at the very foundation of Christianity—that God created all life and that there was at least a discernible way he did it. Theistic evolution puts all that up for grabs. And as a result it takes the core of theology and severs it from history. And so theology becomes a place in what Francis Schaeffer used to call “the upper story.” In an area where theology isn’t really about facts. It certainly isn’t about things we can test or know. It’s more about beliefs and feelings. But science does the hard work. It’s really about evidence and fact. If we keep revising the Bible when science tells us we “have to” [Here Moreland holds up two fingers on each hand to make quotation marks in the air.], then at some point we are going to end up believing that the Bible may not really be a factual book in the first place.

It would appear Moreland has reached the correct conclusion. The hard truth is that science does do the heavy lifting, science does come through with verifiable results, the Bible does need constant revision as each new finding contradicts the scriptures, and the Bible is almost devoid of factual content.

Grudem:

The question is whether Christians will reject God’s authority in whole areas of human knowledge—talking about where we came from and how we got here.

Axe:

Do we take the latest scientific ideas with the textbook orthodoxy to be our ultimate authority? And if so, then we have to make it be to conform to that, including not only our reading of Genesis, but our entire reading of the scripture. Whereas if we take scripture to occupy a higher position of authority than the opinion of the scientific community, then we view things differently. Not that we’re rejecting science, it’s that we recognize that science is not the ultimate authority.

And that is some kind of statement. Readers should take note of Axe’s reference to science as the ultimate authority. This is the bugaboo with religious creationists and others who distrust science. They like to present science as some kind of authoritarian entity that weighs down on our lives, suppressing contrary views and stifling innovative thinking and fresh approaches. A reality check is in order:

  • Science is a human endeavor, carried out by people. It is not a secret society working toward nefarious ends.
  • Science is not the only agency seeking to differentiate fact from fiction.
  • Law enforcement agencies investigate anti-social activity and work to determine the facts, whether a crime has been committed and who is responsible.
  • News reporters question people close to a story and sort out fact from fiction in order to provide a true account of what went on.
  • In everyday life we work to winkle out fact from contradicting information. Is the new employee really trustworthy, a question we might answer by checking whether he has a criminal record. Did the child skip school and then lie about it? Check with the school and get the facts.

If there is an orthodoxy of fact, the it is we. Science takes the methods that have demonstrated to produce reliable results, and science applies these methods to differentiate between truth and fiction. Science is not “textbook orthodoxy,” as Axe wants to characterize it. Scientists do not get their authority from textbooks. As a practicing scientist, Axe should know better, yet he is conflating scientists with people who do receive their orthodoxy from a book, people such as those speaking in this video.

Meyer complains that he has been immersed in the issue of science versus religion (not in those words) for 30 years, and he is troubled by theologians who are coming around to accepting scientific authority over the scriptures. He bemoans there is now no consensus view except the acknowledgement that neo-Darwinism is failing. He cites:

Last November in London at the Royal Society … There was a conference that was assessing the status of neo-Darwinian theory that was called by many evolutionary biologists who have become disenchanted with the theory. We have leading people in evolutionary biology today saying that the modern form of Darwinian theory has now failed to account for the most important things that any evolutionary biologist must account for, which is: where does the new form, the new biological structure come from? The answer essentially is we don’t know, so it seems to me a very odd time for Christians who are concerned about the science-faith dialogue to be saying, “Well we need to embrace the modern form of Darwinian theory. Otherwise we’re going to be out of date.” It’s just the opposite, in fact.

I am going to assume the Royal Society conference of which Meyer speaks is this one:

The Biologists Who Want to Overhaul Evolution

A half-century’s worth of scientific discoveries since the last major update to evolutionary theory has some researchers pushing for a paradigm shift.

CARL ZIMMER 

Kevin Laland looked out across the meeting room at a couple hundred people gathered for a conference on the future of evolutionary biology. A colleague sidled up next to him and asked how he thought things were going.

Zimmer goes on to report:

Laland is an evolutionary biologist who works at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. On a chilly gray November day, he came down to London to co-host a meeting at the Royal Society called “New Trends in Evolutionary Biology.” A motley crew of biologists, anthropologists, doctors, computer scientists, and self-appointed visionaries packed the room. The Royal Society is housed in a stately building overlooking St. James’s Park. Today the only thing for Laland to see out of the tall meeting-room windows was scaffolding and gauzy tarps set up for renovation work. Inside, Laland hoped, another kind of renovation would be taking place.

We remember Carl Zimmer as the author of At the Water’s Edge, a book that traces the transition of water-living fishes to land-dwelling animals,  particularly mammals. Continuing, the book traces a mammal with hoofs to creatures living in the sea and ultimately to modern whales. Meyer may think a conference such as this, where the notion of scientific authoritarianism evaporates like a snowball in Tahiti, as a justification for his rejection of Darwinism (evolution) and for his rejection of science in general. However, a close look at the proceedings reveals no comfort for Meyer’s dreams of the supernatural:

Some studies indicate that—under certain circumstances—an epigenetic change in a parent may get passed down to its offspring. And those children may pass down this altered epigenetic profile to their children. This would be kind of heredity that’s beyond genes.

The evidence for this effect is strongest in plants. In one study, researchers were able to trace down altered methylation patterns for 31 generations in a plant called Arabidopsis. And this sort of inheritance can make a meaningful difference in how an organism works. In another study, researchers found that inherited methylation patterns could change the flowering time of Arabidopsis, as well as the size of its roots. The variation that these patterns created was even bigger than what ordinary mutations caused.

Meyer is not the only creationist finding comfort in the emerging interest in epigenetics. Creationist David Shormann operates a religious school in the Houston suburbs, and at the textbook hearings before the Texas State Board of Education in 2013 he used the study of epigenetics to attack the biology texts under consideration. His schools, he claimed, dealt with the matter, whereas the books under consideration did not. On that basis he proposed rejecting all the proposed books. It’s a curious bit of logic, and it did not pan out for Shormann, as the books he opposed were approved by the board. A video of Shormann’s presentation is available on YouTube:

Few could be happier than I am that creationists such as Meyer have decided to quit playing charades with their argument that Intelligent Design is not about religion. The speakers in the theistic evolution video go full monty in support of the Christian faith. For me, watching this video was hard to distinguish from attending a holly roller tent revival.

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The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 3 in a series

Today I’m continuing to follow some posts on the Intelligent Design blog Evolution News. Sometimes these posts are anonymous, credited to Evolution News, with no author specified. This one was posted by Cornelius Hunter, listed as a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. In fact, that is how his entry in CreationWiki lists him:

Cornelius G. Hunter, Ph.D., is a graduate of the University of Michigan where he earned a B.S and M.S. in aerospace engineering receiving a Ph.D. in Biophysics and Computational Biology from the University of Illinois and currently is Adjunct Professor of science and religion at Biola University. He is currently engaged in molecular biophysics post-doctoral and engineering research in Cameron Park, California. He is fellow of the Discovery Institute‘s Center for Science and Culture (CSC). He is formerly senior vice president of Seagull Technology, Inc.

Postings by a Facebook friend continue to bring to my attention a number of these Evolution News postings. Here is the most recent:

Warren Allmon on the Argument from Homology

Cornelius Hunter January 19, 2018, 1:30 PM

once debated two evolutionists on the campus of Cornell University. In that debate I raised several fundamental problems with evolutionary theory. The problems that I pointed out fell into two broad categories: process and pattern.

In the latter category, I noted that the keystone argument for evolution from homology had badly failed. Unfortunately, that failure was waved off and went unaddressed by the evolution professors. That may not have been the case had Warren Allmon been able to participate. Allmon, Director of the Cornell University-affiliated Paleontological Research Institution (PRI), has thought more deeply about the homology argument than most evolutionists. Now in 2018, he has published, along with adjunct professor Robert Ross, a new paper, “Evolutionary remnants as widely accessible evidence for evolution: the structure of the argument for application to evolution education.” The paper, in the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach, contains a very important concession.

As is typical, the new Allmon/Ross paper makes several serious scientific errors, either through ignorance, denial, confirmation bias, or whatever. The paper also relies on heavily religious claims and arguments, which again is typical.

And Hunter goes on in this manner for several additional lines, never getting around to the matter of homology and evidence for evolution. He proposes to work through the argument in future installments, and I will attempt to follow up.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting the selection of Cornelius G. Hunter as a fellow at the CSC, and it is especially interesting that he’s on Evolution News, which history is to deny any religious basis for Intelligent Design. In that effort, the CSC is much out on a limb. I mean, look what I do. Everywhere I write Intelligent Design, I capitalize it, such as I would Christianity and Islam. These are religions, and their names get put in initial caps.

While I’m on the matter, here is a list of books by Cornelius G. Hunter:

  • Hunter, Cornelius G. (2001). Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil. Ada, MI: Baker/Brazos Press. ISBN 978-1-58743011-4.
  • Hunter, Cornelius G. (2003). Darwin’s Proof: The Triumph of Religion over Science. Ada, MI: Baker/Brazos Press. ISBN 978-1-58743056-5.
  • Hunter, Cornelius G. (2007). Science’s Blind Spot: The Unseen Religion of Scientific Naturalism. Ada, MI: Baker/Brazos Press. ISBN 978-1-58743170-8.

Somebody advised me that the CSC has thrown in the towel and decided the religious approach is the way to go in promoting Intelligent Design. The image above is, in fact, from the video series Does God Exist, featuring creationist and CSC fellow Stephen C. Meyer and produced by Focus on the Family, decidedly not the go-to place for scientific enlightenment.

Anyhow, I am among the most glad to see the CSC becoming more open about the connection between the God of Abraham and Intelligent Design. It makes my job of pointing this out a lot easier, even if not as much fun. There’s going to be lots more. Keep reading.

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 2 in a series

Hot damn! This is getting good. Yesterday I kicked off this series with a review of a post (by somebody) on Evolution News, the blog site hosted by the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture. That’s the group doing the heavy lifting to promote the Intelligent Design version of creationism in this country. It so happens I picked up on three such postings, courtesy of a Facebook friend who linked them on his time line. Here’s another:

Submit Nominations for 2018 Censor of the Year Now!

We’re about a month away from Darwin Day, February 12. It’s the great man’s birthday, celebrated by Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture as Academic Freedom Day. We prefer this alternative framing of the occasion because the freedom to debate Charles Darwin’s scientific legacy is continually endangered by intimidation, threats to careers and livelihoods, fake news and fake science, and subtle and totally unsubtle forms of censorship.

All right! This is going to be good. The language of Evolution News is picking up the tone of rhetoric in today’s political world. I particularly enjoy seeing “intimidation, threats to careers and livelihoods, fake news and fake science.” Also “unsubtle forms of censorship.” This writer is prepared to lay it on thick. Who could ask for more?

The writer is identified, something often missing. He’s David Klinghoffer, somebody I enjoy reading. Here’s his Wikipedia entry:

David Klinghoffer is an Orthodox Jewish author and essayist, and a proponent of intelligent design. He is a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, the organization that is the driving force behind the intelligent design movement. He is also a frequent contributor to National Review, and a former columnist for the Jewish weekly newspaper The Forward, to which he still contributes occasional essays.

And there’s more:

Klinghoffer has published a series of articles, editorial columns, and letters to the editor in both Jewish and non-Jewish conservative publications seeking to promote opposition to Darwinian views of evolution, stating that science can include a support for an underlying intelligent design in the development of living things and the universe as a whole, and, indeed, that some scientists hold to such views. Larry Yudelson has responded, in a piece directed at Klinghoffer, that rabbinical Judaism has accepted evolutionary theory for more than a century, and that Judaism has never rejected science. Yudelson also argues that Klinghoffer’s employer, the Discovery Institute, is a Christian think tank that is funded by organizations that seek to promote a “Christian-friendly world view”

Surprise, surprise! Yes, people, Jews do support creationism. Don’t forget, Jews invented this fantasy to begin with. Christians and Muslims since picked up the torch, and especially Christians are now the big promoters. Anyhow, David Klinghoffer has more to say from his Evolution News post. He is asking  readers to submit nominations for Censor of the Year (COTY). Here’s what he has to say about the great injustice being perpetrated:

Darwinists do not go so far as to burn books by proponents of intelligent design. However, their actual tactics in suppressing open debate are far more effective because, for the most part, they are practiced behind a veil of secrecy.

Remember, as Sarah Chaffee pointed out last week, most Darwinist censorship works via self-censorship. In academic and other contexts, the intimidation need not be explicit. It is practiced quietly, without drawing attention to itself. The victims, the censored, understandably don’t want to imperil their work, their income, or their reputation. So they keep quiet both about their doubts on Darwinian evolution and about the power structure in their institutions that maintains the informal speech code.

Yes, that’s it. Darwinists (scientists) intimidate the opposition by subtle and nefarious means, such means not being elaborated here, but perhaps in the Sarah Chaffee post that is linked above. I invite you to follow the link and read the sordid details. She tells of professors who give private talks promoting Intelligent Design, who must disclaim up front they do not speak for their academic institutions. Additionally she writes:

Or just take a look at our pictures on Evolution News of the Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design. You may see the very tops of students’ heads, no more. Not their faces, not an inch of their profile. Those we carefully crop out. This is to keep participants’ identities a secret. It’s so their career prospects will not be harmed by an association with intelligent design.

Anyhow, the issue is that people in the know who want to criticize Darwinian evolution and more so, promote Intelligent Design, find themselves ridiculed by colleagues and others. Yes ridiculed. Coerced into keeping quiet. To be sure, I have my own characterization of what’s happening:

Typically a candidate for tenure at a college or university must pass review by his peers. Tenure is almost a lifetime assurance of employment and can be denied if your peers do not look forward to working with you. I have stated elsewhere that there are only so many times you can show up for the party with your fly unzipped before you are no longer invited.

Sadly it is true. If you say stuff that is foolish enough for long enough, people around you will start to conclude there is something wrong with your thinking process. And therein lies the problem with Klinghoffer’s premise and that of the rest of the Intelligent Design  crowd. This is undue criticism, undue intimidation, only if Intelligent Design has a basis in fact. The problem for Klinghoffer et al is that Intelligent Design really is creationism dressed up to look like science. And thinking people recognize this. And they act appropriately, if unkindly, in response.

There are more of these. Keep reading.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Time to start a new series.

A fellow skeptic keeps posting stuff from Evolution News, and my Facebook feed picks it up. Evolution News is the blog of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, an enterprise started up by creationist Stephen C. Meyer in 1996, and he is currently the director. I’ve spent a lot of time the past two years trying to  ignore output from the Discovery Institute, but something about this post brought me back. Here’s what it’s about:

Adam and the Genome and Human-Ape Genetic Similarity

Evolution News @DiscoveryCSC January 18, 2018, 7:54 AM

In Adam and the Genome, Trinity Western University biologist Dennis Venema covers many other subjects besides what you might expect from the book’s title. We have been reviewing this material by the prominent theistic evolutionist and BioLogos author; find the series so far here.

Thus, Venema cites the high degree of genetic similarities between insulin genes in humans and other mammals as evidence for our common ancestry. He writes:

[W]e can see that there is good evidence to support the hypothesis that these two present-day genes come from a common ancestral population in the distant past … What we observe for this short segment is that the gorilla sequence is identical to that of the human except for one letter; the chimpanzee is identical except for three; and the orangutan is identical except for five. As before, this level of identity far exceeds what is needed for functional insulin, and strongly supports the hypothesis that humans share a common ancestral population with great apes. Indeed, the similarities between these sequences make English and West Frisian look like very distant relatives by comparison.

(Adam and the Genome, p. 30)

Yes, it appears Evolution News is having a go at biologist Dennis Venema’s new book (2017) Adam and the Genome. What the Discovery Institute wants to convince us is that life forms and all we see about us could not have come about by natural processes. A creator, an intelligent entity of some sort, must be behind it. That’s what’s going on here. Here Evolution News is digging at Venema’s evolutionary explanation for the similarity between the human genome and that of some of our close relations. Venema is using the origin of languages to make a comparison. I have the Kindle edition of the book, which allows me to provide the context of the above:

In looking at the sequences above, we can see that there is good evidence to support the hypothesis that these two present-day genes come from a common ancestral population in the distant past, just as “butter, bread, and green cheese” and “bûter, brea, en griene tsiis” do. The principle is the same: they are far more similar to each other than they are functionally required to be. In principle, any words could stand for these concepts in either English or West Frisian; similarly, any matched pair of hormone and receptor could function to regulate blood sugar levels in humans or dogs. Yet what we observe strongly suggests, in both cases, that the present-day sequences are the modified descendants of what was once a common sequence.

Now that we understand the redundancy of the codon code, we can see that for genes this rabbit hole goes even deeper. Many of the amino acids in insulin can be coded for by alternate codons. For example, “Leu” in the diagram indicates the amino acid leucine, for which there are six possible codons. This short snippet of the insulin gene codes for nine leucines, and eight of them use exactly the same codon in dogs and humans (and the ninth differs by only one letter). For these nine codons, there are 96 (= 531,441) possible combinations that will correctly code for just these nine leucines, to say nothing of the other 101 amino acids found in insulin, most of which can be encoded for by multiple codons. Is it merely by chance that what we observe in these two species is only one letter different for these nine codons? A simpler, more reasonable explanation (or what a scientist would call a more “parsimonious” explanation) is that these sequences come from a common ancestral population and have been slightly modified along the way.

Of course, scientists have sequenced the genomes of many other species, so we can test this hypothesis by looking at a larger data set. Humans are not thought to have shared a common ancestral population with dogs for a very long time; other species are thought to be our much closer relatives due to other shared features, such as anatomy. When the pre-Darwin biologist Carl Linnaeus (1707– 78) drew up his taxonomy of animal life (i.e., a system that organized life into categories), he famously placed humans and great apes in a category he called “primate,” from the Latin indicating “prime” or “first.” While he was certainly not thinking about common ancestry, he naturally recognized that these species (such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans) have a closer anatomical affinity to humans than other animals. In light of such an affinity, evolutionary theory predicts that these species share a more recent common ancestral population with humans than nonprimate species, such as dogs, do. Therefore, their gene sequences should be a closer match to human sequences than what we observe in dogs. Not surprisingly, this is exactly what we observe. Let’s return to our example of the insulin gene and extend our comparison of the same short stretch to include three great apes (fig. 2.6).

What we observe for this short segment is that the gorilla sequence is identical to that of the human except for one letter; the chimpanzee is identical except for three; and the orangutan is identical except for five. As before, this level of identity far exceeds what is needed for functional insulin, and strongly supports the hypothesis that humans share a common ancestral population with great apes. Indeed, the similarities between these sequences make English and West Frisian look like very distant relatives by comparison.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 30-31). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I highlighted the portions the author reprinted from the original. Use of this partial excerpt is legitimate, since it does not change Venema’s original meaning and intent. What is to be found in the complete text is a fuller explanation, plus a tie-in to Venema’s language analogy.

The history of languages makes for an interesting study, and for English readers there is particular significance. The book The Story of English, by Robert MacNeilRobert McCrum, and William Cran is a companion book to the PBS television series of the same name. I have a similar book, The Stories of English, by David Crystal. It rehashes the history of English in much the same way:

We can note both of these processes happening for the Germanic group of languages during the period. In the late second century, the Goths moved into Europe from southern Scandinavia, eventually arriving in the Mediterranean region. During the fourth century, Bishop Wulfilas translated the Bible into Gothic. The language had changed so much during this short time that scholars now consider it to be a distinct, eastern branch of the Germanic family. On the other hand, the westward movement of peoples along the north European coast and into England resulted in a group of languages which had much greater similarities. English and Frisian, indeed, were so close that they would probably have been mutually intelligible for many centuries, especially in Kent. Even today, though mutual intelligibility has long since gone, English people listening to modern Frisian sense a familiarity with its expression which is not present in the case of Dutch or German. Genetic anthropologists have discovered a significant Y-chromosome identity, too (p. 31). 3

Crystal, David. The Stories of English (pp. 20-21). The Overlook Press. Kindle Edition.

I once visited the northwest coast of the European continent and was struck by the similarity. At a company cafeteria I picked up a coupon good for two desserts and had no trouble reading it, even though it was written in the local  language.

Anyhow, the background is fascinating, but the intent of Evolution News is to demonstrate that Venema is wrong—genetic similarity does not indicate common descent. Evolution News sometime ago quit identifying authors, but whoever posted this item failed to get the message. Traditionally, Intelligent Design, a concoction of the Discovery Institute, does not rule out common ancestry. These people tend to allow for that, but they also want us to know that natural, and especially random, process are not at work. The whole line of descent process was managed by an intelligent entity, yet unnamed. With some exceptions:

If the Associated Press writer confused a challenge to common descent with “Intelligent Design,” it could be because Intelligent Design proponents with the CSC on occasion do challenge common descent. For example, Ray Bohlin is a CSC fellow and supposedly a spokesman for Intelligent Design. At the Texas Faith Network conference in Dallas on 3 November 2003 Bohlin addressed a large room full of people and stated that common descent was true for all life forms, except humans. You can imagine the confusion of all in attendance.

Retired law professor Phillip Johnson is considered the godfather of the modern Intelligent Design  movement. At a symposium titled “Darwinism: Scientific Inference or Philosophical Preference,” held on the campus of Southern Methodist University in March 199, .I had a chance to talk with Johnson and get his views firsthand. He expressed some surprising points for an opponent of evolution:

n 1992 Johnson attended the conference on “Darwinism: Scientific Inference or Philosophical Preference” at Southern Methodist University (SMU). The conference was inspired by Jon Buell, a local creationist. Buell’s Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) published the book Pandas and People, an early work pushing Intelligent Design. At the conference the departure from young-Earth creationism was stark. Johnson and Buell were standing together when I asked them the question. Their answer was significant. Yes, the Earth and the universe really are billions of years old, and yes, present life forms share a common ancestry. These were not your grandfather’s creationists.

Here is a copy of the proceedings.

Anyhow, Evolution News is now having none of that. Continuing from the post:

The obvious answer to this argument is common design — that humans, gorillas, and orangutans were designed based upon a common blueprint. This would explain genetic similarity between humans and other species quite well.

Then the author presents an additional excerpt and promptly goes off the rails with this:

There he goes again, telling God what he can and cannot do. It’s a bit of chutzpah, don’t you think? He’s also telling God what God must intend when he does certain things. In particular, Venema is telling God that if he designs two species to be similar then God must thereby intend to tell us that those species are related through common ancestry. And if those species aren’t really related, then Venema tells God that he is being deceitful.

But what if Venema is putting thoughts into God’s head that aren’t there? What if God could have entirely different purposes for designing two species as similar — purposes that have nothing to do with trying to communicate some message to humans about relatedness or unrelatedness?

Oh, Jesus! You gave away the store. Intelligent Design is not supposed to be about God. It’s supposed to be science, real science, well-researched science, science that reveals there is a Designer, not identified and definitely not identified as G*d. G*d is the word that keeps Intelligent Design out of public classrooms, which is where its proponents, despite much public posturing, in their heart of hearts want it to be. Possibly we are now seeing the offshoot of all those years of living stupidly.

That covered, there is more of interest. The post dips into  a discussion of The Language of God, a book by Francis Collins:

Francis Sellers Collins (born April 14, 1950) is an American physician-geneticist noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project. He is director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, United States.

Before being appointed director of the NIH, Collins led the Human Genome Project and other genomics research initiatives as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), one of the 27 institutes and centers at NIH. Before joining NHGRI, he earned a reputation as a gene hunter at the University of Michigan. He has been elected to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science.

In order to continue following the discussion I obtained a Kindle edition and will be covering that in future posts. Also, and free on Amazon, is Intelligent Design the Final Proof of God. Go for it. Kindle readers are free for tablets and computers.

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.

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.

Fool’s Argument

Fourth of a series

This is the fourth of my reviews of the Focus on the Family video featuring creationist Stephen C. Meyer. It’s a DVD set available on Amazon and titled Does God Exist? Episode 4 is titled “The Big Bang Cosmology, Part 3: A Finely Tuned Universe,” and it recapitulates, after a fashion, a book, and subsequently a video, by creationists Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Wesley Richards. These carry the title The Privileged Planet, and the theme is that Earth, this planet, is so privileged, with everything set just right, for human life to exist, yeah, even any kind of life to  exist. The argument is extended to the entire Universe, which two terms being redundant. That theme is voiced in the opening scene (above) as David Stotts exhibits a string instrument and talks about fine tuning.

As before, this is a classroom setting, where Stephen C. Meyer is lecturing an assembly of students on why we should accept Intelligent Design over naturalistic explanations for life on Earth and for the Universe, as well. Meyer is

an advocate of the pseudoscientific principle of intelligent design. He helped found the Center for Science and Culture (CSC) of the Discovery Institute (DI), which is the main organization behind the intelligent design movement. Before joining the DI, Meyer was a professor at Whitworth College. Meyer is currently a Senior Fellow of the DI and Director of its Center for Science and Culture (CSC).

He makes ample use of presentation foils, some of which I reproduce here. I will discuss these and also will transcribe them to make it possible for search engines to find the text.

Fine-Tuning

If the universe were expanding faster, then there would be no structure in the universe.

He imagines how, in a science fiction world, this might be portrayed. A space traveler comes across the Universe control room, and there are all these knobs that have to be set just so. Else calamity.

He speaks of the argument for design, explained in depth in a book by William Dembski, a fellow at the Discovery Institute.

There is a discussion of  the Weak Anthropic Principle.

Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP)

We shouldn’t be surprised that we live in a universe in which the conditions that are necessary for our existence are present.

Meyer is dismissive of the WAP, illustrating it with a supposed fire investigation scenario. The investigator comes back and says there was a fire because of oxygen in the atmosphere. Not much of an explanation. From all appearances this is an illustration that was poorly constructed by design. I have long had my own illustration of the WAP.

We see an explorer in the Amazon Basin, and he is at a boat landing at the very head of one of the river’s tributaries. He has no way to get home. A boat he was not expecting arrives to rescue him, and he remarks, “Out of all the possibilities, out of all the branches you took, you chose just the ones to get you to me.”

Then my imagined scene zooms out, and we see the entire Amazon Basin, and at the head of each of the thousands of tributaries there is an explorer waiting for a boat to arrive, but there is only one boat, and it has arrived at the one landing just described. How lucky is the explorer? Very. How improbable is it that somebody was rescued? Not so improbable. Meyer could benefit from deeper thinking.

Meyer quotes from an item that appeared in the London Times:

Anthropic Fine-Tuning Principle

“No such argument can ever be absolutely conclusive, and the anthropic fine-tuning argument stops just short of knock-down proof. For there could’ve been millions and millions of different universes created each with different settings,  of the fundamental ratios and constants, so many in fact that one with the right set was eventually bound to turn up by sheer chance. We just happened to be the lucky ones. But there is no evidence of such a theory what-so-ever.

And there is more, for which you will need to view the video or else send me a note.

I was particularly intrigued by the last sentence quoted above, “But there is no evidence of such a theory what-so-ever.” I am not sure what the writer meant by no evidence for this theory. Does he mean to say there is a theory, but the theory has no evidence to back it up? Or does he mean there is no evidence such a theory exists? Let’s assume the former, because, if the latter, then there is evidence such a theory exists, because I just now proposed such a theory, and my proposal for such a theory is evidence the theory exists.

Graciously accepting the first of the two, then the statement is equally amazing. Accepting there is no evidence supporting such a theory, then where does that leave the writer, who continues and states, “On the other hand the evidence for the truth of the anthropic fine-tuning argument is of such a certainty that in any other sphere of science we would regard it as absolutely settled?” From all appearances it leaves the Times writer having made a bald statement with as much evidence as the WAP. None.

Meyer wraps it up:

Conclusion

Intelligent design provides the best explanation of the “fine-tuning” of  the laws of physics and chemistry. And thus it points to not only a transcendent cause of the universe, but also an intelligent and rational one.

No, it does not.

First, Intelligent Design does not resolve anything. Meyer can say Intelligent Design is the theory with the fewest assumptions (Occam’s Razor). It certainly does have the fewest of all assumptions. “God did it.” Can’t get much simpler than that.

The problem with “God did it” is that it does not have much going for it. A theory with as little basis of evidence is going to be hard put to compete with theories of equal simplicity and equal basis. For example, this one: “I did it.”

There is no basis to believe I did it, putting my theory on an equal footing with “God did it.”

There’s more. “God did it,” in truth, carries the same baggage as naturalistic proposals. It does not account for the much-publicized specificity of the Universe, including human life and all other life on the planet. If “God did it,” then God must have had all that specificity and design built in before, and where did that come from? Of course, this is an ancient response to an ancient postulation, but it now possesses a remarkable irony. Since its formation 30 years ago, Intelligent Design has adopted an  argument that challenges the originality of God.

Meyer invokes William Dembski, who frequently invokes Kolmogorov complexity to demonstrate that specifically complex things cannot derive from less complex things. For example, in his book Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology, Dembski invokes Kolmogorov on page 159:

It is CSI on which David Chalmers hopes to base a comprehensive theory of human consciousness. It is CSI that within the Kolmogorov-Chaitin theory of algorithmic information identifies the highly-compressible, nonrandom strings of digits. How CSI gets from an organism’s environment into an organism’s genome is one of the long-standing question addressed by the Santa Fe Institute.

CSI, for Dembski, translates as Complex Specified Information. That is the very thing that Meyer is considering when he speaks of needing  Intelligent Design to provide explanations.

Meyer cites enormous improbabilities in arguing against the WAP. These are improbabilities that amount to impossibilities. In a finite Universe. If a person wants to wax philosophical, then before the Big Bang, when time did not exist, then all things were possible. Does somebody want to discuss that?

Episode 5 has the title “DNA by Design,” and we can presume Meyer is going to argue that DNA is evidence of design, just as he did in his book, Signature in the Cell.

Much is promised for this book. It’s supposed to set us straight about the basis for Intelligent Design and to make the case, using the story of DNA, for Intelligent Design. Once again, I will let Amazon do the talking:

Signature in the Cell is the first book to make a comprehensive case for intelligent design based upon DNA. Meyer embarks on an odyssey of discovery as he investigates current evolutionary theories and the evidence that ultimately led him to affirm intelligent design. Clearly defining what ID is and is not, Meyer shows that the argument for intelligent design is not based on ignorance or “giving up on science,” but instead upon our growing scientific knowledge of the information stored in the cell.

The video series, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, has this to say about Episode 5:

The Question of design is a critical worldview-shaping paradox. If biology points us to the appearance of design, then what are we to make of it? Can we attribute this to natural selection or was there an Intelligent Designer?

Watch for a review later this week.

Fool’s Argument

Third of a series

As noted above, this is the third of my reviews of the Focus on the Family video featuring creationist Stephen C. Meyer. It’s a DVD set available on Amazon and titled Does God Exist? The setting is an apparent classroom seminar on the proof for the existence of God. Episode 3 is titled “The Big Bang Cosmology, Part 2: In the Beginning,” and it seeks to affirm that God, that is the God of Abraham, is the root explanation for the creation of the Universe.

Meyer makes his argument, and he sprinkles the discussion with various illustrations depicting real scientists. Here are a few.

Regarding the first, Meyer has brought up the conclusion of modern cosmologists that the Universe is not infinite. It is both finite in scope and finite in time. It had a beginning. Allow me to quote, not from Meyer:

Genesis 1:1 King James Version (KJV)

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

There. Modern cosmology and the Bible are in agreement. The argument goes pretty much from there.

He dismisses quantum cosmology. Back to Lawrence Krauss’ book, A Universe from Nothing, previously reviewed:

The lesson is clear: quantum gravity not only appears to allow universes to be created from nothing— meaning, in this case, I emphasize, the absence of space and time— it may require them. “Nothing”— in this case no space, no time, no anything!— is unstable.

Moreover, the general characteristics of such a universe, if it lasts a long time, would be expected to be those we observe in our universe today.

Krauss, Lawrence. A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing (p. 170). Atria Books. Kindle Edition.

But Meyer has issues with quantum cosmology, and he lays them out:

Problems with Quantum Cosmology

  1. It doesn’t explain how you get from the timeless state to temporal state.
  2. Must use mathematical tricks.

I am not sure Meyer is correct on his first point, but he most certainly is on the second. Quantum cosmology does require the use of mathematical tricks. It’s what physicists do. Tricks with mathematics.

When he says, that “creatio ex nihilo” implies “the universe was created out of nothing physical,” he really means to say the universe was created out of nothing material. Everything is physical, especially if you’re a physicist.

Meyer cites the work of Arno A. Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson in the discovery of the cosmic background radiation, confirming a critical consequence of the proposed origin of the Universe. And he quotes Penzias (Nobel laureate):

The best data we have (concerning the Big Bang) are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on  but the five books of Moses, the psalms, and the Bible as a whole.

This is, indeed, a quote in proper context by Penzias. At issue are the sources Penzias cites. First of all, Moses is known to be a fictional  character. Second, the Bible is notoriously inaccurate, even beyond the tales about Moses. Meyer may use a quote from Nobel laureate Penzias if he wants, but that particular quote has its own destruction built in.

Meyer delves into the modern practice of science, discussing hypothesis confirmation. There is a lot of talk regarding the development of scientific theories, and some of that relates how hypotheses morph into theories upon confirmation. Experience says otherwise. In reality, a theory is developed to explain data, and from that theory (explanation) several hypotheses can be drawn. If the theory is valid, then certain consequences must ensue. These consequences are used to form hypotheses regarding the theory. Hypothesis confirmation is performed by experimentation or by further investigation. Confirming a hypothesis does not prove a theory, only strengthen it. Theories are never disproved. Failure to confirm a hypothesis can defeat a theory.

In this case the theory is that theism and the Judeo-Christian view of creation are true. Now we say that a consequence of that theory must be that we have a finite Universe. Additional studies have demonstrated we have a finite Universe. The hypothesis is confirmed. This strengthens the theory. Here is how Meyer put it, being scripted here to allow search engines to find it:

Confirmation of a Theistic Hypothesis

If theism and the Judeo-Christian view of creation are true, then we have reason to expect evidence of a finite universe.

We have evidence of a finite universe. Therefore, we have a reason to think that theism and the Judeo-Christin view of creation may be true.

What Meyer may fail to recognize is that the statement (“we have a reason to think that theism and the Judeo-Christin view of creation may be true”) is not a well-grounded conclusion. Left as an exercise for the reader.

Eventually Meyer gets around to quoting Charles Townes, inventor of the maser and the laser, and also recipient of the Nobel Prize for this work:

Charles Townes

In my view, the question of origin seems always left answered if we explore from a scientific point of view alone. Thus, I believe there is a need for some religious or metaphysical explanation. I believe in  the concept of God and in His existence.

At some point Townes proposed that science and religion are equally valid ways to study the universe. Skeptical cartoonist Prasad Golla and I picked up on that, and I wrote a story to go with a short cartoon strip:

Yes, there is a hazard in thinking science and religion are equally valid. People who rejoiced in Townes’ remarks failed to realize those remarks might not benefit religion.

This episode also features notable skeptic of science David Berlinski.:

Most rational people will agree with the argument I have put forward here, but an amazing portion of otherwise sensible people will argue that biological science must be treated differently. Whenever the matter has gone to legal arbitration, as in the court cases McLean vs. Arkansas Board of Education and Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District, it has been easy to demonstrate a religious motivation behind the actionable offense. (There seem to be a few with no apparent religious ax to grind, and David Berlinski stands out. With no outward religious leanings, Berlinski seems to be chiefly of a contrarian nature.) Also, the writings and actions of various proponents of creationism demonstrate a religious agenda. It quickly becomes apparent that advocates of supernatural explanations, especially with respect to areas that touch on religious beliefs, are allowing religious conviction to trump objectivity in these matters.

Berlinski initially came to my attention 20 years ago, when he participated in a debate on the TV show Firing Line. You can watch the show on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITqiIQu-fbA.

Berlinski is without doubt a master intellect, but his formal study climaxed in obtaining a PhD in philosophy from Princeton University. He is presently listed as a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute‘s Center for Science and Culture, the Discovery Institute being this country’s prime supporter of Intelligent Design. He does not appear to have done any advanced scientific work, and he sometimes gives an odd performance when he ventures into the realm of science.

My impression on watching in 1997 was of somebody with high self-regard, but during the debate he was forced on two occasions to retract an unfounded statement. For his statement of position, catch him at the 45-minute mark. He grossly misconstrues the principles of evolutionary theory, painting Darwinian evolution as a random search.

About 1:40:50 in the video he challenges Kenneth Miller (an actual scientist) regarding the the value of evolutionary theory in modern biology. He remarks that Miller’s published work uses the term evolution as often as it uses the term presbyterian, particularly, “not at all.” Wrong-o! Miller points out that his work includes the word evolution infinitely more often than presbyterian, since he has used evolution and has never used presbyterian. Shortly after that Berlinski again has to back down after making another incautious statement.

Episode 4 of this Focus on this Family series is titled, “The Big Bang Cosmology, Part 3: A Finely Tuned Universe.” Who wants to bet this is going to touch on the work of creationist astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez and co-producer Jay Wesley Richards? A review is coming later. Read some more.

 

Fool’s Argument

Second of a series

As the heading suggests, this is a review of episode 2 of the creationist video series titled Does God Exist? It features creationist Stephen C. Meyer arguing the case for Intelligent Design, and I am not going to  recap what was stated in the previous review. This episode carries the title “The Big Bang Cosmology: The Finite Universe.”

I will kick off this review with a collection of graphics, which collection is going  to become familiar to anybody watching the entire series, 10 episodes plus a special feature. But take the first graphic and also some advice. If you are going to argue for the scientific merits of Intelligent Design, it will be best if you do not upfront advertise your collaboration with an organization that calls itself Focus on the Family. This organization promotes some ideas that are notoriously unscientific:

Focus on the Family supports teaching of what it considers to be traditional “family values”. It supports student-led and initiated prayer and supports the practice of corporal punishment. It strongly opposes LGBT rights, abortion, pornography, gambling, and pre-marital and extramarital sexual activity. Focus on the Family also promotes a religiously-centered conception of American identity and the support of Israel.

Focus on the Family maintains a strong stand against abortion, and provides grant funding and medical training to assist crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs; also known as pregnancy resource centers) in obtaining ultrasound machines. According to the organization, this funding, which has allowed CPCs to provide pregnant women with live sonogram images of the developing fetus, has led directly to the birth of over 1500 babies who would have otherwise been aborted. The organization has been staunchly opposed to public funding for elective abortions.

Here is another graphic you should become familiar with.

Stephen C. Meyer is talking to students in a supposed college lecture series, and he launches into a recount of a debate involving biologist and staunch atheist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins’ closing statement is shown in its entirety, and it shows Dawkins arguing that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution put to rest any remaining notion that God was needed to explain the Universe.

Meyer counters, and he runs through a litany of famous scientists, particularly those working at the foundation of the scientific era, and he illustrates how their religious predilections supported their quest for scientific truth.

Discussing Newton’s concept of gravity, Meyer lurches into uncharted territory, for him. He speaks without foundation that the wonder that the Solar System of spinning and revolving planets does not yield easily to Newtonian mechanics. The fact is that Newton worked out much of the analysis that explains how such a system is formed, and modern astrophysics confirms that planetary systems are a natural consequence of Newtonian mechanics.

Unfortunately there was not a high school student present when this presentation was prepared, else this illustration would have been more factual.

And Meyer runs through a slew of honest scientists who were unable to conceive a universe without somebody or some thing getting it started.

And that is Meyer’s main argument in episode 2. The work of Edwin Hubble demonstrated that the Universe is expanding, therefore it must have had a beginning. On this practically all cosmologists agree. Meyer’s failure rests in not noticing that modern cosmology does not require an outside force to kick off the origin of the Universe. Lawrence Krauss sums up modern origin concepts neatly in his book A Universe from Nothing, which I reviewed two years ago:

Creationists are unable to step back and to see that purpose is a human feature. There is more. Other living organisms besides humans possess purpose. Foxes chase rabbits for a purpose. Foxes need to eat rabbits. If foxes do not catch and eat rabbits they will die. There will be no more foxes. The only foxes that still exist today are those that possess the purpose of catching and eating something. Purpose is something that has developed biologically by the process of evolution through natural selection. Outside this realm of things the concept of purpose does not exist.

Episode 3 is going to be a follow-on to this one and is titled “The Big Bang Cosmology, Part 2: In the Beginning.” I will do a review later this week.

Fool’s Argument

First of a series

Last year we ditched the cable and bought into a couple of subscription streaming services. So, come Sunday , and it was promising to be a dull morning. I turned to Amazon Prime Video and browsed some stuff Barbara Jean had earmarked. Wow. Does God Exist? Yes, it’s there, and what a wonderful way it is to brighten up an otherwise dull Sunday morning.

Of course I needed to watch. Here it is.

So I see that guy, and he’s asking the question, “Does God exist?” And he further asks, “Is the Bible really the word of God?” Also, “Was Jesus really the son of God?” These questions, I expect, will be answered. But one question that needs to be answered first is, “Who is that person asking those questions?”

Christians in Cinema: Dave Stotts

After attending Abilene Christian University in the Texas Panhandle, Dave Stotts hopped around a few more places before settling down in the Dallas Metroplex area. Married to Rebekah and the father of 2 sons (Seth and Luke), his time is divided between video post-production, theological studies and making history alive and entertaining.

When asked about his favorite restaurant, he immediately named “Mi Cocina,” which specializes in Tex-Mex cuisine (a man after my own heart!). A fan of science fiction epics (X-men, Superman, Star Wars) married to someone who doesn’t really care for them, Dave often watches his favorites with headphones. He’s even been known to impersonate Darth Vader for his youngest son “Luke, I’m your father”. I talked with Dave on a busy Thursday morning between video projects.

Then we get to the meat of the matter, and we see, as before, creationists Stephen C. Meyer. And it is good to see Dr. Meyer once more, even if this is not a recent production. My hope is he will be touching on a favorite topic of mine, namely Information and Myth:

Having nothing better to do, I was watching this on-line video. And the guy was making some statements about matter and information and energy, and, being composed of these things and having studied them in college, I was a little amazed at what the guy was saying. Time for a Slim Pickens movie quote here.1

The speaker was creationist Stephen C. Meyer, and that was no surprise. Meyer has just published his latest creationist book, and having nothing better to do, I ordered a copy from Amazon.com. Here is what Amazon has to say about the author:

Dr. Stephen C. Meyer received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in the philosophy of science. A former geophysicist and college professor, he now directs the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.2

Much is promised for this book. It’s supposed to set us straight about the basis for Intelligent Design and to make the case, using the story of DNA, for Intelligent Design. Once again, I will let Amazon do the talking:

That’s what I had to say eight years ago.

This seems to be a new setting. It is from all appearances a college classroom, and Meyer is going to address the question of whether God exists, and we can guess what the answer will be.

First off, I was unable to escape the notion this was dramatized. It gives the appearance of classroom instruction viewed live, but the use of multiple camera angles and the timing of the actions makes me doubt this could have been pulled off live. Live does not go this smoothly. There are times, when the camera angle shifts, that I would expect to see the camera that shot the previous view, and I do not. Let’s assume this is an informal, staged production. Also, in case you were not aware, this is a production of Focus on the Family:

Focus on the Family (FOTF or FotF) is an American Christian conservative organization founded in 1977 in Southern California by psychologistJames Dobson, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It is active in promoting an interdenominational effort toward its socially conservative views on public policy. Focus on the Family is one of a number of evangelical parachurch organizations that rose to prominence in the 1980s.

Focus on the Family’s stated mission is “nurturing and defending the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide”. It promotes abstinence-only sexual educationcreationism; adoption by married, opposite-sex parents; school prayer; and traditional gender roles. It opposes abortion; divorce; gambling; LGBT rights, particularly LGBT adoption and same-sex marriage; pornography; pre-marital sex; and substance abuse. Psychologistspsychiatrists, and social scientists have criticized Focus on the Family for trying to misrepresent their research to bolster FOTF’s fundamentalist political agenda and ideology.

We can tell up front there’s going to be a lot of solid science coming out of this.

There are ten episodes in the series plus a bonus, and the first is “Faith and Reason,” and Meyer gets into the meaning of faith, and hopefully why religious faith is not all that bad. For this kind of presentation, Meyer is an excellent choice. He is a polished presenter, and his formal training in philosophy of science provides the very material he needs for background. He can argue from an academically-grounded knowledge base.

That background, as I learned a few years back, is no inoculation against foolish thought. Robert Koons was then and still is a professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, where I once attended and obtained a degree. He came up to give a talk at UT Dallas in 2004, and I was there with a fellow skeptic to take it in:

All this got me to thinking, and when there was an opportunity to pose a question I asked just what it would take to be convincing. Passing by the bacterial flagellum for the time being, I brought up Behe’s example of human blood clotting chemistry (because that appears to me to be the bigger of these two cow cookies for Behe).4 I asked whether demonstrating feasible pathways to the present human clotting chemistry would sufficiently refute Behe’s whole argument for irreducible complexity.

To recapitulate, human blood clotting chemistry is quite complex (what isn’t in biochemistry). When a blood vessel is opened, an elaborate chain—a cascade—of chemical reactions is set into motion. If any step in the chain is missing, or is inadequate for the job, blood clots form prematurely, or we bleed excessively, even to death. Think hemophilia. How could that assemblage of chemical reactions have come about by mutation combined with natural selection? No single mutation, subsequently fixed through natural selection, could have produced all of the required steps simultaneously. If any of our ancestors lacked even one of the steps, we would not be reading this skeptical rag.

Knowing that biologists have a good lead on possible pathways and an effective refutation of Behe’s blood chemistry argument, I asked how many of Behe’s examples need to be explained before irreducible complexity is dead.

Not just one, Koons surmised. One example does not make for solid proof.

What Koons ending up saying is that creationists could pose a large number of examples of supposed irreducible complexity, and biologist would need to refute a slew of these before we should bring the concept into question. My experience, as I noted back then, is that in science and in academia you can expect to present two or at most three ridiculous arguments before you lose credibility. Koons seemed at the time vacant on this point.

But what of Meyer’s presentation on this day, apparently about 2009?

At one point he gets to the causality argument, and he states the misconception that cause and effect are essential to the working of the Universe. As is often pointed out, this is not the case. From all appearances and from all known experience, cause and effect are not essential. At the base of physical science, events happen without a cause. Not a big deal, but certainly not in line with Meyer’s train of thought.

That brings us to Meyer’s central argument in Episode 1. We know the effect. We see it all around us. We see birds, we feel the wind. There are stars and planets, and people and love and happiness (my wording). What is the cause? Is it blind physics? He is going to argue no. Eventually he is going to postulate that God is the best explanation—the best and ultimate cause. Here God is the capital G in the middle of his blackboard.

 

And Meyer’s argument is the proper inference is a being of some sort manifesting intelligence and passion. The problem with this is–pause for a moment–what we call intelligence and passion are human qualities. He, and others in the Intelligent Design movement, are taking these and other human qualities and creating a God that possesses these and in turn creates beings, ourselves, that have these properties. The argument is unquestionably circular.

I will state, as I have before, that if there were a being, such as the proposed God, and this being were all-knowing and all-powerful (omniscient and omnipotent), then what would would this God do? Create a Universe? Create a planet and populate it with beings possessing intelligence and passion? Why? The motivation to create, even if to experiment, is a quality found in living things on this planet. And that includes us. We have those qualities because they are essential to survival. Such need would not exist for an omniscient and omnipotent being. If there is Intelligent Design, then we are not the product. We are the designer.

Episode 2 is going to be “The Big Bang Cosmology: The Finite Universe.” I’m thinking that’s going to  be  more interesting, and I will post a review later this week. These are short, around 30 minutes, so they pose little challenge to my attention span.

Here is a link to a promo on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0S-5GdCPp7c

Hey! If you’re not an Amazon Prime subscriber you can purchase the DVD set on Amazon.

www.amazon.com/TrueU-01-Building-Scientific-Discussion/dp/B00UTUDIT6/

44 Reasons Why Evolution Is Just A Fairy Tale For Adults

Creationism-OriginOfLifeReality

This is amazing. I picked this link off my Facebook feed Friday and took a quick read. I am pasting it here:

The theory of evolution is false.  It is simply not true.  Actually, it is just a fairy tale for adults based on ancient pagan religious philosophy that hundreds of millions of people around the world choose to believe with blind faith.  When asked to produce evidence for the theory of evolution, most adults in the western world come up totally blank.  When pressed, most people will mumble something about how “most scientists believe it” and how that is good enough for them.  This kind of anti-intellectualism even runs rampant on our college campuses.  If you doubt this, just go to a college campus some time and start asking students why they believe in evolution.  Very few of them will actually be able to give you any real reasons why they believe it.  Most of them just have blind faith in the priest class in our society (“the scientists”).  But is what our priest class telling us actually true?  When Charles Darwin popularized the theory of evolution, he didn’t actually have any evidence that it was true.  And since then the missing evidence has still not materialized.  Most Americans would be absolutely shocked to learn that most of what is taught as “truth” about evolution is actually the product of the overactive imaginations of members of the scientific community.  They so badly want to believe that it is true that they will go to extraordinary lengths to defend their fairy tale.  They keep insisting that the theory of evolution has been “proven” and that it is beyond debate.  Meanwhile, most average people are intimidated into accepting the “truth” about evolution because they don’t want to appear to be “stupid” to everyone else.

In this day and age, it is imperative that we all learn to think for ourselves.  Don’t let me tell you what to think, and don’t let anyone else tell you what to think either.  Do your own research and come to your own conclusions.  The following are 44 reasons why evolution is just a fairy tale for adults…

All right. That’s the lead-off. Following are the famous 44. I’m not going to put the pasted text in quotes, but I will insert my response to each in bold to set it off from the original.

For the most part, these challenges do not appear to require serious responses, so I will respond in the same spirit. Here goes.

#1 If the theory of evolution was true, we should have discovered millions upon millions of transitional fossils that show the development of one species into another species. Instead, we have zero.

No, we should not. The “millions upon millions” is a figure thrown out with no basis in fact. Archaeologist have found notable fossils that can properly be characterized as “transitional.” Those would include sequences of fossils recording the development of the mammalian ear, which I have already discussed. The fact is, if a fossil is from an organism that left successors, it can be considered a transitional fossil.

#2 When Charles Darwin came up with his theory, he admitted that no transitional forms had been found at that time, but he believed that huge numbers certainly existed and would eventually be discovered

“Lastly, looking not to any one time, but to all time, if my theory be true, numberless intermediate varieties, linking closely together all the species of the same group, must assuredly have existed. But, as by this theory, innumerable transitional forms must have existed, why do we not find them embedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth?”

Unfortunately Charles Darwin has been dead for over a hundred years, and what he said about the theory of evolution has no bearing on current science. Science is based on what people can demonstrate and not on what people say. Speech is not evidence in science.

#3 Even some of the most famous evolutionists in the world acknowledge the complete absence of transitional fossils in the fossil record. For example, Dr. Colin Patterson, former senior paleontologist of the British Museum of Natural History and author of “Evolution” once wrote the following

“I fully agree with your comments about the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them …. I will lay it on the line – there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument.”

Again, it’s interesting to note that Colin Patterson said this, but again speech is not scientific evidence.

#4 Stephen Jay Gould, Professor of Geology and Paleontology at Harvard University, once wrote the following about the lack of transitional forms…

“The absence of fossil evidence for intermediary stages between major transitions in organic design, indeed our inability, even in our imagination, to construct functional intermediates in many cases, has been a persistent and nagging problem for gradualistic accounts of evolution.”

Same old-same old. Speech is not evidence.

#5 Evolutionist Stephen M. Stanley of Johns Hopkins University has also commented on the stunning lack of transitional forms in the fossil record…

“In fact, the fossil record does not convincingly document a single transition from one species to another.”

How many of these “he said” challenges can I look forward to?

#6 If “evolution” was happening right now, there would be millions of creatures out there with partially developed features and organs.  But instead there are none.

No. The first statement is not correct. It appears to be something made up by uneducated creationists.

#7 If the theory of evolution was true, we should not see a sudden explosion of fully formed complex life in the fossil record. Instead, that is precisely what we find.

Again, no. The writer of the above states this without providing any reasoning why it should be true.

#8 Paleontologist Mark Czarnecki, an evolutionist, once commented on the fact that complex life appears very suddenly in the fossil record…

“A major problem in proving the theory has been the fossil record; the imprints of vanished species preserved in the Earth’s geological formations. This record has never revealed traces of Darwin’s hypothetical intermediate variants –instead species appear and disappear abruptly, and this anomaly has fueled the creationist argument that each species was created by God.”

Again, it is enlightening to learn what some person said about some thing. In the final analysis, what is said has no weight.

#9 The sudden appearance of complex life in the fossil record is so undeniable that even Richard Dawkins has been forced to admit it…

“It is as though they [fossils] were just planted there, without any evolutionary history. Needless to say this appearance of sudden planting has delighted creationists. Both schools of thought (Punctuationists and Gradualists) despise so-called scientific creationists equally, and both agree that the major gaps are real, that they are true imperfections in the fossil record. The only alternative explanation of the sudden appearance of so many complex animal types in the Cambrian era is divine creation and both reject this alternative.”

Again, something a famous authority said, with no tie into what is actually so.

#10 Nobody has ever observed macroevolution take place in the laboratory or in nature.  In other words, nobody has ever observed one kind of creature turn into another kind of creature.  The entire theory of evolution is based on blind faith.

This one is almost too ridiculous for response. Read at face value we would expect to be looking for an animal undergoing transmogrification into another species. Since this is something that never happens, no scientific theory exists to explain it. It is definitely not an aspect of modern theories of biological evolution.

#11 Evolutionist Jeffrey Schwartz, a professor of anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh, openly admits that “the formation of a new species, by any mechanism, has never been observed.

Again, a statement and not a piece of evidence. Even worse, the statement is not correct. The formation of a new species has been observed on several occasions.

#12 Even evolutionist Stephen J. Gould of Harvard University has admitted that the record shows that species do not change. The following is how he put it during a lecture at Hobart & William Smith College

“Every paleontologist knows that most species don’t change. That’s bothersome….brings terrible distress. ….They may get a little bigger or bumpier but they remain the same species and that’s not due to imperfection and gaps but stasis. And yet this remarkable stasis has generally been ignored as no data. If they don’t change, its not evolution so you don’t talk about it.”

Another statement by a famous authority.

#13 Anyone that believes that the theory of evolution has “scientific origins” is fooling themselves.  It is actually a deeply pagan religious philosophy that can be traced back for thousands of years.

The link is to a creationist page, thereby losing any possible credibility. The fact is that people long considered biological evolution as an explanation for observations from nature. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace were the first to propose natural selection as an explanatory mechanism.

#14 Anything that we dig up that is supposedly more than 250,000 years old should have absolutely no radiocarbon in it whatsoever.  But instead, we find it in everything that we dig up – even dinosaur bones.  This is clear evidence that the “millions of years” theory is simply a bunch of nonsense

It’s long been known that radiocarbon (which should disappear in only a few tens of thousands of years at the most) keeps popping up reliably in samples (like coal, oil, gas, etc.) which are supposed to be ‘millions of years’ old. For instance, CMI has over the years commissioned and funded the radiocarbon testing of a number of wood samples from ‘old’ sites (e.g. with Jurassic fossils, inside Triassic sandstone, burnt by Tertiary basalt) and these were published (by then staff geologist Dr Andrew Snelling) in Creation magazine and Journal of Creation. In each case, with contamination eliminated, the result has been in the thousands of years, i.e. C-14 was present when it ‘shouldn’t have been’. These results encouraged the rest of the RATE team to investigate C-14 further, building on the literature reviews of creationist M.D. Dr Paul Giem.

In another very important paper presented at this year’s ICC, scientists from the RATE group summarized the pertinent facts and presented further experimental data. The bottom line is that virtually all biological specimens, no matter how ‘old’ they are supposed to be, show measurable C-14 levels. This effectively limits the age of all buried biota to less than (at most) 250,000 years.

Again, no. Carbon 14 can appear in any fossil due to contamination. It is interesting to note that proponents of creationism and creationist sites are coming to this erroneous conclusion. The person who wrote the above item needs to provide evidence produced by real scientists and published in real scientific journals.

#15 The odds of even a single sell “assembling itself” by chance are so low that they aren’t even worth talking about.  The following is an excerpt from Jonathan Gray’s book entitled “The Forbidden Secret“…

Even the simplest cell you can conceive of would require no less than 100,000 DNA base pairs and a minimum of about 10,000 amino acids, to form the essential protein chain. Not to mention the other things that would also be necessary for the first cell.

Bear in mind that every single base pair in the DNA chain has to have the same molecular orientation (“left-hand” or “right hand”)? As well as that, virtually all the amino acids must have the opposite orientation. And every one must be without error.

“Now,” explained Larry, “to randomly obtain those correct orientations, do you know your chances? It would be 1 chance in 2110,000, or 1 chance in 1033,113!

“To put it another way, if you attempted a trillion, trillion, trillion combinations every second for 15 billion years, the odds you would achieve all the correct orientations would still only be one chance in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion … and the trillions would continue 2755 times!

“It would be like winning more than 4700 state lotteries in a row with a single ticket purchased for each. In other words…impossible.”

This is an interesting presentation, but it has no bearing on reality. Biological evolution does not require the scenario depicted, so this is a non-starter.

#16 How did life learn to reproduce itself?  This is a question that evolutionists do not have an answer for.

Finally an interesting point. By “evolutionists” I presume is meant “scientists.” The inability to answer every question related to an issue does not imply certain conclusions are false.

#17 In 2007, fishermen caught a very rare creature known as a Coelacanth.  Evolutionists originally told us that this “living fossil” had gone extinct 70 million years ago.  It turns out that they were only off by 70 million years.

Actually, a living Coelecanth was found in 1938. “Evolutionists” (“scientists”) thought they were extinct up to that point, because they had found no live ones. The discovery of living members of this species reversed that thinking. This in no way offers comfort to creationists.

#18 According to evolutionists, the Ancient Greenling Damselfly last showed up in the fossil record about 300 million years ago.  But it still exists today.  So why hasn’t it evolved at all over the time frame?

This one appears to be wrong on a number of points. A learned explanation can be found on the NeuroLogica Blog. This site warrants further viewing. The writer seems to be addressing all the creationist’s 44 points.

#19 Darwinists believe that the human brain developed without the assistance of any designer.  This is so laughable it is amazing that there are any people out there that still believe this stuff.  The truth is that the human brain is amazingly complex.  The following is how a PBS documentary described the complexity of the human brain: “It contains over 100 billion cells, each with over 50,000 neuron connections to other brain cells.”

I am glad whoever wrote the above is impressed by the human brain. In truth, the human brain seems to be a more capable model of brains found in an array of other living species.

#20 The following is how one evolutionist pessimistically assessed the lack of evidence for the evolution of humanity…

“Even with DNA sequence data, we have no direct access to the processes of evolution, so objective reconstruction of the vanished past can be achieved only by creative imagination.”

Again, somebody is recounting what somebody else said rather than citing any number of useful facts or the results of pertinent scientific study.

#21 Perhaps the most famous fossil in the history of the theory of evolution, “Piltdown Man”, turned out to be a giant hoax.

Yes, the Piltdown Man was a hoax. This does not bear on the validity of modern biological science.

#22 If the neutron were not about 1.001 times the mass of the proton, all protons would have decayed into neutrons or all neutrons would have decayed into protons, and therefore life would not be possible. How can we account for this?

Biologists do not have to account for this. Biologists take the universe as a given and study life forms that exist in the realm of existing physical principles.

#23 If gravity was stronger or weaker by the slimmest of margins, then life sustaining stars like the sun could not exist. This would also make life impossible. How can we account for this?

Same response as immediately before.

#24 Why did evolutionist Dr. Lyall Watson make the following statement?…

“The fossils that decorate our family tree are so scarce that there are still more scientists than specimens. The remarkable fact is that all of the physical evidence we have for human evolution can still be placed, with room to spare, inside a single coffin!”

If Lyall Watson made this statement, he likely made it because he thought it to be true. And it may be true. The size of the objects found has little bearing on the facts these objects represent.

#25 Apes and humans are very different genetically.  As DarwinConspiracy.com explains, “the human Y chromosome has twice as many genes as the chimpanzee Y chromosome and the chromosome structures are not at all similar.”

The initial statement seems to have little basis in fact. Again see the useful explanation posted on the NeuroLogical Blog.

#26 How can we explain the creation of new information that is required for one animal to turn into another animal?  No evolutionary process has ever been shown to be able to create new biological information.  One scientist described the incredible amount of new information that would be required to transform microbes into men this way

“The key issue is the type of change required — to change microbes into men requires changes that increase the genetic information content, from over half a million DNA ‘letters’ of even the ‘simplest’ self-reproducing organism to three billion ‘letters’ (stored in each human cell nucleus).”

The foregoing (as before) begins by inserting a false premise into the question. Animals do not turn into other species. The fact is that “new information” comes from purely random processes. I have discussed this before.

#27 Evolutionists would have us believe that there are nice, neat fossil layers with older fossils being found in the deepest layers and newer fossils being found in the newest layers.  This simply is not true at all

The fossil layers are not found in the ground in the nice neat clean order that evolutionists illustrate them to be in their textbooks. There is not one place on the surface of the earth where you may dig straight down and pass through the fossil layers in the order shown in the textbooks. The neat order of one layer upon another does not exist in nature. The fossil bearing layers are actually found out of order, upside down (backwards according to evolutionary theory), missing (from where evolutionists would expect them to be) or interlaced (“younger” and “older” layers found in repeating sequences). “Out of place” fossils are the rule and not the exception throughout the fossil record.

I am sure, without going to sources, the statement “The fossil bearing layers are actually found out of order…” is true. There are places in the Earth’s crust where geological activity has scrambled the order of layers. This does not invalidate anything known about biological evolution.

#28 Evolutionists believe that the ancestors of birds developed hollow bones over thousands of generations so that they would eventually be light enough to fly.  This makes absolutely no sense and is beyond ridiculous.

I am glad whoever wrote the foregoing finds “This makes absolutely no sense and is beyond ridiculous.” That is not a valid argument.

#29 If dinosaurs really are tens of millions of years old, why have scientists found dinosaur bones with soft tissue still in them?  The following is from an NBC News report about one of these discoveries…

For more than a century, the study of dinosaurs has been limited to fossilized bones. Now, researchers have recovered 70 million-year-old soft tissue, including what may be blood vessels and cells, from a Tyrannosaurus rex.

The presence of well-preserved tissue may have some basis. None of these findings refute the perceived age of the fossils.

#30 Which evolved first: blood, the heart, or the blood vessels for the blood to travel through?

Wait, wait! This is supposed to be “44 Reasons.” Asking a question is not the same as providing a reason. I am unable to answer this question, and the reason I am unable to answer this question is because I am ignorant and not because theories of biological evolution are false.

#31 Which evolved first: the mouth, the stomach, the digestive fluids, or the ability to poop?

Again, a question instead of an argument.

#32 Which evolved first: the windpipe, the lungs, or the ability of the body to use oxygen?

Same as before.

#33 Which evolved first: the bones, ligaments, tendons, blood supply, or the muscles to move the bones?

Same as before.

#34 In order for blood to clot, more than 20 complex steps need to successfully be completed. How in the world did that process possibly evolve?

Same as before.

#35 DNA is so incredibly complex that it is absolutely absurd to suggest that such a language system could have “evolved” all by itself by accident…

When it comes to storing massive amounts of information, nothing comes close to the efficiency of DNA. A single strand of DNA is thousands of times thinner than a strand of human hair. One pinhead of DNA could hold enough information to fill a stack of books stretching from the earth to the moon 500 times.

Although DNA is wound into tight coils, your cells can quickly access, copy, and translate the information stored in DNA. DNA even has a built-in proofreader and spell-checker that ensure precise copying. Only about one mistake slips through for every 10 billion nucleotides that are copied.

Whoever wrote the above is arguing from disbelief. It is not a valid argument to make.

#36 Can you solve the following riddle by Perry Marshall?…

1) DNA is not merely a molecule with a pattern; it is a code, a language, and an information storage mechanism.

2) All codes are created by a conscious mind; there is no natural process known to science that creates coded information.

3) Therefore DNA was designed by a mind.

If you can provide an empirical example of a code or language that occurs naturally, you’ve toppled my proof. All you need is one.

The pattern of reasoning in the foregoing is invalid on a number of points. The writer calls DNA a code, using a figure of speech. Then the wording is used in a different context in an attempt to make an argument.

#37 Evolutionists simply cannot explain why our planet is so perfectly suited to support life.

By “evolutionists” I assume whoever wrote the foregoing means “biologists.” Since the science of biology does not encompass cosmology, I am going to conclude that the statement is irrelevant to the discussion.

#38 Shells from living snails have been “carbon dated” to be 27,000 years old.

They “have,” and this is through a mis-application of carbon dating. Snails do not acquire their carbon from atmospheric sources. Enough said.

#39 If humans have been around for so long, where are all of the bones and all of the graves?  The following is an excerpt from an article by Don Batten

Evolutionists also claim there was a ‘Stone Age’ of about 100,000 years when between one million and 10 million people lived on Earth. Fossil evidence shows that people buried their dead, often with artefacts—cremation was not practised until relatively recent times (in evolutionary thinking). If there were just one million people alive during that time, with an average generation time of 25 years, they should have buried 4 billion bodies, and many artefacts. If there were 10 million people, it would mean 40 billion bodies buried in the earth. If the evolutionary timescale were correct, then we would expect the skeletons of the buried bodies to be largely still present after 100,000 years, because many ordinary bones claimed to be much older have been found. However, even if the bodies had disintegrated, lots of artefacts should still be found.

I have seen this silly question before, and I have previously seen fit to add to it. Where are their credit card statements, as well?

#40 Evolutionists claim that just because it looks like we were designed that does not mean that we actually were.  They often speak of the “illusion of design”, but that is kind of like saying that it is an “illusion” that a 747 airplane or an Apple iPhone were designed.  And of course the human body is far more complex that a 747 or an iPhone.

Saying “we appear to have been designed” is a figure of speech and is not evidence.

#41 If you want to be part of the “scientific community” today, you must accept the theory of evolution no matter how absurd it may seem to you.  Richard Lewontin of Harvard once made the following comment regarding this harsh reality…

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, . . . in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated commitment to materialism. . . . we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

It is certainly enlightening to learn what Richard Lewontin said, but again what somebody said is not scientific evidence.

#42 Time Magazine once made the following statement about the lack of evidence for the theory of evolution…

“Yet despite more than a century of digging, the fossil record remains maddeningly sparse. With so few clues, even a single bone that doesn’t fit into the picture can upset everything. Virtually every major discovery has put deep cracks in the conventional wisdom and forced scientists to concoct new theories, amid furious debate.”

Good to learn what Time Magazine had to say. For what may hopefully be the last time, what people say does not constitute a scientific argument.

#43 Malcolm Muggeridge, the world famous journalist and philosopher, once made the following statement about the absurdity of the theory of evolution…

“I myself am convinced that the theory of evolution, especially the extent to which it’s been applied, will be one of the great jokes in the history books of the future. Posterity will marvel that so very flimsy and dubious an hypothesis could be accepted with the incredible credulity that it has.”

Oops. I was hoping I had seen the last of these. Sadly not.

#44 In order to believe the theory of evolution, you must have enough blind faith to believe that life just popped into existence from nonlife, and that such life just happened to have the ability to take in the nourishment it needed, to expel waste, and to reproduce itself, all the while having everything it needed to survive in the environment in which it suddenly found itself. Do you have that much blind faith?

This is a statement of the person who posted these “44 Reasons Why Evolution Is Just A Fairy Tale For Adults” and does not constitute a valid argument. So, I’m not going to address it. And that’s the end of my response to the “44 Reasons…” Here is a final quote from the author of the 44:

For years, I have been looking for someone that can explain to me the very best evidence for the theory of evolution in a systematic way.  My challenge has been for someone to lay out for me a basic outline of the facts that “prove” that evolution is true.

Perhaps you believe that you are up to the challenge.

Would that you had provided more of a challenge. I congratulate Michael Snyder, who is credited in the post I copied these from. He has dredged up what may be the most comprehensive collection of creationist nonsense I have come across in many years. This has been a refreshing tour and a reminder to me, and others as well, of the shallowness of the creationist argument. If there is any demonstration of the standing of modern science with respect to superstition and myth, these kinds of postings stand out. They are sorely appreciated.

While posting my responses I ran across Steven Novella’s much more enlightened and comprehensive response. Please link to his blog posts and read his responses. His responses are in four parts:

Signature in the Stone

Part of a continuing series

Geological Survey of Canada Photograph of fossil worm, showing clear 'spines'

Geological Survey of Canada
Photograph of fossil worm, showing clear ‘spines’

A few days ago I posted a short comment on creationist Steven C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt, which came out in 2013. Previously (2009) I reviewed his Signature in the Cell. This series of posts is going to be a continuation of my comments on the more recent book.

The first 56%  comprises the main book, what the book is about. The remainder is Meyer’s response to critiques of the initial edition followed by acknowledgements, references to cited sources, and such. My immediate concern will be with the main text.

Reading through the first 250+ pages I came to realize I have insufficient knowledge of biology and paleontology to appreciate Meyer’s arguments, so for the most part my critique is going to reflect the findings of experts. Certain comments and claims made by Meyer fall within my range of knowledge, and I will offer a personal response to those.

Here’s an overview: Meyer’s previous book deals with supposed outside intelligence and its influence on biological evolution and biogenesis. Darwin’s Doubt is about the Cambrian explosion and how Darwinian evolution (natural causes) cannot account for it.

Nick Matzke posted a lengthy (9000+ words) critique of the book the day after it was offered for sale. Meyer wonders at this prodigious feat, and I would as well. Except, skeptic that I am, I suspect Matzke obtained an early copy, although this is never openly discussed. Here is an excerpt from Meyer’s response:

According to Matzke, cladistic analysis has established the existence of “transitional” and “intermediate” forms between the animals that first arose in the Cambrian. In his view, cladistics has solved the problem of the missing ancestral fossils discussed in Part 1 (Chapters 1– 7) of the book. As he asserts, “phylogenetic methods can establish, and have established, the existence of Cambrian intermediate forms, which are collateral ancestors of various prominent living phyla.” Matzke argues that my failure to inform readers of this disqualifies the book from serious consideration as an analysis of the Cambrian explosion.

Of course, in making this argument, Matzke scarcely addresses the central argument of the book: the problem of the origin of biological information.

Meyer, Stephen C. (2013-06-18). Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (Kindle Locations 7631-7638). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

This I find to be so very quaint. The problem of the origin of biological information was supposed to have been the subject of Signature in the Cell. Matzke aside, my reading of Darwin’s Doubt gave me the impression the book was supposed to be an analysis of the Cambrian explosion.

I will start by analyzing the dispute outlined above. Meyer says that Matzke asserts “phylogenetic methods can establish, and have established, the existence of Cambrian intermediate forms, which are collateral ancestors of various prominent living phyla.” This actual quote appears in a subsequent post by Matzke titled “Luskin’s Hopeless Monster,” and is the one cited in the book. I find this in Matzke’s original post, and I have highlighted the relevant text:

Yet another confusion that Meyer exhibits relates to the idea of “ancestor”. As with all creationists, Meyer exhibits no understanding of the fact that phylogenetic methods as they exist now can only rigorously detect sister-group relationships, not direct ancestry, and, crucially, that this is neither a significant flaw, nor any sort of challenge to common ancestry, nor any sort of evidence against evolution. Distinguishing between a close sister-group relationship and an exact ancestor is just a level of precision that we cannot expect in most cases. It’s just a by-product of the method and the data available. (This is not quite the end of the discussion on this topic – eventually, we will have Bayesian methods that will assign probabilities to hypotheses of direct ancestry, although this will require formal definition and then data-informed estimation of what “ancestral lineage” means in terms of morphological variability within a lineage, the biogeographic and stratigraphic range of “morphospecies” through times, etc. End nerdy sidetrack.) But phylogenetic methods can and do regularly and rigorously identify collateral ancestry – sister group relationships, and ancestral grades and clades. We can say that birds descend from dinosaurs with essentially 100% statistical confidence, without knowing which if any currently-described fossils are exact direct ancestors rather than closely-related sister groups.

For all of the above reasons, almost every page of Meyer’s discussion of Cambrian organisms contains howlers of the first order. For example, in chapter 2:

First, the great profusion of completely novel forms of life in the Burgess assemblage (feature 3) demanded that even more transitional forms than had previously been thought missing. Each new and exotic Cambrian creature – the anomalocarids (see Fig. 2.10), Marrella, Opabinia, and the bizarre and appropriately named Hallucigenia– for which there were again no obvious ancestral forms in the lower strata, required its own series of transitional ancestors. But where were they?

Casey Luskin is a lawyer working for the Discovery Institute, the premier advocate of Intelligent Design in this country.

Meyer’s response to Matzke is notably weak. He does not attempt to refute any of the critique, but only complains that Matzke is missing the point of the book. One has to wonder, if this topic does not contribute to the point of the book, when why is Meyer discussing it? Meyer’s only defense seems to be an attempt to deflect attention away from this and other noted flaws.

At this point I need to illustrate what is meant by phylogenetic methods. Here is a simple diagram:

Phylogeny

Misconceptions about evolution (evolution.berkeley.edu)

Such a diagram can be constructed by a number of ways, but all methods employ extant organisms. Comparing similar body features (homology) one can determine the order of branching illustrated above. At one point in the past the line of descent of sharks branched from that of other fishes, never to merge again. Ultimately mammals, including us, derived from the right-hand branch and not from the shark branch.

Homology is a coarse-handed way to compare organisms. A finer-grained way is to use protein sequencing and even DNA sequencing. This is because similar forms can disguise true ancestry, which ancestry is more accurately revealed by comparing molecules.

Matzke continues his argument:

Again, it is only by refusing to depict and specifically discuss of the inter-relationships of these sorts of taxa, and the data that supports them, and to mention the statistical support for the resulting relationships, that Meyer manages to pretend to his readers that these questions are not even partially answered, are unanswerable, and that “poof, God did it” is a better explanation. Here’s the cladogram from Legg et al. (2012) again:

phylogenydiagram

From Nick Matzke post

Matzke drives home his point with some force:

What goes into diagrams like this? They represent summaries of the morphological character data, which in this case you can see right here. Many readers, and virtually all creationists/IDists, will have little idea of the scale of effort that goes into constructing a dataset like this. These researchers, and the previous researchers that they are building upon, identified 580 individual, variable characters, each of which has to be identified, defined, divided up into discrete character states, and encoded. This laborious process had to be repeated for (in this case) 173 fossil taxa (correction – some are living, e.g. Drosophila). A lot of fossils are missing a lot of characters – typical and expected in paleontological analyses – but it is still a lot of work. After this, one runs a cladistic or other phylogenetic analysis (whole textbooks and courses are devoted just to this step of the process, and articles devoted to testing the reliability of phylogenetic methods, and improving the methods, are continually being published) and calculates support statistics. The support statistics are important since they tell you whether or not your data have any phylogenetic tree structure. Usually this doesn’t get major emphasis in scientific publications, because almost any biological dataset typically has extremely statistically significant tree signal, and this is true whether or not it agrees precisely with other analyses, and whether or not all relationships of interest to the researcher are precisely resolved with high support.

To anyone familiar with this work, it is simply laughable and pretty much insulting to see Stephen Meyer proclaim throughout his book that fossils with transitional morphology don’t exist, that the Cambrian body plans look like they originated all-at-once in one big sudden step. These statements don’t respect scientific process, they don’t respect the peer reviewed literature, they don’t respect the intelligence and knowledge of people who actually do know what they are talking about, they don’t respect the hard work of all the scientists that went out in the field and found these fossils, and then spent countless hours preparing them, describing them, inspecting them in microscopic detail, coding them in a morphology database, and analyzing them, all with care and effort and detail never taken by any creationist/IDist writer in any effort of comparative biology. And most importantly, Meyer’s statements don’t respect the data. They don’t follow the evidence wherever it leads, mostly because Meyer is ignoring most of the evidence.

A lot of Meyer’s book has to do with disputing the lineage of Cambrian animal life. In future installments of this series I will mine additional instances and also comment on some of his absurd claims related to information and intelligence.

Keep reading.