Sunday, October 11, 2009

Richard Dawkins turns down Dr. Stephen Meyer's debate Challenge

Richard Dawkins has added Dr. Stephen Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell to his list of people he refuses to debate. Prior to denying Dr. Meyers, Dawkins had also declined challenges issued by Dinesh D'Souza, who has debated notables such as Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Michael Shermer. Dawkins also has passed up opportunities to debate Christian Philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig, a formidable debater who in the past has debated the best atheism, Islam, and skepticism has to offer.

Dawkins, apparently continuing to hide behind his Stephen Jay Gould inspired article Why I Won't Debate Creationists, continues to dodge his critics and avoid putting his beliefs under the microscope of his numerous detractors. In this article, Dawkins sloppily throws creationists and Intelligent Design advocates (ID) into the same the camp, while they themselves would separate themselves from each other. They clearly have vastly different approaches and both IDers and Creationists know it; and so does Dawkins.

Consider his recent appearance on the Michael Medved show:

"Bruce Chapman: … Dr. Dawkins, this is Bruce Chapman from Discovery Institute calling. [Dawkins, muttering under his breath: “Right.”] I was frustrated with this conversation because most of the time I hear straw man arguments about intelligent design. Your new book apparently doesn’t really deal with intelligent design. But it seems to me, that in your previous book, you said that it’s a question of science, that it is a scientific argument – I congratulate you for that -- But if it is, how about having a debate with Stephen Meyer, who is the author of another new book, Signature in the Cell, which deals with this question, and have this in a respectful, civilized, scholarly fashion where you look at the scientific arguments, pro and con?

Richard Dawkins: Now, when you say that I don’t deal with intelligent design, I do, because I deal with creationism and, of course, intelligent design is simply another name for creationism invented for political reasons.

Chapman: Well, if it’s another name for creationism, why did you distinguish between intelligent design and creationism very early in this program?

Dawkins: I don’t.

Medved: You did, earlier on, when we were talking about the Holocaust denier analogy, you said you applied that analogy to old earth creationists. Intelligent design advocates are not old earth creationists.

Dawkins: Sorry, um, I applied the history-deniers to young earth creationists.
Medved: I’m sorry, young earth creationists, yes, but you know intelligent design advocates are not young earth creationists.

Dawkins: I do, and that was precisely the distinction I was making. That’s why I said that I was not accusing intelligent design people of being history deniers, in that sense.

Medved: But you just said intelligent design is another name for creationism.

Dawkins: It is another name for creationism, but not young earth creationism.

Medved: Bruce Chapman?

Chapman: In that case, you’ve got an argument with your previous caller also, because that would be a theistic evolutionist proposition, which is also, by your definition, if it’s not Darwinian evolution, it’s creationism in some fashion. There isn’t any other kind of evolution, as far as you’re concerned.

Dawkins: Where do you guys think – do you think that God did it?

Chapman: I don’t know, I don’t think that the intelligent design people—

Dawkins: That’s what you say, you always pretend, you always pretend that an alien in outer space or something, but you know very well that what you mean is God.

Chapman: No, I think that was your line in Expelled. But I think that the thing that you really ought to consider, in all seriousness, is that by your own definition there is a scientific argument. Put that scientific argument to the test, not with somebody who’s a straw man that you bring up, but have somebody like Meyer, who has written a very scholarly book, to actually debate this topic with you…

Medved: All right, the proposal’s on the table, response from Professor Dawkins, thank you, Bruce.

Dawkins: I will have a discussion with somebody who has a genuinely different scientific point of view. I have never come across any kind of creationism, whether you call it intelligent design or not, which has a serious scientific case to put.

The objection to having debates with people like that is that it gives them a kind of respectability. If a real scientist goes onto a debating platform with a creationist, it gives them a respectability, which I do not think your people have earned."

See the entire article here. You can also read more of Chapman's thoughts on Dawkins latest book, and this exchange, here.

I believe Dr. Stephen Meyer does an excellent job defining exactly what Intelligent Design is:

Of course, many scientists have argued that to infer design gives up on science. They say that inferring design constitutes an argument from scientific ignorance- a "God of the gaps" fallacy. Since science doesn't yet know how biological information could have arisen, design theorists invoke a mysterious notion-intelligent design-to fill a gap in scientific knowledge.

Yet design theorists do not infer design just because natural processes cannot explain the origin of biological systems, but because these systems manifest the distinctive hallmarks of intelligently designed systems-that is, they posses features that in any other realm of experience would trigger the recognition of an intelligent cause. [1]

Dawkins is a master at telling "just-so" stories about evolution and explaining science in a literary, non-technical manner. However, when he begins to talk about Intelligent Design, you get the sense that he is making things up as he goes. I would recommend that Professor Dawkins familiarize himself with more works by IDers. Perhaps it would keep him from using old, disproved evidence such as this in the future.

Courage and Godspeed,


1. Stephen Meyer, Signs of Intelligence: Understanding Intelligent Design, Essay: Word Games: DNA, Design, and Intelligence, p. 116, Emphasis mine.


Mike Felker said...

It's amazing how one could make a career out of arguing against creationist and ID'rs but refuses to debate them, much less deal with their arguments.

Chad said...


I couldn't agree more! Further, one wonders who Dawkins WILL debate! Meaning, if he won't debate the creationists, and he won't debate the IDers, who does that leave?

I suppose he could debate a theistic evolutionist, but he turned down Dinesh D'Souza...?

Godspeed and hope you are well!

Scott Roche said...

One note, the video to which you link doesn't appear to use Haeckel's drawings, but Darwin's own.

Chad said...

Hey Scott,

First off, I LOVE the profile pic! Go Spidey!

Thank you for taking the time to comment. Do you know which of Darwin's publications include the embryo drawings?

Thank you

Peter said...

@ Mike - Dawkins refuses to aruge creationists/I.D.ers because he, like every other RATIONAL scientist find it a waste of time. Time and time again he has had to reiterate all his irrefutable points.

He's a very busy man, he has much more important things to do than to argue with the "Banana Man" (which he said he would argue [embarrass] if he donated $100,000 to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, lol.)

greatcloud said...

Hi Chad,
You and I are on the same wavelength (Dawkins & Meyer). It's unfortunate that Dawkins won't debate either Craig or Meyer. I'm afraid either one of those would go fairly poorly for him. I imagine he would end up sounding like Lewis Wolpert in his debate with Craig, and just saying, "We all know this is nonsense," but not giving any arguments or addressing the evidence. A lot of these guys are long on assertions but short on arguments.

Brian said...


We're talking about debates between the most prominent thinkers and scientists in their fields. Stephen Meyer is not on the same level as "banana man." In addition, you are not drawing proper distinctions between those who are identified as creationists and those who are intelligent design proponents.

Unfortunately, Dawkins had the chance to take on the leading intelligent design proponents and their arguments in his recent book - but he failed to engage their arguments. He instead attacked people who believe the earth is 6000 years old. It seems that Dawkins himself is either ignorant or unwilling to acknowledge the distinction.

If his points are "irrefutable," then I think he should be in a very good position to have a public debate.

Mike Felker said...

Peter, its a waste of time, but yet Dawkins will make a career out of writing books on the subject for over three decades? That just doesn't add up.

And I can't believe you'd bring someone like Ray Comfort into this, which is typical of atheists to do in pretending that there aren't theists out there with real credentials.

Samuel said...

I think the problem is that most of the people who are hot for ID don't realize the very basics of evolutionary theory.

Design? Evolutionary theory accounts for that with observations. Darwin was the first to write a book about it. How is it that design occurs? Natural selection. Is natural selection observable? Yes.

Now let's take ID.... they see complexity and a variety of species (speciation). Same thing as Darwin and Co. They say, this is complex, how did it come to be? Same as Darwin and Co.

Darwin comes up with a naturalistic explanation, because he was a naturalist. If you ask a scientist to come up with an explanation, they do so in naturalistic terms. If you ask a meteorologist why it's raining, you wouldn't expend him to say "God did it!" would you?

Anyway, back to ID. Essentially they make the same observations as everyone else, "there are a lot of species and they are all complex" and instead of putting forth a causal mechanism and generating mounds of evidence for it (natural selection) they just say "God did it! It was designed."

They are going backwards in science.

Mike Felker said...

Samuel, this is a gross mischaracterization of the ID position. I'm assuming you haven't read any standard works of ID literature? If so, you would have noticed that ID isn't based of "God did it." Instead, they work of positive evidence.

For instance, information always has been observed to come from an intelligent source. That is, specified complexity has never been observed to come about through naturalistic means. And in nature, we see the most complex information system in the known universe, DNA, to which we conclude that since it qualifies as information and all known experimentation, it is from an intelligent source.

If you'd like more information (no pun intended) on ID and information theory in particular, i'd recommend "Signature in the Cell" by Myers or "In the Beginning was Information" by Werner Gitt

Samuel said...

But don't you see that ID boils down to.... "this is really complex, we can't explain it, therefore Designer (God)."

That's the core of ID.
Just becomes something is complex does not mean it is designed.

Also, if we want to talk about ID as a theological concept (which it is) - what can we conclude about the designer when we look at such designs as "necrotizing fasciitis?"

What can we conclude about the designer when we look at autoimmune diseases? The "designer" created designs that are capable of turning on themselves.

These are all theological questions, not scientific ones, but that is what ID is.... we can continue this discussion elsewhere if the comment board is getting clogged - but Dawkins won't debate ID because ID is not science. It is misinformation, politics, and theology. But science it is not.

Samuel said...

I'd also like to point out that "specified complexity" has been shown to be mathematically unsound, and "irreducible complexity" has been debunked (example 1:

Wikipedia isn't the most academic of sources, but this is a quick reference for the problems with "specified complexity" -

But my main point is that no matter how you spin it - ID boils down to "God did it."

Chad said...

Hello; I just wanted to make a few points:

1. We need to make sure that we differentiate between a "rebuttal" and a "refutation." Anyone can put forth a rebuttal; however, we must be cautious in automatically assuming that it's a "refutation." I wonder if you have read any of Dembski or Behe's rebuttals to the above links you've provided.

2. Regarding your comment, "ID is not science" I would encourage you to checkout the following essay, included in a past post, which may challenge your statement:

3. Finally, if something has the "appearance" of being designed, should a scientist at least be allowed to CONSIDER an intelligent cause?


Samuel said...

"3. Finally, if something has the "appearance" of being designed, should a scientist at least be allowed to CONSIDER an intelligent cause?"

What would constitute the "appearance" of being designed?
That something is complex?

Samuel said...

comment posted on the "is ID science" link.

As for "appearance" of being designed.... what does that even mean? "If something is complicated then it appears to be designed; things appear to be designed because they are complicated" it's just circular.

And like I said.... when it comes to biology, natural selection already explains the appearance of design.

Mike Felker said...

Samuel, I think you understand, whether you realize it or not, what an intelligently caused design would look like. Here's a simplistic example.

a) 10,000 toothpicks are scattered randomly all over the floor as if someone dumped out a bucket of them. This signifies complexity, but is random.

b) 10,000 toothpicks are scattered all over the floor, but they are organized into words and letters that read the 23rd Psalm. This signifies specified and purposeful complexity.

Which option signifies design? I think you know the answer to this, even if you don't necessarily know how to formulate the reasoning behind it.

ID theorists have actually formulated and defined what would qualify as design or "specified complexity."

We could go on to answer the specifics in detail to your arguments, but it would be far more beneficial for you to take the time to read at least one major work of ID literature. Dembski, Meyer, or Gitt would do. Please check out one of these books and come back with your critiques as to why their arguments aren't sufficient in explaining the phenomenon of design.

Samuel said...

"b) 10,000 toothpicks are scattered all over the floor, but they are organized into words and letters that read the 23rd Psalm. This signifies specified and purposeful complexity"

But it mathematically/realistically is possible that those 10,000 toothpicks could be scattered and make the 23rd Psalm.

Granted the probabilities are extremely small.... but given enough time, you could eventually get that.

Think about it this way. What are the odds of winning the lottery? Yet people do win.

from wiki on SC (specified complexity): "For example, if a coin is tossed randomly 1000 times, the probability of any particular outcome occurring is roughly one in 10^300. For any particular specific outcome of the coin-tossing process, the a priori probability that this pattern occurred is thus one in 10^300, which is astronomically smaller than Dembski's universal probability bound of one in 10^150."

ID just takes things that are improbably (note: not impossible) and imposes a meaningful pattern on them.

I highly recommend:

and for the record: I have seen Dembski debate in person, and read a little Behe.

Samuel said...


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