Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Goliath of Neo-Darwinism vs. The David of Intelligent Design


Evolution News and Views has been posting some very interesting articles as of late regarding the debate between Neo-Darwinism and Intelligent Design.

Are you aware that:

1. Dr. Stephen Meyer and Dr. Richard Sternberg recently debated Dr. Michael Shermer and Dr. Donald Prothero on the topic of "Has Evolutionary Theory Adequately Explained the Origins of Life?"
See how it went here.

2. Dr. Stephen Meyer's latest book, The Signature in the Cell, was recently voted "book of the year" by the book reviewers at the Times Literary Supplement (TLS) in London? Furthermore, the book reviewers left out some of the year's most pro-Darwin books such as Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth and Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True. Read more here.

Here is an endorsement for Dr. Meyer's book that comes from atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel:

"Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperCollins) is a detailed account of the problem of how life came into existence from lifeless matter – something that had to happen before the process of biological evolution could begin. The controversy over Intelligent Design has so far focused mainly on whether the evolution of life since its beginnings can be explained entirely by natural selection and other non-purposive causes. Meyer takes up the prior question of how the immensely complex and exquisitely functional chemical structure of DNA, which cannot be explained by natural selection because it makes natural selection possible, could have originated without an intentional cause. He examines the history and present state of research on non-purposive chemical explanations of the origin of life, and argues that the available evidence offers no prospect of a credible naturalistic alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause. Meyer is a Christian, but atheists, and theists who believe God never intervenes in the natural world, will be instructed by his careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem."

See Jerry Coyne's reaction to Nagel's decision to choose Meyer's book, go here.

Signature in the Cell was previously named one of the top ten best-selling science books of the year by Amazon.com.

In other noteworthy news at Apologetics 315...

Dr. William Lane Craig recently debated evolutionary biologist Francisco J. Ayala on the topic "Is Intelligent Design Viable?" You can listen to this debate here.

One blogger's comments were telling:

"Let me be very honest and say that I'm actually coming around to a position of thinking ID might be viable (in a Christian universe, which I believe to be our universe) partially because I'm sick and tired of the hand-waving and lack of good response from scientists who claim to be experts."

For an atheist's perspective on the debate, see here.

The "goliath" is still standing, but he is starting to look a little smaller...

Courage and Godspeed,

Chad

18 comments:

Samuel said...

"Has Evolutionary Theory Adequately Explained the Origins of Life?"

Except isn't Darwinian evolution supposed to explain speciation?

Darwin never attempted to explain the origin of life, but rather.... The Origin of Species. Hence the title of the book....

Chad said...

Hello Samuel,

Yes; but I am assuming that you would agree that since Darwin, many evolutionists have attempted to explain the origin of life by evolutionary means, yes?

Perhaps those who decided on the debate titled could have clarified their terms a bit more?

Unfortuately, the term "evolution" is used so broadly that it many times becomes difficult to know exactly what one means.

Thanks for dropping by!

Respectfully

Anonymous said...

Not exactly; They explain life using Evolution AND Abiogenesis, which is life from non-life. However evolution can work under a god, and I've read some articles stating that evolution REQUIRES an intelligent hand guiding it.

Chad said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for commenting. Yes; I know that Dr. William Lane Craig believes that even if evolution, on a macro-level, was proven true beyond a reasonable doubt, it would serve as MORE proof of God's existence!

Take care

Samuel said...

"I know that Dr. William Lane Craig believes that even if evolution, on a macro-level, was proven true beyond a reasonable doubt,"

1. it has been proven about as much as germ theory. I think both are beyond a reasonable doubt.
2. One species giving birth to a new species would be DISPROOF for evolution, but this is usually what Creationist/ID people call "macro-evolution."
3. No matter what, WLC is going to say something is proof for the Christian God. That's how he gets his paycheck.

(yeah, #3 is speculative and probably logically fallacious, but I had to throw it out there as a "cui bono.")

Chad said...

Greetings Samuel,

It’s nice to hear from you again and I hope you are well.

1. Respectfully, an assertion does not equal an argument. I plan to continue to weigh the evidence within the debate between Darwinism and ID and encourage yourself and other readers to do the same.

2. Micro-evolution refers to uncontroversial changes within species that people observe. Macro-evolution refers to the branching tree pattern of evolution that is the essence of Darwinism that ultimately, through gradual changes, leads to a new specie type.

I don’t know of any serious creationist [this does not include those who use bananas as evidence for ID] or ID advocate who tries to claim that because one specie has not “given birth” to another, in a literal sense, that therefore evolution is not true.

For those interested in examining Dr. Craig’s actual position, click here

3. Here is Craig’s actually argument for evolution requiring an intelligent designer:

“And I’m going to suggest that the idea evolution could have occurred without an intelligent designer is so improbable as to be fantastic. This has been demonstrated by Barrow and Tipler in their book “The Anthropic Cosmological Principle.” In this book, they list ten steps in the course of human evolution, each of which is so improbable that before it would have occurred the sun would have ceased to be a main sequence star and would have burned up the earth. [John Barrow and Frank Tipler, “The Anthropic Cosmological Principle: (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986)., pp. 561-565.] They estimate the odds of evolution of the human genome by chance to be on the order of 4-360 (110,000), a number which is so huge that to call it astronomical would be a wild understatement. In other words, if evolution did occur, it would have been a miracle, so that evolution is actually evidence for the existence of God.”

Further, I agree with your own assessment regarding #3: speculative and probably logically fallacious.

I appreciate your thoughts.

Samuel said...

1. I made the assertion because it would take quite a while to go over all the evidence. Not a blogger comment. You've talked to a professional biologist at a local university about it right? At least had a good humored debate - your taxpayer dollars fund them - it's the least they could do. If they really can't convince you that there is any veracity to it - after a good humored debate/talk session - perhaps then it would be reasonable to ask for your tax dollars back for their research. But I am guessing they might sway you a bit.

2. "Micro-evolution refers to uncontroversial changes within species that people observe. Macro-evolution refers to the branching tree pattern of evolution that is the essence of Darwinism that ultimately, through gradual changes, leads to a new specie type."

What do you think happens after thousands of years with all those uncontroversial changes begin to add up? At what point do they shift from being uncontroversial changes to being controversial changes? At speciation?

3. I'm okay with WLC's evaluation of #3. ID people do make a mistake sometimes when assessing evolutionary probability though - I think Shermer or Dawkins goes at length about it. But even so, science tells us how and the mechanisms. It doesn't do teleology. Or else philosophers would be out of a job. I hope you took my original comment #3 as tongue-in-cheek.

Chad said...

Hello again Samuel,

I actually have a friend who is a professional biologist working in a lab at a local military base. He is currently involved in cancer research. We have talked about matters such as DNA and small-scale vs. large-scale evolution on numerous occasions.

Further, I did take Biology 101 and 102 at a local Community College. Admittedly however, my interest in these types of matters didn’t begin until I was about 25 years of age. Before then, I didn’t care how we got here! I realize I have much to learn.

Regarding speciation, my point is simply that I don’t think we have the evidence to demonstrate confidently that small-scale changes can account for all the different body plans observed in the fossil record. However, I am opened to it.

Finally, I realize that your comment was “tongue and cheek;” however, I got the impression that you were taking a shot. If I misread your intent, I sincerely apologize.

Thank you

Samuel said...

I always get idioms and such mixed up! Good luck on your search. I eventually came to the conclusion that evolution was the best explanation we have. But I think there is still room for God even if evolution is true - and in fact - I think it's a very elegant although sometimes brutal mechanism to get the complexity of life we have today.

Chad said...

Samuel,

Thank you for your thoughts.

I like what Frank Turek says about evolution:

"Evolution needs God; but God does not NEED evolution."

What do you think of Dr. Stephen Meyer's recent work regarding the source of biological information found in DNA?

Thank you

Samuel said...

Chad,

In the spirit of honest disclosure I haven't read Meyer.

Out of the most current folks, I have read Behe, Dembski, and Hugh Ross, as well as some William Lane Craig, Alvin Platinga, and J.P. Moreland (the latter three more on the philosophy side than science). I've read many other theistic philosophers such as Paley down to Augustine just to give you a brief idea of where I am coming from.

In the spirit of open-mindedness, if my Christian/apologist friend get's Meyer's book I will read at least 1/3 of it before making any judgments. I still have quite a reading list to go and raising an almost toddler keeps me from my usual productivity. I have a Thomas Jefferson bio on currently, then Dawkins "Greatest Show on Earth", then a WW2 memoir - and then I can get to Meyer. I know it seems like a lot but I'm usually always lagging behind a few books on my reading list.

And I think before I look for anything positive or negative about the book, I should at least read 1/3 of it and skim through the rest (at least).

But at the very least - I think making the jump from "God" to "Yawheh" or "Triune Deity" is a pretty far leap to make even with evidence of design. If I had to fall into a camp, when it comes to metaphysics I consider myself a Spinozist.

Samuel said...

And a last bit....

"What do you think of Dr. Stephen Meyer's recent work regarding the source of biological information found in DNA?"

I think it's suspicious that these guys never go up for peer review before publishing. If they really do have a scientific argument, their books should be peer reviewed like everyone else instead of being published as 'popular science.'

As far as biological information in DNA, what do you mean about it that is so special to the ID case? Improbability?

I'll put this forth against ID but again, I'll be honest in saying I have not read Meyer although I have read Behe, Demsbki, and Hugh Ross. I have also read many articles by 'Faz' Rana.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVRsWAjvQSg

Chad said...

Hello Samuel,

Thank you so much for the respectful interaction!

I greatly appreciate the background information. It looks like you have read some great materials and believe me, I understand about the toddler! I have 2 daughters (2 and 3) and time is not what it used to be. However, I would not trade it for anything!

I think making the jump from "God" to "Yawheh" or "Triune Deity" is a pretty far leap to make even with evidence of design.

I completely agree with you here. The arguments from design (or Natural Theology), in my mind, can only get you to Theism. Further evidence is required to get one to “Yahweh.” However, I think we can agree that Meyer is not arguing for Yahweh, but an intelligent designer.

If I had to fall into a camp, when it comes to metaphysics I consider myself a Spinozist.

Okay; that helps me understand where you are coming from.

I think it's suspicious that these guys never go up for peer review before publishing.

Actually, some do.
Click here

As far as biological information in DNA, what do you mean about it that is so special to the ID case?

In brief, Meyer argues:

1. The subunits of DNA are like a four-letter alphabet. According to Meyer, they carry info. “just like meaningful English sentences or functional lines of code in computer software.”

2. A typical gene is several hundred bases long, so its precise sequence is highly improbable. If this is true for a single gene, it is even more so for an entire organism. Estimates of the smallest number of genes needed to make a living cell start at 250. If a minimal cell needs 250 genes, each several hundred bases long, then its gene sequences are so complex that the universe isn’t old enough for them to have plausibly originated by chance. Therefore, the information in DNA is extremely complex.

3. The info. In DNA is specified. A living cell needs not just any DNA, but DNA that encodes functional proteins. To be functional, a protein must have a very specific sequence. So both proteins and the DNA that encodes them are both complex and specified.

Using the same method C. Darwin learned from Charles Lyell, Meyer demonstrates that- 1. Chance 2. Self-Organization- interestingly, Dean Kenyon, who wrote the authoritative book on self-organization, has since rejected his own theory and now holds to ID 3. And Pre-biotic evolution-cannot account for the origin of information found in DNA. Meyer concludes that the only cause known to be capable of producing such sequences in the present is intelligent design.

This is obviously a VERY BRIEF summary of Meyers overall argument. I would encourage you to check out this link to view and/or listen to some of Meyers debates:

http://www.theapologeticfront.com/search/label/Debate

This is a great way to hear both sides of an argument.

I’ll be sure to checkout the video. Thank you for the resource! I am familiar with Ken Miller’s work and have listened to him debate Paul Nelson of the Discovery Institute. In the spirit of honest discourse, I wasn’t impressed with him at all. He really attacked Nelson and the DI more than the actual arguments and he presented some arguments in parts, but not wholes. If you are interested in listening to the debate, I can share the link with you.

Samuel, I appreciate the learning opportunity!

Respectfully

Samuel said...

I will check out a link. The Miller video is long but extremely comprehensive. There are probably shorter segments available on youtube just dealing with the science and not the legal aspects.

He spends a lot of time debunking Behe's "irreducible complexity" claim and arguing that ID is not science. He also builds a positive case for evolution and intermediate fossils and genetic evidence. He deals less with the specified complexity and information theory stuff - but biology is his specialty and that's where he stays in the video, with biology and biochemistry.

The only debate I have been to in person was between Michael Ruse and William Dembski. The thing that irks me is that Dembski was still using the bacterial flagellum and irreducible complexity - in spite of the fact that it has been debunked ad nauseam (it's in the long Ken miller video).

I'll check out a link or a transcription (both would be preferred).

Samuel said...

If you want to shoot me some e-mails with links that's fine too. That way we don't clutter up your blog post.

I am going to listen to the Meyer/Shermer debate first since I usually get a chuckle out of Shermer.

Chad said...

Samuel,

Hello again. Here is the link to the Paul Nelson vs. Ken Miller debate:

http://www.bringyou.to/PaulNelsonKenMillerDebate.mp3

I wouldn't know where to find a transcript. Honestly, I wasn't impressed with either of them.

Finally, I believe in one of our prior interactions, sometime back, I asked you if you had considered any of Behe's replies to Miller's arguments. Have you had a chance to do so?

Take care

Samuel said...

Behe puts forward irreducible complexity with two specific examples, the bacterial flagellum and blood clotting.

Miller debunks both of those examples by showing how the components that make them have a function on their own, and how blood clotting can work if you remove components (it doesn't need all parts to work). I don't really know how Behe can get beyond that.

Miller didn't so much make an argument as just point out some obvious facts. I have not read Behe's rebuttal.

Chad said...

For those interested in reading Behe's replies to Miller's criticisms click here

The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him

-Proverbs 18:17