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Stephen Meyer - 17th Nov
  • Pete November 2011
    Contrary to common perception the majority of Christians may be creationists, but not of the YEC or ID variety!!


    Unfortunately Simon, the vast majority of Christians within evangelical circles in the UK (even more so in the US) are overwhelmingly and unashamedly young Earth creationist.

    Even within some mainstream denominations e.g. the Church of England or the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the YEC position is gaining a strong foothold with sigifnicant numbers of members (and ministers) adhering to the doctrine.

    If you include all Christians (and by that I mean the Roman Catholics etc.) then yes, YECism is a minority position.

    However, within Evangelical (and even mainstream) Protestantism, Christians who hold to a non YEC position are increasingly becoming fewer and further between.

    Anyone who fails to recognise this is burying their head in the sand.

    Those who adhere to ID seem to adopt a variaty of postions. Behe accepts an ancient Earth and common decent for example. Dembski accepts geological time, much to the disgust of Answers in Genesis.

    It's all too easy to get bogged down in the finer detail of advanced concepts in biology and miss the point that David Tyler thinks the Earth (and entire universe) is a mere 6,000 years old.
  • David_Tyler November 2011
    Simon, you wrote: "It's precisely the incredulity argument followed by God of the gaps! (BTW although I have far better things to do than read Meyer's book from cover to cover, I'm willing to give a chapter or two a go . . ."
    Yes, I think you would do well to read chapter 17 of Meyer's book: "But does it explain?". This is where he develops the argument about making inferences to the best explanation. It would answer some of GrumpyBob's objections. Here is an excerpt:
    "Arguments from ignorance make an obvious logical error. They omit a necessary kind of premise, a premise providing positive support for the conclusion, not just negative evidence against an alternative conclusion. The case for intelligent design as an inference to the best explanation does not omit that necessary type of premise. Thus, it does not commit the fallacy." (p.378)
    Meyer explores numerous avenues in responding to objections, including Hume's objections to analogical arguments and Dawkins' "Who designed the Designer?" objection. He is convinced that he has addressed all the variants that people have come up with.
    "Over the years, I have encountered each of the objections discussed in this chapter. Initially, I responded to them in great earnest, hoping to persuade the objector. I continue to make every effort to do so, but I'm no longer surprised or disappointed when I don't." (p.394)
    The inference to best explanation is not complicated, nor is it difficult to understand, nor does it go against reason. It is disappointing that ID advocates get the same "god-of-the-gaps" response as were advanced10 years ago - if you want to stick with the objection, you really need to address the responses that have already been made (which will require you to come up with something that moves the discussion on rather than trying to put a stop to the debate).
  • David_Tyler November 2011
    GrumpyBob wrote: "I genuinely think that a current lack of understanding of life's origins doesn't mean we will not uncover more likely mechanisms in the future. I certainly don't think one should respond to a difficult scientific problem by throwing one's hands up in the air, giving up and proclaiming that a Designer did it."
    This seriously underplays the state of research. You should read Koonin closely on this. The reason he has developed the argument he has is not because of ignorance, but he is responding to the force of evidence. He is also pursuing an "inference to the best explanation" approach although sees the evidence differently to Meyer. Regarding throwing up one's hands in the air and resorting to a "God did it" proclamation - see my previous comment.
  • David_Tyler November 2011
    GavinM wrote: "The fact that the evidence for that ignorance has been robustly answered many times doesn't seem to faze them and is the cause of the scientific communities frustration with ID. It refuses to listen to evidence and engages in whole scale generation of suspicion against both scientists and the scientific process."
    I see no sign here that you have made yourself familiar with the writings of ID advocates. It is true that there have been numerous rebuttals of the ID position, but have you taken the trouble to read their responses to these rebuttals? A good place to start is with the writings of Michael Behe. He started by sending responses to journals that had published rebuttals - but found these responses were not accepted for publication (and he was never given reasons why his responses were unsatisfactory). So he posts his responses to a blog - and has shown over and over again that the word "robustly" is an inappropriate description of the rebuttals to his arguments. On many occasions, his predictions have been vindicated - more than can be said for his critics.
    It is simply not true that ID advocates do not listen to evidence! They are always seeking to stress the evidences in the face of the dogmatic affirmations of neo-Darwinism. As an example of that, look at the contributions of Jonathan Wells in "Icons of Evolution" and "The myth of Junk DNA". He is the one setting out in detail the findings from the research literature, and generally it is the reviewers who refuse to engage with these evidences.
  • SimonSimon November 2011
    Hi again David,

    I haven't got to chapter 17 yet but have got to the bottom of what Meyer was going on about RE the self-organisation of DNA (in chapter 11). Basically he argues that since there are no specific bonds between subsequent base pairs on the DNA molecule, there is no reason why one sequence should be favoured over another. (There are bonds between the sugar backbone component, and between the base and it's pair on the complementary strand, but as subsequent bases are not bonded there is no physical way that one base pair can dictate what the next will be.) He then goes on to quote Polanyi who says this is a good thing as otherwise the system would not be able to code information so well, and draws the conclusion (thanks to his magnetic white board and the phrase "biology rocks") that the DNA first hypothesis is dead in the water and thus "necessity" or physical laws cannot account for the information content in DNA.

    I don't buy this argument for two reasons. Firstly he's technically incorrect because stretches of GC sequences tend to adhere and coil more tightly (thanks to their three hydrogen bonds) than AT sequences, so from this perspective information can be conveyed linearly between base pairs - but this is by the by. Meyers purpose is to explain why a "DNA first" argument doesn't work and in actual fact I can accept this, and also accept his argument that a "protein first" scenario doesn't work, and even that the "RNA world" scenario is not complete (I'm now up to the end of chapter 14). BUT this doesn't mean that physical forces did not lead to the creation of the currently observed DNA/RNA/protein replication system:

    This is because in all his scenarios he assumes that the original replicating molecule was either made up of a sugar-phosphate backbone + an A/T/G/C/U base or alternatively a polypeptide chain + a selection of the twenty amino acids we see today. But this is an unwarranted assumption. Although the system has settled down to use mostly these chemicals, the original replicators may well have been made of something entirely different which over time mutated into the selection we see today. There are plenty of examples of "rare" amino acids or nucleotide basis that have very different properties to the ones we see today and likewise there are plenty of other polymer "backbone" candidates that again have quite different properties to sugar-phosphate or peptide backbones.

    A good analogy is to look at a house and exclaim "it's impossible for the walls to be built taller than the bricky can reach!" Well yes it is UNLESS scaffolding is used. If you first build your scaffolding, then use that to build the brick wall, then remove all traces of your scaffolding, it will be quite hard for a future engineer to work out exactly how the scaffolding looked. Same goes with the biochemical scenario. The way I have always understood the conundrum is that the first self-replicators were actually quite different in their chemical make-up to the DNA/RNA/proteins that we see today. These first replicators did their job and then were slowly replaced over time with the current molecules. As such, of course by examining the current molecules we cannot answer the question as to how the first replicators came about - and likewise it's quite hard to determine what these now extinct molecules even were. What we need to look for is a very simple self-replicating system - clay + lipids is the current favourite I think - and then try to come up with scenarios of how DNA/RNA & proteins can be added to these simple scenarios. Yes it is a bit like a "just so" story, however that is the nature of this type of research - it's historical.

    So far from showing that physical forces cannot lead to the specified complexity in DNA, Meyer has simply shown that the first replicators may well have been something other than DNA, RNA or protein - something that I remember being taught as a first year undergraduate!
  • Pete November 2011
    This seriously underplays the state of research. You should read Koonin closely on this. The reason he has developed the argument he has is not because of ignorance, but he is responding to the force of evidence. He is also pursuing an "inference to the best explanation" approach although sees the evidence differently to Meyer. Regarding throwing up one's hands in the air and resorting to a "God did it" proclamation - see my previous comment.


    David: Is anyone discovering evidence for a 6,000 year old Earth and a global flood 4,500 years ago ?
  • GrumpyBob November 2011
    David_Tyler: I have looked at the peculiar calculation offered by Koonin, and as far as I can see it falls somewhat short by insisting on the spontaneous and simultaneous assembly of a number of components. I am not convinced that this needs to be the case. He acknowledges that relatively short RNA molecules can have a replicative function. He doesn't take into account RNA-based catalysis, or catalysis via inorganic substrates. He assumes all components need to appear simultaneously.
    It seems as though his back of the envelope calculation is really aimed at arguing for some strange cosmological view (which I'm not in a position to comment on).

  • David_Tyler November 2011
    GrumpyBob: "It seems as though his back of the envelope calculation is really aimed at arguing for some strange cosmological view".
    Koonin is not out on a limb in his calculations, but he is one of the few to actually put them in a published paper. His probability calculations have driven him to the "strange cosmological view" (which appears to be approaching the dominant view among cosmologists) in order to sustain his conviction that the origin of life is essentially a chance event.
    Returning to your earlier post, where do we go from here? Are you suggesting the probabilities are much lower - making it feasible to advance OOL theories based on chance? Or are you allowing that calculations like those offered by Meyer point clearly away from a stochastic model of chemical evolution? If the latter, then I will address Simon's comments about self-organisation.
  • Pete November 2011
    Also, ID is not being deceitful about God – it is respecting the limitations of science.


    and when those limitations are filled in, as they inevitably will be David, it makes Christianity look foolish.
  • SimonSimon November 2011
    Alright, I've now read up to the end of chapter 18 so am ready to come back to David with some observations, although many of these are things I've mentioned before and nothing Meyer has written has given me reason to change my mind.

    1) I'm not as convinced as Meyer that "no material causes have been discovered that demonstrate the power to produce large amounts of specified information" (p378). OK so DNA first or protein first scenarios are unlikely, and the RNA world explanation does not give a complete picture, however chemical space is vast. Instead of giving up (as ID does at this point) the scientist should be reaching for his (or her) Merck index. Where the IDer becomes incredulous the scientist keeps beavering away.

    2) Despite the somewhat annoying rhetorical feel of the phrase "inference to the best explanation" it is a generally valid way of reaching a conclusion. However I am not convinced that ID is the "best explanation" for understanding how life started. As I mentioned in an earlier post the one important point of these studies is to find an explanation for natural intelligence. All ID does is say that because it is "incredulous" that specified complexity could have resulted from materialistic processes, a supernatural intelligence must be behind the system - hence the accusation of God of the gaps.

    3) David mentioned in his earlier posts that "if you want to stick with the objection(s), you really need to address the responses that have already been made" and references people like Meyer and Behe supposedly explaining why ID is not the argument from incredulity or God of the gaps. Thing is I have read almost everything Behe has written, and now a chunk of Meyer, and do not see them making any substantive defence of ID. They use a lot of rhetorical and flowery arguments (and do write quite well), but at the end of the day merely repeating something lots of times in different (and occasionally eloquent) ways doesn't change the underlying facts! As such ID is a popularist movement based on rhetoric NOT scientific investigation.

    4) Nothing I have read from the ID camp has makes me change my mind that science is methodological naturalism (although I prefer the word physicalism) and thus ID is not science. I will accept that waters can get muddied when one starts to move higher up the chain from the "hard" sciences to the "softer" sciences, but the important thing to realise is that most soft sciences theoretically reduce to the harder ones. Indeed although I am not entirely comfortable to say that everything in the world can be reduced or is deterministic (there are some fascinating issues surrounding consciousness) I will say that pretty much everything that can be studied empirically does seem to exhibit both these characteristics. By denying this causal link ID is denying a central and powerful tenet of science that has a strong track record - which for me is something to be extremely wary of - and makes ID in my view a non-science.

    5) And finally, speaking as a Christian, I see ID as incompatible with my view and experience of God. I believe in a creator God who upholds, sustains and transcends the universe. Although I do accept supernatural miracles, I see these as specific extra interventions for theological reasons, rather than as tinkerings with the mechanics of how the universe works. To me the God of ID comes across as a watchmaker who needs to continually tinker with his creation, whereas the God of "theistic evolution" is the grand designer who is worthy of my worship.
  • Pete November 2011
    Although I do accept supernatural miracles, I see these as specific extra interventions for theological reasons, rather than as tinkerings with the mechanics of how the universe works.


    Careful now !
  • Michael November 2011
    There is the great danger that creationists (IDor YEC) multiply miracles in an ad hoc way to avoid the implications of normal science
  • Pete November 2011
    There is the great danger that creationists (IDor YEC) multiply miracles in an ad hoc way to avoid the implications of normal science.


    Exactly Michael

    If you can't believe in 6/24 hr creation 6,000 years ago and a global flood, then how can you accept the virgin birth or the resurection ?

    The latter are no more scientific than the former.

    Hence, TE's will be accused of being inconsistent Christians.
  • SimonSimon November 2011
    Nonsense - as I said in my earlier post there is always a good THEOLOGICAL reason for miracles. Hence Jesus' resurrection, virgin birth, various of Jesus' miracles etc.

    Secondly miracles are necessarily unexplainable by the scientific method - indeed supernatural miracles NEED science to define when they occur. To be truly supernatural miracles have to be the sort of thing that science cannot even get close to explaining.

    6/24 creation 6000 years ago meets neither of these criteria. There is no good theological reason for literal 6 day creation, whilst creation itself is precisely the "sort" of thing that is explained by the scientific method.
  • AnthonySmithAnthonySmith November 2011
    Simon, look - you're famous!

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/british-christian-darwinists-dump-on-origin-of-the-cell-theorist-steve-meyer/

    Bit unkind of the anonymous writer to imply that your profile picture is not what you actually look like.