Review of the Meyer-Sternberg vs Shermer-Prothero debate

UPDATE: The audio is here.

This review was e-mailed to me by a friend who attended the debate. I’ve posted it anonymously below.

Recall that two pieces of evidence were up for debate on Monday night: 1) the origin of life and 2) the origin of diverse body plans. The ID advocates had to argue that only intelligent causes can account for new biological information in the origin of life and in the origin of diverse body plans. The naturalists had to argue that there was a naturalistic explanation for both of the origin of life and the origin of diverse body plans. So how did they do?

My friend wrote:

In all fairness, Shermer and Prothero were given an impossible task: to defend the spontaneous generation of life and the sufficiency of neo-Darwinian mechanisms to account for its diversity and disparity.

It is no wonder that Shermer avoided the issue. Having said nothing positive about neo-Darwinian mechanisms, he said all there was to say. What was surprising was Dr, Prothero’s smokescreen of irrelevant and/or obsolete high school textbook arguments that were presented as timeless truths in a changing world of science. Their emotionally charged presentation gave the audience all the evidence it needed to conclude that their arguments were being driven by something other than empirical data.

Discussion of the empirical data would have to wait for Dr. Sternberg who gave a compelling argument against the sufficiency of neo-Darwinian mechanisms to even account for a limited number of evolutionary changes within mammals. Using one of the best series of evolutionary change known to paleontologists (wolf-like mammal to whale) Dr. Sternberg enumerated a substantial list of differences between the beginning and ending species in the series and went on to explain why neo-Darwinian mechanisms did not have sufficient time in the 9 million year window to generate the necessary changes. His presentation alone was worth the price of admission.

Dr. Sternberg identified himself as a “structuralist” rather than an ID advocate. While he will have to unpack the meaning and implications of that view, I would encourage him to enrich our understanding of why nature’s structures (e.g. everything from DNA replication systems to animal body plans) have remained fundamentally unchanged since their first appearance. Stasis and conservation are purely natural and are subject to the natural sciences. Their evolution or sudden appearance in the history of life, on the other hand, may or may not have been natural.

“How many times did God intervene?” was a question asked repeatedly by Michael Shermer. The simple answer is “at least once …  when he created everything in the physical universe.” After 1 rather major miracle is there any reason for rejecting the possibility that subsequent minor miracles did not take place?

“Who created God?” was another one of his favorites. The simple answer to this one is that “either the physical universe or its non-physical creator has always existed .. and it’s not the universe.

The “textbook” examples of evolution used by Prothero were things like the Miller-Urey experiment, where they sparked the wrong gasses to make amino acids, but did nothing to solve the problem of how the amino acids can be chirality-filtered, properly-sequenced, and peptide-bonded into a functional biological sequence. Not to even mention things like the sugar chirality or the interfering cross-reactions or ultraviolet radiation, etc. etc. etc.

I think that if these naturalists cannot understand the difference between an intelligent cause and a miracle, then they shouldn’t be debating. Maybe Shemer and Prothero need to read books written by their opponents. Shermer thinks science is a game you play where you aren’t really after the truth but just trying to explain things without God. So, he has no explanation for things like the big bang or the fine-tuning, for example, and probably tries very hard not to think about it. As for the origin of life and the origin of biological diversity, he had no explanation.

One bad thing about Meyer and Sternberg is that their slides were very hard to read – small print.

I’ll let you know if I get any more reviews of the debate. I’m also watching to see when the video comes out.

You can see other debates with Meyer and Shermer:

These two men have met several times before, most recently at Freedomfest in Las Vegas in 2008 (click here for video)… and appeared together on Lee Strobel’s Faith Under Fire program (video here).

2 thoughts on “Review of the Meyer-Sternberg vs Shermer-Prothero debate”

  1. It’s really too bad Shermer didn’t take more advantage of the information presented by Meyer (and even Sternberg), who would have graciously discussed it. What better way to discuss the existence of God than on Shermer’s own turf?


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