Stephen C. Meyer explains, with reference to his newest book “Darwin’s Doubt”. He is responding to a critical review of the book published in Science.
Here’s the relevant part of the review:
Meyer’s scientific approach is purely negative. He argues that paleontologists are unable to explain the Cambrian explosion, thus opening the door to the possibility of a designer’s intervention. This, despite his protest to the contrary, is a (sophisticated) “god of the gaps” approach, an approach that is problematic in part because future developments often provide solutions to once apparently difficult problems.
And here’s part of Meyer’s response:
[B]y claiming that my approach is a purely negative one based solely upon “gaps” in our knowledge or in the evolutionary account of the Cambrian explosion, Marshall implies that Darwin’s Doubt makes a fallacious kind of argument known to logicians as an “argument from ignorance.” Arguments from ignorance occur when evidence against a proposition X is offered as the sole (and conclusive) grounds for accepting some alternative proposition Y. 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. In an explanatory context, arguments from ignorance have the form:
Premise One: Cause X cannot produce or explain evidence E.
Conclusion: Therefore, cause Y produced or explains E.
Critics of intelligent design often claim that the case for intelligent design commits this fallacy. They claim that design advocates use our present ignorance of any materialistic cause of specified or functional information (for example) as the sole basis for inferring an intelligent cause for the origin of such information in biological systems. For example, Michael Shermer represents the case for intelligent design as follows: “Intelligent design … argues that life is too specifically complex (complex structures like DNA) … to have evolved by natural forces. Therefore, life must have been created by. . . an intelligent designer.” In short, Shermer claims that ID proponents argue as follows:
Premise: Materialistic causes or evolutionary mechanisms cannot produce novel biological information.
Conclusion: Therefore, an intelligent cause produced specified biological information.
Marshall echoes Shermer’s criticism. But the inference to design as developed in Darwin’s Doubt does not commit this fallacy.
Why not? Because it argues that the best explanation of an effect in nature – new information -is an intelligent cause, and that we are familiar with how these intelligent causes operate already.
[T]he book makes a positive case for intelligent design as an inference to the best explanation for the origin of the genetic (and epigenetic) information necessary to produce the first forms of animal life (as well as other features of the Cambrian animals such as the presence of genetic regulatory networks that function as integrated circuits during animal development). It advances intelligent design as the best explanation not only because many lines of evidence now cast doubt on the creative power of unguided evolutionary mechanisms, but also because of our positive, experience-based knowledge of the powers that intelligent agents have to produce as digital and other forms of information as well as integrated circuitry. As I argue in Chapter 18 of Darwin’s Doubt:
Intelligent agents, due to their rationality and consciousness, have demonstrated the power to produce specified or functional information in the form of linear sequence-specific arrangements of characters. Digital and alphabetic forms of information routinely arise from intelligent agents. A computer user who traces the information on a screen back to its source invariably comes to a mind — a software engineer or programmer. The information in a book or inscription ultimately derives from a writer or scribe. Our experience-based knowledge of information flow confirms that systems with large amounts of specified or functional information invariably originate from an intelligent source. The generation of functional information is “habitually associated with conscious activity.” Our uniform experience confirms this obvious truth.
Thus, the inadequacy of proposed materialistic evolutionary causes or mechanisms forms only part of the basis of the argument for intelligent design. We also know from broad and repeated experience that intelligent agents can and do produce information-rich systems and integrated circuitry. We have positive experience-based knowledge of a cause sufficient to generate new specified information and integrated circuitry, namely, intelligence. We are not ignorant of how information or circuitry arises. We know from experience that conscious, rational agents can create such information-rich structures and systems. To again quote information theorist Henry Quastler: “creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity.” Indeed, whenever large amounts of specified or functional information are present in an artifact or entity whose causal story is known, invariably creative intelligence — intelligent design — played a role in the origin of that entity. Thus, when we encounter a large discontinuous increase in the functional information content of the biosphere as we do in the Cambrian explosion, we may infer — based on our knowledge of established cause-effect relationships — that a purposive intelligence operated in the history of life to produce the functional information necessary to generate those forms of animal life.
Instead of exemplifying a fallacious form of argument in which design is inferred solely from a negative premise, the argument for intelligent design formulated in Darwin’s Doubt takes the following form:
Premise One: Despite a thorough search and evaluation, no materialistic causes or evolutionary mechanisms have demonstrated the power to produce large amounts of specified or functional information (or integrated circuitry).
Premise Two: Intelligent causes have demonstrated the power to produce large amounts of specified/functional information (and integrated circuitry).
Conclusion: Intelligent design constitutes the best, most causally adequate, explanation for the specified/functional information (and circuitry) that was necessary to produce the Cambrian animals.
I do think it’s very important for Christians to make their case for God based on the progress of science.
If you are going to argue for God, you want to use arguments like these:
- origin of the universe
- cosmic fine-tuning
- origin of life building blocks
- biological information at origin of life
- biological information at Cambrian explosion
- galactic fine-tuning
- stellar fine-tuning
- observed limits to mutation-driven change
- mental effort studies
- corroborated NDEs
And so on.
Each of these arguments is based on what we know about nature. They are not based on gaps in our knowledge at all. The more we do science, the more evidence we get for each argument. For example, at one point we only had redshift for the beginning of the universe (#1), but then we added light element abundance predictions and the cosmic microwave background radiation. For the cosmic fine-tuning (#2), we started with the fine-tuning of gravity, and then added more examples, like the cosmological constant. In each case, the continuous progress of science strengthened the need for a Creator/Designer. The more we know from science about how nature works, the stronger the case for Christian theism gets.
It’s the atheists who are now taking refuge in the gaps and holding out speculations as a way of maintaining their atheism against the science. It’s the atheists who are hoping for aliens, multiverses, undiscovered fossils, and so on. There is no God-of-the-Gaps anymore. There’s only Atheism-of-the-Gaps.