Stephen C. Meyer debates Charles Marshall on the Cambrian explosion

Here is a summary of recent podcast of Unbelievable between intelligent design proponent Stephen C. Meyer and UC Berkeley evolutionary biologist Charles Marshall. Dr. Marshall had previously reviewed Dr. meyer’s new book “Darwin’s Doubt” in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal “Science”.


Stephen C Meyer is the world’s leading Intelligent Design proponent. His new book Darwin’s Doubt claims that the Cambrian fossil record, which saw an “explosion” of new life forms in a short space of time, is evidence for ID.

Evolutionary biologist Charles Marshall of the University of California, Berkeley has written a critical review of the book. He debates Meyer on whether Darwinian evolution can explain the diversity of life in the Cambrian rocks.

For Meyer & Darwin’s Doubt

For Charles Marshall’s review

You can get the MP3 file here.

The brief summary this time is not provided by me, it’s from Evolution News.


This past weekend Britain’s Premier radio network broadcast a debate between Stephen Meyer and UC Berkeley paleontologist Charles Marshall, recorded at the beginning of November. As David Klinghoffer noted yesterday, the subject of the debate was Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt. Yes, that’s the same Charles Marshall who reviewed Darwin’s Doubt in Science back in September. See here for our multiple responses.

It was an excellent debate, with both participants offering important insights and good arguments, though in my opinion Meyer unquestionably had the better of it, especially concerning the key scientific question of the origin of the information necessary to build the Cambrian animals. Nevertheless, both parties came to the table ready to engage in serious, thoughtful, and civil discussion about the core issues raised in Darwin’s Doubt, and we commend Marshall not only for participating, but for focusing his critique of the book on the central scientific issues, something other critics have conspicuously failed to do.

The debate was consequently both constructive and civil. Both parties complimented, as well as critiqued, the work of the other. Marshall, for example, described the first third of Darwin’s Doubt — the section that discusses the Cambrian and Precambrian fossil record, Marshall’s own area of principle expertise — as “good scholarship.” He also said it “looks like good science” and that Meyer “writes well,” and that he (Marshall) “really enjoyed reading”Darwin’s Doubt. Meyer, for his, part expressed his admiration for Marshall’s many scientific papers in paleontology and noted that he had been looking forward to the conversation because he and Marshall clearly “shared a passion for the same subject,” despite their different perspectives. Of course, Marshall is not pro-ID and both men expressed spirited disagreements, but they did so in a mostly respectful way that made the debate all the more interesting and engaging to listen to.

I was very impressed with Dr. Marshall’s performance during the debate, although he did try to poison the well a bit against ID at the beginning, and he got nasty at the end. It’s amazing how Dr. Meyer was able to get him to stop it with the politics and get serious, just by sticking to the science. Even when Marshall got insulting at the end, it was still valuable to see how the other side has to abandon rational argument and scientific evidence once they see that they can’t win on the merits. It’s “Inherit the Wind” in reverse.

Evolution News also posted a more complete guide to the debate in this post, and I recommend that you read that post before listening to the debate if you are not familiar with the science.

This is a great debate, and you definitely ought to listen to it. I hope I’ve posted enough here to convince you. If you haven’t yet bought “Signature in the Cell” and “Darwin’s Doubt“, then I urge you to get them, although they are intermediate/advanced level books. The two books are the state of the art in intelligent design research, good enough to be debated with a University of California, Berkeley professor of biology. Dr. Meyer is the real deal, and if you want to be convincing on these important scientific issues, you need to learn the scientific evidence from his books.

If you are not a regular reader of the Evolution News blog, you really should be. It’s also a good idea to subscribe to the Intelligent Design: The Future podcast.

3 thoughts on “Stephen C. Meyer debates Charles Marshall on the Cambrian explosion”

  1. First of all, the Cambrian “explosion” took place over a period of 30 MILLION YEARS! It was not a “Creation Week” event.

    What the Cambrian Explosion is evidence of is not a sudden act of supernatural creation but rather the evolution of body parts hard enough to reliably fossilize.

    Secondly, no amount of negative arguments AGAINST evolution creates a positive argument FOR ID, because they are not the only two possibilities. Evolution cannot be extrapolated to mean “life arose from non-life spontaneously”, because this is not what evolution means. The scientific theory of evolution is much more specific than that.

    In order for ID to have any evidentiary support, scientists who support it must show a POSITIVE argument in favor of special design. The “purposeful arrangement of parts” idea previously advocated by Michael Behe was famously demolished, along with his pet negative argument of “irreducible complexity”, in a court of law in Kitzmiller v Dover, and if any further positive arguments have been put forth by ID proponents, I haven’t heard them yet.

    Both of the preceding hypotheses were the best that ID had to offer the last time push came to shove, and the highly religious nature of both the advocates and of the ID hypothesis itself was demonstrated in said courtroom.

    1. Please read:


      “An analysis by MIT geochronologist Samuel Bowring has shown that the main pulse of Cambrian morphological innovation occurred in a sedimentary sequence spanning no more than 6 million years. Yet during this time representatives of at least sixteen completely novel phyla and about thirty classes first appeared in the rock record. In a more recent paper using a slightly different dating scheme, Douglas Erwin and colleagues similarly show that thirteen new phyla appear in a roughly 6-million-year window.)”

      The issue is how long is the period in which the body plans appear. It’s 5-10 million years at the most. Some estimates are 2-3 million years.

      If you think that ID people rely on negative arguments to argue for ID, then you know nothing whatsoever about ID. I mean literally ZERO. You shouldn’t talk about things you know nothing about. I recommend the two books I mentioned by Dr. Meyer.

      1. Wintery Knight,
        I would highly recommend you read the articles Luskin cites and compare those to the interpretation Luskin gives. Bowring et al. (1993) discuss the rapid diversification of lower taxa within the Tommotian and Atdabanian, while claiming “… we concur with Valentine et al.that most of the higher taxa present in the Burgess fauna originated during the early Cambrian”

        And the Erwin et al. (2011) cite is completely false. They show the time of first fossil appearance for 13 phyla (in figure 3), but these span 45 million years with only 3 appearing first during the Tommotian and Atdabanian.

        What bothers me is that Casey Luskin (as well as Meyer) obviously had access to these papers, but deliberately left out the portions that contradict their claims.

        Bowring SA, Grotzinger JP, Isachsen CE, Knoll AH, Pelechaty SM, and Kolosov P (1993) Calibrating rates of early Cambrian evolution. Science 261: 1293-1298.

        Erwin DH, Laflamme M, Tweedt SM, Sperling EA, Pisani D, and Petersen KJ (2011) The Cambrian conundrum: early divergence and later ecological success in the early history of animals. Science 334: 1091-1097.

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