Tag Archives: Darwin’s Doubt

Stephen C. Meyer debates Charles Marshall on the Cambrian explosion

Christianity and the progress of science
Christianity and the progress of science

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”.

Details:

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:
http://www.darwinsdoubt.com/

For Charles Marshall’s review:
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6152/1344.1.full

You can get the MP3 file here.

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

Excerpt:

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.

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”.

Details:

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 http://www.darwinsdoubt.com/

For Charles Marshall’s reviewhttp://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6152/1344.1.full

You can get the MP3 file here.

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

Excerpt:

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.

UC Berkeley paleontologist Charles Marshall’s dishonest review of “Darwin’s Doubt”

There have been a series of Evolution News posts responding to a critical review of Darwin’s Doubt, published in the journal Science. I have been keeping up with them, but when I read this post by Casey Luskin about a challenge from Charles Marshall against Meyer’s book, I really felt that I had to blog about it.

You have to read this to believe it:

In his review of Darwin’s Doubt in the journal Science, UC Berkeley paleontologist Charles Marshall claims that Stephen Meyer “completely omits mention of the Early Cambrian small shelly fossils,” which he claims causes Meyer “to exaggerate the apparent suddenness of the Cambrian explosion.” Yet both of Marshall’s claims are false. Meyer does not fail to mention the small shelly fossils and he does not exaggerate the brevity of the Cambrian explosion.

In the first place, Marshall has his facts wrong. Meyer does discuss the small shelly fossils on page 425 of Darwin’s Doubt. Meyer writes as follows:

The Cambrian period 543 mya is marked by the appearance of small shelly fossils consisting of tubes, cones, and possibly spines and scales of larger animals. These fossils, together with trace fossils, gradually become more abundant and diverse as one moves upward in the earliest Cambrian strata (the Manykaian Stage, 543-530 mya).

Nevertheless, although Meyer discusses the small shelly fossils, he does not treat them as a solution to the problem of the explosion of morphological novelty that arises later in in the Cambrian period. The small shelly fossils appear in the fossil record at the base of the Cambrian period about 542-543 million years ago. The main pulse of morphological innovation that Cambrian paleontologists commonly refer to as the “Cambrian explosion” first begins about 530 million years ago and then lasts about 10 years through the Tommotian and Adtabanian stages of the Cambrian period. During the first 5-6 million year stage (the Tommotian) of the explosion, between 14-16 novel phyla first appear in the fossil record. Without actually asserting that the small shelly fossils somehow explain the subsequent explosion of all these novel forms of animal life (or even that the small shelly fossils represent ancestors to all, or some, of these forms), Marshall faults Meyer for not treating them as part of the Cambrian explosion.

Now from this, you might expect that other biologists who do not believe in intelligent design think two things. One, that these fossils are important to explaining the Cambrian explosion. And two, that these fossils count as part of the Cambrian explosion – extending the period of innovation from 10 million years (at the most!) to 23 million years. In fact, you might expect that Marshall thinks that the small, shelly fossils DO explain the Cambrian explosion, and that the Cambrian explosion DID last 23 million years, and not 10 million.

But you’d be wrong – all of this nonsense about SSF is just a mendacious smokescreen to smear Meyer:

For example, in a 2006 paper in Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Marshall acknowledges that these fossils are of unclear evolutionary affinities and importance. He calls them “largely problematic fossils” that are “hard to diagnose, even at the phylum level.” Figure 1 of his paper portrays them as apparently disconnected to the later radiation of Cambrian animals. This impression is reinforced in the text of his article where he notes that the small shelly fossils for the most part are “problematic” organisms of unknown classification… 

Marshall himself does not think that the SSF are an explanation for the Cambrian explosion – he only insinuated that in his review in order to smear Meyer.

In fact, other naturalists agree with Meyer (and Marshall!) that these SSFs are not part of the explanation for the explosion in new information:

Other authorities agree that these small shelly fossils [SSFs] are of unclear evolutionary significance and affinity. In his book On the Origin of Phyla, James Valentine argues that the SSFs “are very difficult indeed to interpret.” Valentine’s 2013 book, The Cambrian Explosion, co-written with Douglas Erwin, notes that “many SSFs are still poorly understood.” Simon Conway Morris found them so unimportant that he does not mention them in either of his authoritative books on the Cambrian explosion (Crucible of Creation or Life’s Solution).

Valentine and Conway Morris are two of the top experts on the Cambrian explosion. Neither is a proponent of intelligent design.

But wait! There’s still more dishonesty from Marshall!

Marshall also argues that Meyer is mistating the length of the Cambrian explosion:

But what about the claim that Darwin’s Doubt exaggerated the brevity of the Cambrian explosion? Should Meyer have included the appearance of the early Cambrian small shelly fossils as part of the explosion when he estimated the length of that event? Not according to a very recent paper by Marshall himself. In 2010, Marshall co-wrote with James Valentine in the journal Evolution (emphases added):

By the beginning of the Cambrian Period, near 543 million years ago, a few kinds of “small shelly” fossils are found, <2mm in largest dimension. The small shellys rose to a peak in abundance and diversity during the period from 530 to 520 million years ago, when representatives of living phyla are found among them. During that same period, a chiefly larger-bodied invertebrate fauna of up to a dozen phyla, and including many soft-bodied forms, is also first represented by fossils. This geologically abrupt appearance of fossils representing quite disparate bodyplans of many living metazoan phyla is termed the Cambrian explosion…

Let’s unpack the construction of this paragraph, in which Marshall explains the length of the Cambrian explosion in relation to the small shelly fossils. Starting at the end of the quote, Marshall and Valentine equate “the Cambrian explosion” with the “geologically abrupt appearance of fossils representing quite disparate body plans.” They further identify this period with “that same period” wherein “a chiefly larger-bodied invertebrate fauna of up to a dozen phyla, and including many soft-bodied forms, is also first represented by fossils.” Marshall and Valentine also equate that period of time with “the period from 530 to 520 million years ago” and distinguish it from the earlier time in which the first small shelly fossils arose. Thus, according to Marshall — in a co-authored technical paper written in 2010 — the Cambrian explosion does not begin with the first appearance of the small shelly fossils 543 million years ago, or during the earliest part of the Cambrian period. Rather, he and fellow paleontologist James Valentine affirm that the explosion begins about 530 million years ago and lasted to about 520 million years — a date consistent with what Valentine has written elsewhere, including in his recent book with Erwin that Marshall cites approvingly in his review of Meyer.

Thus, by Marshall’s own admission, (a) the appearance of small shelly fossils around 543 million years ago does not mark the beginning of the Cambrian explosion, and (b) the Cambrian explosion should be dated to 530 to 520 million years when we see the “abrupt appearance” of many disparate body plans, long after the small shellies appear. This means that Marshall has acknowledged in print that the “Cambrian explosion” itself lasted only about 10 million years — just as Meyer affirmed in Darwin’s Doubt. Indeed, Marshall and Valentine affirm that SSFs appear long before the primary explosive radiation of Cambrian animals and they affirm a 10-million year duration for the Cambrian explosion.

So here you have a naturalist who is so desperate to smear a proponent of intelligent design that he has to resort to outright deception – deceptions which he knows are false from his own writings!

This reminds me of how Lawrence Krauss misrepresented that e-mail from Vilenkin during his debate with William Lane Craig. Apparently, naturalists just aren’t bound by the same sense of morality as theists. Should we be surprised that people who repudiate the idea of objective morality would then proceed to act dishonestly like this? In an accidental universe, anything goes – and truth is not as important as getting ahead in your career by any means necessary.

So the take away lesson for the rest of us is this: Sometimes you don’t need to understand all the scientific details exhaustively in order to know what to think about a controversial issue. You just have to spot the liar.

By the way, Dr. Meyer has some comments of his own about these small, shelly fossils in this post.

Darwin’s Doubt will debut at #7 on the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Bestseller List

Amazing news from Evolution News about the new book on the Cambrian explosion by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer.

Excerpt:

Judging the success of an idea in reaching and convincing a large audience is a tricky business. In putting your case to the public in books and articles, are you making progress, just holding steady, or losing ground to competitors? What you want is a solid, unambiguous metric. Hmm, as a measure of success in getting a particular argument before a large chunk of the thoughtful, book-reading public, how does a spot on the New York Times bestseller list sound?

That would do nicely. And in fact it is just what we are very pleased to report. As careful readers will already have discerned from the headline, Stephen Meyer’s new book, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, will debut this coming Sunday in the #7 place on the New York Times hardback nonfiction list. See it here.

[…]You’ll also see the book opening at #10 on the Publishers Weekly bestseller list. Find it here.

[…]We attribute these indications of really impressive progress to the scientific, philosophical and yes, cultural and even spiritual importance of Dr. Meyer’s book, the unprecedented rigor and scope of his argument, combined with a lucidly accessible style that bestselling novelist Dean Koontz has praised, saying that Meyer “writes beautifully” and “marshals complex information as well as any writer I’ve read.”

It doesn’t hurt either that this broadly interdisciplinary book has won accolades from scientists representing a variety of relevant fields, including Harvard geneticist George Church, Mt. Holyoke paleontologist Mark McMenamin, State University of New York biologist Scott Turner, Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research biologist Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, and others, scientists whose own works are published by sources like Harvard University Press and Columbia University Press.

Excitement from the media has also played a role in getting out the word. Dr. Meyer has been on the Michael Medved Show several times, on the Dennis Prager Show, the Dennis Miller Show, and many other national and local talk-radio programs. Not trivial either is the decision by Barnes & Noble to feature the book with in-store displays in 300 of its bookstores across the country, likely due in part to the strong sales record of Meyer’s first book, Signature in the Cell.

The summary from the New York Times bestseller list web page is spot-on: “The theory of intelligent design best explains the appearance of animals in the fossil record without apparent ancestors.” That’s what the book is about, for certain.

Wow. It’s not every day that I link to the New York Times! But this isn’t surprising, considering that Dr. Meyer’s new book is picking up a lot of endorsements from mainstream scientists. Here’s the most recent one, by Dr. Mark C. Biedebach of California State University, Long Beach.

Recall that Dr. Stephen C. Meyer’s first book was one of the best books of 2009 according to the Times Literary Supplement.

Excerpt:

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.

The person who nominated his first book to that list was non other than atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel. If you haven’t read the first book, get them both and read them both. These are the scientific issues that everyone who is considering theism versus naturalism should be reading about.

Harvard geneticist has positive words for intelligent design in biology

Evolution News writes about one of the people who has endorsed “Darwin’s Doubt”, the new book by Stephen C. Meyer about the Cambrian era fossils and intelligent design.

Excerpt:

Harvard geneticist George Church has said some fascinating things on the theme of intelligent design. He’s particularly interested, if I’m summarizing correctly, in the idea of biology as engineering. So is Discovery Institute’s Stephen Meyer. Which is why, having read some of his published remarks, we sent Dr. Church an advance copy of Darwin’s Doubt asking that he look in particular at the middle section of the book, “How to Build an Animal,” which deals precisely with the massive engineering problems facing Darwinian evolutionary theory.

We were grateful to get back this gracious comment, which appears on the dust jacket.

Stephen Meyer’s new book Darwin’s Doubt represents an opportunity for bridge-building, rather than dismissive polarization — bridges across cultural divides in great need of professional, respectful dialog — and bridges to span evolutionary gaps.

While very gratifying to have his warm wishes, it’s not shocking that Dr. Church would share them with us. Back in 2008 he participated in a recorded seminar, “Life: What a Concept!,” with Freeman Dyson, Robert Shapiro, J. Craig Venter, and others.  He said:

As a scientific discipline, many people have casually dismissed Intelligent Design without carefully defining what they mean by intelligence or what they mean by design. Science and math have long histories of proving things, and not just accepting intuition — Fermat’s last theorem was not proven until it was proven. And I think we’re in a similar space with intelligent design.

Again:

The ribosome, both looking at the past and at the future, is a very significant structure — it’s the most complicated thing that is present in all organisms.Craig does comparative genomics, and you find that almost the only thing that’s in common across all organisms is the ribosome. And it’s recognizable; it’s highly conserved. So the question is, how did that thing come to be? And if I were to be an intelligent design defender, that’s what I would focus on; how did the ribosome come to be?

Is he an advocate of intelligent design like Stephen Meyer? No. Is he a very interesting, independent thinker, who has made some suggestive comments relevant to ID, about which one would like to have the opportunity to question him much further? Yes.

Dr. Church is not an advocate of intelligent design. But what’s striking is that unlike most people who don’t support ID, he thinks that they should be allowed to ask questions and should be allowed to make their case. And what’s more, if they make a good case, like Dr. Meyer does, then he thinks that people on the other side should consider that case respectfully. I wish more biologists would consider other views like that. Dr. Church is in the minority.