Tag Archives: Evolution

How well do Darwinists do in debates with skeptics?

UPDATE: Welcome Post-Darwinist readers! Thanks for the link Denyse!

I thought that I would introduce a couple of my favorite critics of Darwinian fundamentalism, Stephen C. Meyer and Jonathan Wells. Here they are debating with Michael Shermer. I like Michael Shermer for two reasons – fiscal conservatism and engagement with his opponents. I’ve seen him MC sessions at Christian conferences. So let’s give him a chance to make his case.

Biographies of our debaters

Michael Shermer

Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine (www.skeptic.com), the Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, and Adjunct Professor of Economics at Claremont Graduate University. Dr. Shermer received his B.A. in psychology from Pepperdine University, M.A. in experimental psychology from California State University, Fullerton, and his Ph.D. in the history of science from Claremont Graduate University (1991).

Stephen C. Meyer

Stephen C. Meyer is director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, in Seattle. Meyer earned his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University for a dissertation on the history of origin of life biology and the methodology of the historical sciences. Previously he worked as a geophysicist with the Atlantic Richfield Company after earning his undergraduate degrees in Physics and Geology.

Jonathan Wells

Jonathan Wells has received two Ph.D.s, one in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, and one in Religious Studies from Yale University. He has worked as a postdoctoral research biologist at the University of California at Berkeley and the supervisor of a medical laboratory in Fairfield, California, and he has taught biology at California State University in Hayward.

Massimo Pigliucci

Massimo Pigliucci, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he conducts research on the ecology of plant populations and the evolution of adaptations…. He received his doctorate in genetics at the University of Ferrara in Italy, his Ph.D. in botany from the University of Connecticut, as well as a Ph.D. in philosophy of science at the University of Tennessee.

Let’s get ready to rumble!

Let’s start with a short 15-minute debate between Michael Shermer and Stephen Meyer, moderated by Lee Strobel.

Meyer starts with these points:

  • the origin of the universe implies a Creator who exists outside of time, space and matter, because he created time, space and matter
  • the physical constants and ratios of physics must be fine-tuned in order to support the minimal requirements for life
  • the cell is filled with molecular machines that are identical to machines built by humans, such as rotary engines
  • the cell contains biological information in the DNA, and the origin of this information cannot be explained by evolution

Shermer makes these points:

  • we should never infer intelligent causes, we should keep searching for a materialistic explanation and say we don’t know until we find an explanation that allows me to continue to be an intellectually-fulfilled atheist
  • who made the designer?
  • maybe the big bang will be overturned and then we can go back to the eternal universe that I want to be true in spite of the evidence
  • we can speculate (without any experimental evidence) about alternative theories of how the universe got here, unlike the standard big bang theory which is backed by multiple lines of scientific evidence

Then a dialog ensues:

Shermer: The design of life is sub-optimal – if God did it, it should be perfect, with no trade-offs between non-functional requirements, just like Wintery Knights’ software architecture designs and Java code are perfect

Meyer: There is no such thing as a perfect design. Software architects, like Wintery Knight, who have studied software design, will tell you that non-functional requirements must be traded-off against one another. (Source: Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University)

Shermer: Let me commit the ad hominem fallacy by attacking the motives of intelligent design proponents instead of dealing with their arguments and evidence.

Meyer: Two can play at that game, since evolutionists are atheists and secular humanists. But who cares? let’s stick to the arguments and evidence, ok?

Strobel: Meyer, are evolution and Christianity compatible?

Meyer: No, because evolution requires that the natural processes that create the diversity of life be random and unpredictable.

Shermer: Well, maybe the natural forces could be caused by the designer but in a totally undirected and undetectable way, so you Christians could have blind faith and we could run the public square.

Meyer: But Darwinism says and that no design is detectable in those processes, so they processes cannot be actually directed on Darwinism.

Shermer: But the designer could use natural selection and mutation.

Meyer: If so, then why did Darwin explicitly reject God having a role in these processes?

Shermer: I don’t believe in God because there isn’t enough evidence and it would require too many changes in my life. I like having autonomy from God and his moral demands. Also, we must always prefer material explanations, we can never infer that an intelligence played a role. I will only allow you to have two explanations of natural phenomena: 1) God didn’t do it, or 2) we don’t know.

Meyer: I like that you allow “we don’t know” as an explanation if we don’t know, because that is a rejection of dogmatic explanations that don’t fit the available evidence. But the arguments for design are based on what we do know, not what we don’t know – science gave us these arguments – and the progress of science has only strengthened them.

Conclusion

Well, I think it’s pretty clear who won, and who had the evidence! I like Michael Shermer, though, and I hope that he comes around to our point of view in time. At least he’s willing to debate, and he has a pretty moderate view compared to other Darwinian fundamentalists.

Other debates on Darwinism vs intelligent design

Michael Shermer debates Jonathan Wells at the pro-Darwinism Cato Institute (in 7 parts), MP3 audio is here.

Massimo Pigliucci debates Jonathan Wells for the pro-Darwinism PBS, downloadable video and audio.

John Lennox debates against Michael Shermer about the existence of God.

Further study

Here are posts on cosmological argument and the fine-tuning argument. I’ll respond to hopeful, but unwarranted, speculations about quantum mechanics and chaotic inflationary models, which I will be blogging about later. I’ll blog about molecular machines in a future post.

An essay on the origin of biological information by Meyer is here and a debate between two software engineers on it is here. I’ll also mention Meyer’s forthcoming book Signature in the Cell. Don’t forget about the upcoming debate between William Lane Craig and Francisco Ayala!

By the way, William Lane Craig has also debated Massimo Pigliucci on the topic “Does God Exist?”.

UPDATE: Did you see my post on why Darwinists don’t allow debates like this to happen in school classrooms?

Why is critical evaluation of Darwinism not permitted in the public square?

UPDATE: Welcome Post-Darwinist readers! Thanks for the link Denyse!

UPDATE: Welcome visitors from 4Simpsons! Thanks for the link!

No one doubts what can be proved in the lab or in the fossil record about the ability of organisms to adapt to their environment. Finch beak sizes can change, bacteria can become resistant, etc. Perhaps even some limited “speciation” between ancestors due to geographic isolation. But that isn’t what Darwinism-skeptics object to. We object to naturalistic accounts of the origin of life and to macro-evolution.

But Darwinism, like global warming, is one of those beliefs that is long on faith and short on evidence. And the way you can tell that you’re being sold a pig in a poke is by taking a look at how welcoming Darwinists are to debate. Do they organize public debates and publish books with their opponents? Or do they simply have them fired and black-listed from the academy? Let’s talk a look at the data.

The case of NPR media bias

Here is an interesting article from Evolution News by ID proponent Casey Luskin. Casey was interviewed by the government-run, taxpayer-funded National Public Radio, regarding the recent decision favoring critical thinking in science by the Texas Board of Education.

Casey writes:

Last week I did an interview with an NPR reporter, Bob Garfield, for his NPR show “On the Media” about the recent Texas decision…

The interview started with benign questions about the recent decision of the Texas State Board of Education to welcome scientific critique of evolution into the curriculum. This quickly descended into various “how dare you” type questions, about whether this was all a plot by the “Religious Right” to insert religion into public schools, and why I rejected all the fossil and cosmological evidence that shows the universe isn’t 10,000 years old. “Huh?,” I replied. I quickly informed Mr. Garfield that not only do we oppose advocating religion in science classrooms, but that I’m not a young earth creationist, and that the debate in Texas has never been about young earth creationism. The new Texas Science Standards only require scientific critical analysis of evolution, and in no way shape or form invited biblical creationism or religion into the classroom.

Mr. Garfield was also reminded that many of the 13 members of the Texas State Board of Education who voted for the new science standards both professed to accept evolution and stridently opposed the teaching of creationism, and thus it would seem highly unlikely that the new Texas standards were a “Trojan horse” for teaching religion. Nonetheless, the final story favorably quoted members of the evolution lobby saying this is all a ruse for creationism.

How familiar is the left-wing elite media with the 700+ scientists who dissent from Darwinism? Not so much:

But during our interview, having lost his argument that the new Texas Science Standards were a conspiracy to bring religion into the curriculum, Garfield shifted our conversation to the science. Again, he asked various “How dare you?” type questions, making assertions like virtually “100%” of scientists accept evolution, or that evolution comprised the unchallengeable “consensus,” or that there is no fossil evidence that challenges evolution. I reminded him that a critical mass of well-credentialed scientists in fact don’t support neo-Darwinian evolution, and that a number of Ph.D. biologists testified in Texas about scientific weaknesses in evolution. He then accused me of cherry-picking data because, outside of the Texas hearings, he asserted that essentially the “universe” of scientists support evolution. Not true, I told him. I replied that while surely majority of scientists do support evolution, there are credible scientists who dissent from it–hundreds of Ph.D.s in fact–and that there are plenty of discussions of doubts about core claims of neo-Darwinism in the scientific literature. I also discussed some of the reasons for these doubts-ranging from the inability of empirical evidence of natural selection to be extrapolated to bolster the grand claims of neo-Darwinism to the lack of confirming fossil evidence.

And the result of this cloistered, close-minded, intolerant, bigoted, echo-chamber caricature of evolution critics?

Mr. Garfield’s reply to my discussion of the science was that we were getting outside of his field, and he cut all of my discussions of the scientific weaknesses in neo-Darwinism from the final story. There’s no shame in him not knowing much about science, but it’s troubling that despite his self-professed ignorance on the science, he acted like he knew for a fact that skeptics of Darwinian evolution had no scientific basis should be treated like crazy religious fanatics.

But isn’t the left-wing elite media right to think that opposition to evolution is entirely from Bible-thumping, snake-handling, shotgun-toting, pick-up-truck driving rednecks?

As a last ditch attempt to discredit Darwin-doubters, Garfield compared teaching critique of evolution to teaching Holocaust denial. I replied that not only is there a world of difference between the two (hundreds of serious Ph.D. scientists doubt neo-Darwinism, and one cannot find such credibility supporting something as pernicious as Holocaust denial!), but I also told him that given that I (as well as many other Darwin-skeptics) am Jewish and had close friends impacted by the Holocaust, his comparison was not just fallacious, but out-of-line. I mentioned that even more scientists would come out of the closet to express their doubts about evolution were it not for the intolerance in the scientific community towards dissent from Darwinism. His reply was to twist my position into allegedly arguing that scientists don’t really believe in evolution, they’re just forced to pledge allegiance to it due to pressure.

I replied that this was not at all what I was saying, because of course a great many scientists harbor purely bona fide scientific support for evolution. My point was that were it not for the climate of intolerance, we’d see far more doubters and skeptics breaking their silence. However, in the final story, Garfield apparently sliced and diced my response so that it sounded like I affirmed his assertion that any “consensus” over evolution is the result of intimidation, when that is not at all how I responded to his question and false characterization of my views.

The article goes to explain how NPR cited a well-known critic Ken Miller of intelligent as an authority on intelligent design, despite the fact that he elementary errors on obvious details about the ID research program. I recommend reading the entire article, as it explains a lot about leftism and their propensity for group-think, censorship and fascism.

When he isn’t misleading his readers about historical facts, even Richard Dawkins allows that the first living system may have been intelligently designed by aliens. But those aliens must have evolved. How does Dawkins know that? Even without looking at the evidence, they must evolved, because of Dawkins’ anti-science faith in materialism. Evidence is irrelevant once you pre-suppose materialism, on faith.

So how did the Darwinists win then?

The same way that they’ve been winning on global warming alarmism. By avoiding a fair, open debate on the merits!

First, by intimidation, censorship and ridicule of anyone who opposes them. To say that their treatment of skeptics is like McCarthyism would be a tremendous insult to McCarthy. These are fact-averse fideistic fascists, plain and simple. If they had the evidence, they wouldn’t be firing peope left, right and center in the academy – they would be welcoming public debates.

Consider the case of Caroline Crocker. Here is video clip 1 of 6:

Second, by deliberate deception. Jonathan Wells’ book “Icons of Evolution”, showed multiple serious inaccuracies in the way that Darwinism is presented in textbooks. To take just one, the images of Haeckel’s embryos used in textbooks are fraudulent and have known to be so for decades! And this fraud is debunked in the highest research journals, like Science and Nature.

Consider this one example from Science: (Science 5 September 1997: Vol. 277. no. 5331, p. 1435)

[Abstract:] Using modern techniques, a British researcher has photographed embryos like those pictured in the famous, century-old drawings by Ernst Haeckel–proving that Haeckel’s images were falsified. Haeckel once admitted to his peers that he doctored the drawings, but that confession was forgotten.

Third, by judicial activism. Since Darwinists cannot win a debate on the evidence, in the public square, the next best thing is to win by judicial fiat. Judges typically have no relevant qualifications, either in science or in philosophy of science. They can also be intimidated by peer-pressure to conform to the opinions of the elite, regardless of the evidence.

Conclusion

The reason why critical evaluation of Darwinism is not permitted in the public square by Darwinists is because they would lose the debate. I will be posting a few of the debates that have occurred between faith-based Darwinists and their fact-based critics later in the week, and you will be able to see how well their case for naturalistic evolution holds up.

Further study

Here are posts on cosmological argument and the fine-tuning argument.

UPDATE: How well do Darwinists do in debates: Michael Shermer vs Steven Meyer.

Scoop! Upcoming debate between William Lane Craig and Francisco Ayala

Using my mysterious Wintery powers, I have managed to discover a secret story about Bill Craig’s next debate! He is going to be debating the evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala in the fall of 2009, at Indiana University.

Here’s the skinny:

…the faculty ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, is organizing a debate in early November on the topic of “The Viability of Intelligent Design.”  It will be an evaluation, so to speak, regarding the criticisms against ID brought forth by the scientific community.  This is a cutting edge discussion.  The participants are evolutionary biologist, Dr. F.J. Ayala and Christian philosopher, Dr. William Lane Craig.

I know that this is a Google cache, so you may not believe me, but ChristianJR4 has it up here as well. The date has not been set, but the debate itself is confirmed.

My co-workers and I were extremely surprised and excited to see the topic, because Bill has never debated on this topic before. I am not even certain what he thinks about this topic!

My thinking is that this is going to be a debate about philosophy of science. But wouldn’t it be amazing if Bill came out swinging on William Dembski’s explanatory filter, the origin of biological information, the cambrian explosion, the fine-tuning and other evidential concerns? Wow!

Here’s a bit more about his opponent, Francisco Ayala:

His research focusses on population and evolutionary genetics, including the origin of species, genetic diversity of populations, the origin of malaria, the population structure of parasitic protozoa, and the molecular clock of evolution. He also writes about the interface between religion and science, and on philosophical issues concerning epistemology, ethics, and the philosophy of biology.

He’s written 650 papers and 12 books. I think this is going to be a tough debate for Bill!

Victory for academic freedom in Texas School Board hearings

“Teach the Controversy” is now the law in Texas. This is a huge win, because the science standards in Texas will influence the science standards of other states, since Texas dominates the science textbook market.

Here’s a brief excerpt about the decision from Evolution News:

Today, the Texas Board of Education chose science over dogma and adopted science standards improving on the old “strengths and weaknesses” language by requiring students to “critique” and examine “all sides of scientific evidence.” In addition, the Board—for the first time— specifically required high school students to “analyze and evaluate” the evidence for major evolutionary concepts such as common ancestry, natural selection, and mutations.

The new science standards mark a significant victory for scientists and educators in favor of teaching the scientific evidence for and against evolution.

…The science standards approved today by the Texas State Board of Education include language requiring students to “analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations…including examining all sides of scientific evidence… so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.” Equally important, the high school biology standards now require students to “analyze and evaluate” the scientific evidence for key parts of evolutionary theory, including common ancestry, natural selection, and mutations.

More here at the Evolution News blog:

UPDATE: Discovery Institute Fellow John West has a piece in the Washington Post.

Is there scientific evidence for an intelligent designer?

Dr. Walter L. Bradley
Dr. Walter L. Bradley

Dr. Walter L. Bradley (C.V. here) is the Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Baylor, and a great example of the integration of Christian faith and a stellar academic career. He is not a “secret-service” Christian. Rejecting the notion of safe, private Christianity, he instead projects his Christian faith outward, where his students and colleagues can be aware of his beliefs.

Below I analyze a lecture I chose from the hundreds of public lectures he has given all over the world on the integration of Christian faith with other public, testable areas of knowledge. In this lecture, entitled “Is There Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer?“, Dr. Bradley explains how the progress of science has made the idea of a Creator and Designer of the universe more acceptable than ever before.

Evidence #1: The design of the universe

1. The correspondence of natural phenomena to mathematical law

  • All observations of physical phenomena in the universe, such as throwing a ball up in the air, are described by a few simple, elegant mathematical equations.

2. The fine-tuning of physical constants and rations between constants in order to provide a life-permitting universe

  • Life has certain minimal requirements; long-term stable source of energy, a large number of different chemical elements, an element that can serve as a hub for joining together other elements into compounds, etc.
  • In order to meet these minimal requirements, the physical constants, (such as the gravitational constant), and the ratios between physical constants, need to be withing a narrow range of values in order to support the minimal requirements for life of any kind.
  • Slight changes to any of the physical constants, or to the rations between the constants, will result in a universe inhospitable to life.
  • The range of possible ranges over 70 orders of magnitude.
  • Although each individual selection of constants and ratios is as unlikely as any other selection, the vast majority of these possibilities do not support the minimal requirements of life of any kind. (In the same way as any hand of 5 cards that is dealt is as likely as any other, but you are overwhelmingly likely NOT to get a royal flush. In our case, a royal flush is a life-permitting universe).

Examples of finely-tuned constants and ratios: (there are more examples in the lecture)

a) The strong force: (the force that binds nucleons (= protons and neutrons) together in nucleus, by means of meson exchange)

  • if the strong force constant were 2% stronger, there would be no stable hydrogen, no long-lived stars, no hydrogen containing compounds. This is because the single proton in hydrogen would want to stick to something else so badly that there would be no hydrogen left!
  • if the strong force constant were 5% weaker, there would be no stable stars, few (if any) elements besides hydrogen. This is because you would be able to build up the nuclei of the heavier elements, which contain more than 1 proton.
  • So, whether you adjust the strong force up or down, you lose stars than can serve as long-term sources of stable energy, or you lose chemical diversity, which is necessary to make beings that can perform the minimal requirements of living beings. (see below)

b) The conversion of beryllium to carbon, and carbon to oxygen

  • Life requires carbon in order to serve as the hub for complex molecules, but it also requires oxygen in order to create water.
  • Carbon is like the hub wheel in a tinker toy set: you can bind other elements together to more complicated molecules (e.g. – “carbon-based life), but the bonds are not so tight that they can’t be broken down again later to make something else.
  • The carbon resonance level is determined by two constants: the strong force and electromagnetic force.
  • If you mess with these forces even slightly, you either lose the carbon or the oxygen.

3. Fine-tuning to allow a habitable planet

  • A number of factors must be fine-tuned in order to have a planet that supports life
  • Initial estimates predicted abundant life in the universe, but revised estimates now predict that life is almost certainly unique in the galaxy, and probably unique in the universe.
  • Even though there are lots of stars in the universe, the odds are against any of them supporting complex life.
  • Here are just a few of the minimal requirements for habitability: must be a single star solar system, in order to support stable planetary orbits, the planet must be the right distance from the sun in order to have liquid water at the surface, the planet must sufficient mass in order to retain an atmosphere, etc.

The best current atheist response to this is to speculate that there may be an infinite number of unobservable and untestable universes. (I.e. – the Flying Spaghetti Monster did it)

Evidence #2: The origin of the universe

1. The progress of science has shown that the entire physical universe came into being out of nothing (= “the big bang”). It also shows that the cause of this creation event is non-physical and non-temporal. The cause is supernatural.

  • Atheism prefers an eternal universe, to get around the problem of a Creator having to create the universe.
  • Discovery #1: Observations of galaxies moving away from one another confirms that the universe expanded from a single point.
  • Discovery #2: Measurements of the cosmic background radiation confirms that the universe exploding into being.
  • Discovery #3: Predictions of elemental abundances prove that the universe is not eternal.
  • Discovery #4:The atheism-friendly steady-state model and oscillating model were both falsified by the evidence.
  • And there were other discoveries as well, mentioned in the lecture.

The best atheistic response to this is to speculate that there is an unobservable and untestable hyper-universe outside our own. (I.e. – the Flying Spaghetti Monster did it)

Evidence #3: The origin of life

1. The progress of science has shown that the simplest living organism contains huge amounts of biological information, similar to the Java code I write all day at work. This is a problem for atheists, because the sequence of instructions in a living system has to come together all at once, it cannot have evolved by mutation and selection – because there was no replication in place prior to the formation of that first living system!

  • Living systems must support certain minimum life functions: processing energy, storing information, and replicating.
  • There needs to be a certain amount of complexity in the living system that can perform these minimum functions.
  • But on atheism, the living system needs to be simple enough to form by accident in a pre-biotic soup, and in a reasonable amount of time.
  • The minimal functionality in a living system is a achieved by DNA, RNA and enzymes. DNA and RNA are composed of sequences of proteins, which are in turn composed of sequences of amino acids.

Consider the problems of building a chain of 100 amino acids

  • The amino acids must be left-handed only, but left and right kinds are equally abundant in nature. How do you sort out the right-handed ones?
  • The amino acids must be bound together using peptide bonds. How do you prevent other types of bonds?
  • Each link of the amino acid chain needs to be carefully chosen such that the completed chain with fold up into a protein. How do you choose the correct amino acid for each link from the pool of 20 different kinds found in living systems?
  • In every case, a human or other intelligence could solve these problems by doing what intelligent agents do best: making choices.
  • But who is there to make the choices on atheism?

The best current atheistic response to this is to speculate that unobservable and untestable aliens seeded the earth with life. (I.e. – the Flying Spaghetti Monster did it)

The problem of the origin of life is not a problem of chemistry, it is a problem of engineering. Every part of car functionality can be understood and described using the laws of physics and chemistry. But an intelligence is still needed in order to assemble the components into a system that has the minimal requirements for a functioning vehicle.

Conclusion

In all three areas, scientists expected that the data would be consistent with atheism. First, scientists expected that life could exist even if the physical constants and ratios were altered. The progress of science said NO. Second, scientists expected that the universe would be eternal. The progress of science said NO. Third, scientists expected that the origin of life would be simple. The progress of science said NO.