Tag Archives: Stephen Jay Gould

Video, audio and summary of intelligent design discussion, with Ben Shapiro and Stephen C. Meyer

Stephen C. Meyer and Ben Shapiro discuss evolution and intelligent design
Stephen C. Meyer and Ben Shapiro discuss evolution and intelligent design

This is a must-see / must-hear conversation. Famous conservative Ben Shapiro discusses evolution and intelligent design with Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, author of “Signature in the Cell” (origin of life) and “Darwin’s Doubt” (fossil record). These are the two best books on intelligent design. Their conversation covers the most important issues in the origins debate.

So to start, here’s the full video:

And here is a link to the audio. You can download the MP3 there.

Someone actually put out an outline on Youtube, with a time-based index, so I’ll just steal that as a base, and add to it:

  • 1:34 What is your scientific background? Science undergraduate degree, professional geologist, later did a PhD in philosophy of science from Cambridge University.
  • 2:39 What is the difference between intelligent design and creationism? Creationism starts from the Bible and posits a shorter history of the universe. ID starts from the data of the natural world and is neutral about the age of the Earth / universe. Meyer accepts the old-Earth.
  • 3:36 How is Intelligent Design a scientific theory? The discovery of DNA reveals that code is central to living systems. Intelligent design uses the method of “inference to the best explanation” in order to argue that the best explanation for the code is an intelligent agent.
  • 6:10 What evidence would have to arise to make Intelligent Design Falsifiable? If a naturalistic mechanism was discovered that could produce biological information using the probabilistic resources of the universe, and the time available, then intelligent design would be falsified.
  • 7:26 Is religion separate from science or intertwined within it? There are three views: science is totally separate from religion, science is in total conflict with religion, science and religion agree on some issues, e.g. – the origin of the universe and Genesis 1:1. There are areas where science and religion overlap.
  • 9:55 Why are the most prominent Darwinians also militant atheists? Evolution is a theory that tries to explain nature using naturalistic mechanisms, so it is compatible with atheism.
  • 10:45 What does the theory of evolution say? The term evolution has multiple meanings, and should be defined before discussions. It can refer to change over time. It can refer to animals changing slightly to adapt to enviromental changes. It can refer to the idea that all animals evolved from simpler life forms, and that there is a tree of life showing how different types of organisms share common ancestors. And it can refer to the idea that purely undirected processes can explain the history of life using purely materialistic forces. It’s that final view that intelligent design challenges.
  • 13:15 Where is the discontinuity in naturalistic processes in the development of life? The first discontinuity is the origin of simple life from non-living components. The second discontinuity is the sudden appearance of different body plans in a very narrow window of time in the Cambrian era.
  • 15:42 Why does information theory suggest that code requires some sort of designer? DNA is a true information-bearing system identical to the software in computers, e.g. – operating system, applications.
  • 19:45 Can information be created by random mutation, and favorable mutations preserved by natural selection? Just as in software code, instructions must be added in order to develop new functionality. Random additions of characters will almost always degrade biological function. The number of possible sequences that do nothing useful is vastly higher than the number of sequences that perform biological functions. Doug Axe did research on this at Cambridge University, and he found that the number of functional sequences of amino acids is 1 in 10 to the 77th power. Given the probabilistic resources (replicating organisms)and the time available, it is extremely unlikely to find sequences that have functional information by chance.
  • 25:05 What about Stephen Jay Gould’s model of punctuated equilibrium – doesn’t it explain the sudden jumps in information? Gould’s mechanism is accurate according to the fossil record, which shows a lot of jumps. But he did not have a naturalistic explanation for sudden jumps in biological function. Darwinian mechanisms work slowly and would (in theory) produce different body plans gradually. But this is not what the fossil record shows.
  • 27:22 What is the mechanism for injecting information in the theory of intelligent design? The information comes in from an intelligence when new major body plans appear, and minor variations within types could be explained by evolution.
  • 29:25 Does the Miller-Urey experiment provide a naturalistic explanation for the building blocks necessary for the origin of life? The MU experiment only produced a few types of amino acids, it doesn’t say anything about how to sequence the amino acids in order to form protein folds that can perform biological functions. The MU experiment also pre-supposes conditions on the early Earth (reducing gases) that do not match what was there (oxidyzing or neutral gases).
  • 32:00 Is the RNA world hypothesis is a good explanation for the origin of life? Evolution requires that replication already be in place, because evolution assumes that mutations appear during the replication. The RNA world hypothesis suggests that sequences contain information, but also catalyze origin of life chemistry. The problem with RNA world is that it starts with self-replicating systems. And those replicating systems require the scientist to inject information into the system to get even the simplest replication started.
  • 34:56 How do scientists respond to the critiques of Darwinism proposed by intelligent design advocates? By and large, they accept them. They think that mutation and selection works once living systems are in place, but they realize it has no explanation for the origin of life or the sudden origin of body plans. (Tells about the  conference of the Royal Society, where problems with Darwinian mechanisms were discussed, and the 2003 MIT Press book by Muller and Newman).
  • 37:16 Why do people hold to Darwinian evolution in the face of these problems? Many scientists presuppose methodological naturalism, which requires that any explanation for the origin of life and the origin of major body plans involve materialist explanations only. No intelligent agents are allowed. The problems occur when assumption of naturalism causes scientists to propose incorrect explanations for what we observe in nature. It’s also not clear how naturalistic mechanisms could produce organisms who are capable of reason and free will.
  • 40:43 Does naturalistic evolution have an answer for conscious minds, reasoning, free will? No, consider the work of atheist scholar Thomas Nagel, who argues in his book “Mind and Cosmos” (Oxford University Press 2012) that the existence of mind is a disproof of the neo-Darwinian explanation for life. Darwinism stops us from accepting the reality of minds.
  • 42:06 So do naturalistic evolutionists have to explain away the mind as an illusion? First, we humans have immediate experience of consciousness, reason and free will. Second, our whole legal system is based on the idea free will, because you can’t hold someone guilty unless they chose to do something they knew was wrong. Third, we have an epidemic of suicide among young people. This is caused by a crisis of meaning. Intelligent design opens up the possibility of their being a mind behind the universe, who we could have a relationships with.
  • 44:53 Why aren’t schools allowed to be honest about the problems with neo-Darwinian evolution? The intellignt design view is to that teachers should be allowed to teach all the vidence for Darwinian evolution, and also discuss some of the problems with the theory. Students learning science should not be told that everything is solved. Students learn science better when they are presented with peer-reviewed evidence for and against a theory, rather than being indoctrinated.
  • 47:37 Is intelligent design theory connected to God? Intelligent design infers from the information content in nature that a mind with capabilities like ours injected information into living systems. Intelligent design is agnostic about the designer, because in principle, embodied or unembodied agents could inject information into living systems. Intelligent design is friendly to theism, because theists will immediately identify the mind as God. Furthermore, the fine-tuning in the initial conditions of the universe is another intelligent design argument. In that case, since the design occurs at the beginning of the universe, the intelligent agent acting prior to the creation of the universe would have to be supernatural, i.e. – God.
  • 50:53 Can naturalists say that the imposition of “function” on a sequence is arbitrary, in the same way that the English language is arbitrary? This won’t work, because biological function is not arbitrary in the same way as language. Biological function is not arbitrary, because sequences can be tested for function objectively by observing whether sequences can perform functions necessary for life, e.g. – replication.
  • 52:43 Doesn’t the multiverse explain away the improbabilities of the fine-tuning, the origin of life, and the development of life? No, because all models of the multiverse require fine-tuning in the mechanism that generates the different universes.
  • 55:42 What about cosmological models that eliminate the beginning of the universe? The standard Big Bang model and the inflationary model both posit a beginning of the universe. There is also the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theory which proves that any universe that is expanding requires a beginning. The only chance for naturalists is quantum cosmologies, but this doesn’t work because 1) it requires an abstract reality of mathematics to actualize the physical universe, but this presupposes a mind. 2)  The model requires an earlier input of information, which can only have come from a mind.

If you listen to this lecture, or watch the video, and you enjoyed it, then please share. If you have questions, I can try to answer them for you – just leave your question in the comments, or shoot me an e-mail, or message me from the blog’s Facebook page, or direct message me on Twitter. I’ve invested a lot of time in this, and have been studying intelligent design since the late 1990s.

By the way, I listen to the Ben Shapiro podcast, (and the Andrew Klavan podcast), every day. I never miss an episode, and I think if you give them a try, you’ll enjoy them, too.

Paul Chien interviewed on the Cambrian era fossils

Cambrian Explosion
Cambrian era fossils: Theory versus Data

From Leadership University. (H/T The Poached Egg)

Excerpt:

Dr. Paul Chien, chairman of the biology department at the University of San Francisco, recently accepted a unique invitation to travel to China to study fossils of the Cambrian era. What Chien found at the Chengjiang site, and what he has since learned about the Cambrian fauna, has changed the focus of his career. Today, Chien concentrates on further exploring and promoting the mysteries of the Cambrian explosion of life. Subsequently, Chien possesses the largest collection of Chinese Cambrian fossils in North America.

Chien attended Mere Creation, a conference last November sponsored by Christian Leadership, which was featured in the previous Real Issue. The following is an interview with Paul Chien.

RI: Dr. Chien, what is your interest in the evolution/creation debate?

Chien: Even before I became a Christian, I had doubts about evolution. During my college years I was really interested in finding answers, but I got very little help. For a while I lost interest because I thought, one way or the other, it wasn’t very important. But since I started teaching, many people ask me about that. In fact, I often speak at churches and youth groups and conferences, and I have been forced back to that question; it’s pretty much my hobby now.

RI: Until recently, you have focused on the effects of pollution on marine organisms. How then did you come to study the Cambrian “explosion of Life”?

Chien: In studying marine organisms, and mainly the invertebrate groups, I have a clear vision of the distinct characteristics of each phyla. The theory of evolution never [seemed to] apply well in my field of marine invertebrates. When the news broke concerning [the discovery of] an explosion of animal life, it really excited me because that [had been] my position for many years. Also, Phil Johnson’s chapter on fossils [Darwin on Trial, Intervarsity Press, 1991] really ignited my interest in that area.

When an opportunity came up to talk with Chinese paleontologists and to visit them and the original site of fossil discovery, it became something I had to do. So last March I organized an international group to make a visit there.

RI: So is the Chengjiang site a primary site for the Cambrian explosion?

Chien: Yes, it’s the site of the first marine animal found in the early Cambrian times we don’t count micro-organisms as animals.

RI: Are there other places in the world where you find the same organisms?

Chien: In some ways there are similarities between the China site and the other famous site, the Burgess Shale fauna in Canada. But it turns out that the China site is much older, and the preservation of the specimens is much, much finer. Even nerves, internal organs and other details can be seen that are not present in fossils in any other place.

RI: And I suppose many of these are probably soft-tissue marine-type animals?

Chien: Yes, including jellyfish-like organisms. They can even see water ducts in the jellyfish. They are all marine. That part of western China was under a shallow sea at the time.

RI: As you became more interested in this and discovered more about it, did you find it really was an “explosion of life”?

Chien: Yes. A simple way of putting it is that currently we have about 38 phyla of different groups of animals, but the total number of phyla discovered during that period of time (including those in China, Canada, and elsewhere) adds up to over 50 phyla. That means [there are] more phyla in the very, very beginning, where we found the first fossils [of animal life], than exist now.

Stephen J. Gould, [a Harvard University evolutionary biologist], has referred to this as the reverse cone of diversity. The theory of evolution implies that things get more and more complex and get more and more diverse from one single origin. But the whole thing turns out to be reversed we have more diverse groups in the very beginning, and in fact more and more of them die off over time, and we have less and less now.

RI: What information is the public hearing or not hearing about the Cambrian explosion?

Chien: The general impression people get is that we began with micro-organisms, then came lowly animals that don’t amount to much, and then came the birds, mammals and man. Scientists were looking at a very small branch of the whole animal kingdom, and they saw more complexity and advanced features in that group. But it turns out that this concept does not apply to the entire spectrum of animals or to the appearance or creation of different groups. Take all the different body plans of roundworms, flatworms, coral, jellyfish and whatever all those appeared at the very first instant.

Most textbooks will show a live tree of evolution with the groups evolving through a long period of time. If you take that tree and chop off 99 percent of it, [what is left] is closer to reality; it’s the true beginning of every group of animals, all represented at the very beginning.

Since the Cambrian period, we have only die-off and no new groups coming about, ever. There’s only one little exception cited the group known as bryozoans, which are found in the fossil record a little later. However, most people think we just haven’t found it yet; that group was probably also present in the Cambrian explosion.

Also, the animal explosion caught people’s attention when the Chinese confirmed they found a genus now called Yunnanzoon that was present in the very beginning. This genus is considered a chordate, and the phylum Chordata includes fish, mammals and man. An evolutionist would say the ancestor of humans was present then. Looked at more objectively, you could say the most complex animal group, the chordates, were represented at the beginning, and they did not go through a slow gradual evolution to become a chordate.

Someone posted an interesting documentary on Youtube about the Cambrian explosion.

Leadership University  is run by CLM, and features solid scholarship on a wide range of issues, including science.

What is the best explanation for the Cambrian fossil record?

i found an interesting video that explores a mystery in the Cambrian fossil record.

Richard Dawkins explains the mystery in his famous book “The Blind Watchmaker”.

Excerpt:

“Eldredge and Gould certainly would agree that some very important gaps really are due to imperfections in the fossil record. Very big gaps, too. For example the Cambrian strata of rocks, vintage about 600 million years, are the oldest ones in which we find most of the major invertebrate groups. And we find many of them already in an advanced state of evolution, the very first time they appear. It is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history.” (Dawkins, Richard [zoologist and Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, Oxford University], “The Blind Watchmaker,” [1986], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, p.229)

He’s referring to prominent paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould.

Now let’s watch the video.

Part 1 of 2: (41 minutes)

Part 2 of 2: (33 minutes)

This documentary has a mix of scholars who accept the standard naturalistic explanation for the Cambrian explosion, and some who are skeptical of the standard explanation. The first three scholars in the list below are considered to be world-renown experts in the Cambrian era fossils.

List of scholars:

Simon Conway Morris is Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Cambridge and one of the world’s leading evolutionary paleontologists. He is noted in particular for his contributions to the understanding of the Cambrian Explosion and the fossils found in the Burgess Shale. Elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society (United Kingdom) in 1990, he also has been awarded the Walcott Medal of the National Academy of Sciences (United States). Dr. Conway Morris is author of the noted books The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals (1998) and Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (2003). His views about the extent as well as the limits of Neo-Darwinism can be found in his article “Darwin was right. Up to a point.”

James Valentine is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is also affiliated with the Museum of Paleontology and the Center for Integrative Genomics. He is one of the world’s leading experts on the Cambrian Explosion, and is the author of numerous technical articles on the subject, as well as author of the books On the Origin of Phyla and Evolutionary Paleoecology of the Marine Biosphere, co-author of Evolution and Evolving, and editor of Phanerozoic Diversity Patterns: Profiles in Macroevolution.

Paul Chien is a Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of San Francisco. A marine biologist, Dr. Chien received his Ph.D. in Biology from the University of California at Irvine, and he was a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Dr. Chien’s work has been published in over fifty technical journals, and he has spoken internationally, and on numerous occasions, from Brazil to mainland China—where he has also been involved in cooperative research programs. Dr. Chien has done research in the renowned fossil beds of Chengjiang, China.

Jonathan Wells is currently a Senior Research Biologist at the Discovery Institute. He holds 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. Dr. Wells has published articles in numerous journals, and he is author of Icons of Evolution: Why much of what we teach about evolution is wrong and The Politically-Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, and co-author of The Design of Life.

Richard Sternberg is a Research Scientist at the Biologic Institute and a Research Collaborator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. He is an evolutionary biologist with interests in the relation between genes and morphological homologies, and the nature of genomic “information.” He holds a Ph.D. in Biology (Molecular Evolution) from Florida International University and a Ph.D. in Systems Science (Theoretical Biology) from Binghamton University. From 2001-2007, he served as a staff scientist at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, and from 2001-2007 he was a Research Associate at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Dr. Sternberg’s website can be visited here.

Douglas Axe is Director of Biologic Institute. His research uses both experiments and computer simulations to examine the functional and structural constraints on the evolution of proteins and protein systems. After earning his Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology, Dr. Axe held postdoctoral and research scientist positions at the University of Cambridge, the Cambridge Medical Research Council Centre, and the Babraham Institute in Cambridge. His work has been reviewed in Nature and featured in a number of books, magazines and newspaper articles, including Life’s Solution by Simon Conway Morris, The Edge of Evolution by Michael Behe, and Signature in the Cell by Stephen Meyer.

Paul Nelson is a philosopher of biology, specializing in evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo). He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1998, and he is presently an Adjunct Professor in the M.A. Program in Science & Religion at Biola University. He has published articles in such journals as Biology & Philosophy and Zygon and has contributed essays to numerous anthologies.

Stephen Meyer is Director of the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute. Formerly a geophysicist with Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), Dr. Meyer earned his Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University as a Rotary International Scholar. From 1990-2002, he was on the faculty of Whitworth College. Dr. Meyer is author of peer-reviewed publications in technical, scientific, philosophical and other books and journals. His latest book is Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. His other books include Darwinism, Design and Public Education and Explore Evolution. Dr. Meyer’s website can be visited here.

If you like the video, you can buy the DVD here.

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