Sunday, October 09, 2005
Stephen Meyer is my hero
Absolutely fabulous. His responses to the questions are absolutely perfect, and I suggest anyone debating this subject to read the interview. The following quotes from the interview are arranged topically, not chronologically.
I think there’s a tremendous amount of motive-mongering that is detracting from the substance of the debate. And the problem with motive-mongering is that everybody can play that game, everybody has a motive. Richard Dawkins has said that Darwin has made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist, something he thinks is a good thing. That it would be completely illicit for us to say, “well, Richard Dawkins is wrong about evolutionary biology because he wants to be an atheist.” Motives are properly irrelevant to the assessment of an argument and to the assessment of evidence; and in any case, they are equivalent, there are motives on both sides: many of the leading people on the Darwinist side have motives, people on our side have motives. We want to see the debate settled and discussed on the basis of the evidence, and that’s where we think it should finally reside.
On the identity of the designer:
The question of the identity of the designer is what I would call a second order philosophical question. From the evidence of the information that’s embedded in DNA, from the evidence from the nanotechnology in the cell, we think you can infer that an intelligence played a role. In fact, there are sophisticated statistical methods of design detection that allow scientists to distinguish the effects of an intelligent cause from an undirected natural process. When you apply those statistical measures and criteria to the analysis of the cell, they indicate that the cell was designed by an intelligence. Now, the second question then you want to ask is, “Who was the designer?” The media commonly says, in fact recently it was said that we’re so clever that we don’t say the designer is God. Well, the reason we’re not saying the identity of the designer is not because we’re trying to be clever or get around Supreme Court rulings, or anything of the sort. We’re just trying to be careful about what the scientific evidence does and does not support. It supports the conclusion that there was an intelligence; the second order question of the identity of the intelligence is something that is for philosophical deliberation.
I think some of the people who hold to the theory of intelligent design think that God is the designer. But as I mentioned, that is not a refutation of the argument. The argument is based on scientific evidence, and the evidence is very clear from the cell that you have very sophisticated nanotechnology and information technology and that has to be explained. And we think intelligence is the best explanation for that.
People have different answers to the question of who the designer is. The key question for us is how you interpret the observed information that is present in the cell. And we think intelligence provides the best explanation for that. After you have inferred that, then there is a second question that needs to be deliberated upon, and that is who is the designer?
I think the designer is God, but, look, it’s not like we are trying to make a scandal of where the evidence might lead. We think that the evidence leads first to intelligence, and then from there, there is a second question, which is the identity of the designer, and there are some people who think it’s God, and there are some people, like Fred Hoyle, who think that maybe it is some sort of imminent intelligence within the universe. Francis Crick speculated that some other intelligence may have been involved. But we are insisting that from the scientific evidence, from the presence of digital code in the cell, you can tell that an intelligence played a role in the origin of life.
This was both (a) completely honest about his own beliefs, and (b) completely direct about where the evidence lies.
On the "wedge document":
The statement in the Wedge says to replace it with a theory which is consonant with a theistic worldview. That doesn’t mean that you can prove theism from the evidence, it means that it is consonant or consistent with it. And one of our main concerns at the Center for Science and Culture has been to challenge the materialistic worldview that has been erected atop the science of the 19 th century, which we now think is outdated and won’t stand the challenge of the information age – especially the information technology that’s being discovered in biology.
Intelligent design is the theory that there are certain features of living systems that are best explained by reference to an intelligent cause rather than an undirected natural process. In the 19 th century, when Darwin was first concocting his theory, the cell was thought to be something very simple. But in the last 30 to 40 years, we’ve learned that the cell is chalk full of nanotechnology; there are turbines and pumps and ? machines, rotary engines. And most impressive of all, there are reams and reams of digital code stored along the spine of the DNA molecule. And if you think about that reflectively, and realize what we’re looking at, we’re looking at things that we think bear the distinctive hallmark of an intelligence. Bill Gates has said DNA is like a software program; Richard Dawkins said that it’s like a machine code. We know from experience that intelligence always produces software, programmers produce software programs. We know more generally that intelligence always produced information, whether we find it in a hieroglyphic inscription or in the text of a written document. So when we find information embedded in DNA, in living cells, we think that we are looking at strong evidence for a prior intelligent source. So the theory of intelligent design is the idea that that appearance of design, that nanotechnology or that information that’s embedded in a living organism, is not just an appearance, is not illusory as the Darwinists assert, but instead is evidence of real design, actual design. And so we contrast our theory with the Darwinian idea that things look designed–
On ID being an "argument from ignorance":
Well, Chris, all scientific theories are based on inferences from evidence. If we could see everything directly, we wouldn’t need to theorize. And Darwin’s theory is in fact an inference from a number of different classes of evidence. And Darwin justified the theory not because he could make observable predictions in the laboratory – after all he was trying to reconstruct the distant past – instead he justified it because it provided a better explanation of the evidenced than the main competitor hypothesis, and that’s precisely how the theory of intelligent design is formed, framed, and justified. We argue that our theory provides a better explanation of some of the critical pieces of evidence of biology, namely the irreducibly complex molecular machines and circuits that we seen in cells and the presence of this informational software that drives everything in the cell as it’s embedded in the DNA molecule.
Well, what you’re getting at is that our argument is an argument from ignorance, but it’s not an argument from ignorance, it’s based on the evidence that has been discovered of the complexity in the cell, the information-bearing properties in particular, but it’s also based on what we know about it takes to build informational systems. That in our experience, our repeated and uniform experience, intelligence is always involved in the production of information. So when we find information in the living system, the most natural inference to draw is that there was an intelligent source. Now that form of reasoning happens to be precisely the form of reasoning that is always used in the historical sciences, where our present knowledge of the cause and effect structure of the world guides our judgment as to what is the most likely explanation of what happened in the past.
He covers a lot of other topics, too. I like how he manages to distinguish between ID and creationism without disparaging creationism. In fact, he is at least somewhat friendly to research-oriented YECs, though not necessarily the polemic ones.