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Posted by on Nov 18, 2013 in Book Review, Creationism, featured, Skepticism | 1 comment

Darwin’s Doubt – Chapter 17 – Part 2

This section is called “My Story” and talks about how Meyer is utterly unqualified to write this book.

Meyer talks about how he wondered if scientists could justify an inference that intelligent design could be detected by science.  He also wondered if intelligent design could explain the origin of life.  He says

My questions eventually led me to learn about a distinctive method of historical scientific inquiry. That discovery led me to a method of reasoning that allows for the detection or inference of past causes, including intelligent causes. {emphasis in the original}

This is an odd discussion.  It seems to me that Meyer had never heard of the scientific method to this point. At least that’s what he’s implying.  Does he think he’s the only person who’s ever used inference to study historical events?

Indeed, he spent the first two chapters of the book trying to convince us that inference wasn’t acceptable in the study of paleontology.  How else can we study historical events scientifically?

But now, Meyer has a stunning revelation to tell us, which is important because THIS version of historical inference is somehow different than what scientists do and THIS version of historical inference is correct and it works.  I can’t  wait to hear about this.

Then Meyer talks about some people, who are all creationists, who greatly influenced him.  I couldn’t care less. They are creationists.  They have written books, for example Charles Thaxton co-authored Of Panda’s and People which featured prominently in the Kitzmiller case showing that ID was simply a disguised creationism.*

Anyway, Meyer describes this idea that ‘the information-bearing properties of DNA might point to the activity of a designing intelligence’.

These authors (not Meyer, but Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen) claimed

…that chemistry and physics alone could not produce the information in DNA any more than ink and paper along could produce a book. Instead, they argued that our uniform experience suggests a cause-and-effect relationship between intelligent activity and the production of information.

I’ll be the first to admit that intelligence (sometimes) produces information.  Sometimes intelligence produces random crap (I suggest googling “The Time Cube guy”).

However, there’s a couple of issues with this idea though.  First is that organisms are fundamentally different than books. And this is a unbelievably common occurrence with ID-proponents. Forgive me for shouting.

ORGANISMS SELF REPRODUCE.  BOOKS, CARS, AND WATCHES DO NOT!!!

The fact that I even have to spell this out just shows how much people are willing to accept any old crap as long as it supports their point of view.

Second, there is an implication here that ONLY intelligence can produce information.  And this is simply not true.  In fact, it’s so trivially untrue that William Dembski had to create a whole new kind of information (Functional Specified Information) to cover that massive problem with the idea.

The final issue is that something like evolution isn’t 100% random.  It never has been and there’s not a biologist on the planet who would agree with that idea.  There is a fundamental idea in evolution that is not random.  That is the idea of selection.  Whether an organism is selected by an intelligence for a specific trait or by an environmental factor (such as a disease, ice age, oxygenation of the atmosphere, competition within the population, or other non-intelligence guided event), it is still a non-random process that results in those organisms with certain traits tending to survive while those without those traits tend not to survive (or reproduce, which is the same thing to biology).

Meyer continues

Experience does indeed seem to affirm that (specified or functional) information typically arises from the activity of intelligent agents, from minds as opposed to mindless, material processes.

Now, notice the addition (in parentheses) of what I mentioned before.  It’s obvious to anyone that information can come from randomness (that’s what the “snow” is on old TVs).  But that is random information.  It is not information that has a function (more on that in a second) nor does it seem to be specified.  That subtle addition of to the idea of information is critical to the idea of intelligent design.  Of course, the addition also undermines the entire concept.

A specification is a product of an intelligence trying to describe the requirements of a device or process.  Specified information is therefore, nothing more than information which required an intelligence to develop.  A nice example of circular logic.

In my experience with creationists.. excuse me “cdesign proponentsists”… I have often asked them to take a look at a sequence of DNA or a protein and determine whether it was designed or not.  Of course they can’t do it.  What they ask is, “What is the function?”.  If it has a function, then, of course, it was designed.  If not, then it was possibly random.  That’s the answer I get.  Any ID proponents can argue this, but it’s what happens.

Now about information from randomness.  There is plenty of information that comes from randomness.  Think about a casino.  If you make one throw of the craps dice, then you will get some number between 2 and 12.  That’s not much information, but over time, you will get some information on the relative frequency of possible rolls on the dice.  After several hundred rolls, you will know that 7 comes up much more often than 2 or 12.  That is information from a random source.

As I mentioned though, evolution (nor abiogenesis) is random.  Just want to make that clear, because that’s also an unfortunately common mistake made by creationists.

Of course, as Meyer mentions, evolutionary biologists and paleontologists use different methods than laboratory chemists… sometimes.  But they do create testable hypotheses and then go out and determine if that hypothesis is supported or not.

The discovery of Tiktaalik is a prime example of this.

Meyer asks if there is a distinctive method of historical scientific inquiry.  I guess the regular methods of scientific inquiry aren’t good enough for him.

The next section describes this “historical scientific method and the design hypothesis”.  After a long time… I’m getting excited.

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* The Kitzmiller testimony of Barbara Forrest was critical here as it showed almost a complete replacement of the word “creation” with “intelligent design” using a word processor program.  Which resulted in the beautiful transitional fossil of “cdesign proponetists”.