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Posted by on Nov 25, 2013 in Book Review, Creationism | 9 comments

Darwin’s Doubt – Chapter 17 – Part 3

I’m honestly not sure what to do with the rest of this chapter.  You see, the chapter is all about how to form philosophical arguments.

I’m not a philosopher (something else Meyer and I have in common).  Further, I’ve read hundreds of science books, both popular and specialist.  I’ve never seen a section on philosophical arguments in any of them.  I have seen lots of scientific arguments, but never an explanation of why an argument is valid logically.  I have seen lots of evidence… something that, so far, hasn’t been found in Meyer’s work.

Meyer spends 10 pages of this book trying to convince us that various logical arguments are valid and then presents us with his.

An advocate of intelligent design could reason in a standard historical scientific way:
MAJOR PREMISE: If intelligent design played a role in the Cambrian explosion, then feature (X) known to be produced by intelligent activity would be expected as a matter of course.

MINOR PREMISE: Feature (X) is observed in the Cambrian explosion of animal life.

CONCLUSION: Hence, there is reason to suspect that an intelligent cause played a role in the Cambrian explosion.

Does anyone else see the flaw in this argument?  I see several.

Flaw #1: Feature (X), whatever it is, cannot be known to be produced by intelligent activity.  There has been, so far, no evidence that any known intelligence (i.e. humans) can create multi-cellular organisms from scratch.

Flaw #2: Would this be possible, then it would only show that an intelligence COULD create said feature, not that is DID create said feature in the Cambrian.

Flaw #3: This ignores all of the other possible causes of said feature.  Said feature could be a product of evolution.  Said feature could be the product of a passing spacecraft dumping waste onto our planet during a convenient pit stop.  Said feature could have come from another species on another planet and been produce by mating of Earth organisms and alien organisms.  There is absolutely no way to know for sure.

That is the biggest point there is to all of this. It’s a point that I’ve been trying to make inroads on in the pro-ID community for nearly a decade now.

In spite of all the logical reasoning and philosophical posturing, there is only one thing that can provide evidence for an intelligent designer being active in the Cambrian.  That is simply evidence that there was an intelligent designer that acted in the Cambrian.

Evidence of design isn’t enough.  Even Meyer said it might be possible that evolution is the designer… if you go by appearance.  The appearance of design tells us nothing.  We must know that it was designed.

With, for example, a car, we can be confident that it was designed.  Cars don’t reproduce.  They don’t repair themselves.  They don’t have an internal system that contains all the information needed to build another car.  They are not subject to evolution.  They are very complex devices, such that it is not likely to have a random mix of materials, through Brownian  motion and known chemisty and physics, result in a Mercedes AMG with a full tank of gas.

Organisms, on the other hand, are not equivalent to that at all.  They do self-reproduce.  They do repair themselves.  Every cell in an organism contains a complete set of instructions for building another, equivalent organism (with the known exception of gametes in a sexual creature).  They are subject to evolution.  They are very complex systems, but unlike cars do not have to appear fully formed wearing the latest style hat.

There’s a 3.5 billion year history of changes from the simplest organisms that we’re aware were actually alive to all the modern creatures that exist today.

In spite of what creationists say, it is they who demand that organisms pop out of nothing, fully formed.  No biologist thinks that this is case.

Here’s the deal.  Meyer and other ID proponents absolutely must be able to distinguish between random assemblies, evolved assemblies, and designed assemblies if they want ID to be more than a pipe dream.

They can’t do it.  They don’t know how.  I think it’s arguable (after some discussion with some mathematicians) that it is simply not possible to look only at a sequence of anything (DNA, amino acids, numbers, letters, words, etc) and determine if it was designed, evolved, or random.  Heck, there are systems that are specifically designed to look as random as possible.  That’s the entire basis of modern cryptography.

No ID proponent has ever accepted my challenge.  I have a string of DNA that I know is designed because a human designed it.  I also have  a string of random nucleotides generated by random.org.  The challenge is simple.  Determine which is designed and which is random.

Until ID proponents can do this reliably (or provide evidence of a designer), then there is no point in discussing anything further with them.

Meyer closes chapter 17 with this.

We are left with two crucial questions. Are there in fact such features present in the record of the Cambrian explosion or in the animals that arise in it—features that are known from our experience to be produced by intelligent causes such that they would justify making a tentative abductive inference to intelligent design? Are there also perhaps features of the Cambrian event that are known from our experience to be produced by intelligent causes, and only intelligent causes, justifying a more definitive inference to past intelligent activity as the best explanation for the relevant evidence? Might “the butler” have done it after all?

I’m very interested to see his evidence.  In my experience (and it’s obviously better read than Meyer on this subject), the answer to both these questions are no.

The rest of the series.

  • paulpfish

    The two problems that I see with Meyer’s approach are: 1) Saying ID predicts X is only useful if you can show logically why ID is incompatible with “not X”. For example, saying ID predicts the same genetic code for all organisms, is useless unless you can say why finding different genetic codes would be incompatible with ID. 2) The approach he gives is compatible with reverse engineering of ID compatible predictions. That is, anything that is found to be true must be a prediction of ID since we know that ID is true. Again not very useful.

  • Miika H

    That is *not* a valid argument. From Wikipedia:

    Affirming the consequent, sometimes called converse error or fallacy of the converse, is a formal fallacy of inferring the converse from the original statement. The corresponding argument has the general form:

    If P, then Q.

    Q.

    Therefore, P.

    An argument of this form is invalid, i.e., the conclusion can be false even when statements 1 and 2 are true. Since P was never asserted as the only sufficient condition for Q, other factors could account for Q (while P was false).

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Pieret/100000023960330 John Pieret

    Abductive inference (also called “the inference to the best explanation” (IBE)) is a valid method often used in science. Darwin himself used it when he called attention to various facts about the living world which are hard to explain if we assume that current species have been separately created, but which make perfect sense if current species have descended from common ancestors. There is (at least) one major problem with how Meyer is attempting to use it, while still claiming that he is doing science.

    IBE is really a hypotheses sorting exercise. Look at two hypotheses and try to figure out which is the more likely … and then investigate the more likely first. It is not formally logical. And, of course, Meyer and the other IDers steadfastly refuse to investigate their favored hypothesis.

    In Darwin’s time, there were only two explanations for what he called the “mysteries of mysteries,” the origin of all the species we see around us: special creation or some (as yet ill-defined) form of common descent. He recognized that special creation could never be science (at most, this or that aspect of organisms could be pointed to, theologically, as showing us “the mind of God”). On the other hand, common descent by natural means could be scientifically investigated. So Darwin used IBE to show that common descent was the better explanation as a way to show that science could be brought to bear on the issue.

    Meyer is, of course, trying to run the process in reverse: to show that special creation is the better explanation and, therefore, that science can’t be brought to bear on the origin of species (especially on the origins of human beings … his particular concern, as shown in his Chapter 20). So, even if Meyer is being “reasonable” … and the biggest doubt in his book is whether he is even trying to be reasonable … it’s hard to see how denying that science can answer a question is, itself, a part of science.

    • Richard_Wein

      More specifically, IBE requires us to compare the explanatory merits and demerits of the alternative options. Meyer (at least here) fails to consider the explanatory demerits of ID, and he fails to compare it with the major alternative. His argument is much too simplistic. If we generalise his method, it’s a license for accepting ad hoc explanations.

      If we put it in probabilistic terms, Meyer is ignoring Bayes Theorem, which tells us that we must take into account the prior probability of the hypothesis.

  • Doc Bill

    Meyer wastes a chapter on this nonsense because it’s all he has. There is no positive case for ID, only fake negative “evidence” (I hate to even use that word) against evolution. Evolution is bad, ID is good. As an authoritarian fanatic, Meyer relies on what people say and “rebuttals,” basically the charity (research) of others bent, twisted and obscured to give the appearance of support for his case. Meyer will then claim that he’s demonstrated the inadequacy of evolution to do whatever and leave it as a large hint that the proper conclusion must be ID.

  • L Zoltan

    What one who read Meyer’s book supposed to think when sees all his book reviewers are pretending not to know what the book is about? (It’s like having an elephant in the room and pretending not to be there, but the elephant is big)

    Meyer’s book points that there are no solid arguments, evidence to demonstrate the “power” of darwinian mechanisms to account for the diversity of life (or for the claim that evolution is true) and most of the arguments are “just so” stories.

    I think if Meyer is wrong about this ,we should have seen lots of arguments in favor of the capabilities of the darwinian evolutionary mechanisms. But all his reviewers do is trying to discredit him on other grounds (he has no expertise, his an IDiot, has a relegious agenda) instead of pointing to facts, evidence.

    I am trying to understand who are reviewers writing their reviews for? I don’t think scientists or science teachers for that would mean Meyer’s book is great and I don’t think convinced atheists either they don’t care about this book.

    I think those who were convinced by Meyer’s arguments need far more than his reviewers have done so far.

    I was trying to find the arguments in favor of darwinian mechanisms and all I found so far is bacteria gaining adaptation by loosing function.

    I am not a scientist but what am I supposed to believe when I see great scientists who don’t understand “evolution”:

    “Although most scientists leave few stones unturned in their quest to discern mechanisms before wholeheartedly accepting them, when it comes to the often gross extrapolations between observations and conclusions on macroevolution, scientists, it seems to me, permit unhealthy leeway. When hearing such extrapolations in the academy, when will we cry out, “The emperor has no clothes!”?
    “Let me tell you what goes on in the back rooms of science – with National Academy members, with Nobel Prize winners. I have sat with them, and when I get them alone, not in public – because it’s a scary thing, if you say what I just said – I say, “Do you understand all of this, where all of this came from, and how this happens?” Every time that I have sat with people who are synthetic chemists, who understand this, they go “Uh-uh. Nope.” These people are just so far off, on how to believe this stuff came together. I’ve sat with National Academy members, with Nobel Prize winners. Sometimes I will say, “Do you understand this?”And if they’re afraid to say “Yes,” they say nothing. They just stare at me, because they can’t sincerely do it.”

    http://www.jmtour.com/personal-topics/the-scientist-and-his-%E2%80%9Ctheory%E2%80%9D-and-the-christian-creationist-and-his-%E2%80%9Cscience%E2%80%9D/

    Here’s an example that alone demonstrates the book was worth writing. You can see why Meyer is convincing and their reviewers are not

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/11/unintended_cons079591.html

    I have seen, listened I think all Meyer’s debates and he won them all not just because he is a great communicator, but because his opponents couldn’t point to the facts. Their arguments go like this: evolution is a fact, ID is a dogma, it’s not science.

    The only reviewer Ch Marshall who attempted to address the chalenges Meyer put forward also failed to be convincing and demonstrate the evolutionary mechanisms.

    They also had a debate on this and if you listen you will see that practically admits that “we” don’t know how it happened. So we supposed to just trust that “evolution” is a fact.

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/cambrian-explosion/steve-meyer-vs-hostile-reviewer-charles-marshall-audio/

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Pieret/100000023960330 John Pieret

      I am not a scientist but what am I supposed to believe when I see great scientists who don’t understand “evolution”:

      Heh! By your own admission, as a non-scientist, how would you know that scientists don’t understand evolution? You first have to understand in order to know that others don’t. If you rely on Meyer to tell you what evolution is, then you are just saying you prefer his narrative and are just another True Believer. Get away from the Kool Aid sites you list and try really learning what science says.

      Meyer is basically doing a somewhat slower version of a “Gish gallop,” putting out a lot of misinformation that would take a tome or tomes many times the size of his book to refute in detail. So, naturally, reviewers concentrate on the more egregious fallacies. Why, exactly, would a scientist or group of scientists expend so much effort to refute a “hypothesis” that has never suggested a scientifically-testable explanation for how species arose? Who is this “designer,” how did he/she/it manipulate matter and what tell-tale signs of his/her/its actions can we find in living things? We know all these things for the human designers IDers always point to … why not the IDers’ “designer”?

      If you want to see as brief as possible listing of some of the evidence for “macro evolution” (a term that means something different to scientists than creationists) go to 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution.
      Of course we don’t know the exact way all this happened. But, if there was a murder and you found the victim in a pool of blood, with bloody footprints leading outside toward a neighboring house but which faded out before they reached there and, when you searched that house, you found a knife with blood on it, the DNA matching the victim’s, and someone wearing clothes with the same matching blood on it, would you acquit that person because you couldn’t trace the exact footsteps the suspect took? If so, we can say you have achieved true IDiocy!

  • Buho

    “I have seen lots of evidence… something that, so far, hasn’t been found in Meyer’s work.”

    That’s a bit unfair when you skip 14 out of 20 chapters.

    “This ignores all of the other possible causes of said feature. … That is the biggest point there is to all of this. It’s a point that I’ve been trying to make inroads on in the pro-ID community for nearly a decade now.”

    Meyer hasn’t ignored it. That was the entire Part II of his book, chapters 8 through 14. His evidence-based conclusion is that chance, necessity, and chance plus necessity are incapable of surmounting the difficulties of producing complex functional assemblies (the “X” in Meyer’s quote). You would be much more successful making inroads on the pro-ID community if you didn’t ignore their arguments. I was hoping you would do this, which is why I’ve been following your blog, but now I’m very disappointed.

    “The challenge is simple. Determine which is designed and which is random.” It’s unfortunate that you skipped so much of the book, otherwise you would have found your simple challenge met. Meyer writes about specified complexity, what it is and how to identify it. He then talks about how it can be generated (with ample evidence) and, importantly, how it cannot (also with ample evidence). These tests can determine which of your strings are randomly-generated and which are designed. The ID community doesn’t go so far as to identify the designer, be it you, another scientist, an alien, or God, but nonteleological generation can be positively ruled out based on our repeated experience of its capabilities.

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      Page number…

      Oh and you might read up on the ID Community. The designer is the Judeo-Christian god.