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At Evolution News: From Intelligent Cause to Intelligent Design: My Debt to Charles Thaxton


Stephen C. Meyer shares, from the Foreword to the new memoir by Charles Thaxton, A Leg to Stand On:

I first met Charles Thaxton after a conference in 1985. Little did I know at the time that meeting him would change the entire direction of my life. 

Photo: Stephen Meyer and Charles Thaxton, by Chris Morgan.

The conference, titled “Christianity Challenges the University: An International Conference of Theists and Atheists,” convened in Dallas, Texas, in February of that year. It featured panels of scientists from competing philosophical perspectives discussing three big scientific and philosophical questions: the origin of the universe, the origin of life, and the nature of human consciousness. 

During a session on the origin of life, the scientists discussed a question I had never considered: Where did the information stored in the DNA molecule come from? 

On February 10, 1985, I learned I wasn’t the only one. On that day I found myself sitting in front of eight world-class scientists, who were discussing the vexing scientific and philosophical question: How did the first life on earth arise? 

What introduced drama into what might have otherwise been a dry academic discussion was the reaction of some of the scientists to a new idea. Three of the scientists on the panel had just published a controversial book called The Mystery of Life’s Origin, with a prominent New York publisher of scientific monographs. Their book provided a comprehensive critique of the attempts that had been made to explain how the first life had arisen from the primordial ocean, the so-called “pre-biotic soup.” These scientists — Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen — had concluded that all such theories had failed to explain the origin of the first life. Surprisingly, the other scientists on the panel — all experts in the field — did not dispute this critique. 

The Code of Life

What the other scientists did dispute was a controversial new hypothesis Thaxton and his colleagues had floated in the epilogue of their book in an attempt to explain this DNA enigma. Thaxton et al. had suggested the information in DNA might have originated from an intelligent source, or as they put it an “intelligent cause.” Since, in our experience, information arises from an intelligent source, and since the information in DNA was, in their words, “mathematically identical” to the information in a written language or computer code, they suggested the presence of information in DNA pointed to an intelligent cause. In other words, the code of life pointed to a programmer. 

That was where the fireworks started. Other scientists on the panel became uncharacteristically defensive and hostile. 

[It] was also clear, to me at least, that the authors of the new book had seized the intellectual initiative. They had offered a bold new idea that seemed at least intuitively plausible, while those defending the status quo offered no alternative to their new explanation.

A Mystery Story

I left deeply intrigued. If Thaxton’s portrayal of the scientific status of the problem was accurate — if there was no accepted or satisfactory theory of the origin of the first life — then a mystery was at hand. And if it was the case that evolutionary theory could not explain the origin of the first life, because it could not explain the origin of the genetic information in DNA, then something we take for granted was quite possibly an important clue in a mystery story. 

DNA with its characteristic double-helix shape is a cultural icon. We see the helix in everything from music videos and modern art to science documentaries and news stories about criminal proceedings. We know DNA testing can establish guilt, innocence, paternity, and distant genealogical connections. We know DNA research holds the key to understanding many diseases, and manipulating DNA can alter the features of plants and animals and boost food production. Most of us know roughly what DNA is and what it does. But could it be that we do not know anything about where it came from or how it was first formed? 

If Thaxton was right, then the classical design argument that had been dismissed first by Enlightenment philosophers, such as David Hume in the 18th century and then later by evolutionary biologists in the wake of the Darwinian revolution, might have legitimacy after all. 

Could the design argument be resuscitated based upon discoveries in modern science? And was DNA the key? 

My discussion of these questions changed the course of my professional life. By the end of that year, I was preparing to move to the University of Cambridge in England to investigate questions I first encountered earlier that February and in my subsequent discussions with Charles. During my PhD research, I investigated several questions that had emerged in my discussions with Thaxton. What methods do scientists use to study biological origins? Is there a distinctive method of historical scientific inquiry? Could the argument from DNA to design be formulated as a rigorous historical scientific argument? 

Intelligent Cause, Intelligent Design

Years later, after completing a PhD on the topic of origin-of-life biology, I would write my own book on the subject of the origin of life and intelligent design. My book, Signature in the Cell, built directly on the critique of chemical evolution that Charles and his co-authors had developed in The Mystery of Life’s Origin. It also further developed the positive case for an intelligent cause, or what we now call “intelligent design,” as the best explanation of the information in DNA — in other words, the same hypothesis Thaxton and his colleagues first proposed in the epilogue to Mystery

Full article at Evolution News.
Alan Fox in general. You've got nothing. You pretend to not know but you know. relatd
Alan Fox in comment 11 links to another imbecile who also confuses specification with CSI! And that moron is so confused it didn't present any evidence that blind and mindless processes can produce anything. ET
Felsenstein is just another cowardly equivocator. He is clueless with respect to Intelligent Design and evolution by means of blind and mindless processes. Felsenstein, as with all evos, fail to understand that how life originated dictates how it subsequently evolved. It is only if blind and mindless processes produced life would we infer they also produced its diversity. An Intelligently Designed OoL means that organ isms were intelligently designed with the ability and information to evolve and adapt. Evolution by means of intelligent design, ie telic processes. Genetic algorithms exemplify evolution by means of telic processes. And it remains that a changes to DNA can only account for microevolutionary changes. That is variations within any given population. ET
Back on topic Joe Felsenstein points out an inconsistency: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2022/08/thaxton-and-meyer-switcheroo.html#more Alan Fox
Summer heat has retreated a little where I live. Almost pleasantly cool this morning. Still no rain though. Saw this that might interest JVL. https://dreadtomatoaddiction.blogspot.com/2016/02/deconstructing-dembski-2005.html?m=1 Alan Fox
Kairosfocus I made no comment on this thread. I applied your version of Dr Dembski's metric based on what you wrote to the case of 500 random coin flips and there should be no indication of specified complexity. But that's not what I got. When I used Dr Dembski's original version I DID get what I expected to get. Your version is flawed. It clearly doesn't work for a simple, easy to understand example. You should fix it. Remember, the point of Dr Dembski's metric is to test things that are not obviously beyond the threshold. Why else would he have introduced it? JVL
JVL, you know I did a for argument to detach the secondary from the primary. The primary is, we observe functionally specific complex organisation and/or associated information routinely and note that it is consistently a product of intelligently directed configuration. Blind, needle in haystack search challenge in large configuration spaces readily shows why. Now, cell based life is full of such FSCO/I, starting with D/RNA in the cell, well beyond 500 - 1,000 bits. That gives decisive reason to infer that the world of life, from root, is driven by design. With that, the key point is decided, and any reasonable info beyond a threshold metric will fit with the threshold given, for sol system or observed cosmos search challenge reasons. Beyond, we can reduce WmAD's - log2[ . . . ] expression and see that it is an info beyond threshold metric. Apply a reasonable functional info metric and use the general bounds already identified and it fits in. I find the dummy variable approach useful to distinguish functional and configuration-specific info from an info capacity metric. Given how far beyond threshold we are, life cases are such that any reasonable estimate of redundancy [see Trevors, Abel, Durston et al for starters] will make no practical difference. The main point is clear. KF kairosfocus
Jerry at 8, The pig cells were brought back but not the pig. relatd
A couple of related thoughts. 1. I bought the Kindle version of the new edition of Thaxton's book and highly recommend starting with the epilogue. The book essentially debunks the idea of natural development of life on Earth through probabilities. But list in the epilogue, the five considered alternatives. These are:
1 - New natural laws 2 - Panspermia 3 - Directed Panspermia 4 - Special Creation by a creator within the cosmos 5 - Special Creation by a Creator beyond the cosmos
2. The second thing is that there was an article on the Smithsonian site about bringing some pig cells back to life after the organism dying.
Scientists Bring Cells in Dead Pigs Back to Life
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/scientists-bring-cells-in-dead-pigs-back-to-life-180980557 jerry
Jerry at 5, A few people have been assigned to UD. It's their job to post drivel. relatd
If one downloads the Kindle version of Life’s Origins you will find it hard to find religion discussed in the book. jerry
Meyer really needs to move on and quit recycling the same religion-as-science meme that forms the core of his three books on ID
Another comment of drivel by our resident pro ID scholar in disguise. If one has elements of truth, why should this truth be abandoned or recycled? Maybe expanded but most definitely truth should be recycled. No one knows how life originated but the chances of it being due to chance are light years beyond the probabilities of feasibility or should we use bits as a shortcut. Let’s hear it for a thousand comments on probability by our inane commentators and their enablers. But on another thread. They are over 500 comments now with nothing accomplished so why not 1000. Aside: it must be hard to constantly post drivel. But some seem to have a knack for it. That’s why they must actually be pro ID. Thanks for highlighting Thaxton’s new edition even if it’s a couple years old. jerry
A foundational figure. kairosfocus
On the contrary, Meyer should often remind us that though the issue was raised as early as 1985 (and earlier?), over 35 years have passed and yet the evolution/materialist viewpoint is not one inch closer to explaining the origin of the massive amount of information required for the appearance of the first life. Those reminders should continue for decades hence as long as we continue to have the right to give such reminders. The evolutionists say: "Move along. Nothing to see here.". But there is everything to be seen. Blastus
CD at 1, Guess what? ID proves GOD acted in His creation, NOT blind, unguided forces. relatd
Meyer really needs to move on and quit recycling the same religion-as-science meme that forms the core of his three books on ID. chuckdarwin

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