It seems to me that the [Intelligent Design creationist] movement concentrates on criticizing evolution (and materialism) and doesn’t really present much of a case for believing that the history of life was directed by gods.
Now, it’s no skin off my nose if Professor Moran wants to call us creationists. Frankly, I couldn’t care less. But the Intelligent Design movement has never claimed to have scientific evidence that the history of life was “directed by gods.” What we claim is that certain highly specific, functional systems which are found in living things were designed by some intelligent agent or agents. By “intelligent,” I don’t mean “humanlike”; rather, what I mean is: capable of engaging in abstract reasoning, when selecting suitable means to achieve one’s goals. In the most clear-cut Intelligent Design cases, the agent has to engage in mathematical reasoning – whether it be about squares (in the case of the monolith on the Moon in the movie 2001, whose sides are in the ration 1:4:9) or about digital code (in the case of the DNA we find in living things), or about which complex geometrical arrangements of amino acid chains will prove to be capable of performing a biologically useful task (in the case of protein design).
When I speak of the agent’s “goals,” I don’t mean the agent’s personal motives for doing something, which we have no way of inferring from the products they design; rather, I simply mean the task that the agent was attempting to perform, or the problem that they were trying to solve. Beyond that, there is nothing more that we could possibly infer about the agent, unless we were acquainted with them or with other members of their species. For instance, we cannot infer that the designer of an artifact was a sentient being (since the ability to design doesn’t imply the ability to feel) , or a material being (whatever that vague term means), or a physical entity (since there’s no reason why a designer needs to exhibit law-governed behavior), or even a complex or composite entity. To be sure, all the agents that we are familiar with possess these characteristics, but we cannot infer them from the products designed by an agent. Finally, the fact that an agent is capable of performing a variety of functions does not necessarily imply that the agent is composed of multiple detachable parts. We simply don’t know that. In short: the scientific inferences we can make about non-human designers are extremely modest.
Moran’s verdict: “No case for Intelligent Design”
After quoting the 123-word passage from Meyer’s book which I highlighted in my original post, summarizing the four fundamental problems with unguided evolution, Professor Moran accuses Dr. Meyer of claiming that Intelligent Design must be true because Darwinism is false:
This passage merely affirms what we all know to be true; namely that there is no case for Intelligent Design Creationism. It’s just a bunch of whining about the inadequacies of the IDiot version of evolution. That version assumes that all of evolution is due to natural selection acting on random mutations and this gives rise to the appearance of design.
I don’t believe in that version of evolution and I don’t think that most species look as though they were designed. Does that mean that I’m an Intelligent Design Creationist? Of course not. Meyers (and Torley) have fallen for the trap of the false dichotomy.
Even if all four of Stephen Meyer’s critiques were correct, he still isn’t offering an alternative explanation and he still isn’t showing us evidence for an intelligent designer—or any other kind of designer.
As anyone who has read Darwin’s Doubt knows, this is a complete travesty of Meyer’s argument. Professor Moran is displaying his ignorance here.
The evidence for an intelligent designer, in a nutshell
Dr. Meyer’s case for an intelligent designer is spelt out with admirable lucidity in an Evolution News and Views post titled, Does Darwin’s Doubt Commit the God-of-the-Gaps Fallacy? (October 16, 2013). The argument proceeds as follows:
Premise One: Despite a thorough search and evaluation, no materialistic causes or evolutionary mechanisms have demonstrated the power to produce large amounts of specified or functional information (or integrated circuitry).
Premise Two: Intelligent causes have demonstrated the power to produce large amounts of specified/functional information (and integrated circuitry).
Conclusion: Intelligent design constitutes the best, most causally adequate, explanation for the specified/functional information (and circuitry) that was necessary to produce the Cambrian animals…
In fact, the argument for intelligent design developed in Darwin’s Doubt constitutes an “inference to the best explanation” based upon our best available knowledge….[A]n inference to the best explanation …asserts the superior explanatory power of a proposed cause based upon its established — its known — causal adequacy, and based upon a lack of demonstrated efficacy, despite a thorough search, of any other adequate cause. The inference to design, therefore, depends on present knowledgee of the causal powers of various materialistic entities and processes (inadequate) and intelligent agents (adequate).
Meyer’s argument can also be found in chapters 17 and 18 of his book, Darwin’s Doubt. Sadly, Professor Moran evinces no sign of having read those chapters. One wonders whether he merely skimmed Dr. Meyer’s book.
Why the neutral theory of evolution won’t remedy the deficiencies of neo-Darwinism
But let us return to Professor Moran’s remarks about natural selection. In his introduction to The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin wrote: “I am convinced that Natural Selection has been the main but not the exclusive means of modification.” In a similar vein, Richard Dawkins famously declared: “Evolution by natural selection is the only workable theory ever proposed that is capable of explaining life, and it does so brilliantly.”
Professor Moran does not share these views. He rejects the view that “evolution is due to natural selection acting on random mutations and this gives rise to the appearance of design,” forthrightly asserting: “I don’t believe in that version of evolution.” He maintains that “a huge number of mutations are neutral and there are far more neutral mutations fixed by random genetic drift that there are beneficial mutations fixed by natural selection.” This, he declares, is what modern-day evolutionists believe. In an earlier post, he complains that “you have to read very carefully to find any mention of modern evolutionary theory in Meyer’s book – he prefers to focus his attack on mutation + natural selection.”
What Professor Moran does not tell us here is that Dr. Stephen Meyer wrote a detailed and extensive critique of the neutral theory of evolution in his book, Darwin’s Doubt. In his critique, Dr. Meyer focuses on the ground-breaking work of Dr. Michael Lynch, a geneticist who espouses the neutral theory of evolution. Meyer argues that this theory is incapable of accounting for the origin of new animal body plans, because it is built on faulty mathematical assumptions (bolding mine – VJT):
Michael Lynch, a geneticist at Indiana University, … proposes a neutral or “non-adaptive” theory of evolution in which natural selection plays a largely insignificant role…
Lynch argues that in small populations, animal genomes will inevitably grow over time as nonprotein-coding sections of DNA (as well as gene duplicates) accumulate due to the weakness of natural selection. He thinks that these neutral mutations drive the evolution of animals.
… [F]or Lynch’s theory to explain the origin of new and functional genes and proteins (and the anatomical complexities that depend on them), his theory would have to solve the problem of combinatorial inflation… He would have to show that random mutations could efficiently search the relevant combinatorial space of possible sequences corresponding to a given novel functional gene or protein.
Nevertheless, Lynch does not even address the problem of combinatorial inflation or the closely related problem of the rarity of genes and proteins in sequence space…
Lynch does argue in one paper that neutral evolutionary processes can generate new complex adaptations – adaptations requiring multiple coordinated mutations – within realistic waiting times. In particular, writing in a recent paper with colleague Adam Abegg of St. Louis University, he argues that “conventional population genetic mechanisms” such as random mutation and genetic drift can cause the “relatively rapid emergence of specific complex adaptations.” …
But some things are just too good to be true, and it turns out that Lynch and Abegg made a subtle but fundamental mathematical error in coming to their conclusion. Appropriately, perhaps, the first person to demonstrate that Lynch’s incredible claim was problematic was Douglas Axe… In the end, he traced Lynch and Abegg’s claims to two erroneous equations, both of which were based on erroneous assumptions. In essence, Lynch and Abegg assumed that organisms will acquire a given complex adaptation by traversing a direct path to the new anatomical structure. Each mutation would build on the previous one in the most efficient manner possible – with no setbacks, false starts, aimless wandering, or genetic degradation – until the desired structure or system (or gene) is constructed. Thus, they formulated an undirected model of evolutionary change, and one that assumes, moreover, that there is no mechanism available (such as natural selection) that can lock in potentially favorable mutational changes on the way to some complex advantageous structure….
Yet nothing in Lynch’s neutral model ensures that potentially advantageous mutations will remain in place while other mutations accrue. As Axe explains, “Productive changes cannot be ‘banked,’ whereas Equation 2 [one of Lynch’s equations] presupposes that they can.” Instead, Axe shows, mathematically, that degradation (the fixation of mutational changes that make the complex adaptation less likely to arise) will occur much more rapidly than constructive mutations, causing the expected waiting time to increase exponentially.
(2013, pp. 321, 322, 326, 327-328)
Quoting Marshall – but missing the big picture
…when it comes to explaining the Cambrian explosion, Darwin’s Doubt is compromised by Meyer’s lack of scientific knowledge, his “god of the gaps” approach, and selective scholarship that appears driven by his deep belief in an explicit role of an intelligent designer in the history of life.
However, Dr. Meyer has responded at length to Professor Marshall’s criticisms, in a four-part series. Meyer’s most telling points can be found in his second post, which is titled, To Build New Animals, No New Genetic Information Needed? More in Reply in Charles Marshall. I’ll quote a few brief excerpts (bolding mine – VJT):
…Marshall simply assumes that most of the genetic information necessary to build the Cambrian animals already existed before the Cambrian explosion. In fact, he seems to presuppose the existence of what Susumu Ohno called a “pananimalian genome,”16 a nearly complete set of the genes necessary to build Cambrian animals within some phenotypically simpler, ur-metazoan ancestor. Thus, he states the new animal phyla “emerged through the rewiring of the gene regulatory networks (GRNs) of already existing genes.”17 …
Nevertheless, this question-begging assumption does not solve the central problem posed by Darwin’s Doubt — that of the origin of the genetic (and epigenetic) information necessary to produce the Cambrian animals. It merely pushes the problem back several tens or hundreds of millions of years, assuming that such a universal genetic toolkit ever existed.
Readers of the book will recall my discussion, in Chapters 9 and 10, of recent mutagenesis experiments. These experiments have established the extreme rarity of functional genes and proteins among the many (combinatorially) possible ways of arranging nucleotide bases or amino acids within their corresponding “sequence spaces.” … This extreme rarity also helps to explain why mathematical biologists, using standard population genetics models, are calculating exceedingly long waiting times (well in excess of available evolutionary time) for the production of new genes and proteins when producing such genes or proteins requires even a few coordinated mutations.20
For these reasons, defining the Cambrian explosion as a 25 million year event, as Marshall does, instead of a 10 million year event, as many other Cambrian experts do (and as I do in Darwin’s Doubt), makes no appreciable difference in solving the problem of the origin of genetic information — such is the extreme rarity of functional bio-macromolecules within their relevant sequence spaces. Nor, for that matter, does positing the origin of a complete set of genes (that is, many more than just one) for building all the Cambrian animals 100 million years before the Cambrian explosion. That merely pushes the problem back…In any case, the experimentally based calculations in Darwin’s Doubt show that neither ten million, nor several hundred million years would afford enough opportunities to produce the genetic information necessary to build even a single novel gene or protein, let alone all the new genes and proteins needed to produce new animal forms.
Nobody would question Professor Marshall’s expertise in paleontology, but the argument in Dr. Stephen Meyer’s book, Darwin’s Doubt, is ultimately a mathematical one. Until evolutionists demonstrate that they can grapple with the mathematics in Meyer’s argument, their criticisms of his book will continue to miss the mark.
Reading the critical reviews of Meyer’s book reinforced my conviction that many contemporary biologists fail to grasp that the scientific case for unguided evolution is built on a foundation of faulty math. As a philosopher of science, Dr. Meyer is to be congratulated for having the courage to publicly declare that the emperor has no clothes.
Finally, here’s what Harvard geneticist George Church (who isby no means an Intelligent Design theorist) said about Darwin’s Doubt:
Stephen Meyer’s new book Darwin’s Doubt represents an opportunity for bridge-building, rather than dismissive polarization — bridges across cultural divides in great need of professional, respectful dialog — and bridges to span evolutionary gaps.
Readers can find many more comments on this Web page by highly qualified scientists praising Darwin’s Doubt. Professor Moran is welcome to call them all “idiots” if he likes. But somehow I don’t think he’ll do that. Or will he?