Michael Flannery: Astounding News Flash!—Perry Marshall Singlehandedly Breaks the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design (or maybe not)
|January 10, 2016||Posted by News under Intelligent Design, Irreducible Complexity, theistic evolution|
Science historian Michael Flannery kindly contributed this review:
When I started reading Perry Marshall’s book, Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design, I must confess to some consternation almost from the beginning.
While Marshall was quick to point out the shortcomings of the neo-Darwinian approach of common descent by means of natural selection through the undirected processes of chance and necessity, he oddly went on to claim that
ID, while recognizing many truths about biology that old-school Darwinism denies, ultimately abdicates its responsibility by jumping directly to ‘God did it’. At least in its most simple forms, ID halts scientific inquiry by dismissing too easily the possibility that God may have used a process to develop life on earth. Further investigation becomes impossible if a miraculous event cannot be reproduced in the lab (xxii-xxiii).
Now I don’t know of any position by any major ID theorist that jumps to the “God did it” conclusion claimed by Marshall. Curiously, Marshall seems to admit this in a note at the bottom of the same page in the tiniest of fonts:
But it’s important to note that for many ID advocates, God has little to do with ID. There’s an important distinction between IDers who believe in episodes of divine intervention and IDers who, often apart from religion, observe that mindless, materialistic processes simply fail to explain or adequately describe many aspects of living things (see Discovery Institute at http://discovery.org/about, accessed January 13, 2015). . . . ID asserts that the same principles of design employed in architecture, computer science, and music are valid and necessary in science and biology. One need not care about theological questions to recognize that Darwinism fails to answer science questions as well. In the pages to come I’ll describe why, from an engineering and technology point of view, ID raises question we cannot afford to ignore—because they are not only scientifically sound but commercially valuable.
So, which is it? Is ID, as Marshall asserts in his main text, a misguided “God did it” science-stopper or is it what he claims in his tiny-fonted footnote? It seems to me that Marshall starts out from the beginning talking out of both sides of his mouth.
He seems to suggest that ID is too direct, too immediate an inference to a designer; that ID is necessary only insofar as it is mediated through processes. (Aren’t those the very “principles” [i.e. processes] of architecture, computer science, and music to which he alludes?) Given this, I fail to see where he is adding anything new. His so-called “third way” is really just another version of ID. In fact Stephen Meyer’s excellent definition of ID makes this whole book unnecessary. Meyer states quite clearly, “the theory of intelligent design holds that there are tell-tale features of living systems and the universe that are best explained by an intelligent cause—that is, by the conscious choice of a rational agent—rather than by an undirected process” (Signature in the Cell, 4). So the issue isn’t process vs. miracle, rather it is between directed and undirected process. I would direct attention to Meyer’s use of the word “tell-tale.”
There is no “jump” to “God did it” or even to the miraculous in this definition—Paley is not waving his magic wand here—the “tell-tale” signs are essentially forensic, precisely embedded in the codes, etc. that Marshall is talking about. But strangely one searches in vain for any mention of Meyer’s Signature book and perusal of the bibliography finds it conspicuously absent.
Nevertheless, there is much good in the book. Marshall makes much of the coding capacities of cells, which makes him predictably enamored of Lynn Margulis’s symbiogenesis. However, he departs from her larger Gaia hypothesis that sees these tiny marvels as simply wholly non-teleological, self-creating and self-sustaining properties of nature. (Good thing too, an interview with Margulis published in Discover [April 2011] just months before her death ventured toward the bizarre when she claimed “consciousness is a property of all living cells.”) Marshall really does believe that nature is teleological and that an outside code-giver can only explain the first biological cell, and it follows that his definition of Evolution 2.0 is “the cell’s capacity to adapt and to generate new features and new species by engineering its own genetics in real time” (145).
It can do this through his “Swiss Army knife” analogy whereby Evolution 2.0 functions through the “five blades” of epigenetics, transposition, horizontal gene transfer, hybridization, and symbiogenesis. Marshall points out that Evolution 2.0 is fast, organized, adaptive, and functions through natural genetic engineering. However, lest he fall prey to simply accepting Margulis’s strange “cells are intelligent” argument, Marshall passionately defends a theistic (indeed Christian) solution to the question of an ultimate Code-Giver, the inventor and patent- holder of his “Swiss Army knife.” Marshall also ably defends Mike Behe’s irreducible complexity argument against all challenges, pointing out that “none of the papers that challenge the irreducible complexity argument about the flagellum solve the problem within the gradual-mutation framework [italics in the original]” (172). Furthermore, Marshall’s understanding of the relationship of science/faith question is cogently addressed in his chapter 28, “On the Shoulders of Giants: When Men of Science Were Also Men of Faith.”
Marshall is certain of his thesis, so certain in fact that he’s is offering a $10 million-dollar prize to anyone or group who can demonstrate a naturally occurring code—i.e, $100,000 for anyone that discovers “a purely chemical process that produces codes” (201) and $9.9 million if it is patentable. His appendix 4 outlines eleven specific and clearly defined criteria that must be met to claim this prize. Of course, given everything else in Marshall’s book, his money should be safe. He is putting his readers on a fool’s errand. While the prize makes for an interesting media stunt, it shows the author’s sense of marketing and attention-getting maneuvers to gain visibility for his ideas. Frankly, I like this gutsy approach despite its rather P. T. Barnum flavor.
However, on the whole I find this book an effort at co-option. Marshall is simply taking ID concepts and ideas and re-packaging them as Evolution 2.0. Perhaps that’s to get folks to understand and accept ID, or (less generously) perhaps it might just be to sell books. I’m not suggesting Marshall is being disingenuous (I’m sure he’s committed to every word of his book), but frankly most of the salient ideas in it have already been long and well expressed by ID proponents, and efforts to belittle the ID brand are misguided and self-serving. Marshall’s truly original contribution is that he claims his book is “breaking the deadlock between Darwin and design” by creating a so-called “third way.” But, in fact, his “third way” adds nothing new to any of the basic ID arguments offered by its modern-day proponents.
So, in the end, I can only offer a final assessment reminiscent of a devastating 18th-century critique attributed to Samuel Johnson: Mr. Marshall, your book “is both good and original but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good.” My advice to Marshall is simple: stop co-opting the ideas to which you subscribe and start cooperating with your manifest allies. More is to be gained by working in concert than in conflict.
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Note: Perry Marshall (left) vs. P.Z.Myers (radio)
Perry Marshall is an online marketing strategist with a background in computer engineering. His new book ‘Evolution 2.0: Breaking the deadlock between Darwin and Design’ claims to show a ‘third way’ which proves evolutionary changes are neither random not accidental but are targeted, adaptive and aware.PZ Myers is well known as an evolutionary biologist and strident atheist blogger. He believes Marshall’s book is flawed. They debate the mechanics of the cell, how information arises and whether…