My verdict: The debate would have been a better one without Krauss, who generally behaved like a boor, and who engaged in deliberate dishonesty (see below). Meyer and Lamoureux had a lively but amicable exchange of views. Meyer displayed admirable fortitude in soldiering on, even though he had a splitting headache.
Host Karen Stiller introduces the debate, which is sponsored by Wycliffe College, in partnership with Faith Today, Power to Change, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and the Network of Christian Scholars. Professor Lawrence Krauss will speak first, followed by Dr. Stephen Meyer and finally, Dr. Denis Lamoureux.
Professor Lawrence Krauss’s talk
Professor Krauss begins by announcing that he wants to clear up a misconception.
3:52 Krauss declares: “The Discovery Institute, in case you don’t know, is a rather moribund, right-wing, creationist group which Dr. Meyer is part of. And they were very excited that I agreed to do this because if you appear on stage with someone talking about this, it gives the impression that the ideas are worth debating or that the person is worth debating. In this case neither is true.”
Such rudeness! Expressing contempt for one’s opponent to his face is a fundamental breach of debating decorum. Totally inexcusable. Frankly, I’m surprised Dr. Meyer didn’t walk off the stage, then and there. I would have.
5:33 Krauss adds: “Stephen will, I know, come across as a [dis]interested scholar, and I want to disabuse you of that, right away.” How charming. The man has no class at all. (In fact, Krauss actually said “interested scholar,” but what he clearly meant to say was: “disinterested scholar.” He can’t even insult his target properly.)
5:50 Krauss, talking about the Center for Science and Culture (formerly the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture), states: “And this was their mandate in 1998 – they’ve taken it off since then [VJT: Not true: you can find the relevant passage here on page 5]: ‘The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built.'” This is the opening sentence of the now-famous Wedge document. And it’s perfectly accurate, historically speaking.
5:58 Krauss disingenuously skips the next sentence of the Wedge document, which reads: “Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progress in the arts and sciences.” Readers will note that the Wedge document views progress in the arts and sciences as a good thing. Krauss ignores this sentence, however, and segues to the third sentence of the Wedge document: “Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science.” From this statement, Krauss draws the totally unwarranted inference that the Center for Science and Culture thinks that “science is bad,” despite the fact that the previous sentence (which he omitted to quote) refutes that notion. This is a clear-cut case of quote-mining on Krauss’s part.
6:06 Krauss is quoting from the Wedge document again: “Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture Center for Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies.” And a good thing, too. What’s more, the Discovery Institute openly admits this fact in a 2006 document titled, The “Wedge Document”: “So What?” On page 3, it adds: “The Center for Science and Culture is not attacking science or the scientific method. It is challenging the philosophy of scientific materialism and the false scientific theories that support it (more on this below).” This explanation has been online for the past ten years. Why has Krauss not bothered to avail himself of it?
6:12 Back to the debate: Krauss is now getting totally mixed up in his historical account. He goes on to say: “Then there was the Wedge strategy, which they began instituting in 1998,” as if the Wedge Strategy was a separate document from the one that Krauss has been quoting from. But it’s the same document! How bizarre. Ohio was the first state to implement this strategy, says Krauss. He goes on to quote from the section titled, “Goals”: “To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.” Krauss adds an ironic comment: “Because science, of course, is evil.” This is willful distortion on Krauss’s part. The document says that scientific materialism is evil, not science. Krauss continues quoting from the Wedge document’s goals: “To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.” He adds that the Five-year Goals included: “To see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research being done from the perspective of design theory…” This part of the quote is genuine. Krauss continues: “…and to begin attacking science teaching in the public schools” – adding that this was what happened in Ohio. This part of the quote is phony. Nowhere does the Wedge document say anything about “attacking science teaching in the public schools.” Have a look for yourself. (Here’s the original.) What’s more, I can find no Website containing those words, so Krauss cannot claim that he was quoting from a corrupted online copy of the document. I am forced to conclude that Krauss inserted the fake quote himself.
7:00 To add insult to injury, Krauss tells his audience that he will explain why the Wedge Strategy – which he has deliberately misquoted – was “dishonest.” For sheer chutzpah, that takes the cake.
7:15 Krauss acknowledges that it’s OK to think and talk about whether an object is intelligently designed, but “it’s not a reasonable thing to put in the high schools.” Why not? Because the only claims that belong in science textbooks are those claims about which there is a scientific consensus – and even then, he thinks, there should be a 20-year waiting period (presumably for the dust to settle). Oh, really? Somehow, I don’t think Krauss would be objecting so loudly if those science textbooks proposed the RNA World, or even panspermia, as a plausible explanation for the origin of life – despite the fact that there’s no scientific consensus on either hypothesis. But Intelligent Design… that’s heresy! Can’t have that now, can we?
8:05 Krauss opines that the publication of Intelligent Design theories in high school science textbooks, in the absence of a scientific consensus, is tantamount to “child abuse.” Oh, come on. Look, I could at least understand why New Atheist Dr. Richard Dawkins argued in The God Delusion that parents teaching their children about Hell is a form of child abuse: it does, after all, traumatize some children. But to describe the teaching of Intelligent Design as “child abuse” is itself an abuse of the English language. The idea harms no-one.
8:17 Deary me. Now Krauss is dredging up Dover. Another ancient history lesson. Yawn. Doesn’t he realize that there are probably some young people in his audience who don’t even remember Dover?
8:57 Now Krauss is gleefully quoting Judge Jones’ remarks about the “breathtaking inanity” of the school board’s decision to ask teachers to read a statement to their students telling them that evolution was “just a theory” and inviting them to consider alternatives. Only Krauss’s snide comment, “So the inanity of Intelligent Design is over,” mistakenly construes the judge’s words as if the judge was describing Intelligent Design theory as a “breathtaking inanity,” which he clearly wasn’t. Charming.
9:17 After having insulted Dr. Meyer, Krauss turns around, facing him, and declares: “It’s not easy to do that to someone on stage, I can tell you.” Laughter from sections of the audience. Was that an attempt at humor? The man’s talents amaze me.
9:42 Now Krauss is launching into a long spiel about how every scientific claim made by ID proponents regarding evolution is wrong. The first claim, he says, was that there is no genetic relationship between humans and chimpanzees. Say whaat? Is Krauss really unaware of the fact that Intelligent Design proponent Professor Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box (Free Press, 1996), accepts the common descent of humans and chimpanzees, and that The Edge of Evolution (Free Press, 2007) is even clearer on this point? How could Krauss not know that?
9:46 Apparently, there was a claim made by ID proponents that transitional fossils don’t exist. Nonsense. That’s certainly not what Dr. Richard Sternberg says about whale evolution.
9:52 A breathtakingly inane statement from Krauss: “Every time we’ve looked for a transitional fossil, generally we’ve found one.” Evidently paleontology is not his forte.
9:59 Evidently Krauss can’t spell “flagellum,” either: he misspells it on his slide as “flaggelum.”
10:02 Now we’re up to mistaken Intelligent Design claim number three: that’s it’s impossible for the bacterial flagellum to evolve. Evidently Krauss hasn’t read Darwin’s Black Box; on page 40, Professor Behe declares the precise opposite of what Krauss is alleging: “Even if a system is irreducibly complex (and thus cannot have been produced directly), however, one can not definitively rule out the possibility of an indirect, circuitous route.” (He goes on to add, however, that as the complexity of the interacting system increases, “the likelihood of such an indirect route drops precipitously.”) Another misrepresentation from Krauss.
10:07 And now we’re up to blood clotting. The alleged claim is that it had no antecedents, and according to Krauss, “that’s been demonstrated to be wrong.” However, the important fact that Krauss doesn’t mention here is that Behe’s argument for the irreducible complexity of the cascade was always limited to a particular segment of the blood-clotting cascade that had been well-studied and was well-understood. The irreducible core of the blood clotting cascade should not to be confused with the entire cascade. (For more information, see here).
10:15 Now Krauss is up to the Cambrian explosion. He’s alleging that Dr. Meyer wrote a book about the Cambrian explosion, claiming it was impossible. But according to Krauss, if you read the reviews in Science magazine, you’ll find out that was wrong, too. His slide says something about “morphogenesis, new genes, protein folding and GRNs.” Krauss seems blissfully unaware that Meyer has written a comprehensive reply to the review by Charles Marshall in Science magazine.
10:44 According to Krauss, the Intelligent Design movement switched its focus to cosmology after realizing they’d lost the argument in the field of biology. That’s news to me. He adds: “I hope for his own sake that Stephen doesn’t try and do that while I’m here, because it’ll be a mistake.” I would love to see Dr. Meyer do just that. Will he? Let’s see.
11:03 After introducing Denis Lamoureux as “a wonderful man and an honest man,” Krauss rounds on him for daring to assert that he has experienced miracles, and for saying that the Bible is the Word of God. “Prove it,” says Krauss. Quoting Sagan, he asserts that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” My question: how extraordinary? Quantify, quantify, quantify. You’re a physicist, Professor Krauss. Presumably you can do that.
11:34 Krauss forthrightly declares that “there’s no evidence whatsoever” for the two claims made by Denis Lamoureux. As a philosopher, I have to say: that’s just nonsense. Think of it this way. Picture a scale of belief going from 0 (absolute impossibility) to 1 (total certainty). Evidence is simply anything that budges the needle, even slightly – say, from 1 in a trillion to 2 in a trillion. There are sober, educated people who claim to have witnessed public miracles that were performed before crowds of people, and who claim to have personally encountered God while reading the Bible. Krauss is saying that regardless of the number or quality of the eyewitnesses, this kind of evidence shouldn’t even budge your epistemic needle by a micrometer, if you’re a rational person. How arrogant.
12:49 Krauss has just finished expounding his Three Guiding Principles, which are as follows: 1. Do not assume the answers before you ask the questions. 2. The Universe is the way it is, whether we like it or not. 3. Lack of understanding is not evidence for God. I am underwhelmed.
13:59 Krauss shows us some lovely photos of galaxies, but tells his audience nothing that they haven’t heard 100 billion times before. He then points out that the ones in the photo are up to 9 billion years old, and takes a gratuitous swipe at the Republican Presidential candidates, all of whom allegedly think the Earth is younger. Which is simply not true, as even Salon magazine acknowledged last year.
14:30 Krauss informs his audience that “the universe doesn’t care about us,” as if it were some momentous discovery that he’d made. Actually, it’s no news to anyone – except possibly pantheists.
14:35 Now we’re up to Hubble’s discovery in 1929 that the universe is expanding, which “meant that it had a beginning – at least, our observable universe,” Krauss hastily adds. Surprisingly, he declares that “that changed everything,” and that the discovery was “quite theistic,” as it overturned the old picture of an eternal universe. But the important question, in Krauss’s view, is how the universe will end.
17:18 And the verdict of science is: “The total amount of matter in the universe is 30% of the amount of matter to make it close… to make it flat.” Most of this matter is invisible: that is, it’s dark. However, Krauss goes on to say that “we have discovered in the intervening 15 years that the universe is precisely flat.” That means that there must be more to the universe than mere matter. Even without the particles, space still weighs something. What’s more, it’s been known since 1998 that the expansion of the universe is speeding up. It turns out that if 70% of the energy of the universe resides in empty space, we can explain this result perfectly. All well and good, but I think this news is old hat to most of my readers.
18:46 Here comes the punch line: 70% of the universe is dark energy which redides in empty space, most of the remaining 30% is dark matter, so “we are irrelevant to the functioning of the universe,” declares Krauss. “So much for a universe made for us,” he concludes. This kind of reasoning is known as the “sizeist fallacy,” which scientists are especially prone to commit: if a thing’s big, it’s important, and if it’s small, it’s unimportant. As a philosopher (Alfred North Whitehead, if my memory serves me rightly) once wrote, feeling insignificant because of the vastness of space is just as silly as feeling puffed up because you’re bigger than an electron. As for Krauss’s claim that the universe would be essentially the same if you got rid of all the matter, including us: how does this undermine the claim that the universe was made for us? “X would be much the same without Y, therefore X could not have been designed for Y” is a non sequitur. The conclusion does not follow.
19:38 Krauss wants to argue that the universe came from literally nothing, so there’s no need for God. So, how does he define “nothing”? He begins with the fact that the total gravitational energy of every object in the universe is zero. This is Nothing #1. Krauss concludes that the creation of the universe from nothing doesn’t break any conservation laws. Who said it did? For that matter, the total electric charge of the universe is zero, too. What does that prove? Nothing.
20:18 Now we’re up to Nothing #2: Nothing is unstable to form something, because the laws of quantum mechanics tell us that so-called empty space is “a boiling, bubbling brew of virtual particles.” Add gravity, and that means that if you wait long enough, empty space can start to produce particles. But hang on. If empty space obeys the laws of quantum mechanics, then it has physical properties – which means that it isn’t nothing. As cosmologist Luke Barnes has argued, “if what you are talking about has properties, then it is not nothing.” And for Krauss to add gravity is cheating too, because gravity is something, as well.
20:42 And now Krauss is talking about Nothing #3: Gravity plus quantum mechanics allows space (and possibly time) to appear from nothing. Whole universes can pop into existence and pop out of existence. Only ones with zero total energy (like ours) can survive for a long time. This, I have to say, is an attempt on Krauss’s part to pull the wool over the eyes of his non-specialist audience. Gravity is a field. A quantum field is a field, too. Neither of them is nothing. Cosmologist Luke Barnes makes another telling point in this context: “if something could come out of nothing, then anything and everything should come out of nothing at all times and places.” So why doesn’t it? Krauss doesn’t tell us.
21:21 What, asks Krauss, would be the characteristics of a universe which spontaneously popped into existence from no universe? Precisely the characteristics of our universe. “It didn’t have to be that way,” says Krauss.
21:47 Krauss is displaying his message in screaming capitals, now:
SCIENCE HAS DEMONSTRATED THAT CREATION OF A UNIVERSE FULL OF MATTER FROM NO UNIVERSE AT ALL IS NOT ONLY PLAUSIBLE BUT LIKELY, AND REQUIRES NO SUPERNATURAL SHENANIGANS.
It reminds me of the ploy used by old-time public speakers: “Argument weak here – shout loudly.”
22:22 Krauss asserts that even if there was a creation in the past, “there may be no cause.” In other words, he’s denying the Principle of Sufficient Reason. But if whole universes can pop into existence without a cause, what’s to stop the laws of Nature from breaking down without a cause – which would mean that Krauss couldn’t do science anymore? Krauss doesn’t say.
22:41 Now Krauss is trying to show that the universe could not have had a cause. If time arose at the Big Bang, there was no “before.” If there is no “before,” then there can be no causal relationships at that time. Dear me. This is Steve Hawking’s old argument, made in his best-selling book, A Brief History of Time (1981): asking what caused the Big Bang is like asking what’s north of the North Pole. It’s a fallacious argument, because it mistakenly assumes that causes have to temporally precede their effects. Everyday experience contradicts this fact: a head resting on a pillow causes the depression in the shape of the pillow, and a flame in contact with an iron horse-shoe causes it to glow white-hot. Where’s the time lag? There isn’t one, in either case. Some causes precede their effects, while others are simultaneous with them.
23:33 Now Krauss is up to the multiverse – and that doesn’t require a God, either. On this scenario, our universe could be a complete accident.
25:15 Finally (finally!), we’ve arrived at the Fine-Tuning Argument, that the universe is fine-tuned for life. “It isn’t,” declares Krauss dogmatically, without even hinting at the fact that the vast majority of cosmologists (see Barnes’ Postscript) would disagree with him. He goes on to say that life is fine-tuned for the universe, rather than the other way round, and he cites natural selection to illustrate his point. If the universe had different characteristics, says Krauss, then who knows what life-forms could have evolved? Here, he completely ignores the “fly on the wall” argument, about which I’ve written here. The point of this argument is that if we confine ourselves to the possible universes within our neighborhood (i.e. the ones we do know about), it turns out that the number of changes in physical parameters which are fatal to life vastly outnumbers the changes that can be made which are compatible with life. This is a strikingly odd fact, which the multiverse hypothesis completely fails to explain, but which the Fine-Tuning hypothesis is readily able to explain, if we assume that one of the goals of the Fine-Tuner is to reveal His existence to intelligent life-forms in the cosmos, in a way that would allow them to deduce it on mathematical and statistical grounds.
26:33 Krauss asserts that we live in the worst of all possible universes, because most of it is inhospitable to life. In a universe with 100 billion galaxies, he adds, you’re bound to find a place where life can evolve. That doesn’t follow: first, it has to be shown that the odds of life evolving exceed some minimum threshold, and second, it has to be shown that the range of conditions on other planets is randomly distributed within our universe, so that all possibilities are tried out. (If all planets had surface temperatures of -273 degrees Celsius or no atmosphere, then no life would evolve anywhere.) Krauss makes no attempt to demonstrate either of these claims.
28:19 Summing up, Krauss claims to have shown that it’s perfectly plausible to make a universe without God. The God hypothesis is redundant and unnecessary. It lacks explanatory or predictive power, and it’s not indicated by the evidence. “It’s an amazing claim without evidence, and now without necessity,” declares Krauss. Finally, even if one were to believe in a God (as Deists do), “there is NO LOGICAL LEAP which then leads rationally to the doctrines of the world’s religions.” Screaming capitals again. Here, again, Krauss is showing his ignorance. What religion ever claimed to prove its tenets on the basis of logic alone? “To accept any of the world’s religions, you have to close off half your brain,” opines Krauss. Even though the laws of physics are cruel, “we should celebrate the fact that we are not subject to the rules of some Saddam Hussein in the sky.” A very psychologically revealing statement, if ever I heard one. Krauss evidently cannot conceive of the existence of any God but a despotic one.
30:20 And Krauss is finally finished! I feel like a beer… but it’s Lent, and I’m abstaining this year. Now it’s Dr. Meyer’s turn to speak.
Dr. Stephen Meyer’s talk
34:42 A promising start: after noting that Professor Krauss never even attempted to define the theory he was criticizing (Intelligent Design), Meyer offers to tell his audience what it is. Strangely, though, he doesn’t actually provide a definition, such as this one. He declares that he is defending a theistic view of science, and that he will be focusing on the biological arguments for Intelligent Design, rather than the cosmological arguments, and he then proceeds to quote from Richard Dawkins: “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” (The Blind Watchmaker, 1986, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, p. 1.) Dawkins, of course, maintains that this appearance is an illusion. However, all biologists acknowledge that complex biological structures contain information, and that this is the reason that they appear to have been designed. Meyer continues: “DNA contains the instructions for arranging the amino acids that cause the proteins to fold into three-dimensional shapes, that allow proteins to do all the amazing jobs they can do in cells.”
38:49 Now Meyer is discussing the Sequence Hypothesis proposed by Francis Crick in 1957, four years after the discovery of the DNA double helix. The nucleotide bases in DNA function just like digital characters in machine code. This, Meyer declares, is “mind-blowing,” because it initiated the Information Age in biology. The point is that if you want to give an organism a new protein or a new body plan, then you’ve got to give it new information. The principle here is the same as in the computer world.
40:03 Meyer talks about the Cambrian Explosion, which required the appearance of new cell types, which in turn require new, dedicated proteins. And new proteins require the appearance of new instructions in the organism’s DNA (and in other systems within the organism, as well).
40:30 Meyer produces another timely quote from Richard Dawkins: “The machine code in genes is uncannily computer-like. Apart from differences in jargon, the pages in a molecular biology journal might be interchanged with those of a computer engineering journal.” Dawkins goes on to say that “genetics has become a branch of information technology. It’s pure information. It’s digital information.” This, declares Dawkins, is probably “the” major revolution in the whole history of our understanding of ourselves. Darwin would have been fascinated.
41:23 Now the argument is warming up. Evolutionary theory has been unable to explain the origin of this information. Chemical evolutionary theory can’t explain the origin of the first life and the information required to build it, and biological evolutionary theory has failed to explain the origin of new forms of life from simpler, pre-existing forms of life. The problem is the same in both cases: you need new information to build new biological form.
42:12 Meyer: “One of the first things we need to understand is the kind of information we’re dealing with. We’re not talking about information in the purely mathematical sense of Claude Shannon, the famed information theorist… Shannon’s equations equate information and improbability: that is to say, the more improbable a string of characters, the more Shannon information it has. The information in DNA has Shannon information: it’s an improbable arrangement of chemical subunits functioning as informational characters. But in addition to Shannon information, … what we have in the information in DNA is specified complexity: improbability in the arrangement, where the arrangement matters to the function that the string performs.”
44:12 Now Meyer is talking about the rarity of functional sequences: when you’re talking about functional information, there are a lot more ways for information to go wrong than there are ways that allow the characters to perform a function. He goes on to discuss the Wistar Conference of 1966.
50:45 More specifically, the ratio of the number of protein sequences that can actually fold up to perform a function (i.e. do a job) to the number of all possible sequences is very, very small. Meyer quotes Dr. Douglas Axe’s estimate of 1:1077 for proteins “of a certain length” (actually, about 150 amino acids). That, says Meyer, is “a brute measure of rarity.” To determine the plausibility of a random, undirected process beating those odds, we need to calculate the number of opportunities that would have arisen during the history of life on Earth: about 1037, which means that there’s a 1 in 1040 chance of success. It is therefore very likely that the search for a functional protein will fail.
53:20 Meyer addresses Charles Marshall’s review of his book, Darwin’s Doubt, in Science, which Professor Krauss alluded to in his opening address. Marshall’s contention is that rewiring of gene regulatory networks of already existing genes can account for the appearance of new body plans in the Cambrian Explosion. No new information is required. How will Meyer rebut this point?
54:33 Meyer, it turns out, is suffering from a splitting migraine on stage – something which has never happened to him before. I’m amazed that he has been able to keep talking for as long as he has. The audience applauds his gutsy determination, and after a few seconds, Meyer recovers.
55:17 And now, at last, the rebuttal! Marshall’s account of the origin of novel body plans is flawed because it presupposes the existence of three sources of information: (i) networks of genes that are called developmental gene regulatory networks; (ii) other genes that these networks act upon; and (iii) alterations in the code that would allow for these changes (in body plans). In other words, Marshall’s explanation just pushes the origin of information problem back further.
56:26 But at a more fundamental level, there’s a problem of chemical evolution: how do you get from the chemistry in the pre-biotic soup to an information-rich molecule like DNA? Self-organizational scenarios (based on differing chemical affinities of the various components) are a popular explanation, but as Meyer points out, there is no chemistry determining the characters in the information-bearing axis of the DNA molecule. The sequence is indeterminate from the standpoint of physical and chemical laws. So if the physics and chemistry don’t determine the information-bearing properties of DNA, then what does?
1:01:05 Meyer is coming to his central point here: the case for intelligent point rests on inference to the best explanation, based on our uniform and repeated experience of the ability of the causes in question to produce the effect we are investigating. This principle was recognized by Darwin, Lyell, and other scientists of the 19th century. What conclusion can we draw if we consider information as an effect? Meyer quotes scientist Henry Quastler: “The creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity.” The case for Intelligent Design, in other words, is not based simply on the failure of alternative theories to explain the origin of new information: it is also based on our uniform and repeated experience of what it takes to generate new information – an intelligent source of that information. The discovery of digital information at the dawn of life provides powerful evidence for a designing Mind at the beginning.
1:02:41 Work on the RNA World theory (the theory that RNA molecules were capable of self-replication, before cells appeared on Earth) bears this out, says Meyer. (He’s talking about the new field of ribozyme engineering.) It turns out that to get RNA molecules to copy even a part of themselves, the characters in the RNA molecule have to be very specifically arranged in order to convey information. And who’s doing the arranging? The ribozyme engineer. This illustrates once again that information always comes from a mind, from an intelligent source. And on this point, Meyer finally rests his case. It has been a heroic effort on his part, and after his ordeal, he will be taking a well-earned 20-minute break.
Dr. Denis Lamoureux’s talk
1:05:17 Now it is Dr. Denis Lamoureux’s turn to speak. Or should I say Dr. Dr. Dr.: the man holds three doctorates, in dentistry, theology and biology. Dr. Lamoureux begins by drawing attention to a dichotomy: most people tend to be either on the “science” side (which is popularly associated with evolution and lack of belief in God) or on the “creation” side (which is associated with religion and God). But could there be a middle ground? Dr. Lamoureux then stakes out his position: he is an evangelical theologian, who believes that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, who has experienced miracles, and who believes in Intelligent Design, in the sense that “the heavens declare the glory of God.” That makes him a creationist. At the same time, he is an unapologetic evolutionary biologist, who finds the evidence for biological evolution overwhelming. Evolution has never been falsified, despite the fact that it would be easy to do so if the evidence were available (e.g. the discovery of teeth in the Precambrian). Dr. Lamoureux firmly believes that biology only makes sense in the light of evolution. Does that sound like an odd juxtaposition of views? Darwin didn’t think so: “It seems to me absurd to doubt,” he wrote in 1879, “that a man may be an ardent theist and an evolutionist,” and he cited Charles Kingsley and Asa Gray as examples of people he knew who held this position.
1:08:35 Lamoureux is now discussing his specialty: the evolution of teeth. For a long time, there was a big gap in the fossil record between jawless fishes and sharks, which possess structured teeth. One solution would be to say that God made teeth, but Lamoureux rejects that solution as “God-of-the-gaps” thinking. Gaps in our knowledge, he avers, do not necessarily require a creative act of God. The discovery (after 150 years) of emerging teeth in acanthodians, a class of fish that lived from 400 to 425 million years ago, has helped bridge the gap between jawless fishes and jawed fish, and close inspection of their jaws reveals the emergence of tiny teeth from scales. To get teeth, you need changes in developmental gene regulatory networks.
1:12:06 After some preliminary remarks in which he distinguished between teleology (belief in a plan or purpose) and dysteleology (belief in no plan), Lamoureux makes an important point: our culture has been conditioned for the past 150 years into accepting the view that belief in evolution entails belief in dysteleology (the view that there is no plan in Nature). Is it possible, Lamoureux wonders aloud, that evolution is teleological? Could it be some sort of planned process? He makes his point by appealing to an analogy with the growth of the embryo – an analogy that was originally made by Darwin in his work, The Descent of Man. Nobody believes that embryos are formed supernaturally; as we all know, they are produced by a natural process. Why couldn’t the same be true of the first life, asks Lamoureux. Couldn’t there be a natural process whereby God generated it, too? However, there’s a glaring flaw in this Darwinian argument: no new information needs to be created from scratch in sexual reproduction (the process whereby embryos are produced), since living things reproduce after their kind. The transition from non-life to life is altogether different: new information had to have been generated, somehow. Dr. Lamoureux goes on to declare that he is an evolutionary creationist: he believes that God created the universe and life through an ordained, sustained and design-reflecting evolutionary process. That sounds heartening. I think that where he would differ from the Intelligent Design movement is on the question of whether there is any scientific evidence for this design. (As we’ll see, Dr. Lamoureux thinks that belief in design is not conclusion, but a metaphysical assumption which you make, when you look at the world through God-tinted glasses, so to speak.)
1:13:50 Lamoureux now touches on the need for metaphysics. He suggests that there is a reciprocal relationship between our metaphysics (which deals with ultimate beliefs) and our science (which deals with theories, laws, observations and experiments). The interplay between the two may take place via the speedy process of intuition or the slower process of reasoning. But in the end, everyone needs to take an intellectual leap, or a step of faith, to get from the scientific realm to the metaphysical realm, or vice versa. We cannot prove that realism is true: for all we know, we could be trapped in the Matrix. Dysteleology (no plan or purpose) is another metaphysical belief. Anti-evolutionism is another. All of these beliefs inform the way we do our science and (subconsciously) bias what we perceive in Nature: we tend to overlook evidence in the natural world that would cast our metaphysical beliefs into doubt.
1:15:28 Other beliefs go in the opposite direction, from science to metaphysics. One such belief is Intelligent Design, which Lamoureux defines as the belief (not a scientific theory, according to Lamoureux) that beauty, complexity and functionality in Nature point to an Intelligent Designer/s. (This differs from the definition used by the Intelligent Design movement, which identifies certain empirical features of patterns, identifiable by scientists, which point to a designer.) Thus according to Lamoureux, Intelligent Design is a non-verbal natural revelation, like music. “I look at the cell and its biology, and it just takes my breath away: it strikes me as the sort of thing a mind would produce.” Darwin evidently felt the same way at times, for he wrote, late in life, around 1876: “Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.” Darwin goes on to say, however, that this conviction has weakened since the publication of the Origin of Species in 1859.
1:19:00 Lamoureux then goes on to discuss Darwin’s reply to his own argument: “But then arises the doubt – can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions.” The flaw here, as Lamoureux points out, is that this reply is self-referentially incoherent: it undermines itself. Darwin’s design argument still stands, in Lamoureux’s view.
1:19:52 However, the main point which Lamoureux wishes to make about Intelligent Design is that “it’s not about interventions; Intelligent Design is Nature impacting us.” To me, this sounds like seeing the world through the eyes of faith: it’s all very nice, but it would never convince a hard-headed atheist. And I’m sure it would never have convinced the late Professor Antony Flew, the most outspoken atheist of the 20th century, to abandon atheism for Deism before he died in 2010.
1:21:01 Dr. Lamoureux now proceeds to discuss Biblical interpretation. Most people are Concordists: they assume that the Bible aligns with modern science, and they assume that God revealed the scientific facts in the Bible thousands of years before their discovery by modern science. However, Dr. Lamoureux rejects the view that scientific facts are to be found within the Bible, because it has an ancient understanding of Nature – as shown by its discussion of the firmament (raquiya) in Genesis 1. (In the interests of accuracy, I should state that while some scholars have asserted that the ancient Hebrews believed that the sky was a solid dome, this claim has been called into question – see here for a scholarly discussion – VJT.) When you read a text, Lamoureux asserts, you have to put yourself in its intellectual milieu. Lamoureux contends that the parallelism between days 1, 2 and 3 (separation of light from dark, the waters above from the waters below, and dry land from sea) and days 4, 5 and 6 (God’s forming the sun, moon and stars to give light to the earth, God’s forming of birds of the air and the fish of the sea, and God’s forming of land animals, and finally man) indicates that we are dealing with poetry here, rather than a scientific account. He quotes Galileo and Pope John Paul II in support of his view, and he further quotes the Pope as saying that evolution is “more than a hypothesis.” (If he thinks that settles the matter for Catholics, he is mistaken. And anyway, the Pope was speaking of evolution, not Darwinism.) According to Lamoureux, the evangelical leader Billy Graham was also open to the view that God created humanity “by an evolutionary process.”
1:27:07 Lamoureux is in the summing up phase of his talk. He believes that God is behind it all, but argues that atheism is a metaphysical belief, too. He believes that nature reflects intelligent design, but insists that it’s not a scientific theory, either; it’s a belief. Finally, he points out that Darwin himself was not a Darwinist: that is, he never was a dysteleologist.
1:28:20 Lamoureux calls on his audience that believers and skeptics alike make reciprocal steps of faith between science and metaphysics. He also advises his listeners to move beyond the creation vs. evolution dichotomy, and he counsels them to follow the example of the philosopher Francis Bacon, who told his followers that they should be well-versed in both the Book of God’s Words (the Bible) and the Book of God’s Works (Nature).
1:29:40 Dr. Lamoureux’s talk has just ended, and Dr. Meyer is back on the stage, to the delight of his hosts.
The speakers’ five-minute responses
1:30:28 Dr. Meyer’s 5-minute response is first. He points out that the argument for Intelligent Design is not a negative argument from ignorance, but a positive argument based on our repeated experience that the source of the kind of information we find in life is a mind. Intelligent Design is an inference to the best explanation. Meyer also touches on methodological naturalism. If you declare a priori that you’re going to exclude intelligent causes when searching for explanations of certain kinds of effects, then you’ll miss something important when you’re doing your science. That’s self-limiting. Dr. Meyer starts to make a point about the Fine-tuning argument as well, but his migraine is proving too much for him, and he wisely decides to stop.
1:36:05 It is Dr. Lamoureux’s turn to speak: “This is going to be tough for me,” he announces. He begins by noting that he and Dr. Meyer are friends. Nevertheless, he disagrees with some of Dr. Meyer’s conclusions. He thinks that Meyer’s explanation for the Cambrian explosion invokes “God-of-the-gaps” reasoning, but the real gap is the gap in our knowledge, and not in the fossil record. He gives an example: Meyer quotes Budd and Jensen in his book as stating that bilaterians did not appear until just before the beginning of the Cambrian period, 543 million years ago. However in 2012, bilaterian tracks that go back over 585 million years were uncovered. That, I have to say, is a telling point. [UPDATE: Paleontologist Günter Bechly is not so impressed. Apparently the age of the trace-fossil-bearing strata is highly contended, probably being Late Palaeozoic. Also, protists can produce traces on the sea floor that are similar to those of bilaterians. The oldest confirmed bilaterian trace fossils are dated to approximately 560 million years ago.] Next, Lamoureux decides to tackle Krauss’s book, A Universe from Nothing. He encourages people to read it, but he points out that it contains a heavy dollop of metaphysics, in addition to the science. To illustrate his point, Lamoureux quotes from a scathing review of Krauss’s work by Dr. David Albert (an atheist), who points out that Krauss hasn’t really explained how the universe could have come from nothing: “Krauss seems to be thinking that these vacuum states amount to the relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical version of there not being any physical stuff at all… But that’s just not right.” Krauss’s “nothing” really is not nothing.
1:41:22 Now it’s Professor Krauss’s turn. He begins by noting that David Albert is a Professor of philosophy, not of physics. Very misleading, Dr. Krauss! David Albert has a Ph.D. in theoretical physics and a Ph.D. in philosophy of science. Krauss then accuses Meyer of making a statement that would fail high-school biology, by assuming evolution to be an entirely random process. (Where, I would ask, does Meyer say this?) Evolution, Krauss pompously declares, is not a random process, but a directed one. Meyer is shaking his head: I can sense his frustration at this patronizing and wrong-headed criticism. What would Krauss know? Krauss has no expertise in biology whatsoever: Professor Larry Moran has written of Krauss that he is “an expert on cosmology but he’s very weak on biology.” Lamoureux at least had the grace to acknowledge that Meyer had read “a ton of books” on the subject. Krauss accuses Meyer of making Hoyle’s “tornado-in-a-junkyard” argument, and points to the computer that beat humans at Go as an example of an evolutionary algorithm. (Gee, I wonder who programmed it?) But Krauss doesn’t know when to stop: he goes on to argue that DNA wasn’t the first information-rich molecule, and that RNA came first. Has he been listening to Meyer’s talk? Meyer has already addressed this criticism (see above). Next, Krauss proceeds to savage the Bible, a book which Meyer hasn’t even mentioned in his talk. He rants: “To get to Heaven, you’re supposed to rape women and kill children who aren’t Jewish… It’s the most immoral document I’ve ever seen in my entire life.” Really? The Bible is worse than Mein Kampf, The 120 Days of Sodom, Beyond Good and Evil, or Machiavelli’s The Prince? Surely you jest, Dr. Krauss. But even if Krauss’s warped Biblical exegesis were correct (and it isn’t: the Bible doesn’t authorize rape, and the passages describing “Biblical atrocities” say absolutely nothing about humans going to Heaven – a possibility which is mentioned nowhere in the Old Testament outside the book of Daniel), the fact remains that Krauss’s own ethical outlook has been shaped by the Bible: no other book has had such an influence on Western civilization, and I am sure Krauss must have been exposed to it as a child. He can criticize parts of it, but he cannot coherently criticize the entire book without sawing off the ethical branch he is sitting on. Utilitarianism (which Krauss apparently espouses) won’t save him, either, for it is a far more monstrous philosophy: literally any atrocity against an individual – including rape – could be justified if it proved conducive to “the greatest happiness of the greatest number.” That’s ant-hill morality, and it’s far more frightening than anything in the Bible: at least the atrocities described there took place 3,000 years ago, in the remote past, if indeed they occurred at all. By 2,000 years ago, Jewish scholars had arrived at a consensus that religious violence is wrong and they had virtually eliminated capital punishment. I’d take the Judeo-Christian ethic over utilitarianism, any day. Finally, to add insult to injury, Krauss argues that the order found in living things is no different from that found in snowflakes, or geodesic domes. I haven’t heard anything so ignorant in years. It appears that Krauss has never read what origin of life researcher Leslie Orgel wrote about specified complexity as a distinguishing feature of life: “In brief, living organisms are distinguished by their specified complexity. Crystals are usually taken as the prototypes of simple well-specified structures, because they consist of a very large number of identical molecules packed together in a uniform way. Lumps of granite or random mixtures of polymers are examples of structures that are complex but not specified. The crystals fail to qualify as living because they lack complexity; the mixtures of polymers fail to qualify because they lack specificity.” (The Origins of Life, 1973, John Wiley & Sons. Inc., p. 189.) Meyer knows all this, and he must be fuming inwardly at Krauss’s crude attempt to smear his scientific reputation. Krauss has been getting waay too much deferential treatment during this debate: someone needs to tell him to his face that he’s pig-ignorant, when it comes to biology.
Open panel: 15-minute discussion between the three debaters
1:47:05 Dr. Meyer begins by rebutting Krauss’s factually mistaken claims in short order. He is struggling to find the right words, because of his migraine, but he gets his point across effectively. Meyer emphasizes that he is not attempting to rebut a “chance-only” evolutionary hypothesis, as Krauss claimed, but rather, one involving the non-random process of natural selection acting on chance variations. Meyer adds that in his book on the origin of life (Signature in the Cell), he examined the RNA World, as well as self-organization scenarios, in comprehensive detail, and found them wanting. (NYU chemist Robert Shapiro was of the same view: in 2008, he declared: “The odds against [RNA forming on its own] are astronomical.”) Regarding evolutionary algorithms, the problem with them is that they invariably require information to be input by the programmer.
Krauss objects to Meyer’s example, which he gave during his talk, of a lock-picker trying to open a lock with a very large number of possible combinations, as an analogy for the difficulty of life originating via undirected natural processes. In fact, real lock-pickers pick the individual numbers, one at a time, because they have been trained to tell when a number has “clicked” into place. Krauss suggests that the steps leading to life could have been traversed in a similar, sequential fashion, and accuses Meyer of being disingenuous. Meyer responds that in the case of a protein, no functionality is achieved until the entire molecule has been assembled. In this case, there are 1077 possible combinations that need to be searched, to get a single functional protein fold. Natural selection doesn’t kick in until a functional molecule has been found. The audience claps appreciatively.
In the end, Krauss has to retreat to the confident declaration that science will come up with a solution in the future. A short exchange follows on evolutionary algorithms. Meyer makes the point that they all had a programmer.
1:52:00 Lamoureux jumps in. He begins by rejecting engineering analogies for living things, and he points to the example of bacteria finding a way to digest nylonase (a man-made product) in just 40 years, by a process of gene duplication followed by random search, as an example of evolution’s ability to generate new information and create new genes. “So the idea that it’s impossible for evolution to make proteins is just not true,” concludes Lamoureux. Hang on. What he hasn’t asked himself is: how much information did the bacteria generate over the course of 40 years? As Dr. William Dembski has pointed out: “Nylonase is not the result of an entirely new DNA sequence coding for that enzyme. Rather, it resulted from a frameshift in existing DNA, shifting over some genetic letters and thus producing the gene for nylonase. The origin of nylonase is thus akin to changing the meaning of ‘therapist’ by inserting a space and getting ‘the rapist.'” (See also this post here.)
Meyer interjects at this point and argues that a duplication is not the same as a creation of new information: it’s merely replicating the same information you had before. Undirected processes can produce minor changes in a pre-existing protein fold, but the possibility space that has to be searched in order to create a new protein fold is much larger. The probabilistic resources available on Earth do not permit anything like a complete search of such a space.
But Lamoureux won’t budge. “In just 40 years, we got nylonase,” he declares, with assurance. The implication is that 4 billion years would be ample tie to generate a protein: but we don’t know that, without forming the required calculations. Lamoureux continues to disparage Meyer’s figure of 1 in 1077: “All these numbers… it’s just not how evolution works.” He’s right. but it doesn’t help his case: the origin of protein folds is an event that had to happen before evolution even got started.
1:54:49 Now Krauss jumps in to disparage Meyer’s engineering analogies as “not how the world works.” He points to snowflakes as a refutation of Meyer’s claim that Nature can’t create complex information. This is an unbelievably silly argument that Krauss is making. If he’d read Paul Davies’ The Fifth Miracle (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2000), he would never have made such a howler. Life exhibits specified complexity, in addition to Shannon complexity.
Meyer points out that a snowflake isn’t an information-rich structure: it originates via self-organizational processes, which Meyer has already discussed in his book, Signature in the Cell. Krauss objects that a snowflake is rich in Shannon information. Meyer tries to set him straight, but it seems Krauss isn’t listening. He continues to talk past Meyer, asserting that if you put enough energy into a system, you can build up incredibly complex self-organizational structures.
Meyer finally manages to get a word in edgewise. He reminds his audience that he has written a book, Signature in the Cell, which deals extensively with self-organizational structures. Snowflakes, asserts Meyer, are not a case of digital code.
Krauss counters that Meyer’s theory, even if correct, doesn’t make any predictions. That’s why scientists are so unenthusiastic about Intelligent Design. Meyer responds that Intelligent Design theory does make predictions: for instance, the prediction that the non-coding regions of DNA would turn out to be functional, and that the signal would dwarf the noise. The ENCODE project, adds Meyer, has borne this prediction out. (Readers will recall that it initially declared at least 80% of our DNA to be functional.) For my part, I’d be wary of citing this as a fulfilled prediction: as Professor Larry Moran points out in a post over at his Sandwalk blog: “The ENCODE Consortium has backed off its original claim and now agrees that they misused the word ‘function.'” Strangely, nobody on the panel – not even Krauss – questions the “80% functional” figure – which is a bit odd.
1:57:50 It’s Lamoureux’s turn to object to Meyer’s example. It wasn’t the Intelligent Design community who put this project forward; it was the scientific community. Meyer shoots back that Dr. Richard Sternberg played a very active role in the question to discover functionality in non-coding DNA. Lamoureux replies that the ID community has a mere handful of scientists doing active research. Remarkably, Lamoureux agrees with the claim that 80% of our DNA has some sort of functionality. But he gives no credit to the Intelligent Design community for that. “It came out of universities like this,” declares Lamoureux. (The debate is being held at the University of Toronto.) Meyer points out that James Shapiro, of the University of Chicago, commended Dr. Richard Sternberg for being on the cutting-edge of research into the functionality of non-coding DNA. Meyer adds that he makes nine other testable Intelligent Design predictions in his book, Signature in the Cell. Krauss insists that good scientific predictions need to be falsifiable, and he adds that the mechanism proposed by Intelligent Design proponents for the origin of life – “And then a miracle occurs” – is just too vague to attract scientific interest. Also, the predictions made by ID advocates are lacking in details, or specificity. Krauss’s key point, however, is that evolutionary biologists do not believe there is any need to posit a God. And if there were one, we should be asking: what’s He like?
2:01:36 At this point, Lamoureux interrupts the exchange, and declares that while he is not philosophically opposed to miracles or to “God-of-the-gaps” explanations, the point is that the gaps have always closed. He adds that most scientists working within the Intelligent Design movement come from the Evangelical movement (really? what about Mike Behe and Ann Gauger?), which has an 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not believe in biological evolution.” At this point, the host, Karen Stiller, steps in and declares that the three-way dialogue is over. The 15 minutes are up. She invites questions from the audience.
The three candidates are told that they will have two minutes each for a closing statement.
Dr. Lamoureux goes first. He notes that young people today are leaving the Church today in record numbers because of a perceived conflict between evolution and Christianity. Surveys have confirmed this fact. He concludes: “We have to fix this situation. Evolution is not antithetical to an Evangelical faith.”
Professor Krauss is next. He appears curiously subdued. He quotes a famous remark by scientist J.B.S Haldane: “My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.” (Fact and Faith, 1934.) Krauss argues that the hypothesis of Intelligent Design adds nothing to science, and that any alternative hypothesis appears more likely to him than any of the particular gods of the world’s religions. Krauss says nothing in his closing statement about Deism or belief in a God that is independent of the claims of revealed religions.
Last to sum up is Dr. Meyer. He notes that he and Krauss agree on one point: the universe came from nothing physical. However, rather than declare that it had no cause at all – an assertion that would fatally undermine science, for which the notion of causality is fundamental – Meyer proposes to retain the idea of a cause, but to argue that the Cause of the world is an immaterial Intelligence that lies outside space and time. Science, claims Meyer, supports Christianity in three special ways: it points to the universe having had a beginning; it points to our universe having been fine-tuned, and to this fine-tuning being a fundamental property of the cosmos that cannot be eliminated by appealing to a multiverse, as that would need to be fine-tuned, too; and finally, it points to evidence of massive amounts of information in the biological world, that requires an Intelligent Cause.
And the debate is finally over.