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Peter Ward Versus Stephen Meyer: No Contest

I am anxiously awaiting a transcript of the recent Ward versus Meyer debate. In the meantime you can check out the transcript of their last debate here:

http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=3097

Peter Ward is way out of his league in the presence of Stephen Meyer. Frankly, I was embarrassed for Ward.

Here are a few excerpts. Check out the transcript and judge for yourself.

Ward: … evolution I think should be taught in schools. It’s really the major paradigm of biology. It’s certainly going to keep us, let’s hope, through antibiotics and other evolutionary mechanisms, safe, safe from bird flu for instance.

Ward: [ID] is an assertion. It is not a theory.

Ward: Where do you get your funds?

Ward: [To Stephen Meyer] I’m not as smart as you. I mean, my colleagues are in awe of you, and I look at your publication list, you’ve done some amazing work, but I’m here to say, Steve, turn to the evolution side… it is your destiny.

Ward: … none of us can understand how long geological time is. I mean, we’re talking –you hear the old metaphor of given enough time the monkeys can write anything, that’s probably true.

Ward: We’re within 4-5 years, 20 million dollars says Jack Solzdeck at Harvard, of artificially making a DNA molecule. Now look, this is no God involved, this is hard-nosed chemists!

Ward: Steve you said you had to have intelligence to get to information, but look at the Miller-Urey experiment where he just put in some gases, heated it, and out of that gas came some very complex organic molecules including 10 of the 20 amino acids…

Meyer: I don’t think any origin of life theorist today thinks Miller-Urey is relevant, for one because he did it under nonrealistic conditions, but secondly because of the information problem. It’s easy to get the building blocks, but it’s very difficult to get the building blocks to arrange themselves into meaningful or biologically functional sequences, so you can get amino acids, but you can’t get the proteins.

Ward: That’s not true! That’s not true!

Ward: You’re telling students, “You’ll never figure this out because it’s too complicated so don’t even try.” So let’s say we want to have a new anti-ballistic missile system (God forbid), but it’s too difficult, we better let some intelligent designer do it (who doesn’t seem to want to do it), or even better than that, we want a new hydrogen car, but guess what, it’s just too complicated, so let’s not do it.

Ward: We can watch that code being built now. And he’s saying, well, it’s in a laboratory with a guided hand. We can get it done inorganically, we can set up experiments in rock pools, if you want, to build the same darn thing.

Ward: Again, we’re talking about nothing less than the future of our country in producing scientists and engineers. If you bring religion in, you change that.

Dori: I know you want to present this and frame it as a scientific issue. I hope you consider this a fair question, since Peter said it’s a stalking horse for getting creationism in the schools: Are you a Christian?

Meyer: I am a Christian.

Dori: And since I asked Stephen if he was a Christian, are you an agnostic or atheist, Peter?

Ward: I don’t think that’s any of your business.

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32 Responses to Peter Ward Versus Stephen Meyer: No Contest

  1. “but I’m here to say, Steve, turn to the evolution side… it is your destiny.”

    I thought Darwinists didn’t believe in destiny.

  2. The four three main tools in a materialist’s toolkit: 1) Dodge the issues. When the IDist hits on something you’re defenseless against, change the subject to something else. 2) Show in excruciating detail how ID arguments have been used to defend Biblical Creationism. Never address the arguments themselves, and ignore the fact that teleological arguments extend back at least hundreds of years before Christ was even born. 3) Sling all the mud you can at IDists and the DI. Do your very best to portray them and the Institute as dishonest Creationists who want indoctrinate young students’ minds with Biblical Creationism and unscientific nonsense. 4) Cross all your fingers and toes and hope that a razor sharp IDist like Meyer doesn’t expose your tactics for what they really are. ;)

  3. Iespecially liked the fact that in _numerous_ debates, ID’ers are open about their personal religious views; the Darwinists focus on that to say that ID is a religious view; then they REFUSE to undergo the same scrutiny they give to others by not even revealing what their religious views are.

    What is really amusing was that, at a forum on why Darwinism is compatible with religious faith, the biologists who were advocating that they were compatible refused to say if they themselves had any faith at all!

  4. Yeah, Johnny, I noticed that too. Why aren’t they more open about their religious beliefs? “What is good for the goose is good for the gander”.

    Regarding that belief that belief in evolution is not against theism, Will Provine says it best:

    “As the creationists claim, belief in modern evolution makes atheists of people. One can have a religious view that is compatible with evolution ONLY IF THE RELIGIOUS VIEW IS INDISTIGUISHABLE FROM ATHEISM.” (Will Provine, No Free Will (1999) p.123) [Emphasis mine]

  5. “Ward: We’re within 4-5 years, 20 million dollars says Jack Solzdeck at Harvard, of artificially making a DNA molecule. Now look, this is no God involved, this is hard-nosed chemists!”

    And, presumably were this intelligently designed DNA shown to Darwinists without explanation as to it’s source, they would insist that it had natural evolutionary origins.

  6. Ward: “I’ve brought an interesting new book by a person I really like–myself, actually–called Life as We Don’t Know It, and in this I recount some of the very interesting new research by NASA that has been substituting the code. So they’ve taken DNA and they’ve changed the code, they’ve made it a different code. They’ve also made 5-stranded DNA. You don’t have to have DNA as we have our kind of DNA. And it makes perfectly usable organisms. This is all the bacterial size, and it’s kind of the dirty little secret that we’re no longer just having life as was originally evolved on this planet, but we have artificially evolved life on planet earth now, too. I think it enters the debate.”

    So, I guess the conclusion could be that intelligent agents are able to create new forms of life, and those agents aren’t necessarily God? Which side of the debate was Peter on again?

  7. Actually, re: Meyer’s assertion that “junk” DNA shouldn’t be junk on a design perspective, I fail to see how that is a prediction of ID. And I say that as a supporter of ID.

  8. Kudods to Meyer for a great job — keeping his cool, staying on track, refocusing the discussion on the scientific evidence. I think most folks who attend these kinds of debates already have a strong inclination one way or another, but if there were any fence sitters in the audience who were taking notes and keeping score, this will certainly pique their interest in looking into intelligent design in more detail.

  9. Mats: “As the creationists claim, belief in modern evolution makes atheists of people. One can have a religious view that is compatible with evolution ONLY IF THE RELIGIOUS VIEW IS INDISTIGUISHABLE FROM ATHEISM.” (Will Provine, No Free Will (1999) p.123)

    As one who has a clear faith, I have come to see this as not accurate. I consider the anthropic principal, which dominates the “design” perspective in physics. In general, nature seems to have been intiated at the big bang with a set of equations and laws. These laws, without any apparent intervention beyond the bang, seem to be responsible for the incredible complex universe that we see, a universe that has produced at least one planet that is suitable for life.

    What if the anthropic principal were to persist through life — if nature were designed in the beginning “just so” so that life itself were to form out of the set of laws established in the beginning. What if these laws would call for RM+NS to play the primary role of growing all of the complexity of life. (Add to this, views such as presented by Michael Denton and Simon Conway Morris that if the tape were rewound, the results would be very much the same.)

    If all this were the case, would we not have a RM+NS neo-Darwinian life which was designed from the beginning via a series of precisely tuned laws? This neo-Darwinian perspective would then also be very compatible with an all-knowing God, would it not?

    As a software developer, I am unable to concieve of a program that instatiated by a random event, and then of its own accord, directed only by random acts of variety, and the pruning of individual adequacy in the moment, which could possibly develop into a technology that far exceeds the internet. For this reason, I am not a neo-Darwinist.

    However, philisophically I no longer find neo-Darwinism to be in opposition to my faith. Because I am philisophically willing to consider neo-Darwinism, I believe that I can look at the data with more honest eyes than I could when neo-Darwinism was anethema to me.

  10. Good point Bfast.

    I’ve sometimes wondered why some IDists will point to the perfected fine tuned Universe in support of I.D. and also point to biological design in support for I.D. Biological Design assumes that natural “designed” laws are incapable of producting biological life. This creates a scenario where a designer designed a Universe meant for life, but when it came time for life to arise, the Designer had to counter the previous design and do some final tweaking to jump start biological life.

  11. Nice post bFast. The contradiction lies in the fact that if it were programmed into the equation, then it would not be random. The patterns of mutuation and selection would have to be preconcieved inorder to follow the path towards complex life. I think Ken Miller says that evolution is most likely guided on the quantum level where we cannot detect God’s activity. That being said, it is not longer RM +NS, but prescribed evolution.

    Dan

  12. bFast, you are right that evolution is not necessarily anathema to one’s religious faith. Indeed, we can point to folks like Ken Miller as Exhibit A. Provine, of course, is referring not to evolution in the general “change over time” sense. Nor is he even referring to limited common descent or universal common descent. Provine seems to be referring to the Blind Watchmaker Thesis and its most egregious implications, a la Dawkins. It is in that sense that he loves to pronounce atheism as the only “religion” that is compatible with evolution. It all turns on what one means by this very slippery word “evolution.”

    Fross, you have some interesting thoughts, but are approaching the issue from a false dichotomy that prevents consideration of alternative, and in my view, more reasonable viewpoints.

    Specifically, you correctly note that biological ID argues that natural laws are incapable of producing biological life without intelligent intervention. You imply, however, that this somehow reflects negatively on those laws in the first instance. Unstated, but implied in your statement is the following false dichotomy: If the natural laws had been perfectly designed, they would be able, on their own and without further creative acts, to produce life at some point down the road.

    However, there is no reason to take this narrow view. It is entirely possible, nay, it is plausible, that the path from nothing to life as we know it requires an entire creative process, not just a single throw of a cosmic switch. And that creative process is comprised of a number of steps, including not only setting the initial conditions, but infusing further design and futher information at appropriate stages along the way. There is nothing at all inconsistent in this view. The designer does not have to “counter the previous design,” but rather utilizes the previous design in the next stage.

    Further, I might add that the idea that natural laws should somehow be sufficient to give rise to life is a philosophical assumption based on one’s personal philosophy of what the designer “should” have done.

    Lastly, it is not at all clear what kinds of natural laws would have to be in place for life to arise on its own. Would such natural laws even allow the universe as we know it to be functional? We can only speculate. And all such speculations are on much weaker logical and philosophical ground than the basic premises underlying intelligent design.

  13. “I’m not as smart as you. I mean, my colleagues are in awe of you, and I look at your publication list, you’ve done some amazing work, but I’m here to say, Steve, turn to the evolution side… it is your destiny.”

    I’ve heard that Stephen is probably the most intelligent of his cohorts. I just never thought I’d hear a critic say it.

  14. “I think Ken Miller says that evolution is most likely guided on the quantum level where we cannot detect God’s activity. That being said, it is not longer RM +NS, but prescribed evolution.”

    Dan,

    is that true? If so, then Miller isn’t that far off from Behe (and other IDers). Although one wouldn’t know if based on how he fights tooth and nail against ID. Is Miller an ID proponent, but just doesn’t know it yet :-)

    Why then does he attack ID so hard then?

    It’s been mentioned before that Miller is a confused IDer. -ds

  15. ajl:

    “Why then does [Ken Miller] attack ID so hard then?”

    I’ve wondered the same thing, myself. Perhaps his theology is mixed in with his Darwinistic/materialistic beliefs.

  16. I think Ken Miller is just against a more specific form of I.D. which is creationism. (ie. special creation events, no common descent, species created individually, no common ancestor between mankind and chimps) The very general loose definition of I.D. where you can lay a philisophical coat of “Goddidit” paint over current theories of evolution isn’t really that different from “theistic evolution”.

  17. 17

    I think the distinction which clearly separates TEs like Ken Miller from ID is twofold: one, people like him correctly oppose the “tinkerer-engineer-god” vision which arises from some proponents of ID which goes basically like this: the natural laws and RM+NS are adequate to explain ALMOST everything, but this thing here, this flagellum, and this other thing here, this brain (or whatever) this is just TOO complex to be explained by those laws alone. Here is where the designer came in…
    I think this is about the silliest idea to come down the pike, but thats just me, and I happen to agree with the TEs on this…
    Secondly, however, the TEs oppose ID because they (incorrectly) believe that material laws alone are adequate, in their interactions, to bring about life from non-life. This feels to me like the critical distinction, because it hinges on the question of materialism: their theology is a radical separation of everything metaphysical or spiritual from what is physical, substantial and material. This separation allows them to believe every manner of miraculous thing straight from the Bible, while remaining, for all intents and purposes, good materialists in order to carry out their scientific work. This may be why so many of them appear to be totally uninterested in and unfazed by the social and spiritual ramifications of NDE. They simply separate the two worlds, in the manner of ‘non-overlapping magesteria’, and go on with their day. ID is a direct challenge to this comfortable stance, because it weakens the central MATERIAL mechanism believed to be adequate by both Darwinians and TEs: namely random mutation (especially) and natural selection (secondarily).

  18. TinaBrewer: “people like him correctly oppose the “tinkerer-engineer-god” vision which arises from some proponents of ID which goes basically like this: the natural laws and RM+NS are adequate to explain ALMOST everything, but this thing here, this flagellum, and this other thing here, this brain (or whatever) this is just TOO complex to be explained by those laws alone. Here is where the designer came in…”

    The irreduceable complexity argument is hardly “RM+NS are adequate to explain ALMOST everything”. There are buckets and buckets of irreduceably complex things going on in every living cell. Behe only chose the flagellum as the poster-child. He did so, it would seem, because we rotary-based engineers look at the thing and see an engine, something we recognize as designed.

    The greatest case of irreduceabe complexity that I have seen is the simplest known life-form. It consists of 500 some odd “necessary” genes. Further, the function of most of those genes is not yet even understood. The function of ATP synthase, however, is. ATP synthase is a rotary motor that makes the flagellum look simple.

    Bottom line, its not the flagellum but the other 18 million irreduceably complex micro-machines that must be addressed if RM+NS is to be realistically “proven”. Now, I am not suggesting that when 16 million of those machines have been proven to be evolvable, that IC still has a case. I would suggest, however, that the flagellum has not been demonstrated to be evolvable by RM+NS.

  19. bFast – I believe your two posts here represent a good perspective on ID. From what I have read in Dembski, Behe, et al is that there could have been a pre-programming (i.e fine tuning) from the beginning but it would be directed not undirected. The pre-programming would be evident in such things as IC systems as you alluded to in your last post. A question I have is how many IC systems must be demonstrated before this is taken seriously? Behe mentioned in a lecture that he has found about 200 hundred examples but uses the flagellum because it is the most arresting visually. It would be great for him and or others to trot out more examples. bFast from your own work have you found any others?

  20. Fross: “I’ve sometimes wondered why some IDists will point to the perfected fine tuned Universe in support of I.D. and also point to biological design in support for I.D. Biological Design assumes that natural ‘designed’ laws are incapable of producting biological life. This creates a scenario where a designer designed a Universe meant for life, but when it came time for life to arise, the Designer had to counter the previous design and do some final tweaking to jump start biological life.”

    Gotta go where the evidence leads. One’s philosophical preconceptions don’t change reality.

  21. 21

    I agree with comment 18′s point that IC doesn’t isn’t necessarily limited to flagella, etc. Of course, otherwise I would take the TEs criticism so seriously that I would cease to be a supporter of ID. What I was saying was that if it is true that RM+NS is sufficient to explain MUCH of the life we see, then the “designer” of ID becomes an engineer-god, who tinkers when ‘necessary’ and leaves the naturalistic processes to do their purposeless, blind work when not necessary. This creates huge theological problems, and the TEs correctly recognize this, whereas if the physical laws alone, manifesting through what NDE calls “RM+NS” ARE the ‘design’, then no more tweaking is necessary.

    Here is where, to me, the most powerful aspect of ID is: the notion that INFORMATION is not reducible to matter, and cannot arise from matter. Information is metaphysical. Not necessarily in the sense of religion, but in the sense of being NON-MATTER. This is where the real sticking point is. The physical laws alone are not living, but mechanistic. They do not contain information, but provide the background reality into which information can be usefully injected by an intelligent agent. If I wish to build a bridge, I must know about the working of gravity and lots of other natural processes (guess who isn’t an engineer in this discussion!) and I use this information to ACT UPON the processes in an organized and successful way. The processes, or laws, just keep going their merry way, whether I heed them or not, and if I fail to heed them, my bridge will collapse in an untimely fashion! The TE’s think that the laws themselves, independent of intelligence and information acting upon them, are sufficient to bring about information. I think the understanding about information being irreducible to matter necessarily leads to a kind of dualism: mind creates and acts upon matter, mind being fundamentally separate, in the final reckoning. Which mind? Of course it is impossible to say.

  22. Tinabrewer: “Here is where, to me, the most powerful aspect of ID is: the notion that INFORMATION is not reducible to matter, and cannot arise from matter.”

    Information is clearly something other than matter or energy, a third phenomenon. As such, information obeys its own set of laws, the laws of the physical universe do not necessarily apply. For instance, unlike matter or energy, information surely can be created and destroyed.

    Where your statement takes a leap that has not been proven is when you say, “and cannot arise from matter.” This is at the heart of the evolution/Id debate. The evolutionists say that information can arise from matter, the IDers say it can’t. Evolutionists have certainly never demonstrated that information can arise from matter (abiogenesis,) but have shown that new information can spontaneously arise (mutation). ID has not made an air-tight case that information cannot arise from matter. ID also has suggested that some types of information (irreduceable complexity) cannot arise by RM+NS.

    Late_model: “Behe mentioned in a lecture that he has found about 200 hundred examples but uses the flagellum because it is the most arresting visually. It would be great for him and or others to trot out more examples. bFast from your own work have you found any others?”

    200 examples is actually significant. (Remember that each of these require multiple genes, and each gene requires an average of a 100 amino acid chain.) I bet there are WAY more than that. However, I am a software developer, not a biologist. I would hardly be the guy finding more.

  23. Complex Specified Information (CSI) is the imprint of intelligence on matter. Dembski has proven CSI is not reducible to matter/energy and their interactions. ID implies intelligence is not reducible to matter, since we can always reliably distinguish between materially caused and intelligently caused phenomena, for a certain class of phenomena – those exhibiting CSI.

    Query: what is the empirical difference between common descent and common design?

  24. Also, did nobody note this gem?

    “So let’s say we want to have a new anti-ballistic missile system (God forbid), but it’s too difficult, we better let some intelligent designer do it (who doesn’t seem to want to do it), or even better than that, we want a new hydrogen car, but guess what, it’s just too complicated, so let’s not do it.”

    Well, Doc Ward, we usually persuade recalcitrant intelligent designers to design by use of money.

  25. Jaredl: “Dembski has proven CSI is not reducible to matter/energy and their interactions.” Dembski has certainly made such a case. Proven is a much bigger term. I think it beyond question that CSI (beyond UCB) will not occur by simple random chance. However, when natural selection breaks up the challenge of CSI into a bunch of not so complex information components, Dembski’s proof is much less certain. To put this in other terms, if CSI can be broken down into a whole bunch of NCSI (non-complex specified information), if each can be selected for via natural selection, then time will get you to CSI.

  26. How about these three other gems:

    “It [learning about evolution] is certainly going to keep us, let’s hope, through antibiotics and other evolutionary mechanisms, safe, safe from bird flu for instance.”

    Antibiotics are evolutionary mechanisms? And how did Darwinian theory contribute to the development of antibiotics anyway?

    And this great one:

    “We can watch that code being built now. And he’s saying, well, it’s in a laboratory with a guided hand. We can get it done inorganically, we can set up experiments in rock pools, if you want, to build the same darn thing.”

    Inorganic experiments that generate DNA code have been set up in rock pools? This is earth-shattering news. How did I miss it?

    Last, but certainly not least:

    “…none of us can understand how long geological time is. I mean, we’re talking –you hear the old metaphor of given enough time the monkeys can write anything, that’s probably true.”

    A given 100-letter-long sentence (no caps, spaces, numbers, or punctuation included) has one chance in 3 x 10^141 of being generated by chance. There are 10^80 subatomic particles in the universe and fewer than 10^18 seconds in the history of the universe. Sorry, but there aren’t enough monkeys and there isn’t enough time. Ward needs to do a little simple math.

  27. bFast- please read NFL for the details. Natural selection is irrelevant to the generation of CSI. The proof was trivial.

  28. Jaredl, the issue is not whether Dembski believes that he has provided a proof. If CSI = design is “proved”, then any smart person who studies the proof should agree that it has been proved.

    Consider http://www.ccrnp.ncifcrf.gov/~toms/papers/ev/. In this source, Dr. Schneider presents a RM+NS simulator that he claims produces CSI.

  29. bFast, the issue is whether or not Dembski has, in fact, produced a proof. Schneider has specifically been addressed by Dembski within NFL. Hence my request: read the book.

  30. There’s a huge difference where I come from between having “produced a proof” and having “proved” something. NFL is on my reading list, but hasn’t made it to the top yet.

  31. Reading NFL is necessary, though not necessarily sufficient, to having a relevant opinion on Dembski’s work.

  32. Interestingly, I can see the point behind saying ID isn’t a theory. Indeed, ID is simply the logical negation of naturalistic (materialistic) hypotheses purporting to explain specified events of small probability. The conclusion of ID is, in its essence, the conclusion of a proof by contradiction, where our first assumption is that Darwinian evolution does, in fact, have power to generate certain biological structures. Darwinian evolution predicts that there exists no biological structure which is not attainable by random search (RM/NS). Since this claim has been exploded (see Darwin’s Black Box and the myriad follow-ups on Dembski’s site), we are entitled, provisionally, to infer design and not random search as the source of certain biological structures.

    However, having inferred design, what predictions flow? When Dembski answered a similar question on 4/27 at the U of Memphis (the first question by a member of the American Freethought Society, or something like that), he stated that one testable prediction of ID is the non-evolvability (presumably via RM/NS) of certain biological systems. However, my understanding of ID is that the non-evolvability of these systems is the empirical data upon which the conclusion of actual design (vs apparent design) in biology is reached. So, what predictions does ID, cast as a scientific theory, make? I can’t think of any, and I say this as a supporter.

    (side note: forensic science might provide an arena where ID has predictive power, when the putative identity of a particular intelligce is the issue once the design inference has been triggered – identity might generate predictions of undiscovered designed phenomena, and so forth.)

    So, as it is, I can see there are kernels of interesting issues presented by the dark side, but are not, strictly speaking, relevant to the design inference.

    Ward came off very poorly in the debate.

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