Meyer on Medved: the blind leading the blind

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So, Stephen Meyer is allegedly going to “respond” to critics of Darwin’s Doubt this afternoon on the Medved show (Medved is a DI fellow, this particular show is being broadcast from inside the Discovery Institute). They are even inviting critics to call in – it’s your very own chance to rebut Meyer’s dozens of overlapping errors and admissions with a single question or statement, and with the Discovery Institute controlling the microphone! What a deal!

Over here in real science, we mostly try to address complex scientific topics through writing and analysis. And the critics have done quite a bit of that, although you’d never know it from reading the Discovery Institute blog, where David “spin til it hurts” Klinghoffer has pushed the rhetoric-to-truth ratio to heights not seen since the Kitzmiller days.

Klinghoffer’s constant refrain is that the critics aren’t addressing Meyer’s arguments. Well, let’s make a little list, shall we? It will be convenient as a checklist for anyone who listens to the Medved show today.

Major criticisms of Darwin’s Doubt by informed critics:

1. Meyer’s book, which is supposed to be about the Cambrian Explosion, gets the Cambrian Explosion fossil record wrong. The real fossil record is:

1. Ediacaran fauna in the Precambrian

2. Before the beginning of the Cambrian, we see then bilaterian worm tracks that gradually increase in diversity

3. In the latest few million years of the Precambrian, we observe Cloudina and other minute and very simple “small shelly” fossils

4. For about 20 million years, throughout the earliest part of the Cambrian, we see the “small shelly” fossil faunas gradually increase in diversity

5. Only after all of this do we reach the “main pulse” of the Cambrian Explosion. But even here, the representatives of the “phyla” mostly stem taxa, meaning that they lack some of the key characters found in the extant crown groups, and many of them exhibiting character suites “transitional” between the crown groups

6. Throughout the later Cambrian and on into the Ordovician, we have gradual takeover of faunas by the earliest members of what end up as the living crown groups, and further evolution of new bodyplans in the Ordovician for some groups

As Graham Budd writes in Budd 2003:

CONCLUSIONS

The combination of important refinements in the treatment of the systematics of Cambrian fossils, and in our understanding of Cambrian stratigraphy is leading to a more precise view of the Cambrian explosion. Phyla do not appear in a sudden jumble, implying an appearance in the fossil record induced by some external influence (e.g., a rise in atmospheric oxygen levels) that allowed a standing diversity already present to be manifested in the record. Rather, the impression rather is of a rapid, but nevertheless resolvable and orderly appearance, starting with the earliest skeletal forms such as Cloudina that are reasonably assignable to a diploblast grade (i.e., stem- or crown-group cnidarians or basal stem-group bilaterians). These are followed by taxa that lie in basal positions within bilaterian clades, and (in general) considerably later by representatives of the crown-groups of phyla. Revisions to the Cambrian time-scale allow a moderately long period of time, some tens of millions of years, between the first likely bilaterian trace fossils, and the general appearance of crown-group members of the phyla.

However, however, because of poor research, or a tendency to ignore inconvenient facts, or both, all Meyer and his defenders give their readers is:

1. Ediacaran fauna

2. Poof! Almost all of the the phyla appear at once, fully formed, with no transitional forms!

As I’ve said before, this doesn’t respect the science or the data.

As I’m writing this, I see that Stephen Meyer just (Finally! 4 months after I made the criticism!) put up a response on the small shellies question. And…wow, Meyer made the briefest mention of small shellies in endnote 39 of chapter 4, in an endnode on the definition of the base of the Cambrian, therefore he’s OK!

(never mind that small shellies technically predate the base of the Cambrian, so Meyer got even that part wrong)

He also confuses the question of whether the small shellies can be identified with specific groups which is debatable in many cases (but there have been several successes in doing this), with the question of whether or not they are ancestral at all. I don’t think there is anyone now who would assert they are some completely independent group. Gould half-suggested this in Wonderful Life in the tiny bit of text that he puts into the small shellies, but that was nearly 25 years ago, and the study and dating of small shellies has advanced dramatically since then. And having critters with chainmail armor just before you find fossils with full plate armor is surely not a coincidence.

Regarding dating the “Explosion”, surely it is more important to get correct the timing and sequence of events relevant to the origin of the bilaterians, than it is to quote authorities about when “the Explosion” was. At the very least, skeletons and skeletonization were evolving during the small shelly period, millions of years before the “Explosion”. How can this not be important? How could Meyer have left this out for his readers, none of whom would have checked the endnote, nor realized that a huge piece of the puzzle that was being elided there!

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2. Meyer says that transitional fossils for the Cambrian groups don’t exist, but fossils with morphology transitional between the crown phyla do exist, oodles of them. Meyer just doesn’t have the knowledge, either of fossils or methodology, to know a transitional fossil even if it is right there in front of him. I made the basic argument previously, but it can be done even more clearly with the amazing new study by Legg et al., which coded and analyzed hundreds of characters of hundreds of Cambrian arthropods and arthropod relatives.

Legg_etal_2013_NatComm_panarthropod_phylogeny.png

…and, if we zoom in on the base of the tree:

Legg_etal_2013_NatComm_Figure4ab_Lobopodia_etc_bigger.png

Figure 4: Phylogeny of panarthropoda (just parts a & b).

Bam!

See “EUARTHROPODA” down at the lower right? That’s the node representing the last common ancestor of all living arthropods, i.e. crown group arthropods. Bumblebees, king crabs, hummingbird moths, millipedes, shrimp, horseshoe crabs – they’re all just subgroups of that one little subgroup of these fossils. Everything branching below EUARTHROPODA on the tree lacks one of more characters that unite all living arthropods. See ONYCHOPHORA, in the middle of (a)? That’s the closest living phylum to arthropods. Between two modern crown group phyla (arthropods and onychophorans), there are dozens of species with intermediate character suites. And that’s just the species currently known to science well enough to describe and put in a character matrix. This is why I was ranting and raving about lobopods in my previous posts.

No transitional fossils? Take a hike, Stephen Meyer and David Klinghoffer!

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3. Meyer claims that phylogenetic methods are worthless, but doesn’t know that phylogenetic hypotheses are statistical statements and are statistically testable through standard methods – methods which themselves are testable and well-tested. Virtually any time such methods are applied to real data, including in Cambrian divergences, there is a strong statistical tree signal, and strong congruence between different datasets, and this remains true whether or not different datasets give exactly the same phylogenetic results on any particular phylogenetic question. The most divergent results typically come from the smallest datasets – small numbers of taxa or small numbers of characters, or both (with the number of taxa being more important than the number of characters), which is exactly what any scientist would expect from any statistical inference procedure.

For actual serious information on this topic, which Meyer mentions only to then ignore, see Doug Theobald’s FAQ, particularly the section on phylogenetic tree statistics.

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4. Meyer claims that the evolution of new genetic information is virtually impossible, a claim he is able to sustain mostly because he doesn’t understand the phylogenetic methods (see above) that are necessary for inferring the history of the origin of genes. Apparently he wants us scientists to think that gene sequences share similarities that fall into nice tree patterns – including, often, direct genomic remnants of duplication, transposition, and other mutational processes – just because the intelligent designer put those signals there just to make it look like evolution happened. Even some of Meyer’s colleagues at the Discovery Institute agree that Meyer is wrong here – Michael Behe and David Berlinski accept that natural evolutionary processes can produce new genes and thus new genetic information – they are apparently just too craven to admit the contradiction forthrightly.

Since Meyer’s main argument is about how intelligent design is the unique and only known cause of new information, he really is sunk even if one duplicate gene with a few mutations and little bit of new information is accepted as having occurred naturally. If it can happen one time in one species, what can happen over hundreds of millions of years across millions of species?

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5. Meyer’s claim that “massive amounts” of new genetic information was required for the Cambrian Explosion is belied by the fact that gene number, and most of the key developmental patterning genes are shared broadly across the phyla, and even outside of bilaterians, rather than looking like they originated in the midst of the divergence of the phyla.**

Meyer obscures this with wild assertions about genomics and tons of “information” in the noncoding DNA. This leads us to:

6. Meyer claims that the “junk DNA” hypothesis has been refuted, and that therefore the 90+ percent of large animal genomes that doesn’t code for genes or gene regulation is actually a massive additional amount of new information, but Meyer doesn’t rebut or even acknowledge the massive, basic, evidential problems with this idea. (And, for that matter, neither does the ENCODE project or the various journalists who were snookered by this triumph of wishful thinking over hard evidnece.) The problems are:

6a. Simple calculations show that if most of the DNA in large-genomed organisms like humans was essential, given known mutation rates, we would die from fatal mutations each generation. This was Ohno’s original argument for junk DNA, and it has not been rebutted by ENCODE, the creationists, or anyone else.

6b. Genome sizes in complex animals and plants vary by orders of magnitude within many specific groups (tetrapods, onions, ferns, salamanders, arthropods, whatever), but despite this, within each group they all have about the same number of genes, and approximately the same organs and developmental complexity. The obvious and straightforward inference is that most of the DNA which is sometimes present, and sometimes absent, isn’t necessary, and probably isn’t doing much even when it is present.

6c. When you actually look at the sequences in the variable fraction of the genome, most of it looks like the product of mutational processes with no selective filtering – transposon remnants, fossil viruses, duplications and other mutational errors, etc. Furthermore, unlike genes and important regulatory regions, which are well-conserved between closely related species, the apparent junk DNA looks like it has no constraint.

Arguments 6a, 6b and 6c have not been rebutted by ENCODE, the creationists, or anyone else. They’ve hardly even been acknowledged, let alone addressed in a serious way, let alone effectively rebutted.

In the face of all of this, it staggers belief for Meyer and his defenders to think that anyone who knows the above facts will be impressed with Meyer’s book, or Klinghoffer’s ceaseless din of spin. I suspect that Klinghoffer himself sustains his energy on little more than the faith that his chosen “experts” know what they are talking about, and that they are brave rebels against the dogmatic establishment.

Earth to David: look into these topics for yourself. Pick any one of them! Read the papers, look at the raw data for yourself, and take the trouble to learn enough about the methods and data to actually do a simple analysis (a graph or phylogeny) yourself. Then start asking Meyer or other ID authorities what their explanation is, and why the evolutionary analysis is wrong. Don’t be afraid to follow the evidence where it leads – just make sure you are actually aware of the actual evidence, instead of relying on the mishmash of quote-mines and creationist misunderstandings that are tossed together in Meyer’s book.

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Notes and References

* Graham Budd is the highest form of expert here, in that he a paleontologist whose speciality is specifically Cambrian organisms.

** Ditto for protein domains, etc., which are also widely distributed, and are not specific to the bilaterian phyla, so did not have to originate in the Cambrian. If a creationist/ID fan wants to talk about more remote origins, or the origin of life, that’s fine, but they should realize that by switching topics in an attempt to avoid admitting error, they have effectively admitted defeat on the original topic, which was the Cambrian Explosion.

Legg et al. (2013). “Arthropod fossil data increase congruence of morphological and molecular phylogenies.” Nature Communications 4, doi:10.1038/ncomms3485

165 Comments

Stealing thunder… sigh. Ah well, my next few posts were going to be about phylogenetics. Oh well, I still can harp on Meyer for using his stupid hand-drawn graphs that have no relationship to reality and show what some people (including Budd) actually see when looking at the Cambrian.

Thanks for the reference. It looks very interesting. I wonder if Meyer is ever gong to admit that it exists, or that it demolishes his nonsense? If you aren’t going to get any data of your own, you could at least know what data is already out there. If creationists want to be taken seriously, this is the first step, admitting you have a problem.

Thanks, Nick, for another good piece on that horrible, horrible book. I’ve been reading the Amazon reviews and it’s sad to see how many people are taken in by Meyer’s lies. It always cheers me to see people like you fighting the good fight.

I listened to the show for the first 50 minutes or so, then I had to go to a meeting. The only reply to critics that I heard was a fair bit about how Jerry Coyne wouldn’t read the book or agree to debating it, and once sentence summarily dismissing the review by yours truly since it happened in 24 hours (it was more like 36 hours, but whatevs, these guys aren’t very precise on dating). There was a lot about climate change and Obamacare, with Stephen Meyer talking a lot about climate change. Why do one science denial why you can do two!

Did anyone else hear the rest of it?

I’ve been dealing with this issue lately as well, in the ongoing “Evolution Basics” series I’m writing for BioLogos. The last few posts have been on phylogenetics, and I start with the pre-Cambrian / Cambrian.

This section of the series starts here:

http://biologos.org/blog/evolution-[…]ation-part-1

Nick Matzke said:

I listened to the show for the first 50 minutes or so, then I had to go to a meeting. The only reply to critics that I heard was a fair bit about how Jerry Coyne wouldn’t read the book or agree to debating it, and once sentence summarily dismissing the review by yours truly since it happened in 24 hours (it was more like 36 hours, but whatevs, these guys aren’t very precise on dating). There was a lot about climate change and Obamacare, with Stephen Meyer talking a lot about climate change. Why do one science denial why you can do two!

Did anyone else hear the rest of it?

No, I wasn’t aware of it.

But Medved used to be in Seattle and I recall his radio program, disgustingly conservative as it was, on the (KVI) radio station. They always had a pre-call handler taking incoming calls where they’d decide who gets on the show, or is put in an eternal state of limbo. So I’m wondering how many people who might have been critical of Meyer were given air time and how he responded to them, along with Medved, and in what tone, and like you, how he responded.

There were a coupla call in questions, softballs mostly, one guy tried to get Meyer to admit the IDer was God and got the usual responses.

I only heard the last 15 minutes, but in that time I heard 3 lies.

Meyer has explained why he can ignore the small shellies, etc.: the timing of the explosion is irrelevant, because the real message is that any significant evolution is impossible no matter how long you allow it to take. So why spend so much of the book on the timing of the Cambrian explosion? I think the obvious answer is that he wants, for other reasons, to have a more or less instantaneous creation event. That’s also why he spends a whole chapter attacking phylogenetic analysis, which is also peripheral to his claimed main point: though he never quite comes out and says it, his version of ID is separate creation, preferably in big, simultaneous events. ‘Cause that’s how God would do it. He doesn’t say it because that would violate the big tent policy in which he’s buddies with theistic evolutionists like Behe. But I’m pretty sure on the basis of this book that Meyer is into separate, fiat creation of taxa at some level, probably including separate creation of H. sapiens.

Let’s just say it like it is – he’s an Old-Earth Creationist arguing for special creation! Which is basically what Agassiz believed, BTW, I think.

Oh, and he definitely thinks humans were specially created, IIRC this was made clear in the Kansas Kangaroo Court in 2005.

Shouldn’t point 1.3 read, “In the earliest years of the Cambrian…”?

Well if he isn’t going to state a hypothesis about what happened and when, then he isn’t going to be able to test any hypothesis against the evidence. So I guess that’s why he’s just ignoring all of the evidence. He already has the answer and now all he has to do is convince everybody that he is right, without ever actually stating what he is right about. All he knows is that evolution must be wrong, regardless of the evidence. Now that’s science folks. (NOT).

Nick Matzke said:

There were a coupla call in questions, softballs mostly, one guy tried to get Meyer to admit the IDer was God and got the usual responses.

I have been listening to Medved’s weekly DI love fest for months, but lately I’m losing interest, specifically because nearly all callers are either cheerleaders, or like that one, probably hand-picked by Medved and/or his guest to keep the topic on God, instead of asking exactly what the DI has determined that the designer did, where when and how. As you noted, Meyer’s position seems to be periodic origin-of-life events over billions of years. Behe’s is apparently “in vivo interventions,” also over billions of years, while Paul Nelson seems to favor an all-at-once happening, 1000s of years ago - or maybe Last Thursday.

They refuse to “teach the controversy” among themselves, yet they have the audacity to demand that we do. Go figure!

If the show is live you could tell the screener anything just to get on, then change your tune once you were on the air. At least the audience would realize that there was an opposing view, even if they cut you off quickly. Some might even wonder why you weren’t allowed to ask your question, if they think there is nothing to hide. If the show is taped, that approach isn’t going to work. Then they could engage in the same kind of censorship they are famous for. The rubes who want to be fooled will be fooled no matter what.

Kurt Denke said: …that horrible, horrible book. I’ve been reading the Amazon reviews and it’s sad to see how many people are taken in by Meyer’s lies.

I would like to invite all of you to join in on the roasting of the five-star reviewers at Amazon. We’re not letting them get away with much, but we could use a few more pro-science commenters. Click on the five star reviews and then click on “Newest” - there’s a new chump or two every day.

(I have the dubious honor of being the very first person to review “Darwin’s Doubt” on Amazon…it was a one-star review.)

Casey Luskin accuses Charles Marshall of wrongly criticizing Meyer for disregarding the small shellies and shortening the duration of the Cambrian Explosion, while doing the same in his own papers and acknowledging the same by other experts:

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/1[…]o078261.html

DS said:

Well if he isn’t going to state a hypothesis about what happened and when, then he isn’t going to be able to test any hypothesis against the evidence. So I guess that’s why he’s just ignoring all of the evidence. He already has the answer and now all he has to do is convince everybody that he is right, without ever actually stating what he is right about. All he knows is that evolution must be wrong, regardless of the evidence. Now that’s science folks. (NOT).

A problem with bringing up scientific evidence and reasoning is that it can give the impression to the audience that there is a legitimate scientific controversy. “I didn’t understand a word they were saying, but that Meyer fellow talked science.”

If we can just get the point across that the evolution-deniers have nothing to offer about what happened, when and where, why or how. That they have no interest in answering questions like what sorts of things turned into what, why things turned out the way they did rather than something else, what rules the intelligent designer(s) follow. For every problem that the advocates of ID bring up, what is their solution to the problem - for example, what is the probability that designer(s) would decide to make life the way it is, when they were not constrained by the laws of nature - for example, what would the designer(s) not do?

I understand that scientists like to talk about science, and like to correct mistakes, and that there is a lot of interesting stuff about evolutionary biology to discuss. But evolution-denial is not a deep subject, and let’s not give the impression that it is.

Aside from the book itself, one of the funniest things was Meyer’s recent post at the Discovery Institute blog in which he insisted that his book doesn’t commit the “god of the gaps” fallacy. His denial is absurd, of course, because that fallacy is the whole point of the book.

He insisted: “[M]y argument does not qualify as a God-of-the-gaps argument for the simple reason that the argument does not attempt to establish the existence of God.”

That’s a great example of how those people operate, not only in their pretense of offering “science” arguments, but also in their proposed “academic freedom” law. It’s all about word-games.

Paul Burnett said:

Kurt Denke said: …that horrible, horrible book. I’ve been reading the Amazon reviews and it’s sad to see how many people are taken in by Meyer’s lies.

I would like to invite all of you to join in on the roasting of the five-star reviewers at Amazon. We’re not letting them get away with much, but we could use a few more pro-science commenters. Click on the five star reviews and then click on “Newest” - there’s a new chump or two every day.

(I have the dubious honor of being the very first person to review “Darwin’s Doubt” on Amazon…it was a one-star review.)

I’ve been playing with those people for years. It’s like trying to hammer a soda can into a concrete block. I finally got sick of it and invited them to continue the discussion on my blog, where we could argue specifics… not a single one has shown up.

Which also tells you something about their motivations. It’s not to learn, but to evangelize.

SensuousCurmudgeon said:

Aside from the book itself, one of the funniest things was Meyer’s recent post at the Discovery Institute blog in which he insisted that his book doesn’t commit the “god of the gaps” fallacy. His denial is absurd, of course, because that fallacy is the whole point of the book.

He insisted: “[M]y argument does not qualify as a God-of-the-gaps argument for the simple reason that the argument does not attempt to establish the existence of God.”

Did anyone comment that committing a “designer of the gaps” fallacy is exactly as bad as a “god of the gap” fallacy?

Nick,

Can you document any cases of Meyer clearly and unambiguously coming out in favor of special creation? If so, I would be interested. If not, how close can you get? Closer than Darwin’s Doubt manages? Meyer, like pretty much everyone at the Disco Tute, is a serious weasel.

eric said:

SensuousCurmudgeon said:

Aside from the book itself, one of the funniest things was Meyer’s recent post at the Discovery Institute blog in which he insisted that his book doesn’t commit the “god of the gaps” fallacy. His denial is absurd, of course, because that fallacy is the whole point of the book.

He insisted: “[M]y argument does not qualify as a God-of-the-gaps argument for the simple reason that the argument does not attempt to establish the existence of God.”

Did anyone comment that committing a “designer of the gaps” fallacy is exactly as bad as a “god of the gap” fallacy?

Actually it’s worse, because now there is one more gap to fill! :)

SensuousCurmudgeon said:

Aside from the book itself, one of the funniest things was Meyer’s recent post at the Discovery Institute blog in which he insisted that his book doesn’t commit the “god of the gaps” fallacy. His denial is absurd, of course, because that fallacy is the whole point of the book.

He insisted: “[M]y argument does not qualify as a God-of-the-gaps argument for the simple reason that the argument does not attempt to establish the existence of God.”

That’s a great example of how those people operate, not only in their pretense of offering “science” arguments, but also in their proposed “academic freedom” law. It’s all about word-games.

He claims there’s a positive case for design because only a “mind” is known to create the kind of complexity and information seen in the Cambrian animals. Here’s a recent rebuttal of that nonsense:

http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/?p=3450

Pierce R. Butler said:

Shouldn’t point 1.3 read, “In the earliest years of the Cambrian…”?

Thanks for the double-check! But actually, Cloudina and the other first small shellies occur before the Cambrian starts, in the late Ediacaran. I think the ID people get the idea that they start at the base of the Cambrian from a careless misreading of Marshall. There may also have been a period a few decades ago where Cloudina was thought to be simultaneous with the Cambrian, but with improved stratigraphy and dating this is no longer the case.

In general, the dating and stratigraphy has changed quite a bit over the decades, everyone has to be careful to update their statements to the latest work. I think basics will be pretty stable from here on out but this has only been put in place in the last 10-15 years, and some of the sub-periods within the Cambrian are still in flux. The creationists tend to quote stuff from the 1990s when the Atdabanian was particularly compressed. Or they quote molecular biologists who are citing this older work. Sometime I’ll do a post on this.

https://me.yahoo.com/a/hHXYfJpysYHQ[…]dTYTqv#37db0 said:

SensuousCurmudgeon said:

Aside from the book itself, one of the funniest things was Meyer’s recent post at the Discovery Institute blog in which he insisted that his book doesn’t commit the “god of the gaps” fallacy. His denial is absurd, of course, because that fallacy is the whole point of the book.

He insisted: “[M]y argument does not qualify as a God-of-the-gaps argument for the simple reason that the argument does not attempt to establish the existence of God.”

That’s a great example of how those people operate, not only in their pretense of offering “science” arguments, but also in their proposed “academic freedom” law. It’s all about word-games.

He claims there’s a positive case for design because only a “mind” is known to create the kind of complexity and information seen in the Cambrian animals. Here’s a recent rebuttal of that nonsense:

http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/?p=3450

An even easier rebuttal is that this is just circular reasoning.

“Only a mind is known to create that kind of complexity!”

“How do you know that this kind of complexity did not come about without mental guidance?”

“Because only a mind is known to create that kind of complexity!”

“What if this is an example of such complexity arising without a mind creating it?”

“It can’t be.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

“Because only a mind is known to create that kind of complexity!”

ksplawn said: An even easier rebuttal is that this is just circular reasoning.

“Only a mind is known to create that kind of complexity!”

“Do you have an example of a mind creating that kind of complexity?”

Often enough, we have creationists marveling at the complexity of some feature of the natural world, telling us that no human has ever created something so complex. Which is true. Which means that the analogy fails: Such-and-such is far more complex than anything that we know of that is intelligently designed.

It’s not “circular” reasoning, it’s Mobius strip reasoning, where, when going around the loop, things turn upside down.

TomS said: “Do you have an example of a mind creating that kind of complexity?”

What an interesting reversal. I had not thought of it that way.

I suppose that the gut response of a creationist would be to claim that human-built things are more complex* than nature-built things (watch vs. rock), therefore, anything even more complex than a human-built thing must also be the product of intelligence (universe vs. watch). But that ignores all the nature-built things that ARE more complex than human built things (pulsar vs. watch). If you have no explanation for what built the (most complex) universe and you are attempting to extrapolate from less complex things, it is irrational to pick one fairly low point on the scale and say “its like that” instead of looking at all the other more complex points on the scale.

John Harshman said:

Nick,

Can you document any cases of Meyer clearly and unambiguously coming out in favor of special creation? If so, I would be interested. If not, how close can you get? Closer than Darwin’s Doubt manages? Meyer, like pretty much everyone at the Disco Tute, is a serious weasel.

This is pretty clear, I think!

Q. Do you accept the general principle of common descent that all life is biologically related back to the beginning of life, yes or no?

A. I won’t answer that question as a yes or no. I accept the idea of limited common descent. I am skeptical about universal common descent. I do not take it as a principle; it is a theory. And I think the evidence supporting the theory of universal common descent is weak.

Q. Do you accept that human beings are related by common descent to prehominid ancestors, yes or no?

A. I’m not sure. I’m skeptical of it because I think the evidence for the proposition is weak, but it would not affect my conviction that life is designed if it turns out that there was a genealogical continuity.

Q. Based upon your understanding, do you have an alternative explanation for the human species if not common descent from prehominid ancestors?

A. That is not my area of expertise. I work at the other end of the history of life, namely the origin of the first life in the Cambrian phylum.

Q. Do you have a personal opinion as to the question I have just proposed to you, which is if you do not believe that human beings have a common descent with prehominid ancestors, what is your personal alternative explanation for how human beings came into existence?

A. I am skeptical about the evidence for universal common descent and I’m skeptical about some of the evidence that has been marshaled for the idea that humans and prehominids are connected. But as I said, it wouldn’t bother me (unintelligible) stronger than I presently think.

Q. What is your personal opinion at this time?

A. That I’m skeptical about the Darwinian accounts of such things, but that it wouldn’t bother me if it turned out to be different. I think my– I also would tell you that humans and the rest of the non human living world, that humans have qualitatively different features that I think are very mysterious and hard to explain on any materialistic account of the origin of human life.

Nick Matzke said: This is pretty clear, I think!

Nick, John, IMO you’re both right. Nick’s example is clear AND Meyer’s answer is seriously weaselly.

In college Meyer was a full blown Darwinist. He couldn’t of got his degree if he was anything other.

LOL

wrong.

and I say that from personal experience watching Jonathan Wells get his PhD in cell bio at Berkeley.

but then, since when did Ray have any clue what he was talking about anyway? Never that I recall.

I have understood the term “special creation” as used by creationists to mean direct creation of biological life forms after the initial Creation event.

every creationist I have ever met defines special creation to refer to humans.

Unfortunately, Meyer’s statements consist largely of dog whistles. It seems as if it will be impossible to pin him down conclusively.

Only in your own mind, John.

the rest of us made a pretty sure conclusion based on what he has said and done years ago.

don’t know why you’re wasting your time with this, really.

Tom said:

Unfortunately, Meyer’s statements consist largely of dog whistles. It seems as if it will be impossible to pin him down conclusively.

Only in your own mind, John.

the rest of us made a pretty sure conclusion based on what he has said and done years ago.

don’t know why you’re wasting your time with this, really.

Thanks. Would you mind posting the statements that led the rest of you to that pretty sure conclusion? And could you also tell me what that conclusion is?

John Harshman said:

Tom said:

Unfortunately, Meyer’s statements consist largely of dog whistles. It seems as if it will be impossible to pin him down conclusively.

Only in your own mind, John.

the rest of us made a pretty sure conclusion based on what he has said and done years ago.

don’t know why you’re wasting your time with this, really.

Thanks. Would you mind posting the statements that led the rest of you to that pretty sure conclusion? And could you also tell me what that conclusion is?

No reason to get testy, folks! It is useful to have a good assessment on what Meyer actually thinks, and it is also useful to have a good assessment of what he has directly admitted to “in the clear”. John Harshman was after the latter in this discussion.

Come to think of it, I thought of another data source:

Stephen Meyer’s CV says:

University Professor, Conceptual Foundations of Science, Palm Beach Atlantic University, West Palm Beach, Florida 33416-4708. Fall 2002- Spring 2005.

Palm Beach Atlantic University’s “About” page links to its Guiding Principles:

Guiding Principles

Palm Beach Atlantic University is a comprehensive Christian university with a core emphasis in the liberal arts. Its purpose is to offer a curriculum of studies and a program of student activities dedicated to the development of moral character, the enrichment of spiritual lives and the perpetuation of growth in Christian ideals.

Founded under the providence of God with the conviction that there is a need for a university in this community that will expand the minds, develop the moral character and enrich the spiritual lives of all the people who may come within the orbit of its influence, Palm Beach Atlantic University shall stand as a witness for Jesus Christ, expressed directly through its administration, faculty and students.

To assure the perpetuation of these basic concepts of its founders, it is resolved that all those who become associated with Palm Beach Atlantic University as trustees, officers, members of the faculty or of the staff, must believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments; that man was directly created by God; that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin; that He is the Son of God, our Lord and Savior; that He died for the sins of all men and thereafter arose from the grave; that by repentance and the acceptance of and belief in Him, by the grace of God, the individual is saved from eternal damnation and receives eternal life in the presence of God; and it is further resolved that the ultimate teachings in this University shall always be consistent with these principles.

(These principles were adopted by the University’s founders and they serve as the preamble to the PBA bylaws.)

(bolds added)

So, assuming Stephen Meyer didn’t lie to PBAU when he was employed there, he definitely believes in the special creation of humans, and thus denies common ancestry at least in that regard. Or he did then.

Tom said:

I have understood the term “special creation” as used by creationists to mean direct creation of biological life forms after the initial Creation event.

every creationist I have ever met defines special creation to refer to humans.

I don’t know about whoever you met, but certainly your understanding is not the standard one. E.g.:

Institute for Creation Research Resolution for Equitable Treatment of both Creation and Evolution

by Henry Morris, Ph.D.

Resolution to encourage equitable treatment of alternate scientific concepts of origins in the public schools and other institutions of the state -

I. WHEREAS, it appears that most, if not all, state-supported educational institutions require students to take courses in which naturalistic concepts of evolution are taught as scientific explanations of origins of the universe, life and man;1 and

II. WHEREAS evolution is not demonstrable as scientific fact or testable as a scientific hypothesis, and therefore must be accepted philosophically by faith;2 and

III. WHEREAS there is another concept of origins – namely, that of special creation of the universe, life, and man by an omnipotent personal Creator – which is at least as satisfactory a scientific explanation of origins as is evolution, and is accepted as such by a large number of scientists and other well-informed people;3 and

IV. WHEREAS many citizens of this State believe in the special creation concept of origins and are convinced that exclusive indoctrination of their children in the evolutionary concept (including so-called “theistic” evolution) is inimical to their religious faith and to their moral and civic teachings, as well as to scientific objectivity, academic freedom, and civil rights;4 and

V. WHEREAS even most citizens who are not opposed to the evolution concept at least favor a balanced treatment of these two alternative views of origins in their schools, thus allowing students to consider all of the evidences favoring each concept before deciding which to believe.5

Now, therefore, Be it resolved by the House of Representatives, the Senate concurring:

That the State Higher Education Commission and the State Board of Public Education be, and hereby is, urged to recommend to all state-supported educational institutions that a balanced treatment of evolution and special creation be encouraged in all courses, textbooks, library materials and museum displays dealing in any way with the subject of origins, such treatment to be limited to the scientific, rather than religious, aspects of the two concepts.

[…]

(bold added)

“could of”

Command of English is practically Byersian.

Tom said:

Unfortunately, Meyer’s statements consist largely of dog whistles. It seems as if it will be impossible to pin him down conclusively.

Only in your own mind, John.

the rest of us made a pretty sure conclusion based on what he has said and done years ago.

don’t know why you’re wasting your time with this, really.

If you could a) explain just what your sure conclusion is and b) quote and/or cite the basis for that conclusion I would appreciate it.

So, assuming Stephen Meyer didn’t lie to PBAU when he was employed there, he definitely believes in the special creation of humans, and thus denies common ancestry at least in that regard. Or he did then.

…assuming he didn’t lie. We do know of one IDiot (the Newton of information theory) who clearly lied to keep a job at a fundamentalist school, after all. Still, it’s one more bit of evidence. Absent a magic bullet in a smoking gun from the horse’s mouth, one has to assemble all these little hints. I wonder what he’d say if you came out and asked him.

III. WHEREAS there is another concept of origins – namely, that of special creation of the universe, life, and man by an omnipotent personal Creator

that’s not a definition, that’s a chapter heading.

try again?

Tom said:

III. WHEREAS there is another concept of origins – namely, that of special creation of the universe, life, and man by an omnipotent personal Creator

that’s not a definition, that’s a chapter heading.

try again?

It’s not a chapter heading, it’s a “resolved” entry for a proposed resolution for e.g. school boards. Presumably Henry Morris and the ICR were paying some attention to wording there!

Earlier John Harshman and I were arguing about the definition of “special creation”, with John asking whether Stephen Meyer had ever explicitly embraced special creationism. Obviously, to answer that question, we have to know how creationists defined special creationism, and here it’s important to go back to texts prior to the 1998-2003 period when the DI “secularized” Intelligent Design by rewriting its history.

Here’s a definition of “special creation” from the important creationist and ID proponent Charles Thaxton. Below I’ll explain why Thaxton is important.

Barbara Forrest cites:

[William] Dembski cites as a seminal ID publication Thaxton’s 1984 book, The Mystery of Life’s Origins where, arguing for “Special Creation by a Creator beyond the cosmos,” Thaxton asserts that “Special Creation… [holds] that the source which produced life was intelligent.”51 (emphasis in original). [51: Charles Thaxton, The Mystery of Life’s Origins (Foundation for Thought and Ethics, 1984; 2nd printing Sept. 1992) p.200. …]

[Forrest’s Expert Report at Dover, p.15]

This is a definition of “Special Creation” very much different from what we’ve considered in this thread so far, and note that this 1984 definition of Special Creation is equal to the current definition of the Intelligent Design hypothesis.

Backgound, for those who care: Thaxton was part of the generation of “transitional fossils” that connected Henry Morris/ICR-type young Earth “Flintstones, Meet the Flintstones” creation science to the later DI generation of the early 90’s. The “transitional fossil” generation appeared in the 1970’s and 80’s and included Thaxton, A. E. Wilder-Smith, Dean Kenyon and Nancy Pearcey. All were YECs, all were fellows fof the Discovery Institute and also promoted Intelligent Design along with YEC, and all of them, except Pearcey, were widely cited as inspirations and key influences by the later DI generation of the early 90’s (Meyer, Dembski, Phillip Johnson, Michael Behe.) Thaxton’s book The Mystery of Life’s Origin was widely praised and cited as inspiring Dembski and Meyer; I haven’t read it, but it sounds like a rehash of A. E. Wilder-Smith’s “information theory” garbage, which I have read. Thaxton was the president of the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, during the time it was drafting and re-drafting Of Pandas and People of Dover v. Kitzmiller infamy, the book largely authored by Kenyon, Pearcey, Percival Davis, Michael Behe, and I think Meyer.

In 1988, Thaxton held a creationist conference which I suspect to be one of the most important moments in the history of Intelligent Design, because Stephen Meyer showed up at the creationist conference carrying with him an early draft of Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial, which he introduced to YEC Paul Nelson, who tells us:

Paul Nelson writes:

[Phillip Johnson’s] Darwin on Trial laid out these arguments and provided the philosophical core for a research community that had already begun to form in the 1980s around such books as [Thaxton’s] The Mystery of Life’s Origin.8 [Footnote 8: Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin (New York: Philosophical Library, 1984). Mystery… contained suggestions for a revival of the neglected hypothesis of design in science proper. Like several others, I first learned about Phillip Johnson at a June 1988 conference on the origin of information content in DNA, organized by Charles Thaxton. Stephen Meyer, at the time a graduate student at Cambridge University, attended Thaxton’s conference, bringing with him a manuscript from (as Meyer put it with a grin) “this wild lawyer I met in the UK.” I can still recall my excitement at the conference when I read through the manuscript, which later became Darwin on Trial.]

[Paul Nelson, “Life in the Big Tent”.]

Nick Matzke said:

Palm Beach Atlantic University’s “About” page links to its Guiding Principles:

Guiding Principles

Palm Beach Atlantic University is a comprehensive Christian university with a core emphasis in the liberal arts. Its purpose is to offer a curriculum of studies and a program of student activities dedicated to the development of moral character, the enrichment of spiritual lives and the perpetuation of growth in Christian ideals.

Founded under the providence of God with the conviction that there is a need for a university in this community that will expand the minds, develop the moral character and enrich the spiritual lives of all the people who may come within the orbit of its influence, Palm Beach Atlantic University shall stand as a witness for Jesus Christ, expressed directly through its administration, faculty and students.

To assure the perpetuation of these basic concepts of its founders, it is resolved that all those who become associated with Palm Beach Atlantic University as trustees, officers, members of the faculty or of the staff, must believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments; that man was directly created by God; that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin; that He is the Son of God, our Lord and Savior; that He died for the sins of all men and thereafter arose from the grave; that by repentance and the acceptance of and belief in Him, by the grace of God, the individual is saved from eternal damnation and receives eternal life in the presence of God; and it is further resolved that the ultimate teachings in this University shall always be consistent with these principles.

(These principles were adopted by the University’s founders and they serve as the preamble to the PBA bylaws.)

(bolds added)

So, assuming Stephen Meyer didn’t lie to PBAU when he was employed there, he definitely believes in the special creation of humans, and thus denies common ancestry at least in that regard. Or he did then.

But but but but… the Discovery Institute believes in freedom of though!! And uh… following the evidence wherever it leads! You know… like when William Dembski said there was no global flood… and his employer threatened to fire him for contradicting the Bible… so then Dembski followed the evidence… in the Bible!… which showed that there WAS a global flood after all!

Helluva catch there, Columbo.

As Braveheart would scream: “Freedom! FREEDOM!

diogeneslamp0 said:

But but but but… the Discovery Institute believes in freedom of though!! And uh… following the evidence wherever it leads! You know… like when William Dembski said there was no global flood… and his employer threatened to fire him for contradicting the Bible… so then Dembski followed the evidence… in the Bible!… which showed that there WAS a global flood after all!

Helluva catch there, Columbo.

As Braveheart would scream: “Freedom! FREEDOM!

Yes, the Discovery Institute believes in “Freedom of Thought,” on the sole condition that you think only what they permit you to think about, solely in a manner that pleases them.

*re: the shabby treatment they give commentors at Uncommon Descent who aren’t mindless groupies unquestioningly parroting the anti-science propaganda de jour or aren’t singing praises to the Discovery Institute on cue*

diogeneslamp0 said:

Earlier John Harshman and I were arguing about the definition of “special creation”, with John asking whether Stephen Meyer had ever explicitly embraced special creationism. Obviously, to answer that question, we have to know how creationists defined special creationism, and here it’s important to go back to texts prior to the 1998-2003 period when the DI “secularized” Intelligent Design by rewriting its history.

Here’s a definition of “special creation” from the important creationist and ID proponent Charles Thaxton. Below I’ll explain why Thaxton is important.

Special Creation… [holds] that the source which produced life was intelligent.

I don’t think that “definition” is at all clear. If the author was indeed a YEC, he probably meant something more by it than the ambiguous wording implies. Perhaps an examination of context would help. But can we agree that you have not produced the definition of special creation, but at most a definition? Nor does its attachment to Stephen Meyer seem at all secure. At any rate, it should now be clear at least what I meant by the term, and what I was asking for evidence of.

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