According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Differences Between "Intelligent Design" and "Evolutionary Creationism" - Part 7



Further Thoughts on “Darwin’s Doubt” after Reading Bishop’s Review (Reviewing “Darwin’s Doubt”: Darrel Falk, Part 2)
http://biologos.org/blog/meyers-inference-to-intelligent-design-as-the-best-explanation-reviewing-da

by Darrel Falk
September 11, 2014

Darrel Falk is a geneticist and past president of BioLogos. Currently he serves as our Senior Advisor for Dialog. Because we value gracious dialog with organizations who do not agree with our perspective, we asked Darrel to participate in the reviews we are running of Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt. Originally his comments were informal, but we thought they were important enough to develop into a blog post. Later, he read an early draft of Robert Bishop’s review, and passed along some thoughts on it as well. We also encouraged him to develop these into a blog post for our series. These two posts will run on our blog today and tomorrow.

Bishop, Falk, and Stearley respond to Darwin’s Doubt from their disciplinary perspectives, and it is important to note that none of them represents some kind of official BioLogos response to the book. We’re interested in presenting a range of responses that scholars from our perspective have made to the book (and Meyer has agreed to respond to them on our blog). As will become apparent, Falk is more sympathetic than Bishop to Meyer’s claim that there is significant revision ahead for evolutionary developmental biology. But like Bishop, Falk doesn’t think the prospects are good for Meyer’s alternative scientific proposal. Today’s post is Falk’s overall impression of the book prior to reading Bishop’s review; tomorrow’s post is his reflection afterwards.

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Part II – Further Thoughts on Darwin’s Doubt after Reading Bishop’s Review

In Part I of this series, I introduced some of my own personal reflections upon reading Darwin’s Doubt. Soon after sending along my reflections of the book to BioLogos president Deborah Haarsma, I had the privilege of readingRobert Bishop’s essay and passed along my comments to Robert and her. Since, as a biologist, I didn’t see the book through the same lens as Robert (an expert in the history and philosophy of science) I’ve been asked to post those thoughts to accompany his. So herewith is a summary of four places where Robert and I may see things through somewhat different lenses.

1. Does Stephen Meyer exaggerate the nature of the rethinking going on in mainstream evolutionary developmental biology?

I don’t think so. Many evolutionary developmental biologists think that we are on the verge of a significant re-organization in our thinking about the mechanics of macro-evolution. The much respected developmental biologistScott Gilbert states: “If the population genetics model of evolutionary biology isn’t revised by developmental genetics, it will be as relevant to biology as Newtonian physics is to current physics.”

That and many other similar statements that I’ve seen in the literature[1] really do suggest that we are on the cusp of some major rethinking about the forces at work in macro-evolution. Those studies will focus more on how biological information is generated, changed, and used, and less on the natural selection filter. Clearly, the evolutionary process itself has been evolving through time and we are seeing that more poignantly than ever before. Although Stephen himself thinks that the tenets of evolutionary biology are essentially bankrupt, I do not think he misrepresents what others think about it. For example he states: “Biologists, Scott Gilbert, John Opitz, and Rudolf Raff have attempted to supplement classical Neo-Darwinism, which they argue, cannot adequately explain large-scale macro-evolutionary change” (emphasis, added). Biologists, he says, are seeking a supplement. Stephen himself thinks they need to start over, but he acknowledges that they do not see it as desperately as he does.

2. The timing of the perceived information problem

Stephen puts considerable effort into showing why he thinks that the well-accepted methods of generating new genes and proteins are ill-conceived. I agree with Robert Bishop that this matter is somewhat beside the point for this particular book. The book, after all, is focused on the Cambrian explosion, which occurred after much of the gene/ protein “tool box” had already been put together through a process spanning 2 billion years or so. However, I do think most of us understand why Stephen did this. He is building a story and he wants the reader to see why he and other leaders of the ID movement think the very core of evolutionary thinking (the method of generating new information) has failed. If, as he sees it, biology can’t explain how new genes were generated in the preceding two billion years, it certainly can’t explain that which results in the generation of a plethora of new body plans in a time interval that is only one to two percent of the time utilized to put the entire cellular tool box together. He has chosen to highlight the effort of Michael Behe in Edge of Evolution and Doug Axe on protein folding. This work has not drawn the applause of mainstream scientists (and for good reason), but that’s not the point. Meyer is trying to build a case for his view that the derivation of information needed to build bodies in any way other than external intelligence is seriously flawed. He’s making his case as strongly as he can and working hard on communicating that clearly to a general audience. I remain amazed at the breadth of his knowledge and communicative skill, even though as I dig into the depths of the scientific papers, I see matters much differently than he does.

3. Generation of new body plans de novo

The big mystery associated with the Cambrian explosion is the rapid generation of body plans de novo. There was never a time like it before, nor has there ever been a time like it again since. Stephen is right about that. Also, as he points out, the big question in exploring the generation of new body plans in that era is how this squares with the resistance of today’s gene regulatory networks to mutational perturbation (i.e. they seem to be almost impossible to change through genetic mutation because virtually all such alterations are lethal). We really have little idea at this point how things would have worked to generate body plans de novo back then given the sensitivity of the networks to perturbation today. As Douglas Erwin elegantly argues in his 2011 paper, there must have been something different taking place as the system was being put in place 550 million or so years ago. I think figuring that out will turn out to be one of the most fascinating pieces of puzzle-solving that molecular biology has ever done. However, unlike Stephen, not only do I think this research is not at a dead-end, I think it will turn out to be among the most exciting frontiers in biological research over the next couple of decades. The work, as most developmental biologists see it, has only just begun, and it is the kind of thing that happens at this cutting edge stage, which makes science so much fun. I’m with Ralph Stearley [pdf] on this: to study the diversity of life and the mechanisms which characterize it is to be enraptured in joy.

4. Living cells as information systems

I agree with Robert that it is quite a stretch to jump from the “failure” of materialistic explanations of the Cambrian explosion (so far) to a scientifically based conclusion that life is intelligently designed. The only case that Stephen makes—so far as I can see—is given that the cell can be considered an information system (and I agree with Stephen that it can), and given that all other known information systems require an intelligence to design them, so the cellular systems that constitute life must be intelligently designed. In building his scientific case, he examines each of the other possibilities that have emerged from biological research and declares, one-by-one, that each has failed. With that only one is left that doesn’t fail his examination—intelligent design. I hope I’m not being facetious, but the main reason that it can pass his test as I see it, is that with one exception it makes essentially no predictions. The one exception of course is that all other information systems will turn out to be designed by outside intelligence. So far that has indeed turned out to be the case; we humans have used our intelligence to design them all.

Concluding Comments

Stephen is right, that none of the other models fit the bill in a fully satisfactory manner yet, but it’s pretty early to declare one to be the winner on the basis of an analogy to human-designed information systems. But more perplexing to me is trying to fathom how this investigation can continue as a scientific project. How will proponents of Intelligent Design take their biological studies from the level of the “best explanation on the basis of analogy” to a project which makes a set of positive predictions? How will they move forward by building a positive research program rather than a negative one based upon the critique of mainstream ideas? What are the biological predictions that will emerge from within their paradigm and how will they test them? I sense the topic for another biology book coming on. If so, and as they proceed, I wish them…joy!

  1. See for example these books or articles by: Gunter Wagner of Yale, Douglas Erwin of the American Museum of Natural History, and Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart of Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley.
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Darrel Falk is former president of BioLogos and currently serves as BioLogos' Senior Advisor for Dialog. He is Professor of Biology, Emeritus at Point Loma Nazarene University and serves as Senior Fellow at The Colossian Forum. Falk is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.

The Differences Between "Intelligent Design" and "Evolutionary Creationism" - Part 6




Thoughts on ”Darwin’s Doubt” (Reviewing “Darwin’s Doubt”: Darrel Falk, Part 1)
http://biologos.org/blog/thoughts-on-darwins-doubt-reviewing-darwins-doubt-darrel-falk-part-1

by Darrel Falk
September 9, 2014

Darrel Falk is a geneticist and past president of BioLogos. Currently he serves as our Senior Advisor for Dialog. Because we value gracious dialog with organizations who do not agree with our perspective, we asked Darrel to participate in the reviews we are running of Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt. Originally his comments were informal, but we thought they were important enough to develop into a blog post. Later, he read an early draft of Robert Bishop’s review, and passed along some thoughts on it as well. We also encouraged him to develop these into a blog post for our series. These two posts will run on our blog today and tomorrow.

Bishop, Falk, and Stearley respond to Darwin’s Doubt from their disciplinary perspectives, and it is important to note that none of them represents some kind of official BioLogos response to the book. We’re interested in presenting a range of responses that scholars from our perspective have made to the book (and Meyer has agreed to respond to them on our blog). As will become apparent, Falk is more sympathetic than Bishop to Meyer’s claim that there is significant revision ahead for evolutionary developmental biology. But like Bishop, Falk doesn’t think the prospects are good for Meyer’s alternative scientific proposal. Today’s post is Falk’s overall impression of the book prior to reading Bishop’s review; tomorrow’s post is his reflection afterwards.

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Part I – Thoughts on Darwin’s Doubt

I was trained as a developmental geneticist, a person who explores the role of genes in the process of development from an embryo to an adult organism. My graduate student and post-doctorate days date back into the “dark ages” of this field—the late 1960’s through the mid-1970’s. At that point all we had were glimpses of how genes influenced the process of development. Those all-too-fuzzy peeps were tantalizing to young impressionable minds, but that’s all they were—just little hints—and they were deeply enshrouded in mystery. Everything changed beginning in the late 70’s as a result of two wonderful technical revolutions which started to provide elegant answers to simple questions about genes and proteins and what actually takes place following the momentous arrival of a sperm cell at the egg’s threshold.

The first revolution was created by the advent of recombinant DNA: Amazingly genes could be manipulated in test tubes using techniques not unlike the sorts of things that we all did in high school chemistry. The second involved a technique for identifying almost all of the genes which control the early stages of the developing embryo in the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Eric Weischaus and Christiane Nusslein Volhard exposed flies to DNA-damaging chemicals and identified a slew of mutant strains that stopped embryonic development at highly specific stages. Using these mutant strains and the elegant techniques of manipulating DNA that had just become available, various investigators were able to characterize in fairly specific details the molecular processes at work in generating a fly. Not only that but the scientists quickly began to show that the rules that governed the development of a little fruit fly were similar to those which applied to vertebrates—even humans. Indeed, the “molecular toolkits” (the genes and their products) which are used to build a body were found to be remarkably similar in a wide spectrum of animals.

Stephen Meyer summarizes this quite nicely in his book. He also provides, I think, an accurate state of the impact these developments have had on biology, especially evolutionary biology. Here is what I wrote to Deborah Haarsma as I reflected on the book.

I expected the book would be largely about paleontology, but as you know that represents only the first four chapters of a twenty chapter book. What the book really is, is a continuation of Signature in the Cell. In essence, it is about the generation of the information needed for animal development. To be frank, I think it's an amazingly effective book. I think he's wrong, of course, and there are certain things that I think he does which are misleading... But as a whole, it is, in my opinion, somewhat of a masterpiece for accomplishing their agenda. Part of its success is that it really is a fairly accurate summary of the state of the biology. The depth of knowledge he displays in molecular genetics, developmental biology, and population genetics in addition to paleontology, animal diversity, biochemistry, and even some cell biology is very impressive.

I went on from there to summarize my reaction to Stephen’s statements about a revolution taking place in mainstream biologists’ thinking about macro-evolution:

Meyer has successfully put his finger on one of the great mysteries in evolutionary biology today. He documents the mystery well—Eric Davidson is the single most important person in the field of the molecular genetics of development dating back almost 50 years and he [Meyer] refers knowledgeably, I think, to his work.

I taught a course in General Genetics each year beginning in 1977 and extending throughout most of my career as a professor. Near the end of every year’s class, I would come to the population genetics section. It was just assumed that what we taught about microevolution—the chief focus of population genetics—held for macro-evolution[1] as well. Indeed once I moved into a Christian college setting in the mid-80’s, I would sometimes tell my students that we had come to a very critical part of the course—the genetics behind the process of creation of all life forms—understanding God’s tools for carrying out God’s handiwork. They were always a little disappointed in this section, partly because the mathematics made it seem somewhat abstruse and partly because the concepts seemed so far removed from the real point of it all—the generation of new body plans and structures. So it was with no little frustration on both of our parts that this section of the course came to a close. Indeed, so anti-climactic was it that I eventually tried to find ways of rearranging the course—moving the population genetics topic to an earlier part of the course—so that we could end our semester together on a more exciting note.

I now understand that what I as a geneticist was trying to do at that time was wrong. The heart of explaining the process of macro-evolution is not a description of the quantitative details of changes in the frequency of genetic variants in response to migration, or natural and sexual selection. As important as all of that is at the species level and genus level, the really interesting questions relate to how mutational changes resulted in altered developmental processes that generated whole new body plans. How have novel structures been generated through evolutionary time? Is the evolutionary process itself evolving such that what we observe today is fundamentally different not only because the environment is different but because the cellular machinery itself has stabilized? Natural selection is a real phenomenon and an important filter, but it’s not the driving mechanism, and we are at a fascinating time as biologists from an array of sub-disciplines explore this matter using the new and powerful techniques at hand.

In the final chapters of the book, Stephen goes on to explore the best explanation of the current conundrum. Here is my reaction to that section.

I know that others know much more about his philosophy of science section, but I will say that I was very impressed with the case he made. He was careful to emphasize that science simply seeks the best explanation and doesn't seek to prove. He has laid out each of the alternatives and has dismissed them as unlikely in a manner not unlike how it is really done in science. (True he dismisses some too quickly, but still he is very effective—given that this book is for a general audience.)

So have I softened on Intelligent Design as a scientific endeavor? I don’t think so, but I have grown to appreciate the skill and the sincerity of various individuals I have met in the ID movement over the last five years. Many of them share my faith, a faith firmly grounded not just in polite interchange, but outright love. I don’t take back my opinion on the other ID biology books that have come out over the past quarter century or so. I have long thought that Darwin on Trial, Darwin’s Black Box, Icons of Evolution, The Edge of Evolution, and Signature in the Cell were not scientifically strong and still do. And I don’t think Darwin’s Doubt makes scientifically warranted conclusions either (see part II tomorrow). Still, Stephen has identified one of the most exciting questions in all of biology. I respect his skill in becoming well-informed about a vast swath of biological material and to communicate it in such an engaging fashion. I do not think he’s right, but I do appreciate the sincerity of his lifelong perseverance in laying out the case for something to which he and others have given their careers and a large part of their lives. They think the philosophical naturalism of many leading scientists has significantly influenced their conclusions, and I certainly agree that there have been times when that is the case. However, where we don’t agree is that the whole applecart of evolutionary biology needs to be turned upside down and replaced with a new science—one grounded in the scientific demonstration of Intelligence. I see no scientific, biblical, or theological reason to expect that. Natural processes are a manifestation of God’s ongoing presence in the universe. The Intelligence in which I as a Christian believe, has been built into the system from the beginning, and it is realized through God’s ongoing activity which is manifest through the natural laws.[2] Those laws are a description of that which emerges, that which is a result of, God’s ongoing presence and activity in the universe. I see no biblical, theological, or scientific reason to extend that to extra supernatural “boosts” along the way, although I also perceive no good reason to close the door on that possibility.

So there is value in questioning and there is value in pushing the envelope as long as it is done in a manner that fairly and accurately represents the state of affairs. In the next post, I will reflect on Robert Bishop’s critique of Darwin’s Doubt.

  1. Evolutionary novelty in structures, processes and body plans.
  2. For more on this topic, see my upcoming BioLogos blog series entitled, “On Beginning to Understand the Intelligence of Design: Reflections on Darwinism and the Divine by Alister McGrath.”
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Darrel Falk is former president of BioLogos and currently serves as BioLogos' Senior Advisor for Dialog. He is Professor of Biology, Emeritus at Point Loma Nazarene University and serves as Senior Fellow at The Colossian Forum. Falk is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.



The Differences Between "Intelligent Design" and "Evolutionary Creationism" - Part 5




Final Assessments (Reviewing “Darwin’s Doubt": Robert Bishop, Part 4)
http://biologos.org/blog/final-assessments-reviewing-darwins-doubt-robert-bishop-part-4

by Robert C. Bishop
September 9, 2014

Today's entry was written by Robert C. Bishop. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: As the next installment of our Reviewing Darwin’s Doubt series,
we present the last post of Robert Bishop’s four-part review of the book.
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Over the course of this series of posts, we’ve seen how Meyer uses the biology literature to build his case that Intelligent Design (ID) is currently the best explanation for the origin of life. In this final post, I want to step back and consider this case as well as the place for God as Creator in the midst of the developing evolutionary synthesisthat’s been taking place.

If we set aside the divide-and-conquer and question-shift strategies and take the biology literature that Meyer surveys on its own terms, then the argument for ID looks much weaker. The reader may perceive that there has been a bait and switch in Darwin’s Doubt. Charles Marshall’s review of Darwin’s Doubt in Science last year suggests that the problems in Meyer’s book are due to his “true belief” in an Intelligent Designer.[1] And Meyer provides plenty of evidence for this conclusion.

He systematically paints the evolutionary biology literature as challenging neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory, mistaking the normal process of theory development and modification for admissions of “weaknesses” in or “criticisms” of evolutionary theory. His case for “weaknesses” and “scientific criticism” is bolstered by selective quotations from the literature under the divide-and-conquer and question-shift strategies. An informed reader gets the impression that Meyer reads the literature hunting for support for his pre-conceived view rather than in search of insight into what evolutionary and developmental biologists are actually saying.

This hunting for ammunition can lead to claims such as “The technical literature in biology is now replete with world-class biologists routinely expressing doubts about various aspects of neo-Darwinian theory, and especially about its central tenant, namely, the alleged creative power of the natural selection and mutational mechanisms,” and that there is a “growing body of critical scientific opinion about the standing of the theory” (p. x). Three remarks are in order regarding Meyer’s claim. First, as Gilbert et al. (1996) make clear[2], they are focusing on an extended synthesis with natural selection and mutations. Second, the world-class biologists Meyer references (e.g., Simon Conway Morris) roundly reject Meyer’s assessment of what they themselves are saying. For instance, Meyer has cited Gilbert and others to the effect that current evolutionary theory is inadequate to explain macroevolution before, but as they have pointed out, they make no such claims.

Third, to say that there is a “growing body of critical scientific opinion about the standing of the theory” is misleading. A fundamental problem is that Meyer mistakes the normal scientific processes of investigating, revising, and extending a theory for “raising doubts” about the theory. The work of historians and philosophers of science as diverse as Thomas Kuhn and Phillip Kitcher have helped us recognize the normal business of scientific theory development is complex and rather messy. However, it’s possible that when hunting for support for a pre-conceived view one might mistake this messy process for “raising doubts” about a theory.

Clearly the kind of mischaracterization in Darwin’s Doubt is rhetorically important: It makes mainstream evolutionary biology look much weaker and more confused than it actually is. So, when Cornelia Dean writes that “There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth” (quoted by Meyer, p. xi), she exhibits a much better grasp of the practices of biologists and the biology literature than Meyer does.

From a history and philosophy of science standpoint, Meyer’s way of framing things is disturbing. Every scientific paradigm is incomplete and always under development. Evolution is no different. It’s been well-known for decades among evolutionary biologists that macroevolution was a promissory note that was expected to be fulfilled as they continued to develop and extend the neo-Darwinian paradigm. More questions than solutions have been generated about the connections among genetic variations, natural selection, and the origin of higher taxa; but this is standard fare for any scientific theory (e.g., we have more questions about Einstein’s theory of general relativity than we did in previous decades as physicists continue to develop and extend the theory). The picture of evolutionary theory and developmental biology presented by Meyer doesn’t help us understand what scientists working in those areas actually do and what their debates actually are about. Nor does his framing help us understand whether evolutionary and developmental biology needs explicit reference to an observable intelligent cause.

The biology literature that Meyer surveys actually exhibits a remarkable self-critical sifting that makes theory development possible. Scientists test and correct one another’s ideas and continue to develop their theoretical frameworks. Gilbert et al. (1996) illustrates this beautifully, laying out a narrative of self-reflection, testing, and theory development in action as the story of the return of embryology and homology to evolutionary biology. This story is particularly relevant, because the discoveries we’ve made in evolutionary development the last thirty years provide eye-popping examples of why it’s important to recognize how even the most well supported theories in science can change and become stronger when evidence from seemingly unrelated fields provide unlooked-for contributions. (For instance, the discovery that deleting specific regulatory gene sequences leads to the production of a reptilian jaw in mice (Gilbert et al. 1996, p. 364)—exactly the sort of thing one would expect if regulatory networks played crucial roles in channeling embryological development.)

Where Is God in All This?

Finally, there is a theological issue to all of this. Many Christians are strongly supportive of ID, but should they be? ID eschews the Bible and theology, taking a thoroughgoing secularist approach to the quest for evidence for intelligent causes in nature. Such a secularist view obscures the status of nature as creation, an arena of Triune care and action (see my white paper). Moreover, ID focuses solely on scientific methods as the only viable means for detecting intelligent causes in nature. This cedes far too much to scientism[3], reflecting the dominant technocratic ethos of the times rather than a reflective Christian approach to understanding the Triune God’s relationship to creation.

Recall Meyer’s dichotomy highlighted in the third post of this series: “Either life arose as the result of purely undirected material processes or a guiding or designing intelligence played a role. Advocates of Intelligent Design favor the latter option and argue that living organisms look designed because they really were designed” (p. 340). Our choice appears to be either intervention from outside, beyond natural processes, or natural processes with no intelligent influence whatsoever. Yet, this is a false choice. Those pursuing evolutionary creation approaches (e.g.,B. B. Warfield) have been exploring theologically robust alternatives where God is active in creation through the very processes of evolution. Passages such as Genesis 1:24-25, Psalm 104, Job 38-42, among others, picture God and creation both at work. Indeed, Genesis 1 affirms that the Earth functions to originate life, not just reproduce it. All of this takes place under the superintendence of the Son and enablement of the Spirit.

Therefore, when biologists investigate evolution, development, and other biological processes, they are exploring the functionality of God’s creation and theorizing about God’s normal ways of working in the world (see my white paper). Many scientists don’t understand that this is what they’re doing, but there is no way to avoid it becausethey are studying a creation designed by our Triune Creator. This doesn’t mean that scientists always get things right; all scientific knowledge is provisional. But it does mean that Christians don’t face the false choice presented in Darwin’s Doubt between evolutionary science and God.

  1. Charles R. Marshall, “When Prior Belief Trumps Scholarship,” Science 341:1344.
  2. Scott F. Gilbert, John M. Opitz, and Rudolf A. Raff, “Resynthesizing Evolutionary and Developmental Biology,” Developmental Biology 173 (1996): 357-372.
  3. Ian Hutchinson, Monopolizing Knowledge: A Scientist Refutes Religion-Denying, Reason-Destroying Scientism. Belmont, MA: Fias Publishing, 2011.
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Robert C. Bishop is the John and Madeline McIntyre Endowed Professor of Philosophy and History of Science and an associate professor of physics and philosophy at Wheaton College in Illinois. He received his master’s degree in physics and doctorate in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin. Bishop's research involves history and philosophy of science, philosophy of physics, philosophy of mind, and metaphysics. Bishop is the author of The Philosophy of the Social Science and co-editor of Between Chance and Choice: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Determinism.



The Differences Between "Intelligent Design" and "Evolutionary Creationism" - Part 4




Meyer’s Inference to Intelligent Design as the Best Explanation (Reviewing “Darwin’s Doubt”: Robert Bishop, Part 3)
http://biologos.org/blog/meyers-inference-to-intelligent-design-as-the-best-explanation-reviewing-da

by Robert C. Bishop
September 8, 2014

Today's entry was written by Robert C. Bishop. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: As the next installment of our Reviewing Darwin’s Doubt series,
we present part three of Robert Bishop’s four-part review of the book.
---

All Christians agree that the universe is designed; otherwise, we would not be able to say that this is God’s creation. Where we may differ is on the nature of that design and the how as well as on expectations for detectability of design. As we’ve seen in the earlier posts, Meyer positions the evolution literature as inadequate to explain the origin of life so that Intelligent Design (ID) appears to be the best explanation for life on Earth. In the final two posts, I’ll examine this inference.

Meyer’s rhetorical strategies, discussed in the previous post, lead up to his punch line in chapter 18:

As I have described the many attempts to explain the scientific enigma motivating this book, the mystery has, in one sense, progressively deepened. As more and more attempts to explain the Cambrian explosion of animal life have failed, the evidence that these various competing theories fail to explain may be considered a set of negative clues–evidence that effectively precludes certain possible causes or explanations [note the divide-and-conquer strategy]. I’ve already explained why the received version of evolutionary theory, neo-Darwinism, fails to account for the explosion of information and form in the Cambrian period. I’ve also examined more recent evolutionary theories and shown why they too fail to explain key aspects of the evidence [the question-shift strategy]. To this point, then, much of the evidence has returned a negative verdict. It has told us a lot about what, in all probability, did not cause the Cambrian explosion. But...an accumulating body of evidence that makes one set of explanations less and less plausible may also begin to paint a picture of an alternative cause and the true explanation. (p. 354, comments in square brackets added)

The divide-and-conquer strategy Meyer pursues does significant work in his case for ID as the best explanation of the proliferation of body plans in the Cambrian period. First, this strategy masks the extended synthesis that has been taking place in the last three decades between population genetics, developmental biology, and epigenetics. Second, as a consequence, this strategy makes it significantly easier to argue that an intelligent cause is the best explanation relative to population genetics, developmental biology, or epigenetics as independent, rival explanations for the diversification of body plans in the Cambrian. Meanwhile, the extended synthesis, which has vastly more explanatory power and supporting evidence than the imagined separation and competition among its components, is left out of the argument. What looks like a compelling case for ID turns out to be mere appearance.

Meyer’s question-shift strategy is similarly significant for his inference that ID is the best explanation for the “Cambrian explosion.” He repeatedly redirects the reader away from the spectacular work on how variations in pre-existing genes lead to new genes within the forming extended synthesis towards the open questions in origin of life research (e.g., how did DNA or the first gene arise?). Meyer then concludes that “attempts to explain the Cambrian explosion of animal life have failed” because these attempts fail to answer origin of life questions.

Since none of the evolutionary mechanisms Meyer surveys supposedly can answer the latter origin question, the divide-and-conquer and question-shift strategies lead to Meyer’s conclusion: “Either life arose as the result of purely undirected material processes or a guiding or designing intelligence played a role. Advocates of Intelligent Design favor the latter option and argue that living organisms look designed because they really were designed” (p. 340). By this point it’s clear to the reader that the diversification of body plans in the Cambrian never was Meyer’s target; the real target is the most challenging problem scientists face, the origin of life.

The door, then, appears to be open for the work of an intelligent agent as a more compelling explanation for the intricacies of living organisms. Here is a representative example:

Nevertheless, neither proponents of “evo-devo,” nor proponents of other recently proposed materialistic theories of evolution, have identified a mutational mechanism capable of generating a [developmental gene regulatory network] or anything even remotely resembling a complex integrated circuit. Yet, in our experience, complex integrated circuits–and the functional integration of parts in complex systems generally–are known to be produced by intelligent agents–specifically by engineers. Moreover, intelligence is the only known cause of such effects. Since developing animals employ a form of integrated circuitry, and certainly one manifesting a tightly and functionally integrated system of parts and subsystems, the necessary presence of these features in developing Cambrian animals would seem to indicate that intelligent agency played a role in their origin. (p. 364, square brackets added)

We can note several things about this comparison with engineering. First, the contrast is between materialist theories and intelligent agents. Here, we face an interpretive issue. On the one hand, Meyer might be using “materialist” to draw a contrast with an immaterial agency. But nowhere in Darwin’s Doubt (nor in Signature in the Cell) does he offer any defense for why the relevant intelligent agents must be immaterial. An inference to the best explanation that starts with everyday scientific activities and ends with an immaterial intelligence as the best explanation is a very large and startling inference indeed! On the other hand, by “materialist” Meyer might mean theories that draw only on unguided or naturalistic causes. If so, then there is a further issue as to whether such theories are metaphysically naturalistic (meaning they already presuppose that there are no spiritual beings or spiritual realm), or are only methodologically naturalistic (meaning they take the biological phenomena on their own terms to understand them as they actually are). Metaphysical naturalism goes far beyond any claims that could be licensed by scientific methods and should be opposed by all believers; methodological naturalism is the way scientific investigation has been done since before the time of the Scientific Revolution and is well-grounded theologically.[1] Meyer certainly would be right to complain about metaphysical naturalism sneaking into scientific conclusions.

Second, the structure of the inference being suggested for the reader is that of a crime scene investigation (indeed, this is how chapter 18 is framed), or an anthropological or archeological investigation (Signature in the Cell draws explicitly on these, too). At first glance, these analogies with forms of human inquiry seem quite compelling given how Meyer has laid out his case. He argues that the complex integrated functionality of gene regulatory networks and other cellular machinery has a reasonable cause in an intelligent agent because such agents are known to be the causes of complex integrated functional systems in our experience (e.g., computers and cell phones).

Yet one problem with this line of inference is that it requires DNA, the genome, and so forth to literally be information-processing / integrated circuit systems operating based on programmed instructions; otherwise, the analogy with the complex integrated functional systems of our experience doesn’t hold. Certainly, it is true that such complex information-processing systems as computers have intelligent agents as their causes. However, language such as “information processing” and “integrated circuits” applied in the biology literature is ambiguous: Is it metaphorical or ontological? Biologists use such information-processing language in a variety of ways and often they use such language without specifying what they mean by it. What Meyer needs is an argument demonstrating that DNA, the genome, and so on ontologically are information processes systems. As metaphors, there is nothing about DNA implying that the context of the genome and the context of the complex integrated functional systems humans design and use are relevantly similar contexts. I see this as an area where there is further work to be done in making a compelling case for ID.

In the absence of that argument, what we have, here, is the fallacy of false analogy. The issue isn’t the level of complexity, though the genome is dazzlingly complex. Complex structures can develop over time through natural processes (e.g., a forested ecosystem developing on burned land over several decades). Rather, the issue is how strongly one can lean on terms that scientists use somewhat ambiguously to make ontological claims about the nature of DNA, the genome, and the like. Without a substantial argument for taking “information processing” and “integrated circuit” talk as ontological truths about the genome, there is no relevant similarity between the context of the genome and that of human-designed information processors.

Third, there are two basic problems with how Meyer compares crime scene investigation, anthropological, and archeological investigations with biological investigation. While it is the case that crime scene investigation offers some wonderful examples of scientific methods, it’s important to note that crime scene investigators already presuppose that a person is the cause of the crime. Similarly, anthropologists and archeologists already assume that human activity is involved. Human intelligence is a presupposition that is internal to such of forms of inquiry.[2]In contrast, an intelligent agent is a presupposition external to cellular and evolutionary biology; intelligence has to be brought in from the outside. This means that when Meyer frames the inference for intelligent agency as a crime scene investigation (or as archeological investigation), the activity of an intelligent agent is now a presupposition for biological inquiry. This is a presupposition biologists rightly object to.

Moreover, Meyer ignores the differences in context between natural science inquiry in biology and chemistry, on the one hand, and human inquiry, on the other. Meyer’s inference that intelligent agency is the best explanation for the Cambrian explosion depends crucially on taking natural science and human inquiry to be the same. But this is to ignore important differences between these two forms of inquiry and their subjects of study.[3] The most important distinction is that natural science inquiry objectifies its subjects of inquiry (e.g., electrons) deploying methods that treat every object of inquiry as related only via forces or other processes, where values and ideals are absent from those forces and processes. That is to say, natural science inquiry treats its objects of study as bundles of properties in a manner abstracted away from the richer contexts of human concerns.[4] However, applying this form of objectification to agents is anything but value-free when applied to inquiry about persons. For instance, astronomers can study the physics of star formation without any judgments about whether it would have been morally better for the star to have formed in a different location. And molecular biologists can study a molecular pathway without any judgments about whether it would have been morally better for the pathway’s reaction to be faster than it is. Whenever we turn to the study of persons, however, we can never avoid some form of moral judgment. Even the act of objectifying persons doesn’t avoid moral judgments: To study persons the same way we study stars and molecular pathways is a whopper of a moral judgment! The objectification that Meyer assumes is particularly problematic when God is the object of inquiry, being treated as no different in kind from chemical molecules as an object of study (as I described in a 2011 post). Meyer’s appeal to crime scene and other forms of human inquiry is neither as innocent nor straightforward as it appears.

Come back tomorrow for the conclusion to this series.

  1. Robert C. Bishop, “God and Methodological Naturalism in the Scientific Revolution and Beyond,”Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 65, no. 1 (2013): 10-23.
  2. One might object that an important task for crime scene investigators is to determine whether a death, say, happened by accident. Yet, human intelligence is an internal presupposition even in this form of investigation. Investigators depend on human intelligence to provide the appropriate contrast class for determining accidental death.
  3. Robert. C. Bishop, The Philosophy of the Social Sciences. London: Continuum Publishers (2007).
  4. This doesn’t mean, however, that natural science inquiry doesn’t serve the purposes of human concerns such as bettering human welfare through medical research, for instance. Rather, the natural scientist engages in abstraction and objectification for the purpose of understanding the properties and processes in question to produce effective medicines, say.
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Robert C. Bishop is the John and Madeline McIntyre Endowed Professor of Philosophy and History of Science and an associate professor of physics and philosophy at Wheaton College in Illinois. He received his master’s degree in physics and doctorate in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin. Bishop's research involves history and philosophy of science, philosophy of physics, philosophy of mind, and metaphysics. Bishop is the author of The Philosophy of the Social Science and co-editor of Between Chance and Choice: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Determinism.