Christianity and Science, Current Events, Intelligent Design, Science, Theistic Evolutionism

“What’s Behind it All?” Debate Review: Lawrence Krauss vs. Stephen Meyer vs. Denis Lamoureux

The official image for the debate. I use it under fair use.

The official image for the debate. I use it under fair use.

A debate on the topic of God, science, and the universe; “What’s Behind it All?” was had at Wycliffe College in Toronto, Canada. The speakers were physicist Lawrence Krauss, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, and biologist and theologian Denis Lamoureux. Meyer and Lamoureux are Christians, but differ on evolution. Lamoureux holds to theistic evolution/evolutionary creation, while Meyer advocates Intelligent Design theory. Krauss is an atheist. Here, I will sum up different parts of the debate, then offer some analysis. I skip over the roundtable discussion. It should be noted Meyer was visibly suffering from a migraine and at points had great difficulty throughout the debate due to the impact of this migraine.

Lawrence Krauss Introduction

Krauss took a good amount of time at the beginning of his introduction to “disparage” (his word) Stephen Meyer. He took time to specifically insult Meyer and others who hold to Intelligent Design.

After these remarks, Krauss went over a number of slides showing the evidence for how the universe is laid out, finally asserting that “nothing” makes energy flat. By nothing, he meant dark matter and other forms of nothing (again, according to his ). “Empty space, with nothing in it, can start to produce particles.” According to a slide he showed right after saying this, “Gravity plus quantum mechanics allows space (and possibly time) to appear from nothing.” There were no causal relations before the Big Bang, and so there was nothing to cause anything. “Classical notions of cause and effect may go out the window,” Krauss claims, due to this.

“Life is fine-tuned for the universe” rather than the universe being fine-tuned for life. Life adapts to the universe, and it is natural selection that leads to life being what it is.

Ultimately, “us [sic] and ultimately everything in the universe” is irrelevant, according to Krauss.

Stephen Meyer Introduction

Meyer notes that Krauss didn’t even critique the theory of intelligent design, because he never even explained what it was. To engage with an idea, one has to at least explain what that idea is. Meyer notes that he is defending a theistic view of science rather than a materialistic view of science.

Meyer then presented an overview of the biological argument for intelligent design, noting that DNA is a kind of information conveyance mechanism. The origin of information, then, is the difficulty that materialists are faced with. DNA information provides functional information. From an evolutionary point of view, Meyer argues, this is difficult to explain, because the number of functional arrangements of this information is vastly outweighed by the number of non-functional arrangements.

After this lengthy presentation on ID theory from a biological perspective, presented further positive evidence for ID theory alongside a few papers he cited that critique the theory. He noted that the objections fail, and that the evidence is powerful enough to show that ID theory must be taken seriously as a theory. Information, that is, relies upon mind in order to be generated. Then he surveyed a number of origin of life scenarios and noted significant problems with each.

Denis Lamoureux Introduction

There is a false dichotomy in these discussions, argued Lamoureux. One side is presented as being science, evolution, and atheism; the other is presented as being God, miracles, and the Bible. Lamoureux noted that he walks the line between these, arguing that evidence for biological evolution is overwhelming and that there is no debate whatsoever on it while also believing in the inspiration of the Bible.

The problem of intermediary fossils is often plugged in with a “God of the gaps.” Lamoureux cites the difference between Sharks and boney fish as an area where the transitional fossil was thought to be missing, but then a fish without a jaw was found that would be an intermediary between the two (an earlier fossil that could lead to both). Thus, the gaps that we have, argued Lamoureux, are best explained for evolution as gaps in knowledge, not an area to import God or design. Missing fossils may require us to wait for hundreds of years to find anything, but we keep plugging the gaps.

Lamoureux appealed to the notion of teleology- purpose vs. the notion of dysteleology – that there is no purpose. Culturally, people tend to think of evolution as being dysteleological and creation as teleological, but these present yet another false dichotomy. Instead, teleology with evolution is possible. He argued that natural processes like embryology is still seen as teleology, despite the fact that we know how the development continues through the stages. That is, teleology is not thrown out by knowing how it all works. Therefore, Lamoureux argued that we can hold to evolution and teleology, a view he calls Evolutionary Creation (commonly called theistic evolution). Rather than appealing to specific examples of design, this view sees creation as artistry and all of creation pointing to the creator, despite our capacity to explain it. He continued to cite Charles Darwin quotations from late in life showing that he also agreed that theism is compatible with evolution.

Lamoureux argued that concordism- the notion that the Bible and science correspond specifically- is mistaken. The Bible, he said, reflects an ancient cosmology, and argued that we have to read ancient texts in the context in which they were written.

Meyer Response

ID is not a “god of the gaps” argument. Rather, the form of the argument presented is an inference to the best explanation. We make this kind of inference all the time. Meyer argued that the a priori ruling out of intelligence for certain kinds of causes and effects means that you will miss evidence. Rather than assume it impossible, we ought to follow the evidence where it leads.

Lamoureux Response

Meyer’s theory relies on things that we can ultimately disprove, and he noted one aspect of the Cambrian Explosion that Meyer tries to use, but has been shown to have an evolutionary path.

Krauss’s science is pretty good, but he delves into metaphysics frequently and does so poorly. Krauss’s notion of a universe out of nothing is not really out of nothing, and other physicists note that Krauss is mistaken regarding the definition of “nothing.”

Krauss Response

DNA is not the first form of life, and pointing to the most complex forms possible fails to take science seriously. An RNA world is the most likely origin of life scenario. RNA could be naturally formed, and although we don’t know the answer yet, we could find it.

Lamoureux’s position is untenable because he basically just says the Bible is scientifically garbage and then says we should follow it. The Bible, he argues, is the most immoral document he’s ever seen.

Analysis

First, the decision made by Krauss to start the debate with personal attacks on Meyer is inexcusable. Time and again, Krauss has proven himself incapable of mature conversation. To be fair to him, he did try to help Meyer with his difficulty getting his powerpoint set up later, and also at least acknowledged some of the difficulty Meyer was having with a migraine, but the fact he made the conscious decision to begin a debate with personal attacks shows his character.

Krauss continues to make up whatever definition of “nothing” suits him at the moment. If it is convenient for “nothing” to refer to dark matter, then nothing is dark matter. If “nothing” needs to be used as empty space, then nothing is empty space. He doesn’t just move goal posts, he simply carries them around, dropping them wherever he sees fit. To claim that gravity and quantum mechanics can make a universe come out of nothing is so nonsensical, it hardly warrants comment. After all, what are gravity and quantum mechanics? If Krauss is to be believed, they are nothing. But of course he isn’t using the term in any restrictive sense, because he is just using “nothing” to refer to anything whatever. For Krauss, “nothing” is something. Why? Because he says so.

It’s difficult to analyze the theory of ID in this format, because the debate is ongoing and the reasoning complex. Moreover, Meyer’s difficulty with his migraine at points meant he had to skip over explanations and examples. I believe that Lamoureux in particular offered some strong critique, particularly in his notation of the way that transitional forms continue to be found. Moreover, Lamoureux was able to show that at least one specific example used by Meyer has been shown to be mistaken. However, Meyer’s presentation does raise questions about the origin of information and its use. In the roundtable discussion, Krauss, Meyer, and Lamoureux all got into it regarding whether Meyer’s analysis presents an accurate view of evolution. Lamoureux argued it did not because Meyer approaches the question like an engineer, expecting specific mathematical permutations; but he said that evolution does not work that way. Krauss noted that natural selection removes much of the randomness of evolution, thus undercutting some of the math in Meyer’s view. Ultimately, the debate over ID will almost certainly continue, and I can’t help but feel that Meyer would have made a better showing without the migraine. He did a wonderful job despite it, and largely held his own.

Lamoureux’s position has much to commend it, particularly because he doesn’t demand a kind of reading of the Bible as a science text. However, I wonder whether Krauss’s critique is forceful: that Lamoureux effectively tosses the Bible and what it says about the natural world out, but then expects it to be believed on other aspects. Of course, Krauss quickly demonstrated a complete lack of nuance with reading of the Bible, but his point ought not be dismissed too swiftly. Can Lamoureux offer a way of reading the Bible that reconciles this seeming incongruity? Meyer’s position allows for God to be active in the world, without appealing to the notion of artistry as a way to show God’s activity. Does this show Meyer’s position is superior?

As an aside, I’d like to commend Lamoureux for using gender neutral language repeatedly in his presentation. Even when quoting Darwin at points, where Darwin used the archaic “man” to refer to humans, Lamoureux read the quotes as “men and women.” I believe he did the same in a Billy Graham quote, though I didn’t catch if the original also said “men.”

“The universe doesn’t care about us.” Quoted from Krauss in this debate, this is the summary of his worldview. Of course, his worldview does not matter, if he’s right. If he’s right, then there is no purpose for even having this debate. And that, perhaps, is what we should take away from this debate. On a worldview level, Krauss offers nothing (har har) to go on. The interesting debate, then, is whether Meyer or Lamoureux are correct.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Gregg Davidson vs. Andrew Snelling on the Age of the Earth– I attended a debate between an old earth and young earth creationist (the latter from Answers in Genesis like Ken Ham). Check out my overview of the debate as well as my analysis.

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye- An analysis of a lose-lose debate– In-depth coverage and analysis of the famous debate between young earth creationist Ken Ham and Bill Nye the science guy.

SDG.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

6 thoughts on ““What’s Behind it All?” Debate Review: Lawrence Krauss vs. Stephen Meyer vs. Denis Lamoureux

  1. Thanks for the interesting analysis!

    “I believe that Lamoureux in particular offered some strong critique, particularly in his notation of the way that transitional forms continue to be found. ”

    I’m not sure I’d put much stock into Lamoureux’s points:

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2016/03/character_and_t102708.html

    Posted by Joshua Gidney | March 21, 2016, 7:47 PM
  2. Thank you for your summary and analysis of the debate. I don’t put much stock in Krauss’s critique that Lamoureux “tosses the Bible and what it says about the natural world out, but then expects it to be believed on other aspects.” It’s difficult to adequately describe one’s position in a short debate format, but in his books “Evolutionary Creation” and the Reader’s Digest version, “I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution,” Lamoureux makes it quite clear that he believes that the Bible is not teaching science and not always teaching history, especially in Genesis 1-11, but that he clearly accepts the theology that the Bible is teaching. Note that he was the only one of the two Christians up there who gave a personal testimony of his faith in Jesus Christ.

    p.s. You might want to correct the spelling of Lamoureux in the title of this blog entry.

    Posted by Paul Bruggink | March 22, 2016, 8:36 AM
    • I’ve read “Evolutionary Creation” though it has been a while now. I think that your response is almost certainly what Lamoureux would say: that the Bible isn’t teaching science and so Krauss’s portrayal of his position is inaccurate. In effect, then, he’s not so much “tossing it out” as he is acknowledging what its purpose is. I think that response is a strong one, though at points, as I remember, Lamoureux went farther than I’d be comfortable with. That doesn’t mean he’s wrong, of course, just that I wonder if he can’t preserve at least some historical aspects of the accounts. I think John Walton, also a partner of Biologos, does a great job in that regard.

      Also, thanks for pointing out the title. I don’t understand how that happened, though I did type the title on my phone. I don’t know how it could have auto-corrected to that misspelling, but I didn’t catch it. Thanks!

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 22, 2016, 8:58 AM

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