stephen meyer

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“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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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Debating Darwin’s Doubt” – A Response to the Doubters?

ddd-klinghofferA new book is coming out from the Discovery Institute, a think-tank that explores issues of Intelligent Design. It is entitled Debating Darwin’s Doubt and basically offers a set of essays on Stephen Meyer’s work, Darwin’s Doubt, itself a pretty massive treatise arguing for the viability of Intelligent Design.

The book has 44 essays in it, some of which are only 3-4 pages long. Others are lengthier, the longest being 18 pages (based on my quick glance at the table of contents).

Concerns

I’m concerned that so many of the essays are so short. I know from experience that packing a bunch of detailed argument into that small a space can be extremely challenging, and it would be a shame if we don’t get substantive responses to the criticisms offered by so many varied sources to Meyer’s argument.

I’m concerned that there are already reviews on Amazon from people who haven’t even read the book complaining about the selection of authors or calling it pseudo-science. Regardless of one’s view on this debate, should not a “review” be a legitimate interaction with the text rather than just offering an opinion on the topic?

Hopes

I hope that the book spurs discussion rather than shutting it down. Too often, debates over intelligent design turn into name-calling fests on both sides. I sincerely doubt that’s at all what this book will do. Instead, I’m hoping that the book’s publication will lead to more fruitful discussions about the possibility (or not) of biological intelligent design.

I hope that the book will garner wide readership and so provide means for intelligent discussions on the topic to continue, and new research opportunities to be explored.

What’s Next

Well, I’m hoping to read the book when it comes out! I’ll certainly post on it when I get to it. I would love, in the meantime, to read your own thoughts as it comes out, or on what your own hopes and concerns are.

SDG.

Really Recommended Posts 12/13/13- Bonhoeffer, Creationism, Feminism, and more!

snowl-owl-post-arpingstoneThe Really Recommended Posts this week are really wide-ranging. I hope you’ll enjoy this smorgasbord as much as I did. We feature Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology, creationism, feminism, intelligent design, the conquest narratives in the Bible, and more! Check them out, and, as always, let me know what you think!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a New Testament Pastoral Theologian– Bonhoeffer is, I admit, one of my favorite theologians. I only wish he had had more time upon the earth to develop more systematic works than he did write. I’m Lutheran too, which makes me gleeful at the broad appeal Bonhoeffer has demonstrated. In this post, Joel Willitts explores the way in which Bonhoeffer did theology. It’s a fascinating look at the development of his theology.

Multiple Lines of Evidence Support an Ancient Earth– The charge is often made from young earth creationists that dating methods don’t work. What about when those dating methods correspond across independent and multiple lines of evidence? It seems this presents a major challenge to the young-earth paradigm. Check out this post for a summary of several related points.

Was There an Exodus & Conquest– Two of the biggest challenges to the OT narrative are directly related to the historical accounts of the Exodus and the Conquest narratives. That is, did these even happen? Here, there is a post which briefly summarizes the issues and evidences related to these events.

“Darwin’s Doubt” with Stephen Meyer (and Eric Metaxas) [VIDEO]– A fairly lengthy video in which Eric Metaxas discusses intelligent design with Stephen Meyer. I found this video to be highly informative and also really entertaining. Metaxas is clearly a great speaker, and he keeps the discussion going and interesting throughout. Meyer, of course, is also a great speaker and it is worth hearing his discussion of these ideas.

thoughts on being a “Jesus Feminist”– What does it mean to be a Jesus Feminist? Can Christians be feminists and follow Christ? Check out this reflective post on what it means to be a Jesus Feminist.

Rescuing Songs of Christ’s Birth from Christmas– Should songs of Jesus’ birth be sung only during the Christmas season? Here, compelling reasons are offered as to why these songs are appropriate year-round.

The Advent Project– A pretty sweet deal: Biola University, one of the best schools out there (not biased at all ;)), has a series of Advent devotions going up daily available on their site. Each has a work of art, a music selection(s), and a brief reflection upon the coming of Christ, the incarnate God, into our lives. I’ve been following them as they go up and have enjoyed them all. Check them out for an excellent way to meditate on the meaning of Christmas.

Really Recommended Posts 8/23/13- Twain, Egypt, creationism, and more!

postI am excited to offer you, dear reader, a slew of fantastic posts for your perusal. The topics this go-round are diverse. We will look at Egypt and the media coverage there, Mark Twain and the Book of Mormon, Darwin’s Doubt, creationism, Stephen King’s Under the Dome, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Mainstream media silent as Muslim Brotherhood targets Christians in Egypt– What is going on in Egypt? Violence against Christians has boiled over, but it seems we hear nothing about it here. Check out this article to read a refreshing perspective which will help inform you about what’s going on “over there.”

Mark Twain’s Review of the Book of Mormon– Mark Twain was a hilarious satirist and well deserves his place among the top American writers of his time. In this post, he turns his humorous pen to the Book of Mormon. It is worth noting a few errors with Twain’s account, however. I’m not sure if the Mormon account has changed, but Twain writes that the Book of Mormon was alleged to be translated from copper plates, when it is said to have been gold. More interestingly, Twain reveals his grounding in his own times when he writes “The Mormon Bible is rather stupid and tiresome to read, but there is nothing vicious in its teachings. Its code of morals is unobjectionable—it is ‘smouched’ from the New Testament and no credit given.” Take a gander at 2 Nephi 5:21ff (scroll down to verse 21 and following) and let me know if you see something which is similar to the New Testament’s statement in Galatians 3:28 and whether you object to the Book of Mormon’s writing in 2 Nephi.

Science, Reason, & Faith: Evaluation of Darwin’s Doubt by Stephen C. Meyer, part 1– With shouts of “pseudo-science” clamoring to drown out those who are even attempting to do research in the area of intelligent design, it is refreshing to sit back and look through some analyses which interact with the works rather than just spewing vitriol. I found this series of posts quite interesting and worth the read as I have been reading through the book myself.

Upset Creationist– Jay Wile is a young earth creationist whom I respect. His integrity is admirable. I disagree with his position strongly, but I admire him as person of character. This post is no different. He interacts with some comments the well-known creationist Ken Ham directed his way. Perhaps most thought-provoking was Wile’s comment that “Whether we are talking about the materials from Answers in Genesis or that particular exhibit in the museum, the message is crystal clear: the concept of millions of years has destroyed the church. I strongly disagree with that message.” Wile’s acknowledgement that we can be brothers and sisters in Christ despite disagreeing on this issue is refreshing.

Stephen King’s “Under the Dome”: A Mid-Season Perspective– one of my favorite blogs, Empires and Mangers, takes a look at the TV series based on the horror author’s work, “Under the Dome.”

Bonhoeffer, the Church, and the Consequence of Ideas– I’m a huge fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work. For those who don’t know, Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran who was executed by the Nazis during World War 2. In this article, his view of the Church and how that influenced his activism is briefly explored.

The Life Dialogue: Information and the Cell

This is part of a series of posts on the “Life Dialogue” within Christianity. Check out other posts in the series here.

It is hard to underestimate the importance of the question: “Are we designed?” I’ve really started to realize the question’s reverberations even within the Christian community. Creationists definitely believe we are designed, as we were brought out of nothing by God into being. But theistic evolutionists often argue that the only design inherent in God’s creation was His plan to bring about sentience through evolution. Yet this evolution is blind and unguided. So on theistic evolutionism, we are not designed. Is there a middle ground? Can we say evolution mostly correct, but we are still designed?

Stephen Meyer argues that there is such a middle ground. In his enormously successful book, Signature in the Cell, he argues cogently for the position that there is more to life than “just matter and energy.” There is also information (85). If that is the case, then whence the information?

Essentially the argument goes as follows:

1) If there is information in our cells, its origin must be explained.

2) There is information in our cells.

3) Therefore, the origin of the information must be explained.

4) There are three possible explanations for information: chance, necessity, or design.

5) Chance and necessity are not sufficient explanations for information.

6) Therefore, the information is in our cell due to design.

In defense of premise 2, Meyer argues that there is information in the cell that we can detect because DNA isn’t simply random amalgamations of enzymes, rather, they are put in specific order so that they can regulate the production of proteins and RNA. Thus, they act as information which regulates activity of the cell.

3 follows from 1 and 2.

Chance doesn’t seem a sufficient explanation because not only is the generation of information highly improbable, it is also specified (it is information set in a certain way). Necessity won’t work because it presupposes information is already present. Therefore, the cell is designed.

To those Christians interested in the Intelligent Design, Theistic Evolution, Creationism debate, I highly recommend Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell.

A response to an attack on this post found here (search “On Intelligent Design”)

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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