Friday, May 21, 2010

Discovery Institute Claims Victory

The Discovery Institute is claiming victory in the recent symposium at Biola on May 14, in which Stephen Meyer faced his critics. In a post on Evolution News & Views, Rob Crowther writes:
The critics were Steve Matheson, a theistic evolutionist from Calvin College, and Arthur Hunt a Darwinist and biologist from the University of Kentucky. Both have written critically of SITC and intelligent design and were clearly not very enamored of the thesis of Meyer’s book, that the best explanation for the origins of biological information is that it comes from an intelligent source, a mind.

At least they started out seemingly unimpressed. I am certain Hunt remained so, but I’m not so sure about Matheson. He was critical to be sure, but in an amazingly candid and very revealing moment, he exposed his own presupposition that keeps him from accepting intelligent design theory.

Matheson basically conceded that ID is the best explanation currently on the table, but not one that he likes. Yes, he agreed, codes are produced by minds. Yes, there is digital code in DNA. Yes, design is a good explanation for that code. So, Meyer responded, you are admitting that the explanation I’ve offered, intelligent design, is currently best? The point wasn’t lost on the audience, or on Matheson I suspect.

Steve has not responded to this post—yet. Without the entire context, it is difficult to determine whether or not this is a fair representation of what Steve meant. It certainly puts the ball in his court.

Arthur Hunt, on the other hand, has written a somewhat technical response to the meeting here in which he suggests that Stephen Meyer conceded some very important points regarding specified information in proteins:
...if some protein functions do not require lots of specified information, then these should be quite accessible to what ID proponents would call “Darwinian mechanisms”. This concession has lots of ramifications – it renders Doug Axe’s suggestions about the isolation of functional proteins in sequence space somewhat less relevant, and it weakens the case (I suspect an important aspect of “Darwin’s Dilemma”) that a supposed requirement for new proteins during evolution (such as occurred in the Cambrian Explosion) makes such evolution improbable or impossible, at least without intelligent design. More generally, while it may be that absolute statements are not made by ID proponents, I think it important to have ID advocates backing down from claims or even hints that all (or even most) proteins have high specified information contents.
It has been a hall mark of William Dembski's research (if I am characterizing it correctly) that proteins have high levels of specified complexity and that evolutionary mechanisms cannot attain that level of complexity. Aside from the fact that in every instance, Dembski's modeling fails to duplicate real biotic environments, Hunt is correct that this is a major concession.


  1. I would definitely await Matheson's response before assuming anything. Especially considering IDer's history of being less than accurate in how they represent issues already. Should be interesting though.

  2. DI posted the quote and immediate context on their website. I watched the debate live. The transcript seems accurate. It is clear that Matheson was struggling to frame an idea and Myer rhetorically blindsided him. Good debating on Meyer's part.

    In the further exchange posted Meyer observes, I think correctly, "We have a different philosophy of science, which is where the locus of our disagreement probably lies."

    Matheson then states that "Design will always be an excellent and irrefutable explanation... I’m just saying it doesn’t look designed to me... There’s also nothing wrong with saying, Wow, man, I don’t know."

    Matheson's argument was nuanced and a scientist talking. Too bad the crowd id not get it. Neither did I until I read the transcript.

  3. Again, recognizing that one doesn't have the full context, I think it's telling that Matheson said "Design will always be an excellent and irrefutable explanation...".

    I interpret that to suggest that design can't be tested, that it's not refutable because it makes no testable claims beyond "evolution can't do [something]." Having read Matheson and participated on his blog comments on occasion, I very strongly doubt that he was conceding that design is a good explanation.

    But I'll wait for him to address it.

  4. I suspect that you are correct. In effect, it is not much different from the "appearance of age" argument that some creationists have made. It is absolutely untestable.