Sunday, May 23, 2010

Steve Matheson Fires Back

Steve has posted a response to the Discovery Institute's claim that he admitted design was the best alternative. It is here. One of the key arguments that design proponents (or "cdesignproponentsists" if you prefer) put out is that evolutionary theory does not have a good explanation for origins of life questions. Stephen Meyer, author of The Signature in the Cell, believes that this is where design comes in. Matheson responds:
It may be the case that we don't have a complete account of the origin of life, and it's certainly true that we don't have a complete account of the origin of genetic information control systems. But such an admission implies nothing about whether such an account is possible or even likely, and that's where Meyer would have to do his philosophical work in order to help his case. In other words, to assert that "we haven't explained X" is most assuredly not to assert that "we cannot explain X." Think about it: there would be no such thing as science if this were the case. Scientists are all about asserting that "we haven't explained X," then proposing a way to change that.
Origins of life questions have never been a center of evolutionary biology studies. During the formation of the synthesis, these question were largely ignored and it was not until the Miller-Urey experiments in 1953 that these question were associated with evolutionary theory. These question are, in a sense, like those governing those of the Big Bang. One can theorize back only so far until it becomes a conjecture. Evolution deals primarily with the changes in established life forms and with common descent issues. One can look at the fossil record and see that, as one moves through time, there is greater diversity of life from simpler forms to more complex forms and that transitional fossils (fishapods, frogamanders) exist at junctures that, chronologically, precede in one case, teleost fish and tetrapods and in the other case, frogs and salamanders. This is very largely corroborated by DNA studies, which reflect the similarities and differences in organisms and have given rise to divergence trees. That these trees mirror, to a very large extent, the fossil record is not exactly a smoking gun for universal common descent but it is pretty good model from which to work.

Hi experience was not entirely positive, however:
Anyway, Meyer spent a lot of time explaining why it matters that certain origin-of-life postulates are ineffective, but he never bothered to show that the current theories are in fact ineffective. What he did instead was attack a strawman (random flying-together of biological structures) at length, then erect a second one (a crude caricature of self-organization ideas) and attack it more briefly. Current thought focuses on the RNA World, and Meyer completely omitted any discussion of it. He meant to mislead the audience, and I think he was successful.
This straw man argument is not so unusual. While the Discovery Institute continually claims that evolutionary biologists put up straw men arguments about design, every single argument against evolution made by the writers there, from Phillip Johnson to William Dembski, takes the form of one. Steve's second and third posts should be up soon.

Now playing: The Alan Parsons Project - In The Lap of the Gods, Pt. 2 (Backing Track Rough Mix)
via FoxyTunes

No comments:

Post a Comment