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Reply to the Blog (04/20/05) by Rob Crowther and Logan Gage (concerning the debate between Stephen C. Meyer and William Provine at the National Press Club)

Below are Dr. William Provine's comments on the recent debate between himself and CSC's Dr. Stephen Meyer.

I agree with Rob Crowther’s summary of the debate. Our debate was indeed between evolution and ID explanations for fossil and living organisms. I thought our debate would be between ID evolution and naturalistic evolution, but Steve Meyer championed many young-earth, anti-evolution doctrines. I was frank about the implications of really believing in naturalistic evolution. Steve Meyer refused to reveal religious assumptions that I think relate to his views about the origin of species.

Logan Gage begins his summary of the main points of the debate by saying that my major point was dysteleology. To the contrary, my major point throughout the debate was that ID was based upon religious commitments more than upon science. This contrasted with Steve Meyer’s insistence that ID had no religious motivations, and that it was pure science.

I branded the ID creator as supernatural at the beginning of my talk. Steve Meyer responded that the ID creator was conscious, but not necessarily supernatural. He has written that the rise of multicellular organisms was mediated by the Conscious Intelligent Designer, and I argued that this creator must also be supernatural. How could it not be?

Steve Meyer has argued that the Conscious Intelligent Designer made species perfect, and that their DNA degenerated over time, making them subject to disease and extinction. This is a favorite theme of young-earth creationists. I suggested that each of hundreds of thousands of beetles had several parasitoids (parasites that kill) that did not wait for DNA decay, but evolved with each beetle species. Extinction is better explained by environmental change than DNA decay, which cannot be demonstrated.

I asked Steve Meyer if he thought that humans and chimpanzees shared a common ancestor. He said no, for two reasons. He argued first that extreme similarity of DNA said nothing about a common ancestor. This means that systematics (making evolutionary trees) is a sham science since modern methods stress using DNA evidence to support tree structures. Secondly, he said, in answer to my question, that humans had God-given immortal souls, and thus could not possibly share a common ancestor with chimpanzees, also a main argument of the young-earth creationists. Thus religion plays an important role in Steve Meyer’s rejection of a common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees.

Steve Meyer’s criticism of neo-Darwinism was surprisingly narrow, emphasizing natural selection acting upon mutations. I have a far deeper quarrel with the evolutionary biology of the 1960s. I no longer see natural selection as a mechanism, or an active cause of evolution. Natural selection (or adaptation) is a result of many interacting ecological and genetic causes and does not “work upon” individual genes. I reject random genetic drift and see the movement of neutral DNA by hitchhiking with pieces of chromosome with high or low survival rates. I reject gene pools, genetic homeostasis, am critical of the biological species concept and all hopes of generating robust phylogenetic trees older than 700 million years ago because of the wide exchange of DNA and RNA between one-celled organisms. Thus I turn out much more critical of neo-Darwinism than does Steve Meyer. None of my criticisms, however, suggest a ID creator, but a more lively and realistic view of evolution than I learned in graduate school.

Steve Meyer’s attempt to hide the religious underpinnings of ID theory remind me of Wendell Bird’s huge 2 volume work entitled, The Origin of Species Revisited: The Theories of Evolution and of Abrupt Appearance (Philosophical Library, 1989). No mention of God graces his volumes but his theory of abrupt appearance he brands as “scientific.” Nothing but the supernatural can abruptly produce a fully adapted species. Likewise, Steve Meyer’s Conscious Intelligent Designer produces fully adapted species, often many at a time, and is patently supernatural.

I thank Steve Meyer for the debate, Rob Crowther for his constant help in organizing the debate, and Logan Gage for his summary and for his conversation.