Intelligent Design, Evolution, Information and Purple People Eaters
What do intelligent design, evolution, information and purple people eaters all have in common? Well, they all took front stage at Freedomfest in Las Vegas last week when ID proponents Stephen Meyer and George Gilder squared off against Darwinists Michael Shermer and Ronald Bailey in debating whether there is scientific evidence for intelligent design in nature.
The debate was civil, and the audience appreciated the back and forth between the speakers and enjoyed being able to ask questions at the end of the formal debate--and even beyond that. For the rest of the evening following the debate itself Meyer and Gilder patiently answered questions and discussed the debate over evolution with conference attendees. At the end of the formal debate a poll of the audience showed them to be split pretty evenly for and against ID being science.
Stephen Meyer laid out a compelling case for intelligent design being a scientific theory. He briefly explained some of the things that design proponents point to as evidence for intelligent causation--the fine tuning of the laws of physics, the complex machinery at work in the cell, and information-rich digital code in DNA. Finally he explained
that intelligent design, like Darwinian evolution, is an historical science and should be compared in the same way. If you're going to explain an event from the past, you need to know that the explanation you're invoking has the power to produce that effect currently, and you need to know it based on your present experience, meaning that our present experience with cause and effect should guide our inferences from the past. Meyer asked: "What is the cause now in operation that produces information? Is there any cause that we know can produce information? And of course there is one, and only one, and that is intelligence." Thus the ID argument is not one from ignorance, but rather an argument based on what we do know and understand already, namely, how intelligence produces information. Not only is there evidence for ID, but the evidence is based on a scientific method of reasoning that Darwin himself used.
Michael Shermer has debated Stephen Meyer before, and as usual took the debate seriously and engaged in a vigorous attack on ID and defense of evolution. He eschewed the motive mongering that often comes up in debates like and stuck to arguing that intelligent design is not science.
Whether or not ID is religious is irrelevant, argued Shermer (*gasp!* -- yes, he essentially said this). The bottom line is that ID isn't testable or falsifiable, claimed Shermer, and ID proponents haven't done enough research and science to develop ID into a testable scientific theory. His example was Lynn Margulies spending the last 35 years grinding out work on her endosymbiotic theory--research, experiments, publishing papers, presenting at conferences and so on. Shermer feels that ID scientists haven't done this for their theory. It's up to ID scientists to make the case and sell it to the rest of the scientific community, said Shermer. "Science isn't a thing. Science is a thing that you do. It's something you actually go out and do. And so that's the bottom line." I guess he's not familiar with the Biologic Institute, or the lab research being done by scientists like Scott Minnich, Ralph Seelke and others.
Shermer's argument boiled down to this: even if you discover that life was designed, say by extra terrestrials, that just prompts another question. Who designed those guys? According to Shermer: "You see at some point you have to have some bottom up natural forces to answer the question where did life come from, where did all this complexity come from in the first place. Positing something from the top down simply begs the question, yeah interesting, but where did that come from? And where did that come from? At some point to do science you have to have some bottom up forces at work here." It would seem that no matter what evidence was presented to him, he would simply argue against any intelligence being the ultimate origin of information and design in the universe. For Shermer, there is no getting away from the presupposition that there must have been a materialistic cause.
Along the way, Shermer admitted that Darwinian evolution doesn't provide many answers, and then proceeded to throw Darwinism under the bus to show that ID isn't a satisfactory replacement theory. According to Shermer, just because Darwinian evolution doesn't stand up to scrutiny doesn't mean that intelligent design is the answer. ID has to stand or fall on its own merits regardless of Darwinism. "Even if that's the case, A is wrong, that doesn't make B right. B stands or falls by itself on its own evidence."
He repeatedly emphasized how much we don't know, arguing that we may someday find the answers to many of the questions as yet unanswered by modern evolutionary theory. After all, he reminded the audience, science is only 400 years old!
Stephen Meyer and George Gilder discuss ID with conference attendees.
George Gilder took a bit different approach in arguing that universe itself is contrived to produce humankind, and talked about the idea of some scientists that the entire universe is a quantum computer "pregnant with intelligence." He also explained that his skepticism of Darwinism came from his study of economics. Just as contemporary evolutionary theory rejects intelligence as the source of design in the universe, demand side economic theory rejects human intelligence as the source of new ideas, new things. "Demand side economic models leave no room for the entrepreneur as a creator, as an inventor, as an imaginative source of new ideas and new things." Gilder has often talked about this materialist superstition, which you can read more about here and here.
Ronald Bailey opened his presentation by saying he would take intelligent design seriously, and then proceeded to disrespect his audience by mocking it for the rest of his talk, instead going off about purple people eaters. If you want to punish yourself, you can read his remarks here.