A Partisan Affair (Part 5): Misconstruals of Religion and Science in Edward Humes' Pseudo-History of Kitzmiller, "Monkey Girl"
[Editor's Note: For a full and comprehensive review and response to Edward Humes' book, Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, and the Battle for America's Soul, please see A Partisan Affair: A Response to Edward Humes' Inaccurate History of Kitzmiller v. Dover and Intelligent Design, "Monkey Girl.]
To give a feel for the partisan nature of Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul, Edward Humes' website for his book has boasted glowing endorsements from reviewers like Eugenie Scott, P.Z. Myers, Michael Shermer, and conspicuously, no ID -proponents. One of the major themes of Humes' book is to promote the view that evolution is compatible with religion. As discussed below, Humes even goes so far as to claim (wrongly) that Darwin did not come to doubt God and religion due to his scientific studies. Humes' push for the compatibility between evolution and religion is a little suspicious, given that many of his reviewers are avowed atheists.
Humes once boasted a review of Monkey Girl by P.Z. Myers, a notorious atheist who purports to provide "random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal" on his blog. He now includes a review by Eugenie Scott, a signer of the Third Humanist Manifesto.
Michael Shermer, another favorable reviewer on his website, wrote an article titled "Science Is My Savior," explaining how as a graduate student he became enamored with an evolutionary biology professor and soon thereafter "abandoned Christianity and stripped off my silver ichthus, replacing what was for me the stultifying dogma of a 2,000-year-old religion with the worldview of an always changing, always fresh science." Shermer's advice? "As for evolution, it happened. Deal with it."
Indeed, the LA Times reviewer of Humes' book takes a fairly anti-religious stance, stating that it is "a cruel twist to evolutionists" that "human beings are 'genetically disposed to believe in mysteries, miracles, God, and faith.'" The reviewer also states that he "only wish[es]" he could "close" his eyes to the Christian "fundamentalism" Humes recounts in his book. It seems that many of Humes' leading reviewers themselves accept evolution but reject religion.
For all his discussion of the religious views of ID proponents, it would be interesting if Humes would reveal his own metaphysical perspective. Will he do that? Regardless, this post will go on to discuss...
Humes' Misconstruals of Religion and of Science:
In his Autobiography, Darwin took aim at belief in a personal God which he believed was superseded directly by his theory of natural selection, writing: "Although I did not think much about the existence of a personal God until a considerably later period of my life, I will here give the vague conclusions to which I have been driven. The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws." Readers can decide for themselves if Humes is correct to state that it is only "critics of evolution" who claim that Darwin's scientific research impacted his personal faith.
An evolutionary interpretation of the fossil data requires that many key features that allow birds to fly, including feathers, evolved for a purpose other than flight. Feathers supposedly evolved from scales, but pennaceous feathers are so well-suited for flight that it is difficult to imagine transitional stages between scales and fully functional flight feathers. According to much prevailing evolutionary wisdom, natural selection is not the powerful force driving the evolution of traits necessary for flight. Rather, bird flight has become a mere accident and lucky byproduct of a morphological coincidence. This does not make for a compelling evolutionary story.
"Intelligent human agents--in virtue of their rationality and consciousness--have demonstrated the power to produce information in the form of linear sequence-specific arrangements of characters. Indeed, experience affirms that information of this type routinely arises from the activity of intelligent agents. A computer user who traces the information on a screen back to its source invariably comes to a mind--that of a software engineer or programmer. The information in a book or inscriptions ultimately derives from a writer or scribe--from a mental, rather than a strictly material, cause. Our experience-based knowledge of information-flow confirms that systems with large amounts of specified complexity (especially codes and languages) invariably originate from an intelligent source from a mind or personal agent. As Quastler (1964) put it, the "creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity" (p. 16). Experience teaches this obvious truth."Meyer's article contains a strong positive argument for design and does not "equat[e] arguments against evolution with arguments for design." Only by disregarding the bulk of what Meyer wrote in his PBSW paper can Humes, relying on Matzke, make that false claim.
"For historical scientists, "the present is the key to the past" means that present experience-based knowledge of cause and effect relationships typically guides the assessment of the plausibility of proposed causes of past events. Yet it is precisely for this reason that current advocates of the design hypothesis want to reconsider design as an explanation for the origin of biological form and information. This review, and much of the literature it has surveyed, suggests that four of the most prominent models for explaining the origin of biological form fail to provide adequate causal explanations for the discontinuous increases of CSI that are required to produce novel morphologies. Yet, we have repeated experience of rational and conscious agents--in particular ourselves--generating or causing increases in complex specified information, both in the form of sequence-specific lines of code and in the form of hierarchically arranged systems of parts."
"What natural selection lacks, intelligent selection--purposive or goal-directed design--provides. Rational agents can arrange both matter and symbols with distant goals in mind. In using language, the human mind routinely "finds" or generates highly improbable linguistic sequences to convey an intended or preconceived idea. In the process of thought, functional objectives precede and constrain the selection of words, sounds and symbols to generate functional (and indeed meaningful) sequences from among a vast ensemble of meaningless alternative combinations of sound or symbol (Denton 1986:309-311). Similarly, the construction of complex technological objects and products, such as bridges, circuit boards, engines and software, result from the application of goal-directed constraints (Polanyi 1967, 1968). Indeed, in all functionally integrated complex systems where the cause is known by experience or observation, design engineers or other intelligent agents applied boundary constraints to limit possibilities in order to produce improbable forms, sequences or structures. Rational agents have repeatedly demonstrated the capacity to constrain the possible to actualize improbable but initially unrealized future functions. Repeated experience affirms that intelligent agents (minds) uniquely possess such causal powers."
"Intelligent agents have foresight. Such agents can select functional goals before they exist. They can devise or select material means to accomplish those ends from among an array of possibilities and then actualize those goals in accord with a preconceived design plan or set of functional requirements. Rational agents can constrain combinatorial space with distant outcomes in mind. The causal powers that natural selection lacks--almost by definition--are associated with the attributes of consciousness and rationality--with purposive intelligence. Thus, by invoking design to explain the origin of new biological information, contemporary design theorists are not positing an arbitrary explanatory element unmotivated by a consideration of the evidence. Instead, they are positing an entity possessing precisely the attributes and causal powers that the phenomenon in question requires as a condition of its production and explanation."
Humes should have also scrutinized some of Matzke's claims against Meyer, but instead relies on Matzke to claim that "recent discoveries had uncovered predecessor organisms in the fossil record that had previously been overlooked because of their fragility and small size." (pg. 198.) Mike Gene did some fact-checking on Matzke, noting that Matzke's claim that "Meyer repeats the claim that there are no transitional fossils for the Cambrian phyla" is false, because as Gene observes, "no where does [Meyer] actually claim 'there are no transitional fossils for the Cambrian phyla.'"
Matzke attacks some of Meyer's footnotes and citations, claiming that "of the two papers by Foote cited by Meyer, neither deals with the Cambrian/Precambrian records." Yet Meyer cited two other studies besides those by Foote to bolster this point, neither of which Matzke refutes, and in fact one of Meyer's citations to Foote does mention the Cambrian. Unfortunately, Humes repeats Matzke's criticisms of Meyer without investigating them carefully.
In his description of Matzke's argument, Humes insinutates that the Cambrian explosion is not a real event, but an artefact of poor preservation in the fossil record. But many experts and authority disagree with this view. Simon Conway Morris explains that "The 'Cambrian explosion' is a real evolutionary event, but its origins are obscure." This corroborates with Meyer's actual argument, which observes that "several recent discoveries and analyses suggest that these morphological gaps may not be merely an artifact of incomplete sampling of the fossil record ... suggesting that the fossil record is at least approximately reliable."
The alleged Precambrian fossils cited by Matzke comes from a paper by J. Y. Chen, the same scientist who stated that, "In China we can criticize Darwin but not the government. In America you can criticize the government but not Darwin." Nonetheless, Matzke claims that Chen's article documents "fossils of the long-hypothesized small, soft-bodied precambrian worm." Yet Chen's article does not contain the word "worm" and the word "small" is perhaps an understatement: the fossils are under 180 micrometers, smaller than the width of 4 human-hairs. Having read the paper, I'm not even sure if these microscopic features can be safely called fossils. More importantly, this fossil does not challenge Meyer's argument: it was already known before this fossil was reported that a precambrian mollusk-like animal existed, Kimberella. Meyer easily dealt with such evidence in his paper, observing that "even on the most optimistic interpretation of these remains, Precambrian strata account for no more than four animal body plans," and therefore "neither the peculiar Ediacaran fauna nor the Precambrian fossil record taken as a whole establishes the existence of the wide variety of transitional intermediates that neo-Darwinism and punctuated equilibrium require." Adding the ambiguous microfossil that Matzke cites into the mix hardly changes the reality of the Cambrian explosion.
This same point is implied by Stephen Jay Gould, who wrote:
More importantly, paleontologists have documented a fairly rich record of [Precambrian] benthic tracks and trails (but no body fossils) that could not have been made by the sessile or planktonic Ediacaran organisms and have, by consensus of all experts, been regarded as bilaterian in origin. But-and here's the rub these trackways are very small, measuring 5 mm in diameter at a maximum, with most only 1 mm. or so in width (see Valentine and Collins, 2000). Moreover, these tracks and trails do not extend deeply into Precambrian time. Hughes (2000, pg. 64) states: "Traces made by bilaterians extend back to about 550 million years at least, but earlier sediments are famous for their undisturbed sedimentary lamination. The rise of animals able to mine organic resources in sediments in complex ways officially defines the base of the Cambrian." Thus, positive evidence indicates only a late Precambrian origin for bilaterians of any kind. The same data imply that all Precambrian bilaterians ranged in size from the microscopic to the barely visible, and that the Cambrian boundary marks a real and geologically sudden appearance of both large complex bilaterian body fossils, and a major change in the size and complexity of their tracks and trails...Indeed, a recent discovery showed that Precambrian trail fossils do not necessarily indicate the presence of multi-cellular organisms. It seems that Humes' mention newly discovered fossils does little to challenge Meyer's argument, nor does it even clearly affect the number of Precambrian body plans that Meyer acknowledged scientists were aware of when he published his article.
For details on Meyer's PBSW article and responses to critics, see "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories" or rebuttals to critics at http://www.discovery.org/a/2228 and http://www.discovery.org/a/2248, and see also Mike Gene's article, "ID 102: Design and Creationism."