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The Debater's Tail: Giberson Shares His Take on the Confrontation with Stephen Meyer

Meyer Giberson.jpeg

Writing at The Daily Beast, theistic evolutionist Karl Giberson has a somewhat odd article responding to our Andrew McDiarmid's recounting of Giberson's recent debate with Stephen Meyer.

As a proof of Darwinian evolution, Giberson is very stuck on the curious phenomenon of babies born with what looks like a little tail. Yes, this happens, though it is exceedingly rare. I wasn't present for the debate, held in Richmond, Virginia, on the theme "Should Christians Embrace Darwin?," but judging from Andrew's telling and Giberson's own, vestigial tails matter to him a great deal. To illustrate, Karl provides a link to an article in Cracked, the vestigial online presence of an old satirical magazine, now defunct, a knockoff of Mad.

Drilling down through the hyperlinks is interesting. The article in Cracked links to a photo of a baby with what appears to be a tail, taken from an Iranian Muslim online publication, the Ahlul Bayt Lovers Network.

The caption, translated by Google, reads:

A child with a tail "Chandr Avram" Childhood is a native of West Bengal during the birth of a tail length of 33 cm at the back. He is currently working on tea plantations in India and because of certain religious beliefs, not surgery.

How does one respond to such things? Even granting Giberson his tails with what they imply to him about common descent, the debate with Meyer wasn't about shared ancestry with tailed creatures. Intelligent design isn't an argument against common descent and as Andrew notes, Steve Meyer deliberately bracketed the topic so as to be able to concentrate on the more interesting question of whether life gives evidence of design.

But Giberson thinks that he's under no real obligation to respond to that evidence since ID, he says, doesn't meet the criteria of a proper scientific theory. See here for Casey Luskin's succinct explanation of why it certainly does meet those criteria, and more, even according to the strict definition set by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Karl complains that the eagerness to debate ideas -- as you find among advocates of intelligent design -- is somehow suspect. He seems to fret that his own performance, and indeed his willingness to debate in the first place, may have undercut his cause. He compares himself to Richard Nixon in the famous 1960 debate with John Kennedy where Nixon was defeated, in the view of TV watchers, by his own noticeable perspiration. In a post at Why Evolution Is True, Jerry Coyne congratulates Giberson on this hard-won wisdom.

Writing here at ENV, Andrew summarized Steve Meyer's case:

Steve clarified the several definitions of evolution and put common descent to one side as a “secondary argument” and not the focus of the debate. Then he described some problems with neo-Darwinian theory. He told about Francis Crick’s revelation to biology in the 20th century and presented the origin of biological information as the central mystery to be explained. He discussed the combinatorial problem for the selection/mutation mechanism, sharing Douglas Axe’s work on the rarity of functional proteins in sequence space. He explained epigenetic information -- the information beyond DNA and stored in cell structures -- that plays a crucial role in the formation of animal body plans.

"Now what audience is going to understand stuff like that," Coyne laments. Yet it's in such erudite details that the truth lies. Steve's point was that the substance of Darwinism is so shaky, in the eyes of many mainstream scientists, that religious folks don't need to feel stampeded into surrendering on the hope that aspects of biology really do reflect a designer's intentions.

Look, it's not that I don't appreciate the position of debate-shy Darwinists like Coyne, or that of others like Giberson who may be more shy of debating in the future than they have been in the past. Even if you've got a strong case, it's possible to "lose" in such a confrontation to an opponent more richly gifted with verbal agility or personal charisma.

So then let our Darwinist interlocutors use the equalizing medium of written communication to tell us where the theory of intelligent design goes astray. Coyne and Giberson are both trained scientists. They're smart enough, knowledgeable enough, to wrestle manfully with the arguments. Stop hiding behind bogus appeals to what is or isn't a "theory" and tell us in plain terms why Meyer is wrong.

But this they refuse to do. In this, they are without an excuse. Showing a picture of a supposedly tailed West Bengali baby just isn't good enough.