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Monday, September 13, 2004


Evolution vs. Creationism: Round 4

For those of you following my thoughts on this topic, I will now provide my response to Dr. Meyer’s Intelligent Design argument (if you’re new to this line of posts, see Rounds 1, 2 and 3 while Dr. Meyer’s article can be found here).

Here’s the synopsis of the review:

1) Evolutionary theories (including neo-Darwinism, Self-Organizational Models, Punctuated Equilibrium, Structuralism and Cladism) fail to adequately explain the available data (i.e., the fossil record and the current state of Life on Earth).
2) Based on the evidence (i.e., the fossil record and the current state of Life on Earth), the most logical theory is that of Intelligent Design (ID).

(Where Intelligent seems to be defined as the existence of “mental” capabilities usually associated with Humans in exclusion to the remainder of Life and Design appears to imply a Teleologically driven series of events.)

The first portion of the article is a decent review of the problems currently recognized with the various scientific theories developed to explain the development of Life on Earth. The second portion of the review is in support of ID, and the section with which I take issue.

Having some background in science, I will concede that Dr. Meyer provides a good argument against the adequacy of the current evolutionary theories’ power to account for the development and existence of Life as we know it. However, I believe that there are at least two fatal flaws in his line of reasoning. As I said, he does a good job of highlighting the shortcomings of the currently accepted theories (although I will deal with the areas I think he fails in that task…hopefully at some point in the near future), but his argument for his own theory falls prey to a few very basic flaws, totally aside from any technical scientific issues.

The first major flaw I see is that Dr. Meyer never defines exactly what he means by Intelligent Design. Does this refer to God, Aliens or something else entirely? Does he suggest that all things were made according to a literal reading of Genesis? I don’t think so, but I am forced to draw that conclusion indirectly because he never makes it explicit. This flaw is only made more noticeable by the fact that he goes to such lengths to define exactly what he means by the labels he applies to the various other theories he sets out to discredit. This problem notwithstanding, I will do what I can to continue having made the best inference as to what he might be trying to convey.

The second major flaw is a lack of ascribed purpose (you’ll see what this is important in just a second).

His argument for ID can be boiled down to this:
- All current theories are unable to fully explain the development of Life.
- ID fits the data better because it accounts for the apparent teleology in the design and development of Life.
- Therefore, ID is the best theory available.

Here is the problem: Dr. Meyer attacks, for example, neo-Darwinism for its inability to provide a mechanism for the geologically-sudden development of the majority of major body forms during the Cambrian Explosion. Fair enough in that neo-Darwinism is a materialistic theory and, therefore, is required to provide a material mechanism by which it explains the available data.

Dr. Meyer’s ID theory, on the other hand is not a materialistic theory. Rather, he argues from a Teleological standpoint. He ascribes purpose to the development of life. Specifically, he builds the argument that some Intelligent force/being/whatever had a purpose that preexisted the creation of Life as we know it and that purpose was actualized by some (apparently unknown) mechanism. There are two questions that arise from this ascription of purpose that must be answered:
1) What is that purpose in causing Life to develop as it has?
2) What is the direct evidence for the existence of the Intelligent Designer?

Dr. Meyer is not necessarily bound to answer these questions. However, if he does not, then he has not provided a full mechanism to explain the development of Life…and his theory falls prey to exactly the same problems that he so adequately points out as inherent in neo-Darwinism and friends. One might think these shortcomings would put his ID theory at least on even footing with the other theories he critiques. However...

Without solid answers to these questions, the answers default to:
1) We can never know the mind of the Intelligent Designer.
2) We can never know the Intelligent Designer.

These answers place Dr. Meyer’s theory not in the realm of science, but rather that of religion. While there is no inherent problem with this fact, there is a problem with a religious belief being publishing under false pretenses in a scientific, peer-reviewed, journal.

In the end I found this review to be unsatisfying and anticlimactic. I had been hoping for a solid argument for ID to follow the argument against the competing theories. Alas, I was disappointed.

I encourage you all to read Dr. Meyer's article. It is pretty heavy in terms of evolutionary science, but it is entirely readable if you don't worry too much about the specifics. If you happen to not be well-versed in evolutionary science just take my word that he does a decent job of pointing out the flaws of the current theories and focus instead on Dr. Meyer's argument for ID (approx. the last 1/5th of the paper). Then, come on back and let me know what you think. After all, that's what it's all about (and here I thought it was all about the Hokey-Pokey for the longest time).


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