Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Stephen C. Meyer and Peter Atkins debate intelligent design

This dialog occurred in 2010 on the Unbelievable radio show.

I made a rough transcript, so please see below for that.

The MP3 file is here. (60 minutes)


The documentary film “Expelled” is presented by US Actor Ben Stein and makes the case that scientists who question Darwinian orthodoxy and support Intelligent Design are being “expelled” from academia.

As the UK edition of the DVD is released we ask “Is freedom of thought at stake or is Intelligent Design out of bounds when it comes to biological science?”

Stephen C Meyer is co founder of the Discovery Institute in the USA and a major proponent of Intelligent Design.

Peter Atkins is Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University and an outspoken atheist.

They both feature in “Expelled” and join Justin to debate the pros and cons of Intelligent Design theory.

Mark Haville who is bringing the film to the UK also joins the discussion.

Meyer’s PhD is from Cambridge, and he has a wonderful book called “Signature in the Cell”. He explains intelligent design for beginners here in his CNN editorial.

Note: The transcript below is quite snarky and may include paraphrases of Dr. Atkins for the sake of humor.

My rough transcript of the Meyer-Atkins debate

Stephen Meyer:
- started researching on ID while doing his PhD at Cambridge
- the question is whether the information-bearing properties in DNA require a designer
- what cause is adequate to explain the digital code that in the simplest living cell
- alternative explanations like self-organization and RNA-first have failed
- so the best explanation for functional sequences of parts is an intelligent designer
- Darwinists have responded to this argument with insults and suppression of dissent

Peter Atkins:
- intelligent design is creationism
- there is no science at all in it
- information can emerge without an intelligent designer
- structures emerge spontaneously, no agent is needed to generate the structure
- information in DNA is also a structure

Stephen Meyer:
- structure and information are two different things
- many structures emerge spontaneously
- structure may be like the vortex that occurs when water goes down a drain

Peter Atkins:
- the vortex is information

Stephen Meyer:
- structures are different from functionally-specified digital information
- in DNA, there is a 4-digit alphabet that is used to create code sequences
- the thing to be explained is where do the functional sequences come from

Peter Atkins:
- information can grow without an agent
- the second law of thermodynamics
- the universe is falling into disorder
- but there are local abatements of chaos that create information
- evolution can cause the amount of information to grow

Stephen Meyer:
- that’s just an assertion
- I agree that energy flow through a system can produce spontaneous order
- but spontaneous order is not the same thing as information

Peter Atkins:
- spontaneous order is the same as information

Stephen Meyer:
- it’s not order that needs to be explained it’s specified complexity

Peter Atkins:
- what do you mean by specified complexity?

Stephen Meyer:
- the chemical bonds that connect to each letter do not determine the letter
- the chemical bonding sites will accept any letter as easily as any other
- any one of the 4 bases (letters) can attach at any place along the backbone

Peter Atkins:
- the selection of which letter comes next is determined by evolution

Stephen Meyer:
- that is just an assertion
- there is no physical process that sequences the letters to have a function

Peter Atkins:
- do you believe in evolution? YES OR NO!

Mark Haville:
- for him to answer the question you have to define the word
- do you mean macro or micro? biological or stellar? directed or undirected?

Peter Atkins:
- undirected molecules to man evolution by natural processes

Stephen Meyer:
- but even Dawkins doesn’t believe in evolution then
- you’re including the origin of life from non-living matter in evolution
- Dawkins says that there is no known naturalistic explanation for that

Mark Haville:
- you need to define your terms

[They discuss of the movie Expelled and the case of Richard Sternberg]

Stephen Meyer:
- the problem is people don’t want to talk about the science
- they denounce dissent as unscientific
- they will not debate about whther natural causes can explain the information
- I want to talk about the science

Peter Atkins:
- ID people raise interesting questions for naturalists to work on
- but you want to tell us what the answer is (intelligence) before we begin
- you start from the idea that an intelligence was involved

Justin Brierley:
- but you start with the idea that natural mechanisms can explain everything!

Stephen Meyer:
- for Dr. Atkins, only explanations based on material processes are valid

Peter Atkins:
- that is correct

Stephen Meyer:
- but we think that the activities of mind can explain some effects
- e.g. – the best explanation of the Rosetta stone is a mind

Peter Atkins:
- but we naturalists think of minds as material as well

Stephen Meyer:
- that’s a materialist pre-supposition on your part
- we would have to have a debate about mind and body

Mark Haville:
- I think that the materialist position is socially dangerous
- the problem with naturalism is that it is an ideology
- the ideology pushes absurdities, e.g. – the universe came from nothing uncaused
- and naturalists exert power over others to force them to believe nonsense

Stephen Meyer:
- science progresses as the result of scientists disagreeing
- both sides agree to the facts
- the debate is about the interpretation of those facts
- and one side is being ruled out a priori based on the pre-supposition of materialism

Peter Atkins:
- why do you say that an intelligence is involved in DNA but not general relativity

Stephen Meyer:
- it is always logically possible that intelligence can be invlved in any effect
- the main thing is that explanations based on intelligence should not be ruled out

Peter Atkins:
= well you can’t appeal to any non-material process in expaining anything
- those are the rules

- what does intelligent design have to do with religion?

Stephen Meyer:
- creationism is about understanding the istory of life using the Bible
- intelligent design is about using the same method of inquiry as Darwin
- we know that information arises from intelligent causes
- humans create information all the time by using intelligence to sequence parts

- are intelligent design proponents disreputable?

Stephen Meyer:
- what’s disreputable is shutting down debate by setting arbitrary rules

Peter Atkins:
- we are both interested in the same questions

- why won’t you let Stephen publish his papers then?

Peter Atkins:
- because it breaks the pre-suppositions of naturalism and materialism

Stephen Meyer:
- you’re shutting down inquiry by using an arbitrary definition of science

Mark Haville:
- we need to define the word science
- science should be based on what we can observe empirically
- we can observe micro-evolution empirically
- but Darwinism goes beyond what is observable to postulate macro-evolution

Peter Atkins:
- but paleobiology is replete with evidence

Stephen Meyer:
- paleobiology uses a method of inference that I think is valid
- but intelligent design uses the same mode of reasoning which is also valid

Peter Atkins:
= you’re intellectually lazy
- we’re smart, we’re using our brains

- you’re saying that appeals to intelligent causes ends science?
- is ID the view that some things are too complex to be explained with naturalism?

Peter Atkins:
- yes, and to teach children that materialism is false is child abuse

Stephen Meyer:
- let’s drop the insults and the rhetoric and focus on the arguments
- the ID argument is not based on what we don’t know, it’s based on what we DO know
- first, we can ask what undirected natural processes can and cannot do
- second, we can ask what we know about intelligent causes from our own experience
- what we do know seems to me to require an intelligent agent as a cause

Peter Atkins:
- GOD! Do you mean God!? Do you mean God!?

Stephen Meyer:
- I personally mean God, but all that the arguments proves is a generic intelligent cause
- and I am using the same method of investigation that Darwin used to get there
- what we know from our experience is that a mind is needed to create information

Peter Atkins:

Stephen Meyer:
- in my book, I list 10 predictions made by ID, so it’s not a science-stopper
- furthermore, the enterprise of science began with th goal of understanding God
- consider the earliest scientists, people like James Boyler and Johannes Kepler

Peter Atkins:
- that was 300 years ago, we’ve moved on

Mark Haville:
- what about Max Planck then?

Stephen Meyer:
- how about James Clark Maxwell?

Mark Haville:
- we need to focus on the facts

Peter Atkins:
- what do you mean by the facts?

Mark Haville:
- well the fact is that Darwinism has no mechanism to produce new information

Peter Atkins:
- well copying errors introduces beneficial mutations

Stephen Meyer:
- let’s focus on where we get the first information from the simplest organism
- you can’t account for the first organism by appealing to copying errors
- to add functionality to a program, you need new lines codes from an intelligence
- once you have life, you can generate some new information
- but you can’t generate macro-evolution either

Peter Atkins:
- if we give you your explanation for teh origin of life, will you give this up

Stephen Meyer:
- of course! I’m a former theistic evolutionist
- but right now the evidence is not there for it
- we have to decide these questions based on what we see with our own eyes today

Peter Atkins:
- but I pre-suppose materialism as the starting point of all explanations
- you’re just intellectually lazy to abandon my pre-supposition

Stephen Meyer:
- why is it is less intellectually lazy to insist that materialism is true
- we are making plenty of predictions, and isn’t that what science is about?
- consider Junk DNA – you guys said it had no use
- now we know it has a use

Peter Atkins:
- naturalists were open to the idea that junk DNA might have a use before ID

- Dr. Meyer, what about the wall that locks out intelligence as an explanation?

Stephen Meyer:
- if these are interesting questions, then we should allow freedom of inquiry
- that’s how science advances

Peter Atkins:
- for all their science-talk really they are just saying God did it
- people who don’t agree with me are not using their brains, like I do
- to give up on my pre-supposition of materialism is a denial of humanity

Mark Haville:
- there are important issues that are affected by our view of origins
- everyone who hasn’t seen Expelled movie should definitely see it

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One Response

  1. Genesius says:

    Wintery, This sounds like a demolition in favour of Meyer. Was it a good debate? Did you use quite a bit of ‘artistic license’? BTW, you know who I am…

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