Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Michael Ruse debates Stephen C. Meyer on intelligent design and evolution on NPR

Here’s a debate between:

  • Stephen C. Meyer, author of Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design
  • Michael Ruse, Director of the History and Philosophy of Science Program at Florida State University

The MP3 file is here. (28 minutes)

The following summary is rated S for Slightly Snarky. Reader discretion is advised.

Topics:

  • Moderator: (to Meyer) define creationism, evolution, and intelligent design
  • Meyer: creationism is based on an interpretation of the Bible
  • Meyer: evolution is an unguided process of mutation and selection that produces organisms
  • Meyer: intelligent design is the idea that the best explanation for certain features of life
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Where do you disagree?
  • Ruse: Intelligent design is similar to creationism, but I won’t say how exactly
  • Meyer: ID is a good explanation for the sudden origin of animal body plans in the Cambrian era
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) Is the designer God? Is the designer the Christian God?
  • Meyer: No, ID theory is an inference that is rooted in scientific evidence, not in a religious text
  • Meyer: ID can be inferred from the origin of biological information and from molecular machines
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Where do you disagree?
  • Ruse: Meyer is disingenuous because ID requires the designer to be God
  • Meyer: The biological evidence for intelligent design by itself does not implicate God
  • Meyer: The fine-tuning of the cosmos is intelligent design in physics, and that *would* require God
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) Explain what the Cambrian explosion is
  • Meyer: sudden origin of 36 body plans in 10 million years 530 million years ago
  • Moderator: So you think that 36 body plans in 10 million years is too sudden for Darwinian mechanisms to produce?
  • Meyer: Yes, for two reasons. One, there are no precursors prior to the start of the explosion in complexity
  • Meyer: And two, the complexity of animal life includes code, circuitry, hierarchies – best explained by a designer
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Is it a problem for you?
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that denies that the Ediacaran fauna are precursors to the Cambrian animals
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that denies that microfossils are precursors to the Cambrian animals
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that denies that animal complexity goes from simple to complex in the fossil record
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that shows that the Cambrian explosion took place over a few million years
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that shows that there were complex organ types at the start of the Cambrian explosion
  • Ruse: There is no peer-reviewed paper that denies that we already have a materialist explanation for the Cambrian explosion
  • Ruse: everything is solved! nothing to see here! (folds arms and beams) I trust that my unsupported assertions have relieved your doubts, yes?
  • Moderator: Is intelligent design undermined by more recent science?
  • Meyer: no, there is an absence of precursor fossils in the period before the Cambrian explosion
  • Meyer: there are other things that make the problem even worse for naturalism, like information from epigenetics
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Answer that
  • Ruse: He is just pulling out passages out of context because he is a creationist!
  • Moderator: The leftist New Yorker reviewer Gareth Cook says that the Cambrian explosion took tens of millions of years
  • Meyer: Actually, the peer-reviewed science is clear that the standard date is at most 10 million nears
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) Deny the mainstream date
  • Ruse: Well, Prothero says no! Ho ho ho! (folds arms) He just says it. No it’s not published in peer-reviewed research
  • Ruse: We know so much more than Darwin did, how could the progress of science disprove my materialist pre-supposition? It’s unpossible!
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) Isn’t ID pseudo-science?
  • Meyer: If we limit ourselves to materialist explanations only, then we cannot infer intelligence when we see artifacts like the Rosetta Stone
  • Meyer: wind and erosion is not an adequate explanation for certain systems – systems that are rich in information
  • Meyer: the best explanation is the explanation that relies on known causes – we know that intelligence produces information
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) so the intelligence is the best explanation of systems that have information?
  • Meyer: yes, think about software code – the best explanation of new computer instructions is an intelligence
  • Meyer: we have uniform and repeated experience of intelligence bringing new information into being, and new animals need new information
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) must science only work with natural explanations?
  • Ruse: intelligent design is religion! Ho ho ho ho! (folds arms)
  • Ruse: there is no a priori way of ruling out supernatural causes in order to explain nature
  • Ruse: We don’t need to introduce supernatural causes to explain information in living systems or in software code
  • Ruse: Steve is asking me to explain the Cambrian explosion, but why does he want me to explain that?
  • Ruse: How did anything start to fly? How did whales come? There, those questions explain the Cambrian explosion naturalistically
  • Ruse: Steve’s answer to explain new information is to bring in miracles, like when he said that new computer code requires God
  • Ruse: inferring intelligence as an explanation for information like the computer code is religion! God! Creationism! Prayer in schools!
  • Ruse: we have to keep looking for naturalistic explanations for the Big Bang, the DNA, the fine-tuning, the Cambrian fossils, etc.
  • Ruse: we are never justified in inferring an intelligence to explain information, because that would deny my religion of materialism
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) what are the requirements for a theory to be scientific?
  • Ruse: any explanation has to be naturalistic, because I am an atheist and that’s my religion, and we can’t go against my religion
  • Ruse: it’s “really stupid” to infer God as the explanation of the creation of the entire physical universe or the cosmic fine-tuning
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) why is intelligent design so popular when we have court cases saying it is not science?
  • Meyer: the Discovery Institute does not have an agenda to teach intelligent design in public schools
  • Meyer: intelligent design is about inferring intelligence as a causal explanation for information in living systems, and elsewhere
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) are evolutionists unwilling to entertain the possibility of intelligence being the best explanation?
  • Ruse: scientists have to make sure that that all their explanations don’t go outside of the materialist reservation
  • Ruse: intelligent design is evangelical Christianity dressed up to look like science, the Dover judge said so
  • Ruse: Meyer is disingenuous! Ho ho ho ho ho! (folds arms contentedly)
  • Meyer: first, judges don’t decide science, evidence decides science
  • Meyer: the Dover people made a mistake by trying to go to the courts to get things into the schools
  • Meyer: intelligent design is about research, writing books and papers based on what we learn from science
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) is intelligent design dangerous?
  • Ruse: yes, intelligent design is about politics, it’s not about cosmic fine-tuning, origin of life, molecular machines or Cambrian explosion
  • Ruse: intelligent design is about abstinence, prayer in schools, burdening women with unwanted babies and male-female marriage
  • Ruse: my reason for opposing ID is the socially conservative agenda which emerges from protein folding probability calculations
  • Ruse: I don’t want to be drafted to fight in Vietnam, I don’t want them to take away my drugs, etc. so that’s why I believe Darwinism
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) why do you want to take abortion away, you meany?
  • Meyer: actually, intelligent design is about science, and in any case National Review gave my book a bad review
  • Moderator: (to Ruse) are science and religion in conflict?
  • Ruse: well religion can just abstain from making any claims about the physical world, and just stick to subjective nonsense – that’s fair
  • Moderator: (to Meyer) isn’t all opposition to evolution rooted in fundamentalist religion?
  • Meyer: you can believe in Darwinism and be a theist, but the real reason for doubting Darwinism is the scientific evidence, not religion

Tell me how you think Dr. Meyer did in the comments.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How brief was the period in which the Cambrian phyla suddenly appeared?

The Cambrian explosion refers to the sudden appearance of new body plans in the fossil record. ID proponents think that the period is between 5-10 million years at the most. Naturalists want to stretch out the period in which the body plans appear to tens of millions of years. The two sides can’t both be right. What’s the truth?

Evolution News has the answer.

Excerpt:

To establish the length of the most explosive period of innovation within the Cambrian explosion itself, Meyer cites the work of MIT geochronologist Samuel Bowring and his colleagues as well the work of another group led by Smithsonian paleontologist Douglas Erwin. The Bowring-led study showed that (in their words) “the main period of exponential diversification” within the Cambrian lasted “only 5-6 million years” (emphasis added). Meyer explains:

An analysis by MIT geochronologist Samuel Bowring has shown that the main pulse of Cambrian morphological innovation occurred in a sedimentary sequence spanning no more than 6 million years. Yet during this time representatives of at least sixteen completely novel phyla and about thirty classes first appeared in the rock record. In a more recent paper using a slightly different dating scheme, Douglas Erwin and colleagues similarly show that thirteen new phyla appear in a roughly 6-million-year window. (p. 73)

[…][T]ake a look first at the following figure that Bowring and his colleagues included in their definitive 1993 article, published in the journal Science. They use radiometric methods to date the different stages of the Cambrian period, including the crucial Tommotian and Atdabanian stages in which the greatest number of new animal phyla and classes arise. Note that the so-called Manykaian stage of the Cambrian period lasts about 10-14 million years. Note also that the main pulse of morphological innovation didn’t begin during this stage but rather during the Tommotian and Atdabanian — a period that they describe as taking between “5 to 10 million years,” and in a more detailed passage as taking about 5-6 million years.

[…]In the figure above, the Tommotian and Atdabanian stages of the Cambrian period together span only about 5 million years, starting at about 530 and ending about 525 million years ago. Bowring’s figure also depicts the total number of classes and orders present at any given time during the Cambrian period. The biggest increases in morphological innovation occur during the Tommotian and Atdabanian stages. Indeed, during this period the number of known orders nearly quadruples. Moreover, Bowring and his colleagues also make clear that this period corresponds to the main pulse of Cambrian morphological innovation as measured by the number of new phyla and classes that first appear. They note that, while a few groups of animals do arise in the earliest Manykaian stage of the Cambrian, the most rapid period of “exponential increase of diversification,” corresponding to the Tommotian and Atdabanian stages, “lasted only 5 to 6 m.y.”

You can see the figure they are reference in the Evolution News article.

Also, check out these clips that explain the Cambrian explosion:

Part 1:

Part 2:

The first clip features James Valentine, a professor of biology at the University of California who just co-authored a new book on the Cambrian explosion and is not a proponent of intelligent design.

The consensus among scientists regarding the period of time in which the new body plans appear is 5-6 million years. Biologically speaking, that’s a blink of an eye. You aren’t going that kind of complexity and innovation in such a short period of time any more than you can expect to win the lottery by buying 5-6 million tickets when the odds of winning are 1 in a googol (10 to the 100th power – 1, followed by 100 zeroes). You don’t have enough lottery tickets to make winning the lottery likely. Similarly, 5-6 million years is not enough time for naturalistic mechanisms to code brand new body plans from scratch. It would be like trying to research and write a Ph.D thesis during a single lunch hour. It’s just not enough time to produce the amount of information that’s required.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , ,

New study: Crows capable of analytical reasoning

Male normal gray cockatiel preens his wife's crest

Aww! Male cockatiel preens his wife’s crest

Melissa Cain Travis who blogs at Hard Core Christianity sent me news of this wonderful, wonderful study of crow intelligence. I love birds SO MUCH, so I have to blog any story that helps my readers to see why they should love birds, too.

First, read the story from Scientific American.

A recent research collaboration has discovered that crows exhibit strong behavioral signs of analogical reasoning — the ability to solve puzzles like “bird is to air as fish is towhat?” Analogical reasoning is considered to be the pinnacle of cognition and it only develops in humans between the ages of three and four.

[The research team] first trained hooded crows on several tasks in which they had to match items that were the same as one another. The crows were presented with a tray containing three cups. The middle cup was covered by a card picturing a color, a shape, or a number of items. The other two side cups were also covered by cards — one the same as and one different from the middle card. The cup under the matching card contained food, but the cup under the nonmatching card was empty. Crows quickly learned to choose the matching card and to do so more quickly from one task to the next.

Then, the critical test was given. Each card now pictured a pair of items. The middle card would display pairs AA or CD, and the two side cards would display pair BB and pair EF. The relation between one pair of items must be appreciated and then applied to a new pair of items to generate the correct answer: the BB card in the case of AA or the EF card in the case of CD. For instance, if the middle card displayed a circle and a cross, then the correct choice would be the side card containing a square and a triangle rather than the side card containing two squares.

Not only could the crows correctly perform this task, but they did so spontaneously, from the very first presentations, without ever being trained to do so.

Now watch this 2-minute video and see if you can find the answers faster than the crow. I was slower than the crow at the beginning, then faster at the end.

Well, are you impressed? I was impressed!!!!!

Now I have an absolutely silly thought to share with you.

I was thinking about these birds and science posts that I put up and the thought occurred to me about what Christians did to demonstrate the existence of God in debates before we knew about the origin of the universe, the cosmic fine-tuning, galactic habitability, stellar habitability, origin of life, biological information, Cambrian explosion, molecular machines, and blah blah blah de blah.

So what would the William Lane Craig of those days do for his five arguments? Well, the fourth argument would still be the resurrection, and the fifth point would still be religious experience. But the first three would be… BIRDS! Argument one would be some parrot who had learned to talk and do tricks. Argument two would be some parrot who was particularly good at flying and hunting. And argument three would be some particularly beautiful bird. And that’s how you would prove the existence of a Creator and Designer before we had telescopes and microscopes to do it with. Pretty sure.

Anyway, that’s my (silly) idea. Birds are so wonderful, I just say silly things about them!

Filed under: News, , , , , , , ,

Study: brain of child neglected by mother is smaller and underdeveloped

Dina sent me this article from the UK Daily Mail.

Here is the scan:

Brain scans of 3-year old children: normal vs neglected

Brain scans of 3-year old children: normal vs neglected

Excerpt:

Both of these images are brain scans of a two three-year-old children, but the brain on the left is considerably larger, has fewer spots and less dark areas, compared to the one on the right.

According to neurologists this sizeable difference has one primary cause – the way each child was treated by their mothers.

The child with the larger and more fully developed brain was looked after by its mother – she was constantly responsive to her baby, reported The Sunday Telegraph.

But the child with the shrunken brain was the victim of severe neglect and abuse.

According to research reported by the newspaper, the brain on the right worryingly lacks some of the most fundamental areas present in the image on the left.

The consequences of these deficits are pronounced – the child on the left with the larger brain will be more intelligent and more likely to develop the social ability to empathise with others.

But in contrast, the child with the shrunken brain will be more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crimes, much more likely to be unemployed and to be dependent on state benefits.

The child is also more likely to develop mental and other serious health problems.

Professor Allan Schore, of UCLA, told The Sunday Telegraph that if a baby is not treated properly in the first two years of life, it can have a fundamental impact on development.

He pointed out that the genes for several aspects of brain function, including intelligence, cannot function.

[…]The study correlates with research released earlier this year that found that children who are given love and affection from their mothers early in life are smarter with a better ability to learn.

The study by child psychiatrists and neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, found school-aged children whose mothers nurtured them early in life have brains with a larger hippocampus, a key structure important to learning, memory and response to stress.

The research was the first to show that changes in this critical region of children’s brain anatomy are linked to a mother’s nurturing, Neurosciencenews.com reports.

The research is published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

Lead author Joan L. Luby, MD, professor of child psychiatry, said the study reinforces how important nurturing parents are to a child’s development.

I have a very good feminist non-Christian friend who sometimes comments here. I once asked her about marriage and she said that her skills would be wasting on raising children. I explained to her my view that a mother needs to stay at home with the children, and that is more important work. I expect my future wife to read all kinds of books on child care and to give the child attention, nutrition, exercise and play so that the child will grow up to be an effective Christian. Maybe I need to be clear. I am not going to spend hundreds of thousands per child with just any woman. I need a woman who can produce influential and effective Christians who will engage in the public square. And we do not entrust that job to just anyone. Professional women who are willing to be stay-at-home moms in the first five years of each child’s life.

I expect the woman I marry (if I marry) to have a college degree, and preferably a graduate degree, and a couple of years of employment. Then she has to stay home and invest in those children through the first five years at least. After that she can stay home or work as much as she thinks is beneficial to the family goals of impacting the university, the church and the public square – as well as continuing to raise those children. It’s not a waste of her talent to make the next William Lane Craig, the next Marsha Blackburn, the next Doug Axe, or the next Edith Jones. Even if we only aim for those guys and get decent, hard-working Christians who make a difference using apologetics, that would still be something. The main thing is not to be scared to try to achieve something with the family – if you aim at nothing, you always hit it.

UPDATE: I am linking to a relevant post from Lindsay, a Christian mother who has a graduate degree in biology and was teaching biology before leaving her career to care for her children.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why are progressives so blithe about pressuring Christians to act like non-Christians?

A great post from Dr. George Yancey explains the worldview behind so many things we hear in the news these days. Here he is responding to the story about the Houston mayor who subpoena’d all the sermons from the Christian pastors in order to chill dissent to her LGBT agenda.

He writes:

I am a sociologist studying anti-Christian attitudes in our society. This brings me to my take that I am qualified to talk about – whether this legal strategy is tied to Christianophobia. There are reasons to believe that this attempt to obtain sermons and other information is part of a larger strategy to stigmatize Christians. Thus, I do not discount the possibility that Christianophobia plays some role in these actions.

However, it is work of another book I wrote a couple of years ago which I think is more relevant. That book is named What Motivates Cultural Progressives. In that book, I documented that cultural progressive activists tend to consider their political opponents to be irrational, religious individuals trying to move our culture backwards. They have little respect for their political opponents. They often express concerns about the ability of religious individuals to have influence on our political system. With this sort of mindset, it is easy to perceive a motivation from Houston officials, if they are cultural progressive activists, to gather sermons and other material in an effort to “expose” the irrationality and intolerance of their political opponents. Whether the documents are relevant to the current court case may be less important to these officials than stopping the efforts of those who would take our culture backwards.

My suggestion is that it is not as much a fear of Christians as it is the fear of the socially conservative culture linked to Christians driving these subpoenas. The lack of respect cultural progressive activists have for their political opponents allow them to rationalize using the legal system to “dig up dirt” on them. In my sample, I found several individuals who did not believe that religious individuals had the right to fully participate in our political progress. A good number of respondents also articulated a belief that religious individuals are brainwashed and cultural conservative political movements have developed due to the manipulation of ignorant Christians by evil leaders. Thus the political claims in this movement are not legitimate claims by people seeking to serve their own social and material interests, but are the result of manipulation whereby they have been persuaded to vote against their own economic and social interest. When we recognize that many cultural progressive activists do not see cultural conservatives as legitimate political players in our governmental system, then the overreaching request make a great deal of sense.

So how should we respond to this?

Well, the answer is that Christians need to take seriously the need to speak and act intelligently when dealing with non-Christians. We need to study apologetics, yes. But we also need to be good at knowing other things – practical things, academic things. We should be able to earn a living and share with others. We should be able to demonstrate sobriety, discipline and chastity. We should be able to explain rationally and evidentially all the moral beliefs that non-Christians find the most objectionable. We should have an interest in current events, economics, law, politics and foreign policy. Etc. We have to be able to out-think our rivals, and win their respect the same way that Joseph won the respect of Pharaoh, and Daniel won the respect of Nebuchadnezzar.

I think it’s interesting that Dr. George Yancey himself is an excellent example of what I am talking about. He is a full professor at the University of North Texas, and has published books with Oxford University Press. If people want to know if it is possible to be a Christian and be intelligent, this is exactly who we need to show them – and who we need to be. We should be working on this! And raising our kids to counteract these perceptions that the secular leftists have of us. Often, the secular leftists are raised in Christian homes, see the anti-intellectualism in popular Christianity firsthand, then head off to university to train as a persecutor. We have to shape up and stop this from happening. We are train our own executioners, because of our laziness, ignorance and cowardice.

Filed under: Commentary, , , ,

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