Richard Dawkins Refuses to Debate Stephen Meyer

As Evolution News & Views reports:

Today on the Michael Medved show, arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins, author of The Greatest Show on Earth, was asked point-blank by Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman why he wouldn’t debate Stephen Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell. His response? Weak sauce:

I have never come across any kind of creationism, whether you call it intelligent design or not, which has a serious scientific case to put.

The objection to having debates with people like that is that it gives them a kind of respectability. If a real scientist goes onto a debating platform with a creationist, it gives them a respectability, which I do not think your people have earned.

That’s too bad, because it would be a fascinating debate.

Unfortunately, too many people confuse “creationism” with intelligent design, as Dawkins does here.  Thinking Christian sums up the issues well:

The difference between the two terms is straightforward. Creationism begins in Genesis and argues for certain conclusions based on a certain understanding of the Scriptures. It is known for its persistence in seeking scientific data that fits that interpretation of Genesis, and for finding creative but irregular interpretations to help in that search. As such it has gained an unsavory scientific reputation.

Intelligent Design has a completely different starting point in observations of nature, and in both empirical and philosophical interpretations of scientific data. It sees phenomena like the high information content in biological organisms, instances of apparent irreducible complexity, or fine-tuning of the cosmos for life, and argues that the best explanation for them is to be found in a designing intelligence.

The two overlap in rejecting any a priori insistence that nature is a closed system of physical cause and effect, acting strictly according to natural law or unguided chance. There is also an overlap among their supporters, in that virtually all creationists are theists (Christian, Jewish, or Islamic), and most (not all) ID supporters are too. Still, many creationists are uncomfortable with ID methods and conclusions, and many ID supporters similarly disagree with creationist approaches and conclusions.

In a word, the two are not the same. But opponents insist on blurring the distinction.

He’s right, I think, when he speculates that the reason for this constant misapprehension is a kind of “worldview blindness” that sees science as the sole standard of rationality, and everything else as nonsense – i.e., scientism.  But scientism isn’t the result of any experiment, but a set of philosophical presuppositions about science.  Thus, when it comes to determining what counts as “science,” or even what counts as “rational,” we’ll have to hash it out in the realm of philosophy.


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27 thoughts on “Richard Dawkins Refuses to Debate Stephen Meyer

  1. Hey Chris,

    I will address your points in the same order you make them;

    I was pointing out that is unreasonable to claim that you can distinguish intelligently designed things from those that haven’t when you are completely ignoring the possibility that they may have evolved.

    Using examples of things that we don’t think (and no one is even claiming) might have evolved to leap to a conclusion about very different things that could have evolved is, to say the least, not a rational argument. (to say the most, it is misleading)

    You said;

    “The only relevant mathematics seems to be probability theory in relation to complexity, which I believe most mathematicians accept and use on a regular basis.”

    These are the very bits of maths I mentioned earlier that the ID proponents have been called out on. Errors in the content and the application of this maths have been pointed out and discussed. The response from the creationist/ID folks is to just carry on repeating their claims and to ignore the criticisms.

    This is not polite behaviour, let alone science.

    There is evidence for evolution. You have some maths (with mistakes in it) vaguely hinting at design.

    This is not begging the question. You are making a huge claim going against large areas of science supported by many independent lines of evidence, you need more than bad math.

    Telling me you are skeptical isn’t a rational argument. You need evidence and logic.

    Fire away with this – always happy to listen.

    Science measures what it can measure. This is not a philosophical position but the scientific method.

    How would you suggest changing the scientific method to include creationism/ID but to rule out something we both agree (I hope) is silly, like say leprechauns?

    I’m all ears.

    I have not only read Hoyle’s book – I own a copy – I haven’t just cut and pasted a section from a creationist website. :-)

    Did you know that Hoyle’s argument now has a logical fallacy named after it. Perhaps you can address this?

    Btw no one is suggesting that a cell arrived through purely random forces, so I am unsure why you want to argue against such a strawman.

    Best regards,

    Psi

    PS the maths is wrong again. Do you need me to explain why? You seem quite intelligent and eloquent – I think that given 20 mins you could spot the error for yourself – but just ask if you want a hint

  2. Hi Chris,

    I’m great thanks – I hope you are too.

    “Even if we were never able to discover who or what the designer is, we can still detect design.”

    The maths that claim to make this possible have major holes in them.

    Human made artefacts and radio signals are not alive and don’t reproduce so the can’t evolve.

    So it is reasonable to detect design in them – the only examples of them we know about are designed so this seems reasonable.

    To leap from this to saying that life must designed is illogical. Seeing as you are using this argument to try to support the assumption that life is designed you have a rather neat circular argument otherwise known as begging the question.

    Cheers,

    Psi

    • Hi Psi,
      How’s it going? You mentioned in your comment,

      “The maths that claim to make this possible have major holes in them.

      Human made artefacts and radio signals are not alive and don’t reproduce so they can’t evolve.”

      In making a design inference, these items that you mention, as far as I can tell, aren’t relevant — i.e., various mathematical views, the fact that certain artifacts aren’t alive, don’t reproduce, and can’t evolve. The only relevant mathematics seems to be probability theory in relation to complexity, which I believe most mathematicians accept and use on a regular basis.

      Rather than these issues, there are two that are indispensable for detecting design (whether in an artifact or a living thing): specification and complexity (often put together as specified complexity). Or, in other words, a highly improbable pattern. Those are the criteria developed and defended by William Dembski and others for detecting design. To undermine a design inference in biology, you would either have to show that these aren’t the correct criteria for detecting design, or that they don’t apply, for some reason, to biological life. Of course, just claiming that X form of life evolved would be begging the question, since that’s exactly the question under consideration: Was X form of biological life designed (did it require or does it demonstrate design)? or Did X form of life evolve (could it have arisen by random mutation and natural selection only)?

      I and many others are skeptical that Darwinism (mutation plus selection) can explain the astronomical amounts of variation in living things (consider a sponge versus a whale) because such power has never been demonstrated. Rather, some very simple, uncomplicated, examples are usually presented (like finch beak sizes or peppered moth populations), and a huge, gigantic leap is made by an extrapolation that something similar can account for all living things.

      Unfortunately, some kind of mechanism like this is usually assumed to be the only possible explanation, because metaphysical naturalism has already been (usually uncritically) presupposed. Thus, whatever empirical evidence is discovered is filtered through a naturalistic worldview, and so the only option is a naturalistic mechanism.

      Yet, as I’ve mentioned before, the appearance of design and complexity in living things is so overwhelming that even scientists often can’t believe it happened by chance, and folks like Francis Crick and Fred Hoyle propose directed panspermia.

      Also, consider this example given by mathematician Fred Hoyle:

      “Published in his 1982/1984 books Evolution from Space (co-authored with Chandra Wickramasinghe), Hoyle calculated that the chance of obtaining the required set of enzymes for even the simplest living cell was one in 10^40,000. Since the number of atoms in the known universe is infinitesimally tiny by comparison (10^80), he argued that even a whole universe full of primordial soup would grant little chance to evolutionary processes.

      “Hoyle compared the random emergence of even the simplest cell to the likelihood that “a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.” Hoyle also compared the chance of obtaining even a single functioning protein by chance combination of amino acids to a solar system full of blind men solving Rubik’s Cube simultaneously.” (Fred Hoyle – Wikipedia).

      Take care,
      Chris

    • Hi Psi,

      How are you? The identity of the designer remains an open question. But that’s a separate issue from whether or not design can be detected. Even if we were never able to discover who or what the designer is, we can still detect design. Archaeologists discriminate between human-made artifacts, and rocks that resemble human artifacts. In so doing, they are making a design inference. The SETI scientists would make a design inference if they detected a specified, complex pattern of electromagnetic transmissions — which would be necessary to distinguish an intelligent communication from random noise. We make design inferences in every area of human experience, and there’s no reason to think we shouldn’t make them in relation to biological organisms.

      But, the most commonly cited possibilities are extraterrestrial agents, or God. Francis Crick opted for an E.T. (directed panspermia), and Richard Dawkins is open to that possibility too. Many others believe it’s God.

      Take care,
      Chris

  3. Psi,

    But it was you who asked if anyone could cite an authority that acknowledged ID as a scientific enterprise who was not a Creationist. I did that and some of those I cited were scientists, although I really do not think that credible authority in this arena lies only with scientists.

    But my contention is only that it is not unscientific to suggest that the world may have intelligence and design behind it and that science may reach that conclusion one day. Dawkins acknowledges that the question of God as designer is a legitimate question that science should deal with. He thinks he/science has done so comprehensively. Others do not. He concludes that the science says no supernatural intelligence. others conclude that the science does not say that and that the ID hypothesis remains alive.

    No I did not know that nor of YEC. I will check it out.

    No, I can’t give the current hypothesis from ID . .
    So maybe we should leave it there.

    All the best.

  4. Hi Swarmi,

    You seem to be trying to distance ID from creationism and somehow equate it with any form of religious faith and yet at the same time you seem to be saying it is science.

    The US courts saw through any claims that ID is not creationism (it seems to be a sub set of creationism), and I quoted the creationists own words and the IDers own words above that suggest they are the same thing.

    Arguments from authority won’t get you far as the huge majority of scientists think ID is not science.

    Berlinksi is not a scientist.

    – – –

    Just read any YEC stuff – the existence of an atheist conspiracy disguised as modern science is one of their underlying dogma’s.

    Did you really not know that?

    – – –

    Anyway rather than engaging in an argument from authority perhaps you can give the current hypothesis from the ID school of thought regarding the mechanism of creation?

    Regards,

    Psi

  5. Well science is not an atheist conspiracy and I don’t know anyone who believes that. But my point is that there are scientists who are not creationists who believe that the world has intelligence and design behind it. The late American Hindu mathematician Richard Thompson comes to mind as an example.

    Hindus do not believe that the world was created a relatively short time ago nor that time is linear. Thus they have very different views from Creationists.

    Schrodinger like Thompson was a Hindu Vedantist, not a Creationist, and Vedanta acknowledges supernatural intelligence and thus design behind the world of our sense experience.

    You seem to be trying to make ID out to be no more than a Creationist conspiracy. Look at the Fellows of the Discovery Institute. They are not all Christian Creationists nor even theists. Berlinski for one is an agnostic and Senior Fellow of the Institute. He was a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics and molecular biology at Columbia University among other things.

    Now Berlinski personally is not a believer or nonbeliever in ID, but he acknowledges that it is a scientific enterprise and not a faith based one.

  6. Hi Chris,

    I am familiar with this line of discussion from Dawkins.

    I am afraid you are misrepresenting his position.

    He does point out that the only process or force or mechanism that we have evidence for, that generates complexity and design where there was none is evolution.

    So if we were designed then our designers or their designers etc must have evolved.

    Unless you just want to say well no god didn’t evolve he just existed so there. In which case we just as well say well not the uni/multiverse just exists so there as well.

    Hi Swarmi

    I’m sorry but I will have to pull you up over a few things here;

    That QM stuff is just stuff and nonsense. A misunderstanding of what “observe” means. In the QM sense it does not take a consciousness (whatever that is) but just any interaction with matter or energy to collapse a superpositional quantum state.

    – – –

    People who favour panspermia in no way have to have an sympathies for ID, that claim is a non sequitur. They simply think that life started elsewhere and can in some way survive space travel.

    – – –

    Those final two points are absolutely spot on in my opinion.

    What I struggle with is why you think they support your view?

    They just show up the lies from some creationists that science is an atheist conspiracy.

    They also put the ball in the believers court. Show us your evidence!

    Thanks,

    Psi

  7. Greetings, Gentlemen. I’m enjoying this thoughtful exchange. I believe Dawkins says something similar about the possibility of design in this NPR interview: http://www.npr.org/templates/player/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=9180871&m=9180876.

    I believe what he says is that if it were shown that life on earth was designed, then the cause would have to be some kind of extraterrestrial intelligence. So, he seems to acknowledge that design is a legitimate conclusion to arrive at. As he suggests in the God Delusion quote Swami cited, he considers God’s existence to be a scientific question (and presumably that would include God’s activities, like creating).

    Interestingly, he seems to rule out a divine designer a priori. He’s willing to accept an alien designer, but not a divine one. But it’s an important point that he acknowledges the legitimacy of intelligent design as an explanation for life.

  8. There are plenty of philosophers to cite, and they know their science, but as for scientists, here are a few:

    Paul Davies following John Wheeler takes one of the weirdest features of quantum mechanics and pushes it to its logical conclusion: that conscious observers bring about the universe they find themselves in by the very act of observing it. This could be understood as a form of ID.

    Scientists who accept Fred Hoyle’s theory of directed-panspermia can also be seen to subscribe to ID.

    Physicist and naturalist Sean Carroll writes,

    “There’s no obstacle in principle to imagining that the normal progress of science could one day conclude that the invocation of a supernatural component was the best way of understanding the universe. Indeed, this scenario is basically the hope of most proponents of Intelligent Design. The point is not that this couldn’t possibly happen — it’s that it hasn’t happened in our actual world.”

    Here is another quote from Dawkins. This one from The God Delusion:

    “God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice . . . The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice – or not yet – a decided one.”

    Yes, the first one was from Stein’s interview. I was unaware of the editing you mention.

  9. Hi Swami,

    That’s one person you quote – Nagel, who seems to be using a different definition of “science” to all the scientists out there. He is a philosopher and not a scientists.

    Can you get the me the source of that outrageous claim about Dawkins. I think it is made up out of a hypothetical question he was asked by Ben Stein who then dishonestly cut up the interview to remove any reference to it being hypothetical.

    I will be interested to see where you got it from.

    Thanks,

    Psi

  10. Psi,

    Despite the quote you cite, you ignore the fact that ID can mean any number of things other than what Creationists want it to mean. Thus it is not, as many believe, merely another term synonymous in all respects with Literal Biblical Creationism. Creationism may embrace ID but ID does not necessarily embrace Ceationism. For that to occur we need more evidence. :)

    As for those outside of Creationism that give scientific status to ID, I referred you to an article in which Thomas Nagel is quoted extensively with regard to

    “his acceptance that ID is science (even if it were to explicitly identify God as the designer!)”

    and the fact that

    “Richard Dawkins concedes life on Earth might be the product of design . . . :

    The goal of the Intelligent Design Movement is to achieve an open philosophy of science that permits consideration of any explanations toward which the evidence may be pointing . . . visibly making evolutionary naturalism the subject of critical investigation based on evidence, rather than allowing it to rule by default as the unquestioned philosophical position to which science must by definition adhere.”

    At this point I think it is either ignorance or disingenuous to maintain that ID is merely a cover for Creationism, although Creationism also embraces ID.

  11. Hi Swarmi,

    Perhaps you missed my earlier comment;

    “Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact. Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, wings, etc.”

    “Creation means that the various forms of life began abruptly through the agency of an intelligent creator with their distinctive features already intact. Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc.”

    ?

    Regards,

    Psi

  12. On the misunderstanding that ID is synonymous with Creationism:

    Stephen C. Meyer explains:

    “According to a spate of recent media reports . . . intelligent design is just biblical creationism repackaged by religious fundamentalists in order to circumvent a 1987 United States Supreme Court prohibition against teaching creationism in the U.S. public schools . . . newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets in the United States and around the world have repeated this trope. But is it accurate? As one of the architects of the theory of intelligent design . . . I know that it isn’t. The modern theory of intelligent design was . . . first proposed in the late 1970s and early 1980s by a group of scientists, Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olson, who were trying to account for an enduring mystery of modern biology: the origin of the digital information en-coded along the spine of the DNA molecule. Thaxton and his colleagues came to the conclusion that the information-bearing properties of DNA provided strong evidence of a prior but unspecified designing intelligence. They wrote a book proposing this idea in 1984 . . . Contemporary scientific interest in the design hypothesis not only predates the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against creationism, but the . . . theory of intelligent design, unlike creationism . . . is an inference from empirical evidence, not a deduction from religious authority.”

    I believe that there is intelligence behind the world and I am not a Creationist. I now many other people who believe the same. The objective fact is that ID a legitimate scientific position to take. If you are so interested in the subject and want to speak authoritatively about it you might do well to read the 14 or so pages. It is filled with atheistic scientists admitting the same and distancing themselves from naturalism in terms of its being the only or even the most logical worldview that can be drawn from science.

    You may be behind the scientific times.

  13. Hi Chris,

    “So, when it appears that some biological systems are irreducibly complex (i.e., they would never work unless all the separate parts were present all at once), it seems plausible to infer that they were designed that way, and didn’t arise by step-by-step processes (since the systems wouldn’t work in small increments like that).”

    Have you seriously never looked into this one?

    This was debunked decades ago.

    Ever heard of scaffolding? Ever heard of aptation?

    Would you like me to explain these?

    – – –

    Like wise;

    “no one has any idea how such information could arise by blind chance and natural laws.”

    This is an old canard that melts away as soon as I ask you to tell me which of two genetic sequences has the most information.

    Again would you like more details? I can give you specific examples of what you claim never happens if you like.

    – – –

    We can go two ways here;

    You cede that these claims are not valid and we move on.

    You don’t cede them and I give you the reasons why they don’t work and we can discuss them.

    Which do you prefer?

    Regards,

    Psi

    PS folks who usually make these claims (in my limited experience) think the world is only 6-10,000 years old. So just so I can get a feel for things here – what is your opinion on the age of the earth?

    PPS these are both “creationist” claims, as well as “ID” claims, word for word actually.

  14. Can either of you tell who came up with these “inferences” initially?

    Are they creationists?

    Have either of you got any evidence at all that supports such an inference?

    Thanks,

    Psi

    • Hi Psi,
      Good questions. I believe this kind of inference to a designer (or designers) of the world has been made for thousands of years. You can see a good example in the Old Testament (going back about 3,000 years) in Psalm 19 (especially verses 1-6). The kind of inference that folks involved in ID make is an “inference to the best explanation,” also called abduction. That just means looking at some collection of facts and trying to determine the best explanation for their origin or operation. So, when it appears that some biological systems are irreducibly complex (i.e., they would never work unless all the separate parts were present all at once), it seems plausible to infer that they were designed that way, and didn’t arise by step-by-step processes (since the systems wouldn’t work in small increments like that).

      Or, in the case of DNA, we observe information — in the sense defined in Webster’s as “the attribute inherent in and communicated by alternative sequences or arrangements of something that produce specific effects.” We never see this kind of information arising by itself in nature. It’s the kind of information contained in the genetic code of DNA — complex sequences that are arranged in a pattern to produce a specific effect. Many molecular biologists compare this code to advanced computer software. And, no one has any idea how such information could arise by blind chance and natural laws. In all of human experience, this never happens. So, it’s plausible to infer a programmer behind the code, an intelligent agent who designed it to do what it does. And, unless one can demonstrate beyond doubt that such a designer doesn’t exist, this remains a live option to explain the origin of certain biological systems.

      So, those two items (irreducible complexity and genetic information and the lack of natural explanations for them) are what motivate the inference to intelligent design.

  15. It’s good to hear this distinction being made. It’s something that has frustrated me to no end becuase the original impetus for ID was to say a very simple thing: Design inference is a valid conclusion from data. That is all. But then the creationists got a hold of it and that was the end. So basically a theistic position that critiques evolution cannot be credible these days. It will immediately be sucked up into the fanaticism of fundamentalist apologetics and dismissed through guilt by association.

    • Hi Rob,
      That’s a good observation that usually gets lost in the shuffle in debates over ID — it’s perfectly legitimate to make a design inference when presented with the kind of information and structures that exhibit signs of design. There’s been an interesting debate on the definitions of ID and creationism over at Thinking Christian since that original post, here. I was persuaded, after reading several posts, that ID and creationism (including young earth creationism) do share some common roots and some of the same proponents, but it’s also clear that ID in its present form is very different from young earth creationism — and any creationism that bases all of its scientific ideas on interpretations of Genesis.

      • Right. But let’s not get hung up on “genetics” (as in genetic fallacy) – The real issue is not so much where ID comes from but whether its insights are inherently dependent on young earth literal creationism. The answer is no. Believing in God will help you consider the insight, but but design inference can be affirmed by an atheist. In fact, Dawkins said something interesting along these lines in a conversation with Alister McGrath (the video is online somewhere). He was actually sympathetic to the notion that there should be a designer behind the design. But, he said, if you are going to go that route why do you jump all the way to the least likely possibility (God)? Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to posit that aliens did it? I think that is a great point. If you take ID seriously you have to answer that question. Blessings,

  16. That’s the right book.

    It actually defines creationism and intelligent design in different editions using exactly the same definition;

    “Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact. Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, wings, etc.”

    “Creation means that the various forms of life began abruptly through the agency of an intelligent creator with their distinctive features already intact. Fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc.”

    We can even trace a transitional form ;”cdesign proponentsists”.

    ;-)

    BTW what science do you think either or both of these are based on? I definitely have much more interest in the science rather than philosophy, may be I can help you out?

    Finally;

    If creationism and ID are different then can you give me anyone who supports ID who isn’t a creationist?

    Regards,

    Psi

  17. If creationism and intelligent design are so different then how can a creationist book be turned into an intelligent design book simply by replacing the word creationist with intelligent design proponent?

    Thanks,

    Psi

    • Hi Psi,
      Thanks for the comment. You have a very creative blog. I’m not sure which book you’re talking about, but I’d guess it’s the Of Pandas and People book, which has gone through a couple of editions and is now called The Design of Life. My understanding of the book, which I haven’t read, is that it makes scientific arguments in favor of design and scientifically criticizes various aspects of evolutionary theory. I don’t believe the book bases any of its arguments on any kind of sacred writings. So, in that case, it would be easy to replace “creation” with “intelligent design” — so long as the arguments are based on science.

      And that’s really the difference between creationism and intelligent design. Creationism bases its views on books like the Bible or the Koran, and makes the science conform to how it interprets various Scriptures. But ID looks at biological structures, sees irreducible complexity and information, and infers an intelligent agent must be responsible. As I always point out, this is the same inference Francis Crick made when he formulated the theory of Directed Panspermia. Even he couldn’t fathom a way that DNA could evolve by chance and natural law. ID makes the same inference, and remains agnostic on who or what the designer is. In theory, Crick could be right, and the designer(s) could be extraterrestrial. Personally, I think it’s God.

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