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Ernst Mayr Stephen Meyer Terry Mortenson
Stephen Meyer PhD History and Philosophy of Science Web CV Amazon GBS LoC AV
Naturalism assumed all events to be exclusively the result of physical or natural causes. It was, thus, forced to view the human mind as a composite of evolutionary adjustments responding to chemical and biological stimuli. An intellect, however, that responds solely to stimuli can think only that which stimuli cause or determine it to think. In this scheme, with the human mind viewed as a machine, the validity of human reason and natural science is destroyed. The mind cannot know truth; it can only produce response. As Professor Haldane has said, "If mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose my beliefs are true ... and hence no reason for supposing my brain to be made of atoms."
Another school of thought, known as logical positivism, also wrought internal contradiction. In presuming all knowledge must come through the senses, the positivist assumed knowledge of something that, quite ironically, could not be verified through the senses. The premise that no truth exists independent of experimental verification crumbled beneath the realization that the positivist premise was itself quite impossible to observe in the laboratory. Even many philosophy texts, typically judicial in approach, now record without hesitation the dissolution of positivism as a credible philosophy of science. Scientific Tenets of Faith Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation March 1986
Many entities and events cannot be directly observed or studied in practice or in principle. The postulation of such entities is no less the product of scientific inquiry for that. Many sciences are in fact directly charged with the job of inferring the unobservable from the observable. Forces, fields, atoms, quarks, past events, mental states, subsurface geological features, molecular biological structures all are unobservables inferred from observable phenomena. Nevertheless, most are unambiguously the result of scientific inquiry. The Methodological Equivalence of Design & Descent 1994
During the race to elucidate the structure of the genetic molecule, both a double helix and a triple helix were considered, since both could explain the photographic images produced via x-ray crystallography. While neither structure could be observed (even indirectly through a microscope), the double helix of Watson and Crick eventually won out because it could explain other observations that the triple helix could not. The inference to one unobservable structure the double helix was accepted because it was judged to possess a greater explanatory power than its competitors with respect to a variety of relevant observations. Such attempts to infer to the best explanation, where the explanation presupposes the reality of an unobservable entity, occur frequently in many fields already regarded as scientific, including physics, geology, geophysics, molecular biology, genetics, physical chemistry, cosmology, psychology and, of course, evolutionary biology. The Methodological Equivalence of Design & Descent 1994
An advocate of design could concede that his theory does not provide a complete causal explanation of how life originated without forfeiting scientific status for the theory. Present clues and evidences might convince some scientists that intelligence played a causal role in the design of life, without those same scientists' knowing exactly how mind exerts its influence over matter. All that would follow in such a case is that design is an incomplete theory, not that it is an unscientific one (or even an unwarranted one). And such incompleteness is not unique to design theories. Both biological (as just discussed) and chemical evolutionary theories have often provided less than completely adequate causal scenarios. Indeed, most scientific theories of origin are causally incomplete or inadequate in some way. The Methodological Equivalence of Design & Descent 1994
So both theists and secularists may worry: "If design is allowed as a (historically) scientific theory, couldn't it be invoked at every turn as a theoretical panacea, stultifying inquiry as it goes? Might not design become a refuge for the intellectually lazy who have refused to study what nature actually does?"
Well, of course it might. But so might the incantation "Evolution accomplished X." The Methodological Equivalence of Design & Descent 1994
Many fields of inquiry routinely invoke the action of agents to account for the origin of features or events within the natural world. Forensic science, history and archaeology, for example, all sometimes postulate the past activity of human agents to account for the emergence of particular objects or events. Several such fields suggest a clear precedent for inferring the past causal activity of intelligent agents within the historical sciences. Imagine the absurdity of someone's claiming that scientific method had been violated by the archaeologist who first inferred that French cave paintings had been produced by human beings rather than by natural forces such as wind and erosion. The Methodological Equivalence of Design & Descent 1994
As Laudan has argued, the question whether a theory is scientific is really a red herring. What we want to know is not whether a theory is scientific but whether a theory is true or false, well confirmed or not, worthy of our belief or not. One can not decide the truth of a theory or the warrant for believing a theory to be true by applying a set of abstract criteria that purport to tell in advance how all good scientific theories are constructed or what they will in general look like. The Methodological Equivalence of Design & Descent 1994
With respect to origins, defining science as a strictly naturalistic enterprise is metaphysically gratuitous. Consider: It is at least logically possible that a personal agent existed before the appearance of the first life on earth. Further, as Bill Dembski argues in the next chapter, we do live in the sort of world where knowledge of such an agent could possibly be known or inferred from empirical data. This suggests that it is logically and empirically possible that such an agent (whether divine or otherwise) designed or influenced the origin of life on earth. To insist that postulations of past agency are inherently unscientific in the historical sciences (where the express purpose of such inquiry is to determine what happened in the past) suggests we know that no personal agent could have existed prior to humans. Not only is such an assumption intrinsically unverifiable, it seems entirely gratuitous in the absence of some noncircular account of why science should presuppose metaphysical naturalism. The Methodological Equivalence of Design & Descent 1994
Our generalization about the cause of information has, ironically, received confirmation from origin-of-life research itself. During the last forty years, every naturalistic model proposed has failed to explain the origin of information. Thus, mind or intelligence or what philosophers call "agent causation," now stands as the only known cause known to be capable of creating an information-rich system, including the coding regions of DNA, functional proteins and the cell as a whole. Because mind or intelligent design is a necessary cause of an informative system, one can detect (or, logically, retrodict) the past action of an intelligent cause from the presence of an information-intensive effect, even if the cause itself cannot be directly observed. Since information requires an intelligent source, the flowers spelling "Welcome to Victoria" in the gardens of Victoria harbor, lead visitors to infer the activity of intelligent agents even if they did not see the flowers planted and arranged. Similarly, the specifically arranged nucleotide sequences, the encoded information, in DNA imply the past action of an intelligent mind, even if such mental agency cannot be directly observed. The Origin of Life and the Death of Materialism The Intercollegiate Review Spring 1996
The materialistic science we have inherited from the late-nineteenth century, with its exclusive conceptual reliance on matter and energy, could neither envision nor can it now account for the biology of the information age. The Origin of Life and the Death of Materialism
To form a protein, amino acids must link together to form a chain. Yet amino acids form functioning proteins only when they adopt very specific sequential arrangements, rather like properly sequenced letters in an English sentence. Thus, amino acids alone do not make proteins, any more than letters alone make words, sentences, or poetry. In both cases, the sequencing of the constituent parts determines the function (or lack of function) of the whole. Explaining the origin of the specific sequencing of proteins (and DNA) lies at the heart of the current crisis in materialistic evolutionary thinking. DNA and Other Designs First Things April 1 2000
If one also factors in the probability of attaining proper bonding and optical isomers, the probability of constructing a rather short, functional protein at random becomes so small (1 chance in 10^125) as to approach the point at which appeals to chance become absurd even given the "probabilistic resources" of our multi-billion-year-old universe. Consider further that equally severe probabilistic difficulties attend the random assembly of functional DNA. Moreover, a minimally complex cell requires not one, but roughly one hundred complex proteins (and many other biomolecular components such as DNA and RNA) all functioning in close coordination. For this reason, quantitative assessments of cellular complexity have simply reinforced an opinion that has prevailed since the mid-1960s within origin-of-life biology: chance is not an adequate explanation for the origin of biological complexity and specificity. DNA and Other Designs
Bonding affinities, to the extent they exist, mitigate against the maximization of information. They cannot, therefore, be used to explain the origin of information. Affinities create mantras, not messages. DNA and Other Designs
Self-organizational theorists explain well what doesn’t need explaining. What needs explaining is not the origin of order (whether in the form of crystals, swirling tornadoes, or the "eyes" of hurricanes), but the origin of information--the highly improbable, aperiodic, and yet specified sequences that make biological function possible.
To see the distinction between order and information, compare the sequence "ABABABABAB ABAB" to the sequence "Time and tide wait for no man." The first sequence is repetitive and ordered, but not complex or informative. Systems that are characterized by both specificity and complexity (what information theorists call "specified complexity") have "information content." Since such systems have the qualitative feature of aperiodicity or complexity, they are qualitatively distinguishable from systems characterized by simple periodic order. Thus, attempts to explain the origin of order have no relevance to discussions of the origin of information content. Significantly, the nucleotide sequences in the coding regions of DNA have, by all accounts, a high information content--that is, they are both highly specified and complex, just like meaningful English sentences or functional lines of code in computer software.
Yet the information contained in an English sentence or computer software does not derive from the chemistry of the ink or the physics of magnetism, but from a source extrinsic to physics and chemistry altogether. Indeed, in both cases, the message transcends the properties of the medium. The information in DNA also transcends the properties of its material medium. Because chemical bonds do not determine the arrangement of nucleotide bases, the nucleotides can assume a vast array of possible sequences and thereby express many different biochemical messages. DNA and Other Designs
Because mind or intelligent design is a necessary cause of an informative system, one can detect the past action of an intelligent cause from the presence of an information-intensive effect, even if the cause itself cannot be directly observed. Since information requires an intelligent source, the flowers spelling "Welcome to Victoria" in the gardens of Victoria harbor in Canada lead visitors to infer the activity of intelligent agents even if they did not see the flowers planted and arranged. DNA and Other Designs
Design theorists infer design not just because natural processes cannot explain the origin of biological systems, but because these systems manifest the distinctive hallmarks of intelligently designed systems--that is, they possess features that in any other realm of experience would trigger the recognition of an intelligent cause. For example, in his book Darwin’s Black Box (1996), Michael Behe has inferred design not only because the gradualistic mechanism of natural selection cannot produce "irreducibly complex" systems, but also because in our experience "irreducible complexity" is a feature of systems known to have been intelligently designed. That is, whenever we see systems that have the feature of irreducible complexity and we know the causal story about how such systems originated, invariably "intelligent design" played a role in the origin of such systems. Thus, Behe infers intelligent design as the best explanation for the origin of irreducible complexity in cellular molecular motors, for example, based upon what we know, not what we don’t know, about the causal powers of nature and intelligent agents, respectively. DNA and Other Designs
Design theorists infer a past intelligent cause based upon present knowledge of cause and effect relationships. Inferences to design thus employ the standard uniformitarian method of reasoning used in all historical sciences, many of which routinely detect intelligent causes. We would not say, for example, that an archeologist had committed a "scribe of the gaps" fallacy simply because he inferred that an intelligent agent had produced an ancient hieroglyphic inscription. Instead, we recognize that the archeologist has made an inference based upon the presence of a feature (namely, "high information content") that invariably implicates an intelligent cause, not (solely) upon the absence of evidence for a suitably efficacious natural cause. DNA and Other Designs
We've learned a lot about biology since the Civil War. Evolutionists are still trying to apply Darwin's nineteenth-century thinking to a twenty-first century reality, and it's not working. Explanations from the era of the steamboat are no longer adequate to explain the biological world of the information age.
Darwinists say they're under some sort of epistemological obligation to continue trying, because to invoke design would be to give up on science. Well, I say it's time to redefine science. We should not be looking for only the best naturalistic explanation, but the best explanation, period. And intelligent design is the explanation that's most in conformity with how the world works. The Case for a Creator (2004) p.243
Is Darwinism compatible with religion, as the series claims, or not? It all depends upon which type of religion--even which type of Christianity--is under consideration. PBS’s spokesmen for Darwinism can accept religion that has accommodated itself to Darwinism and its essential claim, namely, that undirected natural processes fully account for the origin of the living world. Such religion may affirm the existence of God, but only as a spectator of the Darwinian process that otherwise performs the real work of creation. On the other hand, “Evolution” rejects--even ridicules--traditional theistic religion because it holds that God played an active (even discernable) role in the origin of life on earth. In short, good religion accommodates Darwinism, bad religion rejects it. But that implies, of course, that the real religion of this series is Darwinism. Darwin's Public Defenders WorldNetDaily April 28 2004
Design theorists argue for intelligent design not only because natural selection and other materialistic mechanisms seem incapable of explaining, for example, the origin of digital information and complex machines in cells, but also because we know from experience that systems possessing such features do invariably arise from intelligent causes. As the pioneering information theorist Henry Quastler observed, "information habitually arises from conscious activity." Thus, what we know about the present cause and effect structure of the world suggests intelligent design as an obvious explanation for the information necessary to build living systems.
Similarly, whenever we encounter irreducibly complex systems and we know how such systems arose, invariably intelligence played a role. For this reason, the presence of irreducibly complex systems in cells also constitutes a powerful positive indicator of intelligent design. The Letter Nature Wouldn't Print May 23 2005
When I was in Cambridge one of my supervisors often advised us to 'beware the sound of one hand clapping' which is a way of saying if there is an argument on one side, there is bound to be an argument on the other. And what I've found in studying the structure of the argument in the Origin of Species is that for every evidence based argument for one of Darwin's two key propositions there is an evidence based counter argument. Expelled April 18 2008 26.35
You've got two competing explanations of the evidence. One says 'design'. One says 'undirected processes'. Both of them have larger philosophical or religious or anti religious implications. So you can't say that one of those two theories is scientific and the other is unscientific simply because they both have implications. Both have implications. Expelled April 18 2008 57.04
Though Watson and Crick were relatively unknown and certainly undercredentialed, they had solved one of the great scientific mysteries of the ages. Moreover, the achieved this feat not by working their way up through the establishment, which typically involves publishing a series of narrowly focused technical papers based on their own experimental research, but by explaining an array of preexisting evidence in a new more coherent way...Watson and Crick performed many experiments during their long careers. But the work for which they are best known came as the result of building models based on data they acquired almost exclusively from other sources -- from scientific journals, other scientists, and other labs.
Many of the great discoveries in science were achieved not just by experimentalists who produced new factual knowledge, but by theoreticians who taught us to think differently about what we already know. Examples of this kind of scientific work leaped to mind: Copernicus's De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, Netwon's Principia, and the papers Einstein produce in his annus mirabilis, his miracle year of 1905. While working as a patent clerk without access to any experimental apparatus, Einstein rethought the whole framework of modern physics and, in the process, explained many previously confounding factual anomalies... Darwin's method of investigation typified that of many other historical scientists who functioned more like detectives solving a mystery by collecting clues and developing a case than like stereotypical experimental scientists who test hypotheses under carefully controlled laboratory conditions. Signature of the Cell 2009 p. 137,138,139
Clearly, we all know that intelligent agents can create specified information and that information comes from minds. A computer user who traces the information on a screen back to its source invariably comes to a mind, that of a software engineer of programmer. The information in a book or a newspaper column or an ancient inscription ultimately derives from a writer or scribe -- from a mental, rather than a strictly material cause. The case for the causal adequacy of intelligent design should be obvious from our ordinary experience. Signature in the Cell 2009 p. 340
Indeed, unlike an argument form ignorance, an inference to the best explanation does not assert the adequacy of one causal explanation merely on the basis of the inadequacy of some other causal explanation. Instead, it asserts the superior explanatory power of a proposed cause based upon its proven -- its known causal adequacy and based upon a lack of demonstrated efficacy among the competing proposed causes... The inference to design, therefore, depends on present knowledge of the demonstrated causal powers of material entities and processes (inadequate) and intelligence (adequate). It no more constitutes an argument form ignorance than any other well-grounded inference in geology, archaeology, or paleontology -- where present knowledge of cause-and-effect relationships guides the inferences that scientists make about the causes of events in the past. Signature in the Cell 2009 p. 377
Some would characterize the design inference presented here as invalid because it depends on a negative generalization -- that is, purely physical and chemical causes do not generate large amounts fo specified information -- a generalization that future discoveries may later falsify. We should "never say never," they say; "to do so is a science stopper."
Yet science often says "never," even if it can't say so with absolute certainty. Negative or proscriptive generalizations often play an important role in science. As many scientists and philosophers of science have pointed out, scientific laws often tell us not only what does happen, but also what does not happen... Those who claim that such "proscriptive laws" do not constitute knowledge because they are based on past but not future experience will not get far if they try to use their skepticism to justify funding for research on, say, perpetual motion machines...
Deciding which causes can be eliminated from consideration requires knowing what effects a given cause can -- and cannot -- produce. If historical scientists could never say that particular entities lack particular causal powers, they could never eliminate them from consideration, even provisionally. Thus, they could never infer that a specific cause has acted in the past. Yet historical and forensic scientists make such inferences all the time.
As archaeology, cryptography, and criminal forensics show, we often infer the past activity of an intelligent cause without worrying about commuting fallacious arguments from ignorance. And we do so for good reason. A vast amount of human experience shows that intelligent agents have unique causal powers that purely material processes lack. Signature in the Cell 2009 p. 379-80
Imagine you have traveled to Easter Island to view the famous Moai statues. A child beside you asks no one in particular, "Who carved these statues?" A man standing next to the kid look over the top of his glasses and asks, "Why do you assume they're sculpted?" Dumbfounded by the question, the kid has no reply, so you rush to his aid. "The carvings manifest a pattern that conforms to the shape of a human face. The match in the patterns is too close and the figures are too intricate, for it to be mere coincidence." The man scoffs. "Don't tell me you've been reading intelligent-design propaganda, all of that rubbish about specified complexity? Let me ask you this: Who sculpted the sculptor? Who designed the designer? Do you see the problem? Your reasoning leads to an infinite regress. Who designed the designer's designer's designer's designer's..." The child, appropriately unimpressed by this display of erudition, rolls his eyes an mutters under his breath, "Yeah. But I know someone carved these." And, indeed, someone did. Signature in the Cell 2009 p. 390-1
Clearly, there is no magic number of supporting peer-reviewed publications that suddenly confers the adjective "scientific" on a theory; nor is there a tribunal vested with the authority to make this determination. If there were a hard-and-fast numerical standard as low as even one, no new theory could ever achieve scientific status. Each new theory would face an impossible catch-22: for a new theory to be considered "scientific" it must have appeared in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, but anytime a scientist submitted an article to a peer-reviewed science journal advocating a new theory, it would have to be rejected as "unscientific" on the grounds that no other peer-reviewed scientific publications existed supporting the new theory. Signature in the Cell 2009 p. 412-3
Human agents design information-rich structures and otherwise interfere with the "normal workings of material objects" all the time. When they do, they do not violate the laws of nature; they alter the conditions upon which the laws act. When I arranged the magnetic letters on my metallic chalkboard to spell the message "Biology Rocks!" I altered the way in which matter is configured, but I did not alter or violate the laws of electromagnetism. When agents act, they initiate new events within an existing matrix of natural law without violating those laws. Signature in the Cell 2009 p. 419
It is at least logically possible that a personal agent -- a conscious goal-directed intelligence -- existed before the appearance of the first life on earth... In origin-of-life research, for example, methodological naturalism artificially restricts inquiry and prevents scientists from exploring and examining some hypotheses that might provide the most likely, best, or causally adequate explanations. To be a truth-seeking endeavor, the question that origin-of -life research must address is not, "Which materialistic scenario seems most adequate?" but rather, "What actually caused life to arise on earth?" Clearly, one possible answer to that latter question is this: "Life was designed by an intelligent agent that existed before the advent of humans." If one accepts methodological naturalism as normative, however, scientists may never consider this possibly true hypothesis. Such an exclusionary logic diminishes the significance of any claim of theoretical superiority for any remaining hypothesis and raises the possibility that the best "scientific" explanation (according to methodical naturalism) may not be the best in fact. Signature in the Cell 2009 p. 437
Everywhere in our high-tech environment we observe complex events, artifacts, and systems that impel our minds to recognize the activity of other minds: minds that communicate, plan, and design. But to detect the presence of mind, to detect the activity of intelligence in the echo of its effects, requires a mode of reasoning -- indeed, a form of knowledge -- that science, or at least official biology, has long excluded. If living things -- things that we manifestly did not design ourselves -- bear the hallmarks of design, if they exhibit a signature that would lead us to recognize intelligent activity in any other realm of experience, then perhaps it is time to rehabilitate this lost way of knowing and to rekindle our wonder in the intelligibility and design of nature that first inspired the scientific revolution. Signature in the Cell 2009 p. 452
One doesn't assess the truth of a proposition by determining if it's useful for doing or discovering something else. Neptune circles the sun whether or not we can make any further use of the fact... some historical conclusions that seem to lack practical utility can eventually lead to useful insights... What appears useless to one may prove quite useful to others. Signature in the Cell 2009 p. 453
Those who reject ID within the scientific community do so not because they have a better explanation of the relevant evidence, but because they affirm a definition of science that requires them to reject explanations involving intelligence -- whatever the evidence shows. Imagine an archaeologist confronted with the inscriptions on the Rosetta stone, yet forced by some arbitrary convention to ignore the evidence for intelligent activity in the information those inscriptions contain. That is similar to the response of many evolutionary biologists who reflexively reject the theory of intelligent design as unscientific by definition, despite the evidence of intelligent activity in the information encoded in DNA. Redefine the Question Christianity Today May 2010
Ernst Mayr Stephen Meyer Terry Mortenson
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