Salutary Tilts Against Neuroscientists’ Simplemindedness
Silliness of MRI as Thoughts in Motion
DNA Foolishness – Blueprint Alone Doth Not Make A PhenotypeThe new book The Science Delusion by Curtis White from mhpbooks.com 718 722 9204 firstname.lastname@example.org is a richly worded attack on the hubris of neuroscientists in their rather childish peddling of Catscans and MRI as showing the mind in action. In particular, having trounced Hitchens and Hawking for missing out on the glory and beauty of religion in trashing its lack of logic, White punishes the unhappy Jonah Lehrer and his best seller (now withdrawn owing to Lehrer admitting he made up a couple of quotes from Bob Dylan to prove his point) Imagine: How Creativity Works (2012) for his shallow simplification of how creativity works. .
Debunking the reductionism of modern brain science is becoming popular. The remarkable John Brockman in his latest (Jan 2013) annual collection of deep thinking on the part of cutting edge scientists and other philosophers of reality THIS EXPLAINS EVERYTHING Edited by John Brockman 411 pages. Harper Perennial. $15.99 offers a huge selection of paths into the deeper how and why. http://www.edge.org/annual-question/what-is-your-favorite-deep-elegant-or-beautiful-explanation
Here is Andrew Sullivan’s pick from the book:
Edge.org asked 191 famous thinkers “What is Your Favorite Deep, Elegant, or Beautiful Explanation?” Daniel Dennett’s choice:
I was told some years ago that the reason why some species of sea turtles migrate all the way across the South Atlantic to lay their eggs on the east coast of South America after mating on the west coast of Africa is that when the behavior started, Gondwanaland was just beginning to break apart (that would be between 130 and 110 million years ago), and these turtles were just swimming across the narrow strait to lay their eggs. Each year the swim was a little longer—maybe an inch or so—but who could notice that? Eventually they were crossing the ocean to lay their eggs, having no idea, of course, why they would do such an extravagant thing.
What is delicious about this example is that it vividly illustrates several important evolutionary themes: the staggering power over millions of years of change so gradual it is essentially unnoticeable, the cluelessness of much animal behavior, even when it is adaptive, and of course the eye-opening perspective that evolution by natural selection can offer to the imagination of the curious naturalist.
Now we have Thomas Nagel’s new critique of reductionist science in a book, Mind and Cosmos, noticed by Maria Popova on Brain Pickings:
Thomas Nagel is University Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the School of Law at New York University. His books include The Possibility of Altruism, The View from Nowhere, and What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. In 2008, he was awarded the Rolf Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy and the Balzan Prize in Moral Philosophy.http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/10/30/mind-and-cosmos-thomas-nagel/
Mind and Cosmos: Philosopher Thomas Nagel’s Brave Critique of Scientific Reductionism
by Maria Popova
How our hunger for definitive answers robs us of the intellectual humility necessary for understanding the universe and our place in it.
“The purpose of science is not to cure us of our sense of mystery and wonder,” Stanford’s Robert Sapolsky famously noted, “but to constantly reinvent and reinvigorate it.” And yet, we live in a media culture that warps seeds of scientific understanding into sensationalist, definitive headlines about the gene for obesity or language or homosexuality and maps where, precisely, love or fear or the appreciation of Jane Austen is located in the brain — even though we know that it isn’t the clinging to answers but the embracing of ignorance that drives science.
In 1974, philosopher Thomas Nagel penned the essay “What It’s Like To Be A Bat?”, which went on to become one of the seminal texts of contemporary philosophy of mind. Nearly four decades later, he returns with Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False (public library) — a provocative critique of the limits of scientific reductionism, exploring what consciousness might be if it isn’t easily explained as a direct property of physical interactions and if the door to the unknown were, as Richard Feynman passionately advocated, left ajar.
To be sure, Nagel is far from siding with the intellectual cop-outs of intelligent design. His criticism of reductive materialism isn’t based on religious belief (or on any belief in a particular alternative, for that matter) but, rather, on the insistence that a recognition of these very limitations is a necessary precondition for exploring such alternatives, “or at least being open to their possibility” — a possibility that makes mind central to understanding the natural order, rather than an afterthought or a mere byproduct of physical laws.
He writes in the introduction:[T]he mind-body problem is not just a local problem, having to do with the relation between mind, brain, and behavior in living animal organisms, but that it invades our understanding of the entire cosmos and its history. […]
Humans are addicted to the hope for a final reckoning, but intellectual humility requires that we resist the temptation to assume that tools of the kind we now have are in principle sufficient to understand the universe as a whole.
As a proponent of making the timeless timely again through an intelligent integration of history with contemporary culture, I find Nagel’s case for weaving a historical perspective into the understanding of mind particularly compelling:
The world is an astonishing place, and the idea that we have in our possession the basic tools needed to understand it is no more credible now than it was in Aristotle’s day.[…]
The greatest advances in the physical and biological sciences were made possible by excluding the mind from the physical world. This has permitted a quantitative understanding of the world, expressed in timeless, mathematically formulated physical laws, But at some point it will be necessary to make a new start on a more comprehensive understanding that includes the mind. It seems inevitable that such an understanding will have a historical dimension as well as a timeless one. The idea that historical understanding is part of science has become familiar through the transformation of biology by evolutionary theory. But more recently, with the acceptance of the big bang, cosmology has also become a historical science. Mind, as a development of life, must be included as the most recent stage of this long cosmological history, and its appearance, I believe, casts its shadow back over the entire process and the constituents and principles on which the process depends.
Ultimately, Nagel echoes John Updike’s reflection on the possibility of “permanent mystery”:
It is perfectly possible that the truth is beyond our reach, in virtue of our intrinsic cognitive limitations and not merely beyond our grasp in humanity’s present stage of intellectual development.
Though Mind and Cosmos isn’t a neat package of scientific, or even philosophical, answers, it’s a necessary thorn in the side of today’s all-too-prevalent scientific reductionism and a poignant affirmation of Isaac Asimov’s famous contention that “the most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.”
Well, OK, though one remains unpersuaded that simple algorithms cannot flower into amazing creations, as computer models have shown.
Meanwhile, the intelligent design people are unbowed:
http://cnsnews.com/news/article/how-dna-proves-god-made-all-creatures-great-and-small[spoiler title=”Click for the text” open=”0″ style=”1″] How DNA Proves God Made All Creatures Great and Small
July 10, 2009 – 12:07 AM
Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection may be able to explain how living creatures can evolve from one form to another, but it cannot explain how something that was not alive evolved into the first life on Earth.
By Terence P. Jeffrey
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(CNSNews.com) – Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection may be able to explain how living creatures can evolve from one form to another, but it cannot explain how something that was not alive evolved into the first life on Earth.
Stephen C. Meyer, a Cambridge trained scholar in the philosophy of science, does have an explanation for how life on Earth began: the DNA in every cell of every creature shows unmistakable evidence of having been deliberately designed by an intelligent being.
Meyer lays out his analysis in a new book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. He discussed his book and his case for an Intelligent Designer with CNSNews.com Editor in Chief Terry Jeffrey.
Here is a transcript of their conversation:
Terry Jeffrey: Welcome to “Online With Terry Jeffrey.” Our guest for this episode is Dr. Stephen C. Meyer. Dr. Meyer holds a Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University in England.
A one time geophysicist and college professor, he’s now director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Washington. Meyer became part of a national controversy five years ago when The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, a publication staffed by scientists from the Smithsonian Institution, published the first ever peer-reviewed article arguing for intelligent design in the creation of life on Earth. Dr. Meyer is the author of that article.
He is now the author of a book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, that makes the same argument. Dr. Meyer, thanks for coming. I appreciate having you here.
Stephen Meyer: It’s good to be here, Terry.
Jeffrey: So, you’re arguing, as I understand your book, that DNA itself presents evidence for why people should see behind living creatures on Earth an intelligent design and therefore a designer. Let’s start out with something very basic. What is DNA?
Meyer: That’s a great question. It’s the molecule of heredity is one of the easiest answers. It stores information for building proteins–probably not every trait, we used to think it had the code for everything, but we now realize that it codes for proteins. It has the information, the instruction set, for building the proteins that are necessary to keep the cell alive; and proteins are critical, they’re like the toolbox of the cell.
Jeffrey: Now, does every living creature on Earth have DNA?
Meyer: Oh, absolutely.
Jeffrey: Every single, living thing. We’ve never discovered anything that doesn’t have DNA?
Meyer: No, DNA runs the show inside the cell. It directs protein synthesis and then the proteins do all the important jobs that keep things going.
Jeffrey: So, every living thing on the face of the Earth has cells?
Jeffrey: And within these cells they have this thing called DNA?
Jeffrey: And DNA is a protein?
Meyer: No. DNA is nucleic acid, it’s called–in the parlance of chemistry.
Jeffrey: It’s a type of acid?
Meyer: Yes. But what’s interesting–we all know it—it’s almost a cultural icon: the double helix. It’s a beautiful structure. We learn about its chemical properties when we learn chemistry or biochemistry in high school or college, but very rarely do we focus on the information-bearing properties of the molecule, and that’s the critical thing.
Jeffrey: Okay, so this DNA that every single living creature has, it isn’t a disorganized thing, is it?
Meyer: No, it’s highly organized, but it’s a particular kind of organization or order. It’s informational.
The great discovery came in 1953 of the structure of the molecule, but I think something even more striking was Francis Crick’s sequence hypothesis. He proposed it in 1957, and he proposed that four of the chemicals in DNA, along the interior, on the spine of the molecule, called bases, function exactly like alphabetic characters in a written text or digital characters in a section of a machine code.
So, it wasn’t just the chemical structure of DNA that was significant, it was the fact that it carried instructions.
Jeffrey: Let me ask you this: Is the chemical composition of DNA the same from creature to creature, the chemicals that make it up?
Meyer: Oh, yeah, the basic four elements. There are bases, and then sugars and phosphates, and they’re the same. But it’s the arrangement of the bases that are different. Just as you could have a group of Scrabble letters on the table, but what would make each grouping different is the way that it was arranged to either spell information, spell a message, or just be gibberish.
Jeffrey: So every living thing on the face of the Earth has DNA.
Jeffrey: All the DNA in all these living creatures has the same chemical composition.
Meyer: Same chemical composition.
Jeffrey: Made up of the same things, but there’s–
Meyer: But different sequential arrangements.
Jeffrey: Of these four–
Meyer: Of the four key letters or bases.
Jeffrey: The four characters.
Meyer: The four characters.
Jeffrey: So, we–
Meyer: And that’s not just a metaphor. They actually function like characters in a message system.
Jeffrey: Now, a hundred years ago, the human race didn’t know any of this.
Meyer: Oh, no. No. This is 1953, Watson and Crick. And then the ensuing fifteen years were a period of great productivity in molecular biology.
Jeffrey: So, even at the time when World War II came to a close, we didn’t know this?
Meyer: No. There were some scientists who were anticipating that there must be something beyond just matter and energy driving things in life. There had to be some kind of informational–
Jeffrey: There’s sort of this long-term question humans had. They would see people have children, and they’d go, you know, “Gee, those children look like their parents.”
Meyer: Like begets like, why is that?
Jeffrey: Those dogs look like the dog it came out of. That horse looks like that horse or is fast like that horse. They knew there was something about the reproduction of living things that passed on characteristics and traits from one generation to another.
Meyer: Right, some kind of signal or something, but people didn’t know where it resided.
Jeffrey: Even at the close of World War II, we didn’t know.
Meyer: No, no.
Jeffrey: So, this is a very new–
Meyer: Very new discovery in historic terms, and there have been several phases of it. There was the Watson-Crick discovery of the molecule itself, the structure of the molecule, then the recognition that it was directing the show with information.
Jeffrey: Let’s start from there. These are – this Watson and Crick, who are they?
Meyer: James Watson: American born biologist who was a bird-watcher as a young man—wiz kid–and went off to finished his Ph.D. at a very young age. Went off to Europe and finally ended up in Cambridge, where he met up with Francis Crick, who had been a code-breaker in World War II, didn’t have a Ph.D. yet, was working on his Ph.D. in the field of crystallography, he was more of a physicist than a biologist. And they teamed up and cracked this mystery.
Jeffrey: They were trying to find out what it was in a cell that they suspected might be causing the transmission of traits from one generation to another?
Meyer: Right. By the early 50s, people had become more and more convinced it must be in DNA. They knew some things about the DNA molecule, but they didn’t understand its structure, and when they cracked the structure, when they realized what the structure was, then they were able to – then one of the first things that occurred to them was that it was set up to store code, and the structure of it allowed for the arrangement–these different arrangements of characters.
Jeffrey: They discovered, first of all, that there was this double helix structure to this acid?
Meyer: Exactly. And there were new ideas. Maybe it was a triple helix. People had different ideas about the different structure of it, but as the British say, “They got it right.”
Jeffrey: And they figured out there was coding on the double helix that actually determined the traits of living things.
Meyer: Exactly, or it had the information for building the proteins that the cell needs to keep alive. Good analogy: Toolbox. Hammer, saw, wrench–each has a different shape, each performs a different function, and the proteins are the same. Each has a different shape, and in virtue of the shapes they have, they perform different functions–but they acquire the shape based on how their constituent parts are arranged, and that’s all determined by the DNA.
Jeffrey: Okay, and so this other scientist came along in 1957, and he discovered the sort of alphabet of the DNA–this coding system.
Meyer: Well, this was Crick again. He was brilliant. You know, he was literally a code-breaker when he got into biology. I mean, he proposed that not only was the molecule a double helix, but along the spine, those interior characters, those chemicals–the As, Gs, Zs, and Ts as we now represent them–actually function like alphabetic characters in a written language .
Jeffrey: Okay, so when you’re talking about the distinction of two individuals of the same species–you and me–how would our DNA be different? How would we distinguish one from the other, just looking at our DNA?
Meyer: Well, typically it’s very small differences in the DNA but–because many of the proteins that we have our doing the same job. You know, you’ve got hemoglobin in you blood; I’ve got hemoglobin in my blood. Both of the molecules would be extremely similar, because they’re doing the same job. They’re capturing oxygen in blood.
Jeffrey: So, between any two humans, the coding on the DNA is pretty much the same.
Meyer: Pretty much the same.
Jeffrey: And there’s a few things that are altered in terms of this coding?
Jeffrey: That cause people to have characteristics and traits that you might associate with one family or one lineage of–
Meyer: Right, but we’re also learning that there’s information stored at higher levels within the cell, and the term of art for that now is ontogenetic information, and it’s–the difference is in the–it’s more like the DNA has the information for building the small level parts, the proteins, but how the proteins are arranged into distinctive types of cells, how distinctive types of cells are arranged to form distinctive types of tissues, how distinctive tissues are arranged to form distinctive organs, how organs and tissues are arranged to create what are called body plans–whole architectures, blueprints–that does not seem to be entirely controlled by DNA. And so, scientists are very interested in finding out where these other levels of information are, in a sense, the blueprint for arranging the parts. The rivets on a ship and the rivets on a plane may be very different, but they’re part of a larger architecture that’s determined by blueprints.
Jeffrey: And scientists haven’t discovered all these things,?
Meyer: No. We know where some of that ontogenetic information resides, but not all of it, and it’s a great area of continuing research.
Jeffrey: So, people are looking for it, they’re trying to find out–
Jeffrey: –they’re trying to deal with theories to explain how these ordering mechanisms work?
Meyer: Exactly. Organisms are fascinatingly complex systems, and it makes sense that we have a hierarchy of information in our own digital computer systems, which are high-tech information processing systems. We have layers of information that are controlling the cell.
Jeffrey: Okay, so you’re saying the DNA is actually an information system?
Jeffrey: How dose that compare to the information systems that we have in computers?
Meyer: Well, that’s where I think the story gets very interesting. I have a software engineer friend. He is doing some work for us; he retired early from Microsoft–means he was about 38 or 40. Young guy. Brilliant architect level programmer at Microsoft. He’s writing code for us to–working with our molecular biologists to write a simulation of how genetic information is expressed for us to build proteins. So, we’re having an artificial-based, computer-based simulation of what’s called the gene expression system. He walks into my office one day, throws a book down on the table. It’s called Design Patterns–standard textbook for computer design engineers–and he says, “I get the eerie feeling, when I’m looking at what’s going on in the cell, that’s somebody’s figured this out before us.”
And I said, “What do you mean?”
And he says, “Well, it’s the design patterns,” and then he points to the book. He says, “We have” – design pattern is a term of art for design strategy or design logic, and he says: “We’ve got design logic for processing information, for doing error correction, for doing distributed data retrieval and reassembly, and for hierarchical organization–we’ve got files within folders, like on your desktop, you know, in the hierarchical filing system.”
And he says, “All those design patterns are inside the cell, except they’re using a design logic that’s like an 8.0, 9.0, 10.0 version of ours. It’s the same basic logic, but it’s more elegantly executed,” and he says, “It gives me an eerie feeling.”
Jeffrey: And that logic is embedded in the DNA of the simplest living creature on the face of the Earth?
Meyer: In the DNA and the overall architecture of the information processing system.
Jeffrey: And the earliest creature that’s ever been found historically, that same logic would be embedded?
Meyer: Yeah, there’s some differences from what are called eukaryotic cells, which–cells with nuclei, and then simpler prokaryotes, but it’s all—it’s very sophisticated, hierarchical arrangements of informational modules.
Jeffrey: In all the ways that living things on the face of the earth, from trees, to grass, to human beings, to animals, whatever it is, their design is generated out of this logic in the DNA?
Meyer: Exactly. Either the information embedded in DNA or these other hierarchies of information, these other layers that govern how DNA information is expressed.
Jeffrey: Okay, Charles Darwin, who lived and wrote before DNA was discovered, had no idea what DNA was. How did he explain that things got designed, how living things on the face of the earth got designed?
Meyer: Well, he believed that living organisms looked as though they were designed, and in fact most biologists down through the ages have acknowledged the appearance of design. The modern Neo-Darwinists today do as well. Richard Dawkins says that biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.
Jeffrey: But saying design presupposes that there is a designer.
Meyer: No, not for the Darwinists– and this gets to your question–Darwin proposed a mechanism, natural selection acting on random variations, and the emphasis there is on the natural and the random. The mechanism is not guided or directed in any way, but it can produce the appearance of design, he claimed, without in any way being designed or guided. There was no guiding hand behind it, so it could mimic the powers of a designing intelligence without itself being designed or guided in any way.
Jeffrey: So, natural selection does what exactly?
Meyer: Well, it produces new form, new structure, new variations.
Meyer: Well, there’s a variation in the traits of an organism, we now would call them mutations, and link that to our understanding of DNA–and then if those changes confer a functional or survival advantage on the organism that possesses it, it will out-compete other organisms that don’t have that advantage, and therefore will, by definition, pass them on to ensuing offspring.
Jeffrey: So, over time, the creature will conform to a certain design or order, because the natural environment–
Meyer: Well, it will progressively small incremental variations and changes, and therefore acquire new traits and if the traits help it survive then–so, the classic example was the example of adaptation. In a talk I give, I use the example of sheep. If you’re a sheepherder in Scotland, you’re trying to get a woollier breed of sheep. What do you do? Well, you choose intelligently the woolliest males and the woolliest ewes, and only those animals, to breed. After a succession of generations, you’re going to end up with a woollier population. Darwin said, well, wait. What if you had a series of very cold winters? Wouldn’t you end up with the same effect, where only the woolliest survive? So, what he was trying to do with natural selection was supplant the need for a designing intelligence to account for how organisms were adapted to their environment. Wooly animals are well adapted to a cold environment. And that mechanism, I think, works well to explain minor effects, like that kind of adaptation, but the question is: Does it explain the origin of sheep in the first place? Or the mammalian body plan? Or the information that’s necessary to build an animal like that?
Jeffrey: Which is a big question. So, you’re saying that, if you start with a primitive form of a particular creature, natural selection is a plausible explanation for why it took certain shapes and forms.
Meyer: Yeah, exactly. These minor modifications to environment. No one disputes that.
Jeffrey: Well, let me kick you back to what I think is the fundamental question at the heart of your book. If you start at point A, where there’s no living thing on the face of the Earth, there’s no life on Earth, and point B is a place where the first life exist, did Darwin, though his theory, have an explanation for how you got from point A, where there’s no life, to point B, where there is the first life?
Meyer: Oh, he most definitely did not. He was quite emphatic about this, that he did not have an explanation for the origin of life. Neither did anyone else at the time. At one point, he said we may as well speculate about the origin of matter itself. He did offer some speculations. It fell to later scientists to propose evolutionary explanations for the origin of the first life, but 150 years after the publication of Origin of Species, that is this year, we have no satisfactory evolutionary account for how life first began.
Jeffrey: Darwin himself was humble about this–
Meyer: Yes, exactly.
Jeffrey: He wasn’t claiming he could say how life could be created out non-life. He didn’t–
Meyer: No, he presupposed one or a few simple forms is the way he put it, and then explained how later, more complicated forms arose from those simpler forms. There’s, I think, a suppressed but significant scientific debate about whether or not Darwin’s mechanism could explain how you get news and more complex form from this simple life, but no one debates whether or not there’s an adequate evolutionary explanation for the first life itself.
Jeffrey: The actual physical scientific evidence would say that the earliest creatures we’ve discovered on the face of this Earth in fact had DNA with this kind of coding.
Meyer: Oh, right. I mean it’s–the earliest cells have all the same kind of structure, as best we can tell. So, this is–
Jeffrey: From the evidence, we went from no life on Earth to life that had this incredibly complex DNA that had coding in it that would determine how the offspring of that creature would be formed and shaped.
Meyer: Right, but at the time, in the years just after Darwin, scientists had no inkling of this. So they weren’t too worried about their inability to explain the origin of life, because they assumed it was a simple globule of undifferentiated protoplasm was the one on scientist, Thomas Huxley, put it. So, they thought of a cell as a kind of simple glob of goo, and of course, all that changed radically after 1953 with Watson and Crick’s discoveries about the complexity and structure of DNA and other discoveries that were being made at the same time about proteins. And then scientists showed how the two discoveries were linked together. We got an even greater understanding of the whole information-processing system in the cell.
Jeffrey: All right, so what do you, Dr. Stephen Meyer, what do you say caused the first life to have DNA that had this coding that would determine the shape and the destiny of this creature?
Meyer: Well, I think we’re looking at a distinctive hallmark of intelligent activity. Information, based on what we know from our uniform and repeated experience, which is the basis of all scientific reasoning about the past, always comes from an intelligent source. If you look at a hieroglyphic inscription or a section of machine code, or a headline in a book or article, and you trace it back to its ultimate source, it always comes back to a mind, not a material process. So, when we look, when we see that there’s information embedded in DNA, and we see that that information is necessary to the beginning of the first life, I think what we’re seeing is that there must have been an intelligence that was, that played a role in the origin of life. That’s the most logical thing to conclude.
Jeffrey: That designed DNA?
Meyer: That designed the information that is the source of the information of DNA.
Jeffrey: At the beginning. Now, that doesn’t mean that after DNA was designed and creatures were created, that things might not have evolved or gone through natural selection.
Meyer: Yeah, exactly. As I say, there’s a debate about that, but my book is arguing that, whatever you think about biological evolution, the origin of the first life has not been explained by what’s called chemical evolution, and instead, there is a cause that we know that’s sufficient to produce information, and that cause is intelligence.
Jeffrey: Well, are there scientists who contest that there is in fact information encoded in DNA.
Meyer: No. Well, there are some people that want to say, “Well that’s just a metaphor.” But I address that in the book. It turns out that it really isn’t a metaphor, that Crick was right. His sequence hypothesis–that these characters along the spine of DNA actually function like digital code. They are. It is digital code.
Bill Gates says DNA is like a software program, but much more complex than everything we’ve ever written. Richard Dawkins acknowledges that it’s a machine code. Leroy Hood, a famous scientist out in Seattle, works in the biotech industry, calls it digital code. This is pretty well accepted. There’s only a few people that have tried to quibble about that, and I address that in the book.
Jeffrey: To what degree do you think that the scientific community basically agrees with you and understands this point of view, and to what degree to they not agree with you?
Meyer: Well, as I mentioned, there’s a lot of submerged, or suppressed, dissent about the whole Darwinian synthesis, and the materialistic understanding of biological origins generally. So we have I would say a growing minority of scientists who are very sympathetic to intelligent design. I made a trip to Britain in the spring. I spoke at the city of Darwin’s birth to commemorate his anniversary, and the day before the meeting we had, or the day before the talk, we had a meeting a number of British scientists, full professors of science, many very prominent British scientists have been following our work on intelligent design, and they told us they were entirely on side.
Jeffrey: But do you have tenured professors at major American universities who are looking into this?
Meyer: Oh yeah, yeah. They’re in the minority view. But I think what’s really interesting about the nature of the debate is the people who oppose us don’t do so because there’s, for example, no one says, “We have a better explanation for the origin of the first life.” What they do say instead is, “Well, intelligent design isn’t science”–and they try to define science in such a way to exclude consideration of the design hypothesis.
Jeffrey: Why would people be upset if objective observation of the physical world pointed to a Creator?
Meyer: Well, they may hold a worldview that excludes the existence of a Creator, and they may hold it very strongly. And for that reason, the evidence that we’re pointing to and the argument that we’re developing–or that I’m developing in this case–would be a challenge to what is, in essence, a religious or quasi-religious perspective that people may hold, either explicitly or kind of as a default way of looking at the world.
Jeffrey: So, actually, you believe that some people, some of your critics, may start out with the hypothesis: “There is no God, therefore there can’t be any design, therefore I’m going to refute any argument that presents evidence that there is design.”
Meyer: Oh, I think many do. Just as you may have people that start out with the assumption that there is evidence of, or that there is a God, and therefore they might welcome the kind argument I’m making.
We have this idea of scientists as completely objective guys in white coats who just, you know, look at the evidence and then the theory pops off the evidence and it’s just, it’s obvious. But scientists have ideological commitments, and those differ from scientist to scientist, and that’s one of the reasons that you have controversy.
Jeffrey: Well, Dr. Meyer, in a country that was founded on principle that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, where most people are in fact believers in God and adherents to religion, why is it that we have so much trouble in public schools even entertaining the idea that there is an intelligent designer behind the creation of life on Earth?
Meyer: Well, there’s an old saw that says that if the Indians, I mean the East Indian nation, is the most religious country on Earth and the Swedes are the least, America is a nation of Indians governed by Swedes. Our elite culture has very much tapped into this materialistic worldview, the view that the universe is eternal, self-existent. Matter and energy are the fundamental explanatory principles. There is no God or purpose or objective moral order, that sort of thing. But the common culture is still much more sympathetic to a broadly theistic perspective. So, there’s, in a sense, a contest of ideas within the culture. But many folks who are in the law schools, the courts, the scientific world certainly hold this materialistic worldview, and so the case for intelligent design being a challenge to the idea that matter and energy are the whole show–we’re saying that, no, there’s something else, and it’s called information, and information always comes from a mind or intelligence–that’s a troubling argument to someone that holds that view.
Jeffrey: In your book, you talk about a prominent Soviet scientist who basically tried to advance the Darwinian idea, can you talk about that?
Meyer: His name was Alexander Oparin. He was really the first pioneering scientist to try to come up with an evolutionary explanation for the origin of the first life. He knew that there was this lacuna in the broadly Darwinian approach. Darwin explained, or tried to explain, how you get new form from pre-existing forms of life, and Oparin tried to fill in that gap by showing how the chemicals could evolve to form the first cell.
Jeffrey: In other words, he understood the question that is at the root of your book.
Jeffrey: He saw this was the Achilles heel of Darwinism.
Meyer: Well, technically Darwinism doesn’t address this question, but it was an Achilles heel of what you might call a materialistic world picture.
Jeffrey: If people wanted to write God out of creation.
Meyer: If you want to have a materialistic creation story, you’ve got to have an account of the origin of the first life, as well as all the other forms that follow.
Jeffrey: This man was in fact a Marxist.
Jeffrey: And so wanted to close the loop and write a creation story that eliminated God and was completely consistent with the materialistic Soviet view.
Meyer: Definitely with a materialistic worldview. It’s not clear exactly how much his specifically Marxist views were motivating his science, but he definitely was a staunch materialist in at least the Western sense, and maybe more.
Jeffrey: And did that same sort of Marxist desire to close the loop on Darwin’s argument, did you see that in the West?
Meyer: I’m not sure how much it influenced the West, but there was a British scientist, Haldane, that had strong left-leaning politics that may have had some Marxist sympathies, and he had a hypothesis very similar to Alexander Oparin’s. Where you did see it very overtly was in the works of Engels. Engels thought that, just as there was a revolutionary transformation in society, there must have been such a revolutionary transformation from molecules to life.
Jeffrey: This is Friedrich Engels. This is the co-author of The Communist Manifesto with Karl Marx? He embraced Darwin’s ideas?
Meyer: Oh, very much so.
Jeffrey: Because he saw they were consistent with the Marxist vision of human life.
Meyer: There was quite a correspondence, actually, at one point, between Darwin and Marx, and Marx embraced Darwin probably more than Darwin wanted to embrace Marx. But Darwinism, which entails this strict denial of any design behind life, ended up being a taproot for a lot of different materialistic ideologies. The one, you know, in the Soviet Union was a Marxist form. In the West, we have what’s called scientific materialism. Also, the eugenicists tapped into it, trying to improve the gene pool with scientific experimentation. There were even some, you know, extreme robber baron capitalists who justified the ethic of, you know, crush your neighbor in business type of thing.
Jeffrey: So Dr. Meyer, you have this on debate in the scientific realm about whether the objective evidence we can see points to and intelligent designer behind life.
Jeffrey: You have this other debate in society in general about what are the more rules that should guide our behavior, that should guide our law, and whether they’re immutable and unchangeable, and whether everybody had to obey them. Do you think there’s a connection between these two debates?
Meyer: Oh, absolutely. The connection has to do with a person’s view of design. If the human moral order, if the human person is designed, then you can have definite human nature, you can have an understanding that there is a definite human nature, and therefore there are moral laws that advance human flourishing and there’s this whole natural law tradition of Western philosophy.
The case for intelligent design, the scientific case that we’re making, in a broad sense, supports and reinforces that. The alternate view is what you might call the existentialist view, which denies that there is a definite, pre-given design for human nature, and that flowed out of the Darwinian idea that things morphed gradually and indefinitely, so there was no static human nature, no essence, and once you deny that, then human nature becomes a matter of human choice, human construction. This came with Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir and those folks.
And then morality becomes a matter of each person’s subjective choice, and it leads directly to moral relativism, and I would say moral confusion that we’ve had in modern society.
Jeffrey: And the most powerful people in society can make up their own morality and impose it on everybody else.
Meyer: Well, they have to, because if there’s no objective standard above us all to which we must all conform, then power determines what’s right.
Jeffrey: And if you live in a society whose creed begins with the idea that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and you refute the idea that in fact there is a Creator that not only designed the way that human beings are physically, but designed the moral order–
Meyer: You’ve undermined the foundation of the American Revolution.
Jeffrey: So, this Darwinian idea basically can undercut the very founding of our country.
Meyer: It’s ironic, but you know, in a country founded on the idea, where our liberties are linked inextricably to the reality of a Creator, we have now used the Founding–this misapplication of the principle of separation of church and state–to actually exclude the idea that there is evidence for a Creator.
Jeffrey: But your book argues that the observable reality of biology reinforces the idea.
Meyer: Exactly, and that’s actually an idea that a number of the founders really liked, Jefferson in particular. And in fact, some folks, I have been in Washington this week, and I have met some people who are great fans of Jefferson who’ve been sending me emails with quotes from him about the compelling case from physiology, from astronomy, from various branches of science supporting the existence of–he used the word an intelligent and personal designer or something, you know. He had the concept, no question.
Jeffrey: Dr. Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, thank you very much.
Meyer: Thank you, Terry.[/spoiler]
Evidence for a Creator because we don’t understand how a marvel was accomplished? Cmon, Jeffrey, mystery does not prove God!
No end to the hubris of man, scientist or creator worshipper!