The Discovery Institute (DI) is really in a frenzy trying to sell Stephen Meyer’s new book, Darwin’s Doubt, showing that
God an Intelligent Designer was responsible for the Cambrian Explosion of animal phyla, for there’s just no way in hell that natural processes, including mutations and natural selection, could have done it. (To see the problems with the book, have a look at Nick Matzke’s review at Panda’s Thumb.)
The way the DI flogs Meyer’s book is familiar: they line up a bunch of scientists who have no expertise in paleobiology (the book’s topic) but are either creationists or friendly to religion, and have them endorse Darwin’s Doubt. You’re going to see this at their websites over the next few months, and it will be good for a lot of laughs—but also for some chagrin. We have examples of each today.
The laughs involve a biophysicist who, of course, knows a ton about the Cambrian explosion, an emeritus (i.e., retired) professor at Cal State Long Beach. The DI gives his endoresement in their article: “More Scientists Endorse Darwin’s Doubt: Meet Biologist Mark C. Biedebach. Biedbach says this, among other things,
Stephen C. Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt is a truly remarkable book. Tightly woven in its 413 pages of text are four interrelated arguments. With 753 references, he presents evidence of the serious weaknesses in materialistic theories of biological evolution, and positive evidence for the theory of intelligent design. What are those weaknesses?
First, according to Meyer, no neo-Darwinian (or other alternative materialistic) mechanism has any conceivable way to search the vast number of possible combinations of coded symbols that could generate the complex types of functional genes and proteins found in living organisms. . .
. . . If one is to believe that each new phylum that suddenly appeared during the Cambrian explosion arrived by the process of neo-Darwinian evolution, then at least some transitional fossils (of the multitude that should have existed from the three Precambrian phyla) ought to have been found by now. According to Meyer, none have been found.
Meyer asserts that those who believe neo-Darwinian (or any other conceivable materialistic) processes provide a satisfactory explanation for the existence of life on earth must invariably resort to a metaphysical assertion known as methodological naturalism. This is the view that it is possible to explain all features and events that occur in the natural world by reference to exclusively natural causes. (This has sometimes been called “exclusionary methodological naturalism,” because a purposive intelligence, mind, or conscious agency is excluded as a cause.)
But Meyer argues that to restrict methodological naturalism in such a way renders one blind to the possibility that intelligent design is the best, most causally adequate explanation for the origin of the new information necessary for new cellular network circuitry or a new body plan (whenever previous transitional fossils do not exist).
Well, that’s the standard ID line. This “blurb” is just a regurgitation of what’s in the book, with no critical judgment. So be it. But I’m wondering if Biedebach even wrote it all himself, for it sounds like standard DI boilerplate, and Biedebach’s video below shows some worrisome behavior that might reflect on his judgment.
Who is Biedbach? As far as I can see from his writings on the internet, he’s certainly a believer in intelligent design (ID), if not an old-earth creationist. Here’s his biography from the American Institute of Science and Technology Education, an organization that welcomes “nonconsensus” views in science, including intelligent design and the denial of global warming.
Note what his new book is about.
Here’s Biedebach’s muddled manuscript (apparently unpublished) on “Evolution vs. creation,” which shows that he’s certainly an ID advocate, but may also be an old-earth creationist. Biedebach has also written about how some aspects of nature, such as homing in the loggerhead turtle, show indisputable proof for an Intelligent Designer.
Finally, of course, behind it all is religion. If you can bear to watch this video, called “Brother Mark Biedebach expresses the importance of having a prayer book,” on the Grace and Truth Gospel Church channel, see who the Discovery Institute gets to endorse its books. The video makes me cringe. Would you trust this man to evaluate a book on the Cambrian explosion?
What should cause us chagrin is that Meyer’s book has also been endorsed by a scientist who is apparently compos mentis, Dr. George Church of Harvard University. Church is famous for helping invent DNA sequencing technology, helping launch the Human Genome Project, and inventing many other techniques for genetic engineering. He’s clearly a very good scientist, though I don’t see any particular expertise in paleobiology. Nevertheless, he’s actually blurbed the book for the DI! Here’s his blurb from the cover:
Stephen Meyer’s new book Darwin’s Doubt represents an opportunity for bridge-building, rather than dismissive polarization — bridges across cultural divides in great need of professional, respectful dialog — and bridges to span evolutionary gaps.
Really, Dr. Church? Do you seriously think that invoking a creator is going to fill the gaps in our understanding of the Cambrian explosion? But Church’s endorsement shouldn’t be too surprising, because he’s previously shown sympathy for intelligent design. The link that gives his blurb also notes his previous osculation of ID. (The emphases are on the Discovery Institute website; I’m not sure if they’re Church’s or the DI’s.)
As a scientific discipline, many people have casually dismissed Intelligent Design without carefully defining what they mean by intelligence or what they mean by design. Science and math have long histories of proving things, and not just accepting intuition — Fermat’s last theorem was not proven until it was proven. And I think we’re in a similar space with intelligent design.
The ribosome, both looking at the past and at the future, is a very significant structure — it’s the most complicated thing that is present in all organisms. Craig does comparative genomics, and you find that almost the only thing that’s in common across all organisms is the ribosome. And it’s recognizable; it’s highly conserved. So the question is, how did that thing come to be? And if I were to be an intelligent design defender, that’s what I would focus on; how did the ribosome come to be?
On this site I’ve criticized Church for his blatant accommodationism, his claims that the overlap between science and religion is “vast and fertile,” and his argument that science itself involves faith. The latter claim is bogus, of course: science doesn’t involve faith (which really means “belief in a proposition without sufficient evidence to command rational assent”), but confidence. We don’t start out with a faith that the natural world is comprehensible; rather, we have experience showing that that is comprehensible, and that the comprehension has come only from naturalism and materialism. Religious faith doesn’t tell us anything verifiable about reality. Church’s use of the word “faith” as a trait of scientists has only one aim: to give religion unwarranted credibility by letting it engage in frottage with science.
Church has long been an enabler of religion, though I can’t discover what his personal beliefs are. Perhaps he’s just a faitheist. Regardless, I wish that some science reporter (are you listening, Faye Flam?) would interview Church and pin him down on his views on ID. Does he really think that an intelligent designer is responsible for creating the phyla during the Cambrian explosion? If so, what kind of evidence would support that claim? I suspect, though, that he’d either refuse such an interview or, when pressed, waffle on his views.
Scientists like Church puzzle me. How can someone so smart be so blind? He should be ashamed of himself. He doesn’t use gaps in our knowledge about the structure of the genome as evidence for God.