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Signature in the Cell: A Letter to Our Readers

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December 29, 2009 Tags: Design

Today's entry was written by Darrel Falk. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Signature in the Cell: A Letter to Our Readers

Hi Everyone:

The comments are flowing quite freely and in many ways that is healthy. However, I think it is important that we not let this evolve into personal attacks, or even judgments. As a scientist, my read of Signature in the Cell is that it has declared the science of early life to be bankrupt. The book is clearly and articulately written. My colleague Gordon Glover is correct--this is a thoroughly engaging book. With the possible exception of Michael Behe’s two books (which are also engagingly incorrect) never have the arguments been laid out more succinctly. Dr. Meyer says with near certainty that the science has now reached a dead end and since there is nothing else left, he says, the only other possibility is that there is a mind behind the code of life.

So there is one simple question to be addressed. Is the science at a dead end? Has Dr. Meyer demonstrated this or not?

Dr. Meyer has chosen to take this question to a general audience, but it is purely a scientific question. I have asked Dr. Meyer to respond to my review with an answer we could post on our site. We’ll see if he does. I also have a response from the Nobel laureate, Jack Szostak, which I will post soon. I expect responses from other scientists as well.

A couple of commenters have read Dr. Szostak’s article. That is a wonderful start. They have declared, however, that Dr. Szostak’s work is not testable and thereby is not scientific. It is important to emphasize that an article in Scientific American is not where the science is done; this is where the science is summarized. To know whether it is science, one needs to go back to the original articles themselves. Let me assure you, please trust me, the science is still proceeding and some of the best minds on the planet are working on this problem. It is a fascinating scientific problem; they are thoroughly engaged.

Some commenters have become personal. Nothing is to be gained by this. I have said it before and I will say it again, my experience is that these people are sincere. They make mistakes like we all do. However, I find I love these people, even though I have deep concerns about the quality of their science. Please try your best not to question their integrity. If you were to sit down with each of them over coffee, you would find they are not out to deceive.

All of that, however, is beside the point. We can just focus on the science. Dr. Meyer makes a simple proposition. Is he right or is he wrong? It is my opinion that he has been so engagingly clear, everyone with a four year degree in biology should be able to see that there is no dead end. Those of you who don’t have such a degree may have to trust the rest of us; the science is not dead.

We who believe in a Mind that is above all and through all still have very good reasons to believe. We need not base our belief on what happens in culture dishes and test tubes. I have written in other places why I choose to believe. My reasons are very strong and yours can be too. We can still kneel in reverence and awe as we read John 1 and as reflect on the majesty of the Creator. We can wait with “baited breath” as truly great scientists like Jack Szostak, Jerry Joyce and Mike Lynch work through the details of how the creation command came to be realized. But in the famous words of one of my great boyhood heroes, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” The last twenty years of biology have been characterized by the filling in of one gap in our knowledge after another. Meyer has focused on the biggest gap of all and declared that no one will fill this one in! In the words of that same boyhood hero “this feels like déjà vu all over again.” Trust me. It ain’t over.

Blessings,
Darrel


Darrel Falk is former president of BioLogos and currently serves as BioLogos' Senior Advisor for Dialog. He is Professor of Biology, Emeritus at Point Loma Nazarene University and serves as Senior Fellow at The Colossian Forum. Falk is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.

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John Kwok - #1324

December 29th 2009

Darrel -

You are defending the indefensible. Meyer has engaged in a twenty year-old campaign of ample lies, omissions and gross distortions of published scientific work. Not once has he or his Dishonesty Institute colleagues done any meaningful scientific research to support their spurious Intelligent Design claims. Instead, we have them bearing false witness against real scientists (e. g. Dembski’s absurd accusation made to the Federal Department of Homeland Security in 2006, stating that University of Texas ecologist Eric Pianka was a “bioterrorist”), steal (which is what Dembski did over a year later in “borrowing” a Harvard University cell animation video), attack their critics, and engaging in other, morally dubious behavior that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Meyer doesn’t deserve our respect, but our condemnation, period.


Gordon J. Glover - #1326

December 29th 2009

On p282 Meyer criticizes the various abiogenesis models as having a “forward-looking memory” and he writes that “such foresighted selection has no analogue in nature.”

Really?  I seem to recall a physics experiment where nature does exactly that.  In Young’s Double-Slit experiment, a beam of monochromatic light passing through a beam-splitter recombines to produce interference fringes.  When only a single photon at a time is fired, it must “choose” to follow one path or the other, but the accumulation of “hits” on the screen produces the same interference pattern - indicating that a single photon can take both paths simolutaneously and interfere with itself. 

Things get even wierder when a detector is placed in the path after the splitter.  The photon is then observed to take one path or the other - NOT both.  As a result, the interference pattern goes away completely - indicating that detection influences the choice of the photon.  But here is the problem: the detector is placed AFTER the splitter, so the photon must “choose” what to do BEFORE interacting with the detector.

(cont…)


Gordon J. Glover - #1327

December 29th 2009

(...cont)

So here is at least one analogue where nature clearly demonstrates a forward-looking memory, and the quantum superposition of physical realities undercuts Meyer’s attempt to quantify the probabilistic resources of the cosmsos.  I’m not claiming that quantum pheonomena had anything to do with abiogenesis, but we are fools to think that we understand the universe well enough to declare the science of abiogenesis dead. 

Meyer and others like him do not give the cosmos enough credit.  Either our understanding of nature is immature, or the universe really is “broke” and God needs to perform periodic miracles to “fix” it.  Hmmm….  I’ll go with the former.


Mark - #1329

December 29th 2009

Academic criticism of Meyer is healthy. Calling for “condemnation” of him is not.

BioLogos and ID should be actively seeking common ground, not condemning one another.

Here’s to a more cooperative and dialog-oriented 2010.. for the good of God and all His church.


John Kwok - #1331

December 29th 2009

Mark,

Apparently Meyer misrepresented himself to eminent invertebrate paleobiologists Simon Conway Morris and James Valentine for his recently released “Darwin’s Dilemma” documentary that purportedly claims that the so-called “Cambrian Explosion” is a major problem for “Darwinism” and one best explained by Intelligent Design. It’s merely the latest, if not most blatant, example of unseemly, quite un-“Christian” behavior exhibited by Meyer and his fellow Dishonesty Institute mendacious intellectual pornographers.

So, in short, Meyer deserves condemntation, not merely “academic criticism”. The time for dialogue is over. It’s been over for more than twenty years. I hope you and Darrel will realize this sooner rather than later.


John Kwok - #1347

December 29th 2009

Darrel,

You choose some odd bedfellows as those whom you believe are really sincere. Here’s six reasons why they’re not, and I am merely scratching the surface:

1) Billing the Dover Area School District tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees as potential witnesses for the defense, but failing to send the entire corps to the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District trial room except for a mere handful, and of that, the most notable one is Michael Behe.

2) Falsely accusing eminent University of Texas Eric Pianka of being a “bioterrorist” simply because of some ridiculous remarks he made to a Texas Academy of Sciences audience and submitting him to both an online “death threat” campaign and harassment from the Federal Department of Homeland Security (or the FBI or both). A false accusation submitted by the ever so “fair” Bill Dembski to Federal authorities.


John Kwok - #1348

December 29th 2009

3) Claiming to “borrow” a Harvard University cell animation video, used without consent in the Fall of 2007 by the thief in question, the very same Bill Dembski,  in his talks around the country, and who apparently “lent” it to Premise Media, the film production company for “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”.

4) Urging Amazon.com to censor a harsh, but accurate, review I had written in December 2007 of a book co-authored by Dembski; a review that was restored only after I sent Dembski an e-mail ultimatum.

5) Extolling the obvious “ties” between Darwin’s thought and Hitler’s heinous conception and subsequent execution of the Holocaust; an ongoing theme elaborated by Dishonesty Institute mendacious intellectual pornographer - and resident Orthodox Jew - David Klinghoffer.

6) Urging Dishonesty Institute sycophants to post favorable Amazon.com reviews of Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell”, simply because “evil Atheist Darwinists” like yours truly and distinguished vertebrate paleobiologist Don Prothero have slammed it in our harsh, but accurate, negative reviews.


John Kwok - #1349

December 29th 2009

I think biologist Paul R. Gross and philosopher Barbara Forrest have correctly demonstrated that the Discovery Institute is not an organization that is worthy of anyone’s trust - especially yours - in their superb “Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design”. May I suggest Darrel that you heed their ample warnings and pay close attention to their extensive evidence of ample deceit and other less than “Christian” behavior that is presently in a clear, cogent, well-argued manner by them?


KBryan - #1354

December 29th 2009

As a Christian, and former YEC, I have to agree with John Kwok, though I wouldn’t have made the point as forcefully as he did. Like the ICR before them, the DI have have shown a propensity to intentional dishonesty, as Kwok has detailed. The ICR and DI both speak with forked tongue: when they are talking to a non-Christian audience, it’s all about the science. When they’re speaking to a Christian audience, they freely admit it’s about religion. I lost all respect for Philip Johnson when I read _Darwinism Defeated?_, an published exchange between Johnson and Denis Lamoreaux. Lamoreaux tried to keep the debate to the science. When Johnson tried rhetorical evasion and escape, Lamoreaux gently pressed him on the science. Johnson resorted to name-calling and character assasination. This is SOP for the DI.


KBryan - #1355

December 29th 2009

If “by their fruits you shall know them” is true, the DI and ID don’t come off looking very well, and as a Christian I cannot associate with or condone their dishonesty. The sad but unescapable fact is that it is impossible to have a serious exchange or debate with the DI on the science because at root they’re not interested in the science. They’re only interested in how they can manipulate and misrepresent the science to further their agenda (see The Wedge Document).


Mike Gene - #1361

December 29th 2009

Hi Mark (1329),

What would you suggest the common ground to be?  Either ID is science or it is not.  Either abiogenesis is possible or it is not.


Mike Gene - #1362

December 29th 2009

Hi Darrel,

To answer your core question, no, I do not think science is at a dead end.  What fascinates me is the way the whole debate is set up.  According to you, Meyer seems to be saying abiogenesis is impossible (and needs this to infer design), while Szostak’s SciAm article effectively begins with this position and sets out to show abiogenesis is possible.  It’s as if we can write natural history by determining what is and is not impossible. 

It would seem to me there is plenty of room between the pessimistic naysaying of abiogenesis-denial and optimistic cheer-leading of abiogenesis-enthusiasm.


Kim - #1371

December 30th 2009

The problem with ID (invoking a undefined, unseen entity) is that it requires that we cannot explain something for which it is necessary to invoke such an undefined, unseen entity. This effectively requires that every possible hypothesis has been tested and found insufficient. Without such an example, ID is nothing. Hence, proponents of ID will have to sell that some research tracks have reached the end of what we can test, so that they can invoke their beloved undefined, unseen entity.

Because ID is effectively defined in the negative (the lack of a natural explanation), ID by inception is doomed to fail, because progress is being made in each possible field that ID has tried to sell as at an end.


John Kwok - #1372

December 30th 2009

@ Darrel -

Not only me but others here have pointed out just how duplicitous the Discovery Instiute and its pathetic band of mendacious intellectual pornographers really are. Again, you can’t defend the indefensible, especially when its sordid history is out there, ready to be read by anyone willing to look at it. And if you want a good place to start, then read Gross and Forrest’s “Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intetlligent Design”, since they devote a substantial portion not only to the now infamous “Wedge Document”, but also to what is their crypto-Fascist political and cultural agenda for this country. In plain English, Darrel, you are befriending a bunch of slick, pleasant, but still potentially dangerous Neo - Nazis.


robert van bakel - #1374

December 30th 2009

We have reached the ‘limit of understanding’, for the further reducibility of the origins of RNA? Am I right in gleening this from the above posts and review?

I believe University of Chicago physicists have captured some ‘dark matter’, have informed their colleagues at the LHC, who are busily smashing quarks to manufacture the elusive stuff. Where’s Meyer stand on the god particle and its imminent discovery? More science we may as well not bother with according to his brand of intellectual non-curiosity?


robert van bakel - #1375

December 30th 2009

I know the ‘god particle’ is Higg’s Boson; leave me alone,
Cheers.


steve martin - #1393

December 30th 2009

Hey Mike,

Good to hear from you again.  Since I also have talked about “common ground” (see comment 1268 on prev post)  , I’ll give you my answer to your question to Mark.  First, I should qualify this by saying that, for me at least, the common ground I’m seeking is between orthodox Christians who fall (roughly) into the ID and EC / TE camps. If we are confining this common ground to science, here is my very brief draft for discussion. 

Common ground scientific proposal:
a)  the earth & universe are billions of years old
b)  common descent
c)  The current scientific evidence has demonstrated that evolutionary mechanisms (eg. NS & RM) can account for at least some evolutionary changes, including changes in some species
d)  In various scientific fields (eg. chemical evolution & biological evolution) scientific claims should be evaluated on their scientific merit.

(to be continued)


steve martin - #1394

December 30th 2009

(cont from above)

The first three points(that map to Allan Harvey’s E1, E2, and E3 definitions for evolution) are really a prerequisite from my perspective; there is not much point in discussing scientific claims of “design”, when scientific findings like (a-c) with such massive evidential support are denied. (see comment 1285 on prev post )

On c), I’m sure I’ll get some heavy criticism from my fellow ECs for the qualifier “at least some” not being strong enough but given that not all evolutionary changes have been explained yet (will they ever?), I’m comfortable with this as a starting point.

On d), I’d really like to hear more scientific criticisms (like Darrel’s OP) of ID scientific claims that don’t include personal attacks.  (Honesty, trust, and scientific integrity are extremely important, but lets have separate forums / discussion on those items or we’ll never get anywhere).  And that probably goes the other way too for ID advocates that, for eg,, review ambiogenesis research.


John Kwok - #1395

December 30th 2009

@ steve martin -

Au contraire, Steve. You can’t separate out the personal attacks from the poor science with regards to the Discovery Institute - or rather, the Dishonesty Institute - since they’ve been in the forefront of both. Readers must understand that we are dealing with a bunch of well-financed, disarmingly pleasant, but still dangerous, fanatics who wish to alter the very essence of American culture and intellectual life (which, I might add is why the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture - the principal Inteligent Design “think tank” was known originally as the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture.). If you wish to skip my harsh attacks, then fine, but you should prepare yourself for the worst by reading Paul R. Gross and Barbara Forrest’s “Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design”.

The time for seeking “common ground” past a long time ago. We ought to recognize that the Discovery Institute is a malignant tumor on American intellectual, cultural and educational life and that it should be dealt with as such, without any semblance of the “kid glove” treatment which Darrel gave to Meyer’s latest absurd example of mendacious intellectual pornography.


Mike Gene - #1403

December 30th 2009

Hi Kim (1371),

Yes, I think you make a very good point.  I would simply add that this problem is not unique to the ID people, but is also shared by many of their critics.  Why say that?  Over the years, I have asked many critics of ID what type of data would count as evidence for ID.  Their most popular answer?  Something that science/evolutionary theory cannot possibly explain.  This view is even shared by the New Atheists, as it is entailed in their position which equates the success of science with the non-existence of God.


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