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Monday, October 16, 2023

Stephen Meyer lies about scientists working on evolutionary theory

I know Stephen Meyer and I have discussed his views on creationism many times. Some of the issues he raises are quite interesting and they aren't easy to refute. In this video from 2020, he presents two standard creationist objections to evolution: the Cambrian explosion, and the probability of evolving a gene.1

The first one is a standard Stephen Meyer argument and he's well aware of the major weaknesses in his argument. Nevertheless, I do not fault him for maintaining his stance that this poses a major challenge for our understanding of the history of life. The second argment is ridiculous and he knows it. I can only assume that he is advancing it in order to appeal to creationists who know far less about biology than he does.

"It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)."

Richard Dawkins

There's something else in this video that upsets me more than those two arguments. In the beginning of the video he claims that there are genuine scientific reasons to doubt the "evolutionary account of life's origin." He mentions that he attended a 2016 conference in London (England) where they addressed "growing doubts about the modern version of Darwin's theory." In the very next sentence he addresses his "two scientific reasons to doubt this theory."

I was at that conference and I can assure you that there were no scientists who had any doubts about the evolutionary explanation of the history of life. None of them thought that the Cambrian explosion refuted evolution and none of them were stupid enough to be confused by the probability argument. They were there to discuss possible extensions of the Modern Synthesis, not to challenge the concept of evolution. It was a conference about different aspects of evolutionary theory.

Stephen Meyer knows this. I can only conclude that he is lying. That disappoints me because up until now I was content to attribute his rejection of evolution to ignorance, stupidity, or insanity, and not to wickedness.

1. The video is produced by PragerU, otherwise known as The Prager University Foundation. It's a nonprofit dedicated to promoting "American values" (such as creationism) and it is obligated to declare that it is NOT an accredited university. The fact that Stephen Meyer would collaborate with such a despicable organization shows you that Intelligent Design Creationism has sunk to new depths.


Anonymous said...

Creationist like Stephen Meyer enjoy beating dead horses but shy away from actually producing original work with positive arguments in favor of their preferred view.

C.Evans said...

I almost hesitate to launch the video on the chance that my phone will then be tagged and I'll be presented with more PragerU videos... which I don't want.

John Harshman said...

As others, I'm disinclined to watch the video. What exactly, this time, is the substance of his claim that the Cambrian explosion refutes evolution? In what way is it interesting? And your footnote #1 appears not to have a footnote attached, unless it's the reference to Prager U.

Anebo said...

It's always wickedness.

William Spearshake said...

I have argued the probability argument at UD back in the day. In short, their argument is based on a false premise. They were either too dense or too intransigent to understand it. My counter-argument, simply stated, is that according to their arguments Gordon Mullings or Philip Cunningham do not exist. If we go back in time 500 years and calculate the probability that a being with Gordon's and Philip's exact genetic make-up would be so astronomically small that it would be effectively zero. Thankfully, that is not how evolution works.

Ferenc said...

Life in the echo chamber is great, isn't it?
The Cambrian explosion argument is succinct and rather convincing on the face of it. But those who would be quick to discount it, are never so quick as to provide a succinct and convincing refutation. But we have time - please provide a serious refutation, or a link to such, no mater how long. Those who hesitate to watch the PragerU sound like trying to avoid cognitive dissonance.
It is also interesting that the author states that there were no scientists who said what Meyer claims was said. How small was that conference that the author of this hit piece managed to speak to them all, and also managed to be present whenever Meyer spoke with anyone? Or is the author of this baseless claim the Meyer lied just playing loose with the truth? What is his evidence, other than that he himself is all knowing?

Ferenc said...

William Spearshake ignores inconvenient facts. Genes ARE actually almost identical, except that over the generations some small mutations, and the sexual reproduction, result in offsprings which inherit genetic material from both parents. But whatever genes are inherited through genetic recombination of chromosomes, the genes are actually very stable and do not mutate much (or the offspring dies). So no, there is no problem with Meyer's argument and nowhere does he claim that the genetic material over 500yrs is identical. It is trivially false and he knows his biology. But the components of genes following recombination of chromosomes are actually almost identical to the components from the parents, although the new genes gain diversity. Variations almost exclusively arise from mixing, not from mutations. So new functionality is very hard to come by through biological recombination which is responsible for hereditary variance. Improved composition, through environmental pressure, can be achieved. An obvious 'improvement' with artificial pressure is in breeding animals, e.g. horses or dogs. But no new functionality that is not already available appears. Horses do not get superpowers. Dogs bred for wooly coat, by mixing with Poodles, do not get a coat that did not already exist before in a parent. The DNA gene expression leads to superficially very different offsprings, but it is still a horse, or a dog. Humans athletic performance has improved over the past 100 years, but not due to evolution. The number of generations is obviously negligible. Improvement is due to nutrition, training, selection of athletes, and, yes, even selective breeding over a few generations. But there are no super humans yet. Did evolution make humans good at Marathon running? Hardly. What possible function does marathon running serve in natural selection? In fact, the majority of people will probably die if made to run a Marathon without significant preparation? Did evolution make us great tennis or basketball players? I don't think so. Of course if we selected humans for basketball, then we will get taller more athletic humans. But it is all reversible if we decided one day to breed humans for gymnastics. No new functionality!! So even after 500 years, humans are identical, functionality wise. Viruses replicate so quickly that mutations can be significant, but viruses are much simpler organisms and are also confined to an envelope of survival. If evolution is at play in the origin of the species then we must take time into account to guesstimate the time new functionality will require to appear, and the rate of mutations/mixing, etc. When we do that, we end up in the same place a Stephen Meyer has, and voila - Houston, we have a problem.

John Harshman said...

The Cambrian explosion argument is succinct and rather convincing on the face of it.

If it's succinct, feel free to state it in your own words. Why is it convincing?

But those who would be quick to discount it, are never so quick as to provide a succinct and convincing refutation.

You want succinct? Here: small, shelly fauna.

Ferenc said...

John Harshman: I much appreciate your terse "succinct" example. I could too give you a "succinct" counter examples, each will suffice - Stephen Meyer, David Berlinski, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Jonathan Wells, James Tour. There are more.
But of course this is not a satisfactory example of "succinct", just like yours isn't. You do not have to oblige and engage in discussion and that's OK. But please do not think that you have seriously engaged, or convinced anyone, by typing "shelly fauna".

As for the Cambrian Explosion.

The Cambrian explosion is a period, some 500 million years ago, when many species have appeared (with no apparent earlier ancestry), all in the span of about twenty million years
[ ].
In particular, many new body plans appeared. Furthermore, the extremely complex molecular machinery appeared (as encoded in DNA).
Standard evolutionary models, Darwinian or subsequent adaptations of the theory, fail to provide a mechanism that will explain the Cambrian explosion, or the fact that it practically stopped about 500 million years ago, when it comes to new body plans.

That is essentially the problem with the Cambrian explosion. It is not scientifically explained by any Evolution theory, Darwinian or subsequent, and religious explanations are not scientific anyway. So my position is simple - we have no explanation and we should not be obliged to adopt an inadequate one/s. But Evolution theory fulfils an apparent need. As David H. Gelernter suggested: “Darwinism is no longer just a scientific theory but a basis of a worldview, and an emergency ... religion for the many troubled souls who need one.”

It is easy to provide excuses to explain the Cambrian explosion, such as "environmental changes" - for which we have no real handle on because the evidence is scarce, or factors (excuses) such as (unspecified) environmental changes, competition between species (not leading to speciation anyway), and other (hypothetical) evolutionary pressures, influencing the trajectory of life during and after the Cambrian Period.

The molecular machinery evolution is unexplained. Natural mutations and the coordination of mutations to form complex nano-machinery is calculated to be virtually impossible. And no, one should not interpret 'virtually impossible' like Lloyd Christmas (of 'Dumb and Dumber' fame) - " So you're telling me there's a chance. YEAH!"
Now, one could argue about such calculations (e.g. the calculations of Meyer or other ID proponents). But there are no alternative calculations showing how *it is* possible for virtually perfectly assembled protein chains to form, in synchronisation with other protein chains, having interdependence for the living organism to survive. All these changes have to happen *together* to explain high level functionality.
Late development of variations, once the organism exists are successfully explained by evolution, but cannot explain major changes such as body plans or speciation. Early development of variations is destructive because random significant variations are virtually invariably destructive (except for a Lloyd Christmas' interpretation) to the organism, or simply have no high level function yet to respond to environmental pressures.

Ferenc said...

John Harshman:

Here, in my own succinct words: The Cambrian explosion.

Not satisfactory? Neither is your frivolous "small, shelly fauna".

John Harshman said...

Ferenc: Here's a somewhat less succinct explanation. The small, shelly fauna handily refutes the claim that the Cambrian explosion has no precursors and that all the Cambrian taxa appeared over a short period. In fact, the first of the smal, shelly fauna appear in the fossil record in the latest Ediacaran, around 550ma, gradually expanding in diversity until the first major Lagerstätten, coincident with the first trilobite fossils, appear around 520ma. If, as your sources claim, the Cambrian explosion ended about 500ma, then it took at least 50 million years, not 20, and there are in fact precursors. Further, many of the Cambrian fossils link extant phyla or classes. Notably, the "lobopods" link arthropods with the other ecdysozoan groups. You appear to know nothing about the explosion other than what you can find on creationist web sites. Those are not good sources. So really, you need to look up "small, shelly fauna" and think about its implications.

Michael Gilroy said...

More, nothing more shouts idiocy, cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias more than your statements here. As an accomplished Information Scientist, attorney and developer, your whole premise here is logically fallacious, particularly using your credentials to mask your dishonest cognitive dissonance, especially in regards to reproducible changes in genetic codes, and their "beyond absurd" improbability. As for your accounts of the conference, your credibility is lacking.

"There is no human experience that can be termed true science unless it can be mathematically demonstrated. And if thou sayest that the sciences which begin and end in the mind are true, this cannot be conceded, but must be denied for many reasons, and firstly because in such mental discourses experience is eliminated, and without experience there can be no certainty." - Leonardo DaVinci

John Harshman said...

Michael: Not clear who you're responding to or what you think is wrong with whatever they said.