The Beverly Hills Battle for Evolution (against Intelligent Design): Prothero/Shermer V. Meyer/Sternberg

Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

The Beverly Hills Battle for Evolution (against Intelligent Design): Prothero/Shermer V. Meyer/Sternberg


ON MONDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2009, Donald Prothero and Michael Shermer were teamed up against Intelligent Design proponents Stephen Meyer and Richard Sternberg. The topic was, "Has Evolutionary Theory Adequately Explained the Origins of Life?" for which we were to take the affirmative. The problem, of course, is that evolutionary theory primarily deals with how life changes, not how it originated in the first place. No matter, because in the entire 25 minutes allotted for Meyer and Sternberg, they never once even mentioned the origin of life, and instead attacked "neo-Darwinism" population genetics, rates of mutation, etc., none of which directly addresses the origins of life.

Prothero allocated his 15 minutes to instructing the audience on where the science of life's origins is today, basically covering his 15-week college course in one minute per week's worth of material. There really is that much science--much more actually--to what we know about the origin of life. Shermer took just 8 minutes to make two points: (1) the religious agenda of Intelligent Design creationists calls into question their motives, and (2) regardless of their religious beliefs, the flaws in their arguments doom their program. Shermer noted that Francis Collins, who was the Director of the Human Genome Project and is now head of the National Institutes of Health, is a born-again evangelical Christian who fully accepts all of evolutionary theory and has never been discriminated against for his religious views because he practices good science (which puts the the to the claim by IDers that they are not given a hearing because of their religious beliefs).

Meyer opened his statement by accusing Prothero and Shermer of dodging the debate question. He then announced that he was not there to defend intelligent design theory, he would not speculate on how he thinks life carne about, or offer anything affirming his beliefs on the matter whatsoever. Shermer's response was swift and merciless: "What? Please don't tell me, Stephen, that you and Sternberg flew thousands of miles to get here, that these people paid $20 each to be here, that you have a brand new 600-page book subtitled "The Evidence for Intelligent Design" that they are selling in the lobby, but that you have no intention of telling us how you think life arose and became so complex? Really? Because inquiring minds want to know!"

Shermer then read a passage from Meyer's new book (Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence of Intelligent Design, HarperOne, 2009, p. 443):

   The evidence of intelligent design in
   biology does not prove the God exists
   (or that a being with all of the attributes
   of a transcendent God exists),
   since it is at least logically possible
   that an immanent (within the universe)
   intelligence rather than a transcendent
   intelligence might have
   designed life. Nevertheless, insofar as
   a transcendent God (as conceived by
   theists) does possess conscious awareness
   and intelligence, it possesses the
   causal powers necessary to produce
   (and explain the origin of) specified
   biological information. Thus, the activity
   of a theistic God could provide
   an adequate explanation of the evidence
   of intelligent design in biology,
   though other entities could conceivably
   do so as well.

Shermer continued by arguing that the creator of life on Earth could be extra-terrestrial intelligences (ETIs) from a planet circling the star Vega, and if we found, say, a pod buried out in the desert with the Vegan's blueprint for creating life, we would then know the origin of life on Earth. But that would not answer the question of life's origin in general, because we would naturally want to know where the Vegans carne from. And if we discovered that the Vegans were designed by an ETI from the Andromeda galaxy, we would be curious to know where the Andromedans carne from, ad infinitum. At some point, we will need a bottom-up natural explanation for the origins of life in the first place, and if you do not posit such a theory the only alternative is a nonscientific, theological, or religious explanation involving a supernatural being who steps into our universe to stir up the particles to create life. …

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