Off Topic: One More Bout With The Intelligent Design People

In the current (Jan./Feb.) issue of The American Spectator I have another go at the Intelligent Design business, which I’m a bit surprised to find is still going on.  What do the ID people want?

I don’t know, but ID proponent Stephen C. Meyer has a new book out:  Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and The Case for Intelligent Design.  He states his case in TAS, then I have my say.

TAS actually sent me Meyer’s book.  The gist of it is:

  • The “sudden” (relatively—it took several million years) appearance of new kinds of creatures half a billion years ago meant a rapid increase in working genetic information.
  • The only source we know of that could supply that much information, of that quality, that quickly, is intelligent mentation.
  • Therefore an intelligent agent was involved in generating those creatures. 

To see Stephen Meyer talking about his book to a rather dimwitted interviewer, watch the 27-minute video clip here.

I made a good-faith effort to read the book, and took in enough to get the gist of it as above; but I kept falling asleep, so at last I just wrote up a general critique of ID.

The problem here is that if you’ve ever tasted the excitement of science—the slow uncovering of deep truths about the world by diligent inquiry, imaginative speculation, mathematical modeling, reasoning, criticism, and consensus—ID is boring by comparison.

Meyer is not a bad writer, and so far as I can judge is an honest man, but his book is boring.  ID itself is boring.  As I write in TAS:

There hangs over the whole enterprise the atmosphere of the barstool crank, who wants to repeat to you over and over the one and only idea in his head, an idea that leads nowhere, to nothing interesting.  Faced with a careful, reasoned refutation, he just repeats what he said before.  Zzzzzzzz.

I confess I feel a bit guilty at not having engaged more directly with Meyer’s book, though.  The best excuse I can come up with is that persons far better credentialed in the relevant fields than I am have already done so.

There is for example a long and detailed negative review of Meyer’s book, with many interesting diagrams, by biologist Nick Matzke at Panda’s Thumb.  I can’t find any response to Matzke by Meyer, although other ID-ers have weighed in.

Negative reviewers at Amazon.com compare Meyer’s book unfavorably with Erwin and Valentine’s The Cambrian Explosion; The Construction of Animal Biodiversity, so there is more than one point of view on Meyer’s main topic out there for those interested in paleobiology.

If you buy Meyer’s book you should buy Erwin and Valentine’s too, if only to give some financial support to the scholarly endeavor.  As one of Meyer’s Amazon.com reviewers says:

I … find it sad to see that this book, by a professional creationism promoter with no academic credentials or relevant experience in the field about which he is writing has generated (at the time of this review) 336 reviews of which the majority are favorable, while [Erwin and Valentine’s book] has generated just 8 reviews and, I am sure, more limited sales.

It would be interesting to see Erwin and/or Valentine in a refereed debate with Meyer; but I’m not holding my breath on that happening.

I’ll only add that the TalkOrigins website is an invaluable source for counter-ID arguments.  For pro-ID arguments too, in fact:  TalkOrigins has an entire page of links to ID and creationist websites. 

Discovery Institute, the main vehicle for ID promotion, do not return the collegiality:  they have no corresponding page listing their opponents.

TalkOrigins was set up during the high tide of ID promotion in the 1990s, and some of its links no longer work; but it is still active.

As an example of the depth and quality of postings at TalkOrigins, read through their pages on Information Theory and Creationism.  As well as tossing and goring ID-ers’ ventures into Information Theory, the pages provide a good grounding in the mathematical aspects of the theory. 

None of the ID-ers being tossed and gored is Meyer; but Meyer does not, so far as I can tell, claim to have added anything to previous obfuscators of the info-theory topic like William Dembski

If it’s a video presentation you want, and you don’t mind your science garnished with Cultural Marxist snark (some things are true even though the Party says they are true), try biologist P.Z. Myers’ video-review of Meyer’s book at the Skepticon 6 conference.

After a few minutes of opening blather, at 8m00s Myers boils down Meyer’s argument to three main claims, and deals with them in turn:  the second at 28m36s, the third at 33m35s.  Erwin and Valentine’s book gets a mention at 40m55s, and appears in the bibliography Myers has posted here

A TalkOrigins search on “Meyer” brought up “about 1,230 results”—quite enough critiques of Meyer to excuse me from adding one more.