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Intelligent Design vs. Evolution, Part Two
Opening Billboard: Funding for this program is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
WATTENBERG: Hello, Iím Ben WattenbergÖ In recent years Charles Darwinís explanation of evolution through natural selection has been challenged by an alternative theory called Intelligent Design. A growing number of science teachers and school boards are struggling with how to present students with the facts. Even acknowledging the existence of an argument has become controversial. How should students learn the history of life on this planet? Are Christianity and other major religions incompatible with Darwinian evolution? Is there any evidence to support the new theory of intelligent design? Can ID and Darwin find common ground?
To find out, Think Tank is joined this week by Dr. Stephen Meyer, director of the Discovery Instituteís Center for Science and Culture and author of Darwinism, Design and Public Education.
Öand by Dr. Michael Ruse, Director of the Program in the Philosophy of the History of Science at Florida State University and author of many books including Darwinism and Design and Can a Darwinian be a Christian?
The Topic Before the House: Intelligent Design vs. Evolution, Survival of the Fittest? Part Two This Week on Think TankÖ
WATTENBERG: Stephen Meyer Michael Ruse,. Welcome back to Think Tank. Letís continue what I found to be a fascinating discussion about intelligent design and evolution.
Steve, you wrote a very controversial paper for the Smithsonian Institute here in Washington, a biology journal which caused the editor to get into some hot water. What was so controversial about it and what happened?
STEVE: Well, the paper was one of the first peer reviewed papers to make it into a mainstream biology journal that was explicitly arguing for intelligent design as an explanation for biological phenomena. I made an argument which was about something called, an event in history called the Cambrian Explosion, where some forty separate body architectures, body plans come online very suddenly in the fossil record. Many people have recognized that thereís a problem for Darwinian evolution because it doesnít match Darwinís tree. But I raised another problem which was that if you -Ė to build all those animals, you need a lot of lines of genetic code. Just like a computer. You want to give a computer...
WATTENBERG: A genome.
STEVE: A genome. Exactly.
WATTENBERG: Is that actually what it looks like, or is that sort of a model of it?
STEVE: Itís our best understanding based on the double helix structure.
WATTENBERG: Double Helix. Watson and Crick.
STEVE: Watson and Crick, 1953. You got it. So you know, students under twenty five, you said youíve got all these bright kids here working for you, but you ask them if you want to give youíre computer a new function what do you have to give it? And they know right away, code. Lines of code. Well turns out, the same thing in life. You want to build a new miniature machine, if you want to build a new type of animal all together, then a whole lot of new information is required to build those structures. So these events in the history of life, we have this sudden appearance of a great amount of new biological form and structure. New types of animals require a whole lot of new information. Some of these things happen so quickly that thereís not enough time for that Ė- for even random mutations to generate the amount of text let alone get it specifically arranged so that you can build these things. And the Cambrian Explosion is therefore a great mystery to Darwinian evolution. So I pointed that out and went further and argued that this infusion of information is actually evidence of design because what we know from our uniform and repeated experience which is the basis of all scientific reasoning about the past, is that it always takes an intelligent agent to produce new informations. So the new information that arose suddenly in the Cambrian, I argued was evidence of intelligent design. And then as you say, the editor Ė- the paper was published and a great furor ensued. The editor was denied access to his office, his keys, his samples. He was brought in and interrogated. He had colleagues who were interrogated or asked if he was secretly working for the Bush campaign. Or if he was a Catholic, or an Evangelical.
WATTENBERG: Heaven for fend.
STEVE: The office for special council investigated his case. Found that there was a consorted disinformation campaign that was being waged against him.
WATTENBERG: Aspects in our modern culture, in the university culture in Washington, a political correctness that is maddening. I gotta tell you. Where it just will not allow exploration into certain things. I mean, these are legitimate arguments. Legitimate points of view.
WATTENBERG: It was anti-intellectual freedom.
STEVE: Itís anti-intellectual. I mean, this editor is a man with two PhD.s in biology. Has published over forty peer reviewed papers himself. He was, by all measures, a very successful editor of this journal until this took place.
WATTENBERG: Michael, you buy that?
MICHAEL: Well, I donít entirely.
WATTENBERG: You would muzzle a man with two PhDs?
MICHAEL: Of course I admire a man with two PhDs. But you know, Iíve got a PhD and a couple of honorary degrees and things thrown in and Iím not entirely sure that I want anybody to take me seriously simply because somebody says Oh well, Ruse has got a PhD or something like that. I would want to know much more about the actions and about all the details. And I agree with you about political correctness, per se. My God, come to Florida State some time if you want to see that in action and I agree with you. On the other hand, I think that there comes a time, both in science and in other areas where itís appropriate to say, maybe the time has come to close discussion on theses sorts of things. Weíre basically wasting our time now. For instance, if somebody came up to the NSF with a request for a great deal of money, letís say, on UFOs, or something like that, and the committee simply said, no. UFOlogy is just a load of old cobbles. Weíve been down that path. Weíre just not going to put anymore money into something like that.
STEVE: Michael is a very fair-minded guy and I know he doesnít support academic freedom abridgements. So, thatís not the issue. But what he was saying was that sometimes itís appropriate to close a discussion down when itís been well aired out in academic journals. The point about publishing an article, making it a technical case for intelligent design is that this is a new argument. This is a new argument based on new discoveries that have taken place in the last 30 years in molecular biology, nano technology, information technology weíre discovering. And this editor I think specifically wanted to allow that to have some air time and air space to be published properly. Itís very interesting how the Smithsonian responded. They didnít try to critique it or say that this argument had been refuted.
WATTENBERG: They said itís off the table.
STEVE: They issued what amounted to a papal bull. A policy statement saying that the idea of intelligent design is inherently unscientific. They cited a statement by the triple A S (AAAS) to that effect. And they didnít bring forward an evidential case against it. And by the way, the problem that I was addressing, the problem of the Cambrian Explosion and the origin of the information you need to build the animals is widely recognized in paleobiology. There are plenty of papers and books. James Valentineís recent book on the origin of the phyla. Leading expert on the Cambrian thing that all evolutionary attempts to explain the origin of the Cambrian file have failed. So thereís nothing -Ė this isnít an issue thatís been settled. This is an issue thatís wide open.
MICHAEL: Itís not a question of new hypotheses, this is the point. Itís a question of whether or not itís going to be scientific or not. If you come along with say, another explanation of the Cambrian Explosion, I mean, for instance...
WATTENBERG: That allegedly occurred when?
MICHAEL: It occurred about 542 million years ago, I think. Well, if you want the exact answer...
WATTENBERG: Not 541, not 543...
MICHAEL: So if you want to offer a new explanation of the Cambrian Explosion for instance...
WATTENBERG: This is many new species coming on line at the same time.
MICHAEL: Yeah, but it was due to the evolution of the eye, for instance, is one hypothesis I read a book about a couple of years ago. Then I think itís perfectly legitimate to put that forward, and for him, I hope he would have it refereed by people who know about the topic. But when push comes to shove, itís the editorís job to say, Iím going to go with this or not. And I would agree with you. But the point is, youíre not doing that. Youíre pushing a position which says, science has failed, now letís appeal to an intelligent designer who just so happens to be the god of the gospels. And thatís why this chap got into trouble. Now, Iím not going to go into the ins and outs of whether or not he was then treated appropriately. And if you can give me a case to say that he was badly treated, or whatever, Iím prepared to listen to that and if the case is made, Iím prepared to go along with that. But the fact that he got into trouble seems to be perfectly legitimate.
WATTENBERG: Is that the position of the civil libertarian? That there are things we cannot question?
MICHAEL: No. Itís not a question of things you cannot question. Itís things which are appropriate to do at certain times. If heíd said, ďlook, Iím really think weíve got to the point where science canít do this anymore, I think these people have made a case,Ē I think at the very least he shouldíve spoken to his editorial board or others, and if theyíd said, ďweíre right with you,Ē then come hell or high water, publish and be damned. I ran a little journal, I published Phillip Johnson. I wasnít sure about doing it. So what did I do? I went to my editorial board, including of all people, Richard Dawkins and they said, ďwe think it should be done.Ē Of course, Iím a philosophy journal. Not a science journal. So itís different. So I think there are circumstances. Yes I really do. I donít want to go to a doctor and him, in the interest of his freedom or whatever it is, heís taken up with some esoteric new medicine and he thinks heíll just wing it. I think, he shouldnít do this.
STEVE: Can I respond to Michael on this? Because I think heís partly misrepresenting my position. Weíre not saying that science has failed to find an answer to this question. Weíre saying that Darwinian evolution, a particular theory within the corpus of scientific thinking has failed to find an explanation. And weíre putting forward an alternative explanation which we think is scientific and which Michael, because of a definition of science that he holds, does not think is scientific. So part of the debate is actually about the definition of science.
STEVE: So the intelligent designer is part of science?
MICHAEL: Intelligence as a cause based on our understanding of the uniform and repeated experience that we have, is part of science. Yes.
MICHAEL: So youíre saying that God, therefore, is part of science.
STEVE: No. You just put words into my mouth. I was saying that the scientists in many fields -Ė you and I were talking about plagiarism before we came on the air -Ė itís possible now with programs to detect papers that students turn in that have been plagiarized. Well thatís a form of inferring to design. Kind of sneaky malevolent design, but when you see a string of characters that match up from two different strings, highly improbable arrangement, that match, we call that a specification and you have improbability in specification, we design people say that indicates intelligence. Well, thatís a form of reasoning that is not only -- let me finish...
WATTENBERG: Letís go seriatim as we say, one, two, three. I am a player also.
STEVE: Scientists make inferences to design when theyíre doing cryptography, when theyíre doing archaeology, ancient hieroglyphic, infer to an intelligence, thatís part of scientific reasoning. So why canít...
WATTENBERG: The Rosetta Stone.
STEVE: Exactly. The Rosetta Stone is a perfect example. Weíd be (loathed) to say that that was the result of wind and erosion because weíre applying Michael Ruseís role of methodological materialism. We really want to be Ė and this is our point -Ė if we can infer design in those other fields, why arenít we at least open to it in biology? When we have methods of detecting design. Where things like information rich systems are indicators of prior intelligence. You find out in the cell, design is almost a common sensical thing to consider. And so why prescribe it, why eliminate it? I made a case for it based on standard cannons of historical scientific reasoning.
MICHAEL: So I agree with Steve entirely that at times what, not only can we infer design, but that itís appropriate to do so. I mean, the Rosetta Stone I looked at this summer with one of my kids in the British museum, itís a wonderful thing to explain to my son why it is that people think that this is writing rather than just random marks. So I agree with you. But of course the point is, you want to take it one step further. You donít want to say therefore, this suggests to me a grad student on Andromeda is doing this. You want to say, no, itís obviously not a human intelligence which created the Cambrian Explosion, itís another kind of intelligence, namely an unnatural intelligence. And at this point, I think youíre taking it out of science. So this, I think, is the radical break youíre making.
STEVE: Actually, we donít say that. All we say, as a matter of science using these established methods of design detection is that an intelligence of some kind was the causal factor.
MICHAEL: Aww come on, Steve, you canít leave it like that!
STEVE: Well you just made the demarcation between science and philosophy.
WATTENBERG: (Unintelligble) Quite CordialÖ In so far as we canÖ
MICHAEL: I wonít call you a phony, but youíre starting to sound a little bit like one when you simply say to me, ďweíre going to take it up to intelligent design, but hoo hoo folks, weíre not going to say any further about this, so donít pin God on us.Ē Of course Iím going to pin God on you because you donít think it was Ben or me, old as we are back at the beginning of the Cambrian (cranking) it.
WATTENBERG: Iím older than you are.
MICHAEL: I know, youíre older than I am. Youíre pre-Cambrian. Okay. But we donít think it was Ben there cranking it up and doing it. Youíre pushing something completely different. Something very radical.
STEVE: Actually, this is, I think, becoming a kind of standard tactic in the argument, is to accuse us of dishonesty or hidden agenda as a way of avoiding the argument. Iíve been very clear. As a matter of the science, we think that you can tell that there is an intelligence. Iíve written an article, philosophical article in which I look at other lines of evidence from physics and cosmology. In which I make a case for theism. But I think when you look at the big bang, when you look at the fine tuning of the universe as a whole, youíre looking at design that could not be the product of an intelligence within the cosmos which is certainly a possibility when youíre looking at the evidence of design in biology, but youíre looking at evidence of design that effects the whole of the cosmos and therefore seems to point to a transcendent source. And by the way, Michael, just turn the tables a little bit on you and say, do you have an explanation for the origin of life? Or the origin, the information you need to build it? Thatís a vexing question. Most evolutionary biologists acknowledge that there is no materialistic account of the origin of life and the information you need. So itís not like weíre making up some question that isnít on the table here. This is Ė- what do you say about the origin of the first..
MICHAEL: Okay, now weíre shifting from the beginning of the Cambrian to the beginning of life. Weíre going back another three billion years.
STEVE: Well, whatís your explanation of the origin of the Cambrian?
MICHAEL: I think people like Jack Sokofsky (ph) has explained the beginning of the Cambrian perfectly adequately by showing that things just started to take off. That there were empty ecological niches and it sort of swung up in a sigmoidal (ph) curve just like that. So to a certain extent, the Cambrian I think, is an artifact of certain ecological factors. I find the Cambrian Ė I would agree with you. As far as the origin of life is concerned, I would agree with you. I donít think anybody has got a full explanation yet. Iím not agreeing with you, Iím just simply saying what every scientist would say. On the other hand, itís hardly the case that we are as ignorant even when Belerand whatís his name, Neri, did that experiment fifty years ago. Now we know a lot more about RNA world and the possibility of RNA being self-generating and self copying and things of this nature. So I donít think the problem is solved. But I donít think weíve got to the point where we throw up our hands, say science stopper, intelligent design, donít want to talk about God, but thatís the only option.
WATTENBERG: So, I generally believe in Darwinism. Makes a certain degree of sense. But I must say, and Iíve discussed it with, you know Robert (Wright) the author of Non-Zero, weíve had a long discussion, email about it. There are parts of it that just baffle me. Thereís one case, as I understand in the rain forest in South America, there is a species of insect that when it feels threatened by a predator, ten thousand of them swarm and form into a floral pattern to trick the predator into that theyíre really a flower and theyíre not prey. Now how can they communicate that information to each other? These are little bugs!
MICHAEL: Whatís worrying me about your kind of argumentation, Ben, and I think I get a lot of this from Steve, is you want to pick on something and say, ďThere we are. Weíve got a problem for Darwinism, you know, creeeekkk!Ē And what I want to say is, why are you not prepared to say, Darwinism solves a huge amount of problems. Now weíve got another problem. Itís more reasonable to think that a solution will be forthcoming than not only will we have to throw out Darwinism, but weíll have to throw out the scientific approach and invoke the Christian God.
STEVE: Thereís a whole lot of information right now about the way in which the development of organisms is controlled by something like an algorithm. And so when weíre arguing...
WATTENBERG: Whatever that means.
STEVE: Well, a computer software program. Okay, in biology now weíre talking about programmable adaptation. Preprogrammed adaptive response. Darwinism explains very well the adaptation within limits. But the origin of that programming is what weíre asking about. Where does that information come from? That algorithm come from? And weíre not punting or giving up on science when we ask that. Itís not an argument from ignorance as Michael said, ďitís an argument from what we know about the cause and effect structure of the world.Ē Whenever you find computer programming, whenever you find information, whenever you find complex functionally integrated machines or circuits and you trace the causal story back to the beginning, you find that an intelligence, a programmer, an engineer, a writer played a role. A mind, not a material processor is responsible. So our argument is based on something we know, not based on giving up on science or ignorance.
WATTENBERG: Michael, you wrote a book called, Can a Darwinian be a Christian? Can evolution and belief co-exist?
MICHAEL: Oh, yes. I think they certainly can. If I were a Christian and I donít pretend to be one...
WATTENBERG: You were born a Christian?
MICHAEL: Yes. I certainly was. I see absolutely no reason why God shouldnít work through unbroken law. In fact, I could see good theological reasons for this because it always seems to me, the biggest problem with intelligent design theorists is not really the science, but the theology. I mean, if God has to be invoked to do the very complex, why on earth didnít God clean up the simple but awful? Some of those genetic diseases that people have which involve just one very small molecule being moved and yet it leads to a lifetime of pain? Why didnít God get involved in that?
WATTENBERG: On the other hand you can say, look at all the great things he, she, or it has done. I mean, how Ďbout you? You would believe that God and Darwinism can coexist.
STEVE: Well, I believe in design and I believe in some of the meanings of evolution. Thatís the key to it. I think you can be a theistic evolutionist. You can believe that God is guiding the process of change. But I donít think you can be a theistic Darwinian because Darwinism asserts that the mechanism that produces all the change, all the appearance of design and history of life is purely unguided and undirected. You have to ask yourself a question. How can God guide an undirected process? Itís not so much a theological problem, itís just a basic logical problem. So I think you can be a theistic evolutionist but not a theistic Darwinist and be logically consistent.
WATTENBERG: As you see it what is the future of this debate?
MICHAEL: I think itís going to go on for a long while. Because I donít think this is just a scientific debate, I donít even think itís just a religious debate. I think itís a political debate as much as anything. And now of course, President Bush has got two extremely conservative new members to the Supreme Court with the possibility of at least one or two more before his time is finished.
WATTENBERG: And their names are?
MICHAEL: Well, there was Alito, and the other one is the head of the Supreme Court, Roberts.
WATTENBERG: Well, there are people who would argue about that, but thatís fair. Scalia was a colleague of mine for a couple years; you agree with him or disagree with him, this is a fertile mind.
MICHAEL: I donít think anybody wants to deny that. Itís just like, I respect Steveís mind. I wouldnít be here if I didnít.
WATTENBERG: And I think he feels...
MICHAEL: Anyway, before we go out on a flood of niceness, I think that this is much more a political debate now than a purely scientific debate. And I think until we see, or unless we see some major changes in American culture and a lot less division than weíve got at the moment, I think weíre going to be living with it, certainly past my lifetime.
WATTENBERG: How do you see? What is the future of this debate?
STEVE: Well, I donít think the courts are going to settle this. Nor should they. Nor can they. This is a debate that has larger philosophical implications, no question. But the debate, I think, is going to be settled by science, and especially by the next generation of scientists coming up. The younger scientists. Michael wants to make a lot out of this...
WATTENBERG: You think itís going to be settled?
STEVE: Well, I think the contours are going to be shaped by the next generation. Michael wants to make a lot of this as a red state, blue state culture war issue, but Iím in the bluest county in the country, King County, Seattle. And we have in that county, Microsoft engineers, Boeing engineers and high tech people with Nintendo, and Iím talking to these people all the time on the soccer sidelines, and when Iím finding is thereís a tremendous interest in the scientific aspects that are driving this. A Microsoft engineer whoís now working with us at Discover Institute, heís working with our molecular biologists, he came into my office recently. Heís retired from Microsoft. That means heís 35.
WATTENBERG: Probably worth ten million dollars, or a hundred million dollars!
STEVE: He brings in a book to me called Design Patterns, which is a standard text for teaching software engineers how to design information processing systems. And he says, ďAs Iíve been learning more about molecular biology, Iím seeing these same design logic, these same strategies in the cell, and it gives me an eerie feeling that someone figured this out before we did.Ē Heís coming to the idea of intelligent design from his background.
MICHAEL: Pretty clever chap.
WATTENBERG: Michael Ruse, Steve Meyer, we thank you for a very informative if sometime rambunctious conversation. But thank you for joining us on Think Tank. And as ever, thank you for joining us and please do remember to send us your comments via email. We think it makes our program better. For Think Tank, Iím Ben Wattenberg.
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