WIER HARMON: Good evening everybody. My name is Wier Harmon; Im the Executive Director of Town Hall Seattle, and Im awfully glad youre here to join us for tonights conversation. If youre still if looking for seats, there are a few stray singles scattered throughout the center section. And then there are two and three seats available together on the extreme sides. But believe it or not the sight lines are good, the acoustics are very good on the sides so dont hesitate to sit on the sides..
Id like to welcome everyone to this, the first of 2006s talk of the times, which is a series we do with the Seattle Times, and were glad to sponsor tonights event with them. As anyone who has followed the subject of tonights conversation will tell you, even the semantic frame of the issue proves debatableand hotly so. So Ill tiptoe into it by saying that the Seattle Times and Town Hall are pleased to welcome to the stage two of our regions most of our regions articulate voices in the recent and contentious conversation about the nature of the origin and development of life. And there is a reason tonights conversation between two scientists also sits comfortably within the purview of the papers chief political reporter.
Steven C. Meyer is the Director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. He earned his Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science from Cambridge University for a dissertation entitled Of Clues and Clauses of Methodological Interpretation of Origin of Life Studies. Previously he worked as a geophysicist with the Atlantic Richfield Company after earning his undergraduate degrees in physics and geology at Whitworth College. Meyer has coauthored two booksDarwinism, Design, and Public Education and Science and Evidence of Design in the Universe.
He is joined on our stage by Dr. Peter Ward, a paleontologist and University of Washington Professor of geology, biology, zoology, and astrobiology. His work specializes in the cretaceous tertiary extinction and mass extinctions generally. He is the author or coauthor of twelve books, many on biodiversity and the fossil record. Titles include Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe; Gorgon: Obsession, Paleontology and the Greatest Mass Extinction; and his latest, Life as We Do Not Know It: The NASA Search for (and Synthesis of) Alien Life.
Here to lead tonights conversation is a Seattle Times esteemed political reporter, David Postman. Ladies and gentlemen, Steven Meyer, Peter Ward, and David Postman.
POSTMAN: Wow! Thank you all for coming. The audience estimates grew quickly the last couple of days. I appreciate you all coming out. A couple of quick words on format, which is reallythere isnt going to be much of a format. Its not a debate; were not going to be timing people; theres no bells or buzzers or hooks or anything of that sort. We hope to have a conversation. The understanding is the guests will jump in when they feel they want to. We will be polite, but theyll always listen to me when I tell them to stop. As your questions cards are coming around, so try to be concise. Well be filtering those a little bit and start to ask them about forty minutes into the program. I dont know that well get to all the questions. I think were asking that you put your names on there in case we want to try to get a follow-up from somebody. So, again, were looking for a little bit of dialog and looking for open minds at least for ninety minutes so we can have the discussion. Obviously, its a contentious issue. I learned about it firsthand, how contentious it is, this morning when a story that I wrote appeared in the Seattle Times, and my emails started to fill up before dawn as people around the country were reading the article. Somebody obviously posted it somewhere and I heard from esteemed academics from around the country, and I must say most of themwell all of themwere unhappy with me. And all of them opponents of intelligent design were pretty clearly convinced that I was in the Seattle Times in the business of promoting intelligent design. And I was a little taken aback by that. It wasnt until later in the day in the morning that a colleague emailed me and said, have you looked at the Discovery Institute blog; theyre onto you. So I looked there and there was some criticism coming from that side. And there are reporters thatll tell you that if I make both sides mad, you know, Ive done something right. I dont usually view it at that, but I will tonight. Its the comfort I shall take. And I think it allows us to start with a little bit of middle ground in this tough, tough issue, which really both sides that are represented can agree that Im not smart enough to handle the issue. So we start with that, and I wont be offended by that. I also learned just now though that both intelligent design and Darwinian evolution allows for water skiing because both of our guests are accomplished water skiers. So, you know, were not all so different. We talked a little bit before we came out here about how to start so theres no surprise here are my questions. And, again, were not trying to pull any fast ones or getting anybody on the hot seat and try to get the conversation going. And one of the things I found in trying to write about this issue is its very difficult to summarize intelligent design, partly because its complicated, partly because its controversial, and newspapers dont have a lot of room. We get a paragraph or two to say this is what it isnot books to say what it is. So thats a difficult thing, and I must say the advocates, the promoters of intelligent design dont usually agree with how it comes out in the newspapers. So I wanted to start, Steve, giving you the opportunity to tell me and all of us, if you were charged with that, if you had a paragraph or two to explain intelligent design to newspaper readers, not to scientific readers or anybody else, how would you do it?
MEYER: David, thank you, and thanks to Peter for joining us and all of you for coming. I give you our straight-up definition, and then maybe if theres time, Ill tell you why we might have objected a bit as to the way you portrayed us. I do appreciate the question so directly. The theory of intelligent design holds that there are certain features of the universe and of living systems that are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than undirected natural process. And so what do we mean by that? So thats our short answer.
POSTMAN: That was a paragraph.
MEYER: That was only a sentence.
MEYER: Well, the kind of features were talking about are things that have been discovered in science over the last half centurythe fine-tuning of the laws of physics and chemistry in the area of physics. The exquisite nanotechnology that has been discovered inside cellsthe miniature machines, the engines, the sliding clamps, the protein copy machines, and little rotary engines. If you got our little hand-out as you walked in, you can see some of the things that interest us in that regard. And then, thirdly, the most interesting thing to me personally is the discovery of the reams and reams of digital code thats stored inside DNA and transmitted in RNA. These are features that we think are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than a purely undirected process. Now in saying that, its important to understand what were not saying. Were not necessarily challenging the idea of evolution per seat least as its defined as change over time or even common ancestry. But we are challenging the specifically Darwinian idea that life is the result of a purely undirected process that mimics the powers of a designing intelligence. About a year ago Richard Dawkins was here from Oxford University. Dawkins is famous for saying that biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose. We take the opposite view. We think that things really were designed; they dont just appear to be designed. And we think that the scientific evidence supports that conclusion.
POSTMAN: My editor is here and if I could write paragraphs that long, I think we could all agree I could get it down And this is the problem. Peter let me ask you, if you can put aside, just for this exercise, your feelings about this, the debate and everything else, if you had to explain to your students what it is that Steve promotes, what it is that he supports, how would you describe this?
WARD: Dogma. Where were you all on my last book tour? Hopefully, I see some of you, some of my Biology 354 people, next Monday. Im the other guy after Ray; Im the second half of the Ray and Peter duo. If youre here, thank you. Let me know your name. I really, I like Steve a lot, and I really worry about what intelligent design is doing to our country, its doing to our kids. What worries me the most is this whole idea that we should teach the controversy. It sounds so overtly reasonable, but first off you have to realize that any that George Bush is pushing . . . . [mixed applause & boos from audience]
POSTMAN: Hold on just a second. Peter, a couple of minutes you were concerned about this becoming a political issue, and lets just to let the record show that you were the first one to bring up George Bush. [applause] Let me bring you back just a little bit to this…
WARD: Okay, this is my microphone. This is a political issue.
POSTMAN: It is and thats why I am here, clearly, but
WARD: Lets just briefly look at the aspect of letting our kids have a science class where we give equal time to evolution and intelligent design. Patrick where are you?
POSTMAN: Im going to stop you for just a second. I want you to try, and its not a debate, lets try to answer that question. Is there a way in which you can just try to explain this concept, this theory . . .?
WARD: Its not a theory. Thats the thing; its not science and its not a theory so I cant explain it as a theory. I can explain it as a political dogma. [applause]
POSTMAN: Then Steve, let me go back to you for a second. Lets you said if given the time you would critique how I described it. And in the story today, which was, for a newspaper story, kind of long. Its done in little bits and pieces frankly; we dont put it all in one. But in general: Intelligent design argues that life is so biologically complex there must be some kind of supernatural designer involved. The concept leaves the designer unnamed. Whats wrong with that?
MEYER: I feel your pain, first of all, because Ive written op-eds and I know how hard it is to squeeze things in a few words. But heres why we quibble with your definition. When we argue for design, were not arguing based on a negative assessment of the powers of various naturalistic mechanismsnatural selection, for example. Its not just a critique of natural selection: this is so complex natural selection couldnt produce it; therefore, it was designed. Thats not our argument. We do critique the relevant naturalistic hypotheses as to their explanatory power with respect to, for example, these exquisite machines or circuits in cells or, I think even more importantly, the digital code in cells. But were also making a positive case for design based upon our knowledgenot our ignorance but our knowledgeof the cause and effect structure of the world. It is part of our knowledge that there is a cause that is sufficient to produce digital code. We know that that cause is intelligence. From our own experienceBill Gates, for example, has said that DNA is like a software program only much more complex than any that has ever been written. Now we know from experience that when you build things that function like software code, inevitably theres a mind or an intelligence involved. When I was doing my doctoral work at Cambridge I was very much interested in whether or not this new argument from design could be made into a rigorous scientific argument. Peter and I both have a background in the historical sciencespaleontology, geology. And I went back to the source, to Darwin and his mentor, Lyell. The key methodological maxim that they enjoined upon historical scientists was a very much commonsense idea, which is that if youre trying to explain the past, you shouldnt invent exotic causes of the sort weve never seen in operation. But rather you should invoke causes that are known to produce the effect in question. Lyells way of framing that was to say we should be looking for presently acting causes. Well, I asked the question: whats the presently acting cause of digital code? We know of only one; thats intelligence. So were not arguing from our ignorance of cause and effect process but rather our knowledge of it.
POSTMAN: Okay. Peter, if we can try to stick to that. Im obviously handicapped because I am not an academicIm not a biologist or a paleontologist, you areso if you can respond to that on my behalf, how would you? What is the scientific argument against that position?
WARD: We really need to first of all, I think a nice thing to do right to begin here is instead of asking what is the life – what is science? Science is not an assemblage of factstruth, not capital T truth. Scientists test things. So the way I would approach and have approached this idea of intelligent design is ask the question, which you can also ask of evolutionary biology: what set of data that you could find would totally convince you youre absolutely wrong? And I could pose this to Steven. I know what I would do. If I could go out and I would find a dinosaur fossil with a human head in the jaws of the T-rex, I guarantee I would not be accepting evolutionary biology in its current guise because we would know that is an absolutely falsifiable set of findings that makes what we understand, what we teach, and the set of many, many, many hypotheses and theories that make up evolutionary biologyits not just one, if I were to find that or if I were to back to the Devonian or to the Ordovician and find a monkey sitting among those Ordovician brachiopods, we have made a big mistake! Now I ask you then, what set of findings would convince you that ID as we understand it has been falsified?
MEYER: Thats a good question. I have to say one thing as a preamble. If we found that, we both end up being young earth creationiststhe thing about the . . . . Im not. Im
WARD: Youre an old-earth creationist.
MEYER: Well, whatever you want to call it. I think, science, first of all, I think the theory of intelligent design is eminently testable.
WARD: Its not a theory though.
MEYER: Well, I think it is. I think its testable in the same way that Darwins theory of evolution was testable. In the same way that Darwin set out to test his theory which was against a suite of different evidences. He said, he listed these different classes of facts that supported his argument, for example, of universal common descent. I dont think theories are tested by one silver bullet experiment. Its usually a weighing of the preponderance of evidence. I wouldnt accept the way you framed your question. But I think there are a number of key tests of intelligent design. All historical theories are tested in two ways. The first is in their ability to explain already-known facts. This is critical in the Darwinian synthesis; its not that because were unable to replicate the past under controlled laboratory experiments. Historical scientists are often put into the position of having to explain already known facts, and the way you test a theory is by comparing it to explanatory power against its nearest competitor. Some of the key things I put on the table at the beginning of the discussionthe presence of this nanotechnology in cells, the presence of information. I think intelligent design has already been tested because it is capable . . . .
WARD: What is that test?
MEYER: The test is what theory best explains the information embedded in DNA? Where best is determined by what we know about the cause and effect structure of the world. And when you and I have a fascination with these experimentsthe RNA world experimentsand what we find is the hottest theory of the origin of life, that is of the naturalistic alternative to intelligent design is relying heavily on so-called ribozyme engineering. The attempt to get RNA molecules to perform certain . . . .
WARD: But Steven, to answer that question, is that the test youre going to do? Is it ribozyme . . . ?
MEYER: The key test is this: show me a process that generates information, and large amounts of specified information, without the guidance of an intelligent agent. These ribozyme-engineering work that I know youre so interested in, as am I, is guided by intelligence. Such benefits, improvements in the efficiency of replication, for example, that are achievedand so far theyre fairly minimalare achieved because of an intelligent agent is guiding that. Thats a I say these experiments are actually simulating the power of intelligence, and everything we know is that only intelligence produces information. So test our theories against our knowledge of the cause and effect structure of the world.
WARD: All rightone follow-up piece. Do you believe that intelligent design has faced as rigorous a scientific test as Darwinian evolution? I mean are they equal in terms of being put to the test?
MEYER: I think, first of all, there are many things that Darwinian evolution can explain, okay? But there are some very key things that Darwinian evolution, and in particular chemical evolutionary theory of the origin of first life, cannot and has not explained. And I used to ask my students: if you want to give your computer a new functionality, what do you have to give it? And the answer is you have to give it new lines of code. The same thing is true in life, and so the fact that these evolutionary theories have not been able to explain the origin of the first information is not a minor anomaly. This is a fundamental theoretical problem, a fundamental lacuna. Any theory that cant account for the origin of information when we now understand that information runs the show in biology is a theory that has a serious theoretical gap.
WARD: Okay. Equal time, equal time. Hes just so smooth though. One of the things about science is that its predictive, and the biological theories that we call evolutionthere are so manypredict many things. And they also produce things. One of the predictive aspects of this body of knowledge that we call evolutionary theory is that it is our first line of defense against something that affects every one of usinfectious disease. We know that viruses mutate; we know that bacteria evolve. We have to stay one step ahead of that, and I would suggest that all who really believe if you really believe in intelligent design, youre not allowed to use antibiotics.
MEYER: Thats not true.
WARD: Well forever take it away from you; youre not allowed to have this stuff. So my point to Steve is what is the predictive power that ID can do; what will predict and what will produce because what evolutionary theory has done is ended up an enormous number of predictions that have had huge power and have actually had material production. What can ID do along those lines?
MEYER: Thats a great question. Let me give you a couple of examples. Few of you may have grabbed our handout on the way in. You may know theres an on-going debate about the origins of molecular machines in the cell, the bacterial flagella motorthis little rotary engine that Michael Behe has made famous in his book, Darwins Black Box. Hes been critiqued by Ken Miller, a biologist at Brown University; Behes at Lehigh. Looks for all the world like a scientific debate. Miller has noted that theres a little syringe-like pump that has many of the same protein parts that make up a bacterial flagellaar motor. Miller argues that that syringe is an ancestral form of the flagellar motor. Behe argues that its a degenerative product of the genetic information that made the motor as a whole. Now thats a chicken or egg questionwhich came first? And thats a very testable question: which of those two systems is older? Which is younger? And papers are beginning to come in on thisone by Milton Sayer recentlyactually favoring Behes position, although somewhat tentatively. My colleague Scott Minnich at the University of Idaho, a microbiologist, is doing a number of experiments to test this very thing. We think theres very strong evidence that the flagellum motor is ancestralthe motor as a whole and the genes that made it are ancestral and that the Type 3 secretory system, as its called, is a by-product of that and derivative of that. For one thing the genes for building the Type 3 secretory system occur on little plasmids that are derivative from other genomes. There are several cases of this but its all the same conclusion. So very simpletheres an argument; theres a critical test: which is younger; which is older? There are numbers of ways to test thatbiogenetic studies and so forth. Michael Behes ID theory is very testable.
WARD: Okay let me go back and ask a question again. I see why hes got such a pretty faceits like Mohammed Ali; he dodges and weaves. Its great! What are the predictive powers of ID? What can it give us, if its a scientific theory, there will be predictions that accrue. What are they going to be?
MEYER: Well, I just made one, first of all.
WARD: Thats really
MEYER: A couple of others . . . ?
MEYER: Okay, when we talked last on was it Dory? Dory MonsetI talked about the whole issue of junk DNA, okay? Two very important papers have come out in the last year saying that neo-Darwinism has been heuristically unfruitful with respect to the whole question of these noncoding regions of the genome . . . .
WARD: Heuristically unfruitful?
MEYER: Thats exactly what youre asking about. Has it made good predictions that have led us to new discoveries or has it led us down a blind alley. Conclusion: James Shapiro, Richard Von Sternbergits led us down a blind alley. It says, neo-Darwinism says, hey, it observes that there are big sections of the genome that dont go for proteins because we assume that genetic information is produced by a trial and error process, then we would assume that thered be a lot of so-called junk DNA. That was the first conclusion Crick drew in 1980 about it. Well, its turning out that theres lots of hidden functions in that noncoding region, which is exactly something that we would predict from a design theoretic point of view because we dont think information was produced by a higgledy-piggledy trial and error process.
WARD: But couldnt that as easily just be the fact that science is now getting better and better at understanding the huge complexity of DNA. Science is not truth; were adding information all the time, and were constantly changing ideas and hypotheses.
MEYER: I agree with that.
WARD: The idea of junk DNA, it was called junk DNA because a generation ago the people looking at this had not had a theory for understanding how things work at that particular level. And theres less and less junk in that DNA now. But this is not
MEYER: So the theoretical framework of Darwinism did lead us down a blind alley. But let me give you another example.
WARD: What is Darwinism?
MEYER: Well, let me give you another example rather than define termsthats . . . .
WARD: I dont know what Darwinism is though.
MEYER: Its a synthetic theory
WARD: Well tell me just can you define Darwinism?
POSTMAN: We should. Well talk about it.
MEYER: I want to answer his main question about predictive capacity. A couple of years ago Bruce Alberts had an article in Cell saying that to be effective cell biologists in the age of molecular machines, we need to be training our students as design engineers. And my colleague Jonathan Wells has taken that up with some seriousness. And he says, hes interested in a particular form of cancer. He has a hypothesis about what has caused it, and he is applying principles of design engineering to understand the functioning of centrioles. He hypothesizes that they are functioning on the same principles as turbines. They not only look like turbines but they actually are turbines. Hes had a Boeing engineer help him work up some of the mathematical calculations, and hes now able to explain some of the effects that may be responsible for a particular form of cancer. So hes using an explicitly design theoretic framework to guide his research in the hopes that we discover some new things that wouldnt have otherwise . . . .
WARD: You lost me. How does that relate to intelligent design?
MEYER: Hes treating – hes not just saying, as a Darwinian would do, things look designed but theyre not really designed. He says no, they really are designed and so Im going to apply principles of mechanical engineering to try to guide my search for other unknown structures in the cell. Hes using design as a positive guide to discovery.
POSTMAN: Peter, can I ask you a question?
MEYER: I didnt think it was that hard to understand
WARD: I missed it . . . .
POSTMAN: Draw a distinction between evolution, Darwinian evolution, and now weve heard the phrase neo-Darwinians. Do you see those distinctions; do those mean something to you?
WARD: Well, theres a lot of ways to put things in boxes. What we call evolutionary biology is composed of a huge number now of interesting, testable hypotheses. And what is a theory? A theory is simply a hypothesis that has withstood so many different tests that it is rather a next layer up. This certainly is not a truth with a capital T. We have so many aspects of studying what we call evolutionary biology. My particular way of looking at it is examining the fossil record and to explicitly test ideas and hypotheses. One of the really interesting things to me, and in a major sense one of the things that I do mostly, is I study extinction. Now it seems to me that a major test of ID is that if the designer is so damn good, why is it that 99 percent of all species ever produced are extinct? I mean thats really crappy design. [applause] Why is it that Im turning into such old age so fast? Thats crappy design too. Now Im really pissed at the designer on that little deal. If we try to call something Darwinism, a lot of us object to that because it is really one of the ways you can do this is stand up this sort of cardboard thing we call Darwinism and then what the ID people try to do is knock it down. And if its knocked down then whats standing? Well, I mean the ID people will tell you its ID. Again, science is a very different thing than knocking down cardboard cutouts. I think if you look any of the web-tracking devices of science and you type in keywords and you ask how many articles, comments, references are there to any aspect of evolution. Youll see hundreds of thousands to millions. And you do the same thing on intelligent design in the scientific literature and youre in the hundreds.
POSTMAN: Steve, this is what I was trying to ask you earlier. Do you think intelligent design has been put to the same test? You have a hundred years of research and debate and questions and challenges to one theory and then you have I dont know how much on the other side, but a decade?
MEYER: Certainly this is a new theory. I mean, you know
WARD: Its not a theory. [applause]
MEYER: Is that an applause line, I mean really? Certainly its a new theory, but the reason that we are allowed to call it a theory [interruption]. We have on our website, you know, a list of the peer-reviewed articles and books that have been published. There is some significant work going on heresome of it published with mainstream university presses.
WARD: In the tens, the hundreds?
MEYER: In the tenssignificant books. When Darwins theory of evolution
WARD: . . . but evolution is in the millions now.
MEYER: There are also accumulating anomalies for the theory that have been building up for over a century, and theres the same literature that discusses evolution also discusses the significant problems with it. Im going to go back to the challenge that was raisedare we erecting a cardboard cutout of Darwinian evolution, or is there a reason we use the term neo-Darwinism? There is. Evolution can mean many different things. Ive written an essay called the meanings of evolution. Ive identified at least six different meanings. Many people who write in the area would agree. But three key meanings. It can mean change over time. It can mean the common ancestry or the idea of universal common ancestryDarwins tree of life picture of the history of life. And it can also mean, it can refer to a mechanism, and specifically the idea that natural selection acting on various forms of mutations is sufficient to produce the form and function around us and the appearance of design. Now when we use the term neo-Darwinism, we do so because we want to be clear about what were challenging and what were not. In challenging – the theory of intelligent design does not challenge the first two meanings of evolutionchange over time or the idea of common ancestry. Though some of us are skeptical about universal common ancestry. But it does specifically challenge the idea that a purely undirected process, natural selection acting on random variations or other similarly materialistic mechanisms, can account for all the form that we see in the biological world. So were not trying to be to erect a stereotype of a theory and knock it down. Just the opposite were trying to be clear and precise about what we are critiquing and what were not.
POSTMAN: I saw Peter jump when you said there are people who question the universal ancestry. What goes through your head when you hear that?
WARD: Well, personally I have my own sense about it. Im really interested in the origin of life, not just on this planet but on any planet. And I suspect that were going to really understand that there are many more kinds of life that can be built. And in my recent bookbook plug moment Life as We Dont Know It, I really do attempt to think about, gee, if its not DNA life, what can it be? And if its not our kind of DNA life, I just thought thered be a variety of ways you can make DNA. And theres a fabulous evolutionist at the University of Florida, Steve Benner, who invented a DNA that uses a different language. The language of DNA was using a series of bases to spell outI want to use this amino acid or this amino acid to build protein. Were all made of proteins. Well, he made a DNA that uses a different language, totally fake DNA; and he uses it to help us survive, those of us afflicted with Hepatitis B. And hes a multimillionaire from this. He changed he was god he changed the nature of the basic stuff of life, using evolutionary principles.
MEYER: Brilliant design engineering.
WARD: Certainly was. [applause] And he used it to help kill off a highly undersigned but very bad bug. [applause]
MEYER: Can I say something about those bad bugs?
WARD: They are bad bugs.
MEYER: They are bad; we agree on that. We agree on a lot. This is fun. I have a colleague, Scott Minnich, who works on pathogenic thingsbad stuffand it turns out that this flagellar motor that Mike Behe has made so much of is very important in understanding the origin of pathogenicity in something like the plague and other things. And what Minnich has discovered is that a number of these bad critters, these bad things that are excreted that cause the plague and other killer diseases, are the result of mutational degradation of a clearly aboriginal design. The original genome that builds the bacterial flagellum . . . .
WARD: So what the hell was your designer thinking when he made the plague?
MEYER: The point is that the plague was not part of the aboriginal design. You asked a minute ago about extinctions. I mean, everything that we design the fact that things . . . .
WARD: Is that the royal we.
MEYER: Okay, you and I are pointy heads; maybe we dont design much at all. We just talk for a living. [laughter] But the point is that humans design things, and eventually they decay. So the fact that there are extinctions or the fact that there are mutations that degrade original designs that are good but then cause harm to us is not a problem to design theory. Thats something that you would expect.
POSTMAN: Is that the answer you know, Peter asked earlier, you know, he feels like hes getting old so hes angry at the designer. How do you is that sort of the why do you think bad things happen to good people argument? I mean what do you say if there is a designer, a supreme designer who figured this out, how do you answer those sorts of questions?
MEYER: The question is parasitic off of a theological assumption.
MEYER: It means . . . .
WARD: Im glad you said that. I dont know what youre talking about. Explain it.
MEYER: The question is parasitic off of a theological assumption. Its borrowing something from theology, namely the assumption behind the question: if there is an intelligent designer, then why isnt everything perfect? Okay? Now, if youre – were looking at this as scientists and saying there are certain key hallmarks of intelligent activity. One of them is information; one of them is the functional integration of parts that perform a function. Behe calls that irreducible complexity. So we infer to an intelligence. Now, people want to say, well, why didnt the intelligence do it this way, that way, or the other? Well, to answer that question, you get immediately into theology if youre thinking that the designer is God. If youre thinking the designer is not God, that its some kind of intelligence, the identity of which we know not, then those problems dont really arise. Either way, the theologians have answers for those questions. They say God didnt see fit to make us immortal because were prideful and were not ready for that. Thats a theological answer. In other words, whether you take a theological perspective on design or whether you take just a generic understanding built from analogy to our own experiences as designers, we have reasons to expect youd see evidence of design, but also evidence of decay. So the fact of extinction is not, I dont think, a decisive argument against design.
W/POSTMAN: So, Steven, who is this or what is this designer, in your view?
MEYER: In my view the designer is God. Okay? But David I dont know if our guys at Discovery hit you about this or not, but . . . .
WARD: How do we test for God? Science cannot . . . .
MEYER: Im not saying we can test for God.
WARD: Then ID cant be science. We can test for the process . . . . [applause]
MEYER: Youve made a jump in logic. Youve made a jump in logic. You can test for intelligence. [shout from audience]
P/WARD: Hold on. Well get your questions later. Give us a chance.
MEYER: I wonder if we could give that heckler a round of applause for making the evening more memorable.
WARD: Anyway, whatever you say, were not going to box. We like each other. It aint gonna happen. If youre here for red meat, Im sorry, were vegetarians. [laughter]
MEYER: Let me address this in the context of what David wrote this morning, okay? The theory of intelligent design holds that an intelligent cause . . . .
WARD: Its not a theory.
MEYER: can explain certain things. And the reason that we say that is that there are certain key features, based on our cause and effect structure of the world, that we know only intelligence can build. One of those is digital code. So when we find digital code in the cell, we think that it is a warranted to infer that there was a prior intelligence. Now we dont claim to be able to know from the scientific evidence the identity of the designer. The scientific methods of design detection that have been developed by people like William Dembski in his book, Design Inference, with Cambridge University Press, enable us to infer to an intelligence. We do this all the time, by the way. If youre an archeologist and you see inscriptions in the Rosetta Stone, you infer that it was a scribe, not wind and erosion. There are criteria that enable us to detect intelligent cause.
WARD: Except with the Rosetta Stone, we know who the author was . . . .
MEYER: The point is that were not claiming from the scientific evidence to be able to know that the designer is God. Peter has made a jump here in saying that ID is not testable. Were not claiming the thing he says is not testable. Were only claiming that the presence of an intelligence, versus an undirected process, is detectable and testable with scientific methods.
WARD: I believe in punctuated equilibrium. [laughter] Thank you.
MEYER: So Peter, what do you make of the Cambrian Explosion? Do you hold it a polyphyletic or monophyletic view of the history of life?
WARD: I was hoping wed get to that. One of the wonderful things we do compare is the Cambrian Explosion. Ive been up to the Burgess Shale, and one of the really interesting things about the Burgess Shale is that the damn Canadians control it so tightly are there any Canadians here? [laughter]
MEYER: A little too late now, Im afraid.
WARD: I was a landed immigrant. Richard Nixon was not going to kill me, but I came back. And what Id like you to know is Ive been up to the Burgess Shale, and what happened there is that you have to carry out all your own wastes. So all the scientists who go up there get a tin can with your name on it. So anything that you produce you bring down out there with you. Steve Gruel was up there, and not only did he have to carry out his own waste; he had to be carried up on a sedan chair and came back again. But its an amazing place for understanding this view of life and this grandeur of life. Now whats so spectacular is the Burgess Shale is really thought to be the only window, the only real window into the past so we can get soft-part creatures. But a fantastic new place, you know, Chengjiang in China we now have another window ten million years prior to the Burgess the same sort of preservation where not only the fossils, not only the hard parts, but soft parts are preserved. And low and behold, they are less evolved than the Burgess. Its a two-part snapshot. If you ever want the most fabulous reaffirmation that evolution took place, you just look at the Burgess and look at Chengjiang, and you have a tremendous sense of a tree going back towards its roots. Evolution is writ large in almost Biblical proportions, excuse me, if you go out and look at the rock record.
MEYER: I disagree with the assessment. Ive also been to the top of – we got a big kick out of it I took my son. We made it back down and Steve Gould had to be airlifted off. A couple of years ago we sponsored one of the leading Chinese paleontologists – to come speak in your departmentJY Chen. And I dispute your assessment that you have lesser complexity at the base of the explosion. The Chengjiang fossils are beautifully preserved, and you have [trilobites] but theyve now discovered fishes there in . . . .
WARD: What Im saying is — take the lobopods for instance. We used to go into lobopods — youve got far more complexity in the Burgess than in Chen Jang. Evolution has increased diversity; it has increased complexity.
MEYER: You have some animals that are less complex because they werent known before . . . .
WARD: Okay, trust me on this, trust me on this. [both talking] No, no, no, no, no . . . . You cant go there.
MEYER: Anyway JY Chen was at your department, and he doesnt accept the tree picture. He says its upside down. You get the major diversification, major innovation of form right from the base of the Cambrian, and thats not an argument; thats a gesture if youve not taken logic! And afterwards hes very skeptical of universal common descent.
WARD: Yes, thats one. I can site a hundred who disagree with him.
MEYER: He was asked, youre so skeptical about standard Darwinian doctrine of universal common descent. And he said, well in my country you can question Darwin, but you cant question the government. He says, In this country, you can question the government, but you cant question Darwinism. [laughter and applause]
WARD: Whats Darwinism? [laughter]
MEYER: The conjunct of universal common descent and the theory of natural selection and random mutation.
POSTMAN: Let me go back to God for a second since some folks at Discovery think Im obsessed with the question. Heres whats difficult for me to wrap my head around. And I think Peters [?]. If the designer is unnamed but nearly all the advocates say that in their religious view its God, but thats not a scientific view. Theres very few advocates of intelligent design who name a designer other than God, correct?
MEYER: Umm, there are a few that are religiously agnosticMichael Denton, or the Buddhist, Jeffrey Schwartz, the neuroscientist at UCLA; Berlinski, whos sympathetic design but not a proponent, is agnostic religiously. So, and I think some interesting examples, not from our camp but from the evolutionary, the world of evolutionary biology, would be people like Fred Hoyle, Chandra Wickramasinghe, and even Francis Crick, who speculated that life had been designed and transported here from outer space, the so-called transpermia theory. So there are other options, and thats one of the were not trying to be sneaky. I think one of the things we objected to about your article is that it slightly hinted that we were being disingenuous in this, and maybe you didnt mean that.
POSTMAN: I certainly didnt mean youre disingenuous . . . .
MEYER: You said it directly: you guys are being sneaky.
POSTMAN: Well, the judge said it . . . .
MEYER: Its just the opposite of it, David. Were just trying to be careful about what the science says, what it implies, what it points to . . . .
WARD: Can I separate you two? Give me a chance . . . .
MEYER: When you see bits of an intelligence, it is the second order of philosophical question as to the nature and identify of that intelligence. When you see gene sequences that function like software code, you can . . . .
MEYER: . . . but theres no signature. Theres no signature doesnt say made by anyone.
POSTMAN: I understand, but you have the majority of the fellows say God is the designer; you have funders who have openly stated religious positions and agendas and will promote that, and it really becomes a small little piece of middle ground then to say its been designed, were not going to say by you. The people with the money and the people getting the money have an answer to that. It just seems like a shrinking piece to try to maintain the non naming the designer, right?
MEYER: Were interested in evidence and arguments, okay? And we think the evidence strongly supports the reality of a prior designing intelligence. We dont go further in identifying the designer on the basis of that assumption.
WARD: But how do you test that, how do you test that?
MEYER: In some of the ways I mentioned previously.
WARD: Science cannot test the supernatural, and thats what youre advocating natural science cannot deal with what you want it to go to. It is NOT science.
MEYER: If your argument was true, Peter, then we would not be able to test the conclusion that the Rosetta Stone had been made by an intelligent agent than wind and erosion.
WARD: Oh, thats crap! [laughter and applause]
MEYER: That, again, was not an argument. The point is we test our inferences about the past against our knowledge of the cause and effect structure of the world. We know from experience that intelligence produces information. When we find information on the Rosetta Stone, we therefore infer that there was an intelligent cause at work. That is testable against the backdrop of our knowledge of cause and effect experience.
WARD: I see Joe Felsenstein in the audienceprobably one of the worlds greatest evolutionists, and I see him, well, I see his expressions. Id love if Joe could come up here–I guess he cantand talk to us about your comment about intelligence and this digital code business. From my own point of view youre going on Joe! [applause]
POSTMAN: Thats okay; the next one.
WARD:It seems to me that digital code is one of the things that I study. I study the appearance and the disappearance of things. So when I look at the fossil record, this really is a digital yes/no. Its around for awhile; then it goes extinct. And so Im looking at terminationspresence/absence, presence/absenceits a whole digital code. Its got nothing to do with intelligence, and yet here is this beautiful pattern. Where it is coming from is extinction or not extinction, based on adaptations of organisms. ID has NOTHING to do with this. There is simply natural selection and extinction and sometimes meteors from space. And unless your designer is throwing the damn meteors, how do you account for this?
MEYER: Im talking about the digital code in DNA; youre confusing that with a physical pattern . . . .
WARD: Youre saying theres no biological pattern or digital code that is not produced by an intelligenceI just gave you one.
MEYER: Thats not functional information. Your description of the pattern in the fossil record . . . .
WARD: Whats wrong with my description . . . ?
MEYER: Thats not the problem.
POSTMAN: We have about ten minutes left . . . teach the controversy. Lets talk about teaching the controversy.
Peter, let me start with you. Is there a controversy over Darwinian evolution?
WARD: Ummm, there are so many controversies within evolutionary biology, I mean where do I start? We have everywhere we look are controversies, but there are controversies in every science. There are thousands of controversies in physics or in chemistry or in any field of biology. Why do we single out evolutionary biology the fact that we have controversies, just like Cobb County, Georgiawe put a little sticker on it and we single out evolution. The fact that we have controversies somehow makes us less legitimate as a science; thats what science is. It is nothing but controversies. Why do we single out . . . . [applause] ? So I have a nine-year-old Patrick Ward, are you here? Patrick, you should go home; check that out he wore a tie for the first time ever today for this. [applause] Okay, my son Patrick Ward is in a Seattle public school; he has science. When youre teaching nine-year-olds, you cant teach science. Science is a verb; it is not a nounI think thats really important. Science is a verb, and all we have time to teach in middle school are facts that science has come up with. But we cant teach how to do science in a middle school or a grade school. Now you want to teach the controversy how in the world when you cant even teach real science in a grade school are you going to have a nine-year-old like Patrick Ward try to balance a political point of view with a very complex methodological construct. One of the greatest the human mind has ever come up with, which is this verb we call science, it cant be done. If we teach the controversy, we moved the amount of time that Patrick Ward gets to hear about really important thingslike biology, like DNA, like astronomyand we put it in the realm of politics. We change a science class to a politics class. Now lets say that every public school in America that these folks want teaching this intelligent design politics next to science. What do American students like? How do they compete with the Chinese? How do they compete with the Europeans and the Japanese, who dont do this? Were going to do, if we tell our students the answer to that question is way too complex, forget about it. We kill curiosity. Thisll be my only heed to this point. Intelligent design taught in our schools will kill curiosity. And weve become a nation of second-raters. Think about this. [applause and boos]
POSTMAN: Steve, there has been controversy even about – what does it mean to teach the controversy? What does it mean when Discovery Institute says that?
MEYER: I dont think teaching – first of all, one thing Peter and I agree about is that science is full of controversies. And our proposal for science education, which Ive made with my Darwinist colleague, former UW professor, John Angus Campbell, is that teaching arguments in science is a very good way to teach science because one of the things scientists do, one of the most important things that scientists do is they argue about competing interpretations of the same evidence. And in Darwins book [applause] in the Origins of Species, Darwin says that he is making one long argument. And contemporary neo-Darwinism, which is indeed a biological perspective, makes many of the same arguments, but theyre updated. And it turns out that if you survey the biological literature, whether youre talking about the evidence from the fossil record, the evidence of molecular or anatomical homology, the evidence from bio-geography, the evidence for the causal efficacy of natural selection acting on random mutationthere are evidence-based counterarguments to most of the main arguments that are made in the neo-Darwinian synthesis. So what we think this doesnt kill curiosity; this opens the doors to curiosity. [applause/cheers]
WARD: It does it says its so complex no [applause/cheers]
MEYER: Another thing that, I mean, by the way were not advocating that the theory of intelligent design be required in the public schools. Were trying to develop a scientific research program; weve funded a lot of research. Most of the key books that have been produced in the early phases of the work on intelligent design were funded by our institute. Our proposal is that students should learn the scientific case for Darwinian evolution in its modern and full glory, but they should also learn the scientific arguments against the theory as they appear in the scientific literature. The Cambrian Explosion is a serious challenge to the idea of a seamless development of life.
WARD: Oh not . . . .
MEYER: Forty body plans that emerged suddenly in the fossil record.
WARD: And we can deal with that so simply with HOX genes. I teach this in one of my lectures.
MEYER: Its very controversial.
WARD: Its homology [both talking] – theres no such . . . . Three weeks from now I give that lecture; please come. I will convert you. Itll be Turn to the Darwin side. My first convert!
MEYER: Hes inviting me to join the dark side again right here.
POSTMAN: Lets let the audience ask some question – through me in this case. I have three pilesone that are for both of you and then some for one or the other. But lets start with the ones that are for both of you. Going for some more common ground: is there any place where these two ideas intersect; is there any possibility of both of these theories being partly true?
WARD: Well, no, theres only one theory and theres one political ideology, so they cant intersect. Now, on the other hand, Steve has done some great work, and Ive actually seen what hes done. He actually has done real science. He worked for a scientific company; hes helped us find petroleum; hes helped, in the good ol days when gas wasnt three dollars per gallon.
MEYER: That was the only time I was employed was [?]. . .
WARD: So he has done science, but the ID side isnt science. It cant intersect; theres no intersection. If one part goes for something supernatural, all of a sudden youre out of the realm of science. I mean how would you like it if we went to a religion class and I started teaching organic chemistry? So
POSTMAN: Go ahead and answer the question. Do you see a place where these could intersect . . . ?
MEYER: Yes, of course. You know, I said at the beginning that we dont challenge the idea of change over time. Peter and I have substantially the same view of the fossil record. What we challenge is the idea that there is a purely undirected process driving all that change. So I had something that came across the other day this is from the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories. It says, evolutionary paths to new therapeutic drugs as a wide assortment of other enzyme products have been created through [of all things] intelligent design. And the headline is Intelligently Designed Molecular Evolution. You can have change over time that is guided or directed by intelligence. What our method of analysis does, following Dembski and others, is enable you to detect the products of intelligence in the echo of their effects.
WARD: Yea, but scientists dont design; the humans can build things. I means this student of mine is intelligently designed, I guess. I mean, but what we do say is that the pattern of life that we see and the way we understand life can be understood through scientific methodology.
MEYER: . . . that science is excluding intelligent causation by definition; yet that is part of the reality of our experiencethat minds produce certain sorts of effects. And what we are seeing is some of those effects in the cell.
POSTMAN: Lets get another question. I think you disagree on that one. This is for both of you: what is the relationship between the evidence and proof? And how does this relationship bear on intelligent design and the scientific communitys critique of intelligent design. Lets let Steve answer first this time.
MEYER: I think Peter and I will agree on this that science does not provide us with knock-down, drag-out proof in the mode of what medieval philosophers were seeking. Rather what we have are competing explanations of phenomena, and we usually in science try to make an inference to the best explanation wherein, again, best is adjudicated by our knowledge of the cause and effect structure of the world. So I formulated scientific arguments for the theory of intelligent design; I have done them using the same method of reasoning, the same method of reasoning, same method of study, that Darwin himself used, which is sometimes called the method of multiple, competing hypotheses in our primary training in geology or the idea of making inference to the best explanation. So were trying to develop our case for design based on standard methods of scientific reasoning and based on scientific evidence that we observe.
POSTMAN: Peter, the relationship between evidence and proof?
WARD: Well, as again, theres no capital T. Dan Kerr here called [?]. I was lucky to have just some great colleagues in the last couple of days, and we talked about this. I think I learned more from talking to these guys than I have in a long time that science isnt about a capital T truth. I mean things we really thought that we understood the physics worked. I mean we went back to Newton; Newton explained things so beautifully. And then we had to discard most of it when we understood more, saw more, got more facts. And then Einstein came along, and because of this we had to discard an awful lot of Newtonian mechanics. Science, we could have said, say in 1700, that we had the truth, capital T, on physics. But science doesnt work that way. Somebody else is going to come along and probably displace Einsteinian business. Things change. But what you cannot do is go to the supernatural because every aspect of science can only deal with the natural. The supernatural is required for intelligent design.
POSTMAN: Steve, you guys dont like that phrase supernatural.
MEYER: No, the methods of design detectionand I would encourage people who are astute mathematicians and scientists to look at Dembskis work in The Design Inference. The kind of argument that I have constructed from information is based on our knowledge of what intelligent agents do. And so we cant were not claiming to be able to detect a supernatural intelligence, but rather intelligence [simplister]. One of Dembskis key points in the first chapter of The Design Inference is that we detect the action of intelligence all the timein cryptography, in forensic science, in archeology and anthropology, even in trade fields like insurance fraud detection. Minds are able to recognize the products of other minds. Thats part of being a rational individual, and what Peter is suggesting is that we should exclude from science the possibility of intelligent causation as a methodological principle when we want to be open to wherever the evidence leads. We think science is about seeking the truthno holds barredand being open to whatever type of cause best explains the evidence. [applause/cheers]
WARD: Is that what you were saying whats the question?
POSTMAN: We were talking about if you think we should exclude the possibility?
WARD: Yeh, again, science can explain every aspect of biological structure that we have looked at well, not every; weve got lots of mysteries that are still not explained. But theres not yet been one single one that we say cannot be attacked or is not being attacked or is not capable of being attacked through scientific methodology. Whereas science cannot attack your sense of an intelligent creator, an intelligent designer, an intelligent science cant get at that. Its just not graspable to us and, therefore, that makes your explanation not scientific.
MEYER: If that were true, then two weeks ago in Science Magazine, there wouldnt have been two articles which purported to have refuted Behe based on experimental research. Clearly people are taking up intelligent design hypotheses and theyre testing them and attempting to refute them. Thats we didnt agree with the refutation; we thought it was a weak one.
WARD: This is apples and oranges. Behe was looking at biological structures, and youre saying that this thing just cannot work in such and such a way. Sure, theres lots of testable ideas that you can look at. What were saying is the overall, arching aspect of your point of view is that there is a designer out there. How do we get at that designer? I go back to my first question to you: what test would you make up to show you that your whole idea is wrong?
MEYER: Lets go to some of the simulation experiments that you and I are both are going on with RNA world. If someone can get RNA to self-assemble, to solve the sequencing problem without intelligent design, I will resign the Discovery Institute.
WARD: Im going to get you to resign everybody, you heard that. These experiments are taking place right now at Harvard.
MEYER: Theres a reason they call it ribosome engineering look at it closely.
WARD: No, no, no, no, no.
POSTMAN: Lets get some more questions in here. Steve, this ones for you: please describe one experiment that demonstrates the validity of intelligent design and whose results have been documented in a peer-reviewed, scientific paper and whose results have been reproduced by nonbelievers in intelligent design.
MEYER: [garbled talk w/ loud applause] Read that again?
POSTMAN: Please describe one experiment that demonstrates the validity of intelligent design has been documented in a peer-reviewed scientific paper and whose results have been reproduced by nonbelievers of intelligent design.
MEYER: Theres a lot of conditionals.
WARD: Thats the question: has it met that standard? [applause] Thats why they call it science classes it is hard. Go ahead Steve.
MEYER: There is some very good scientific work going on specifically with respect to this question – Behe and Miller as to whether cooption or Behes original design hypothesis on irreducible complexity is correct. And theres a key question: which of these two systems is primary. And theres a lot of experimental ways to get at that question. That work is ongoing right now. So thats a testable hypothesis. That work is not yet in a peer-reviewed journal, but other peer-reviewed publications supporting intelligent design have already been published. Theres a binder in the back; you can leaf through it if youre interested.
POSTMAN: Let me just interject one thing on this peer-reviewed thing. We talked about a lot, and it comes up a lot, and theres a piece from the trial where they talked about this.
POSTMAN: Yes, Dover, the trial where a federal judge ruled against the teaching of intelligent design. And it comes up in several places, Im sure as you know, in the transcripts about what exists in terms of peer-review. And this has been real hard thing for me to get my head around. Is there or is there not? And heres the passage that I think is telling. Professor Behe is on the stand, and hes asked, you know, now, you have never argued for intelligent design in a peer-reviewed scientific journal; correct? No, I argued for it in my book, not in a peer-reviewed article. And in fact there are no peer-reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed, rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred; is that correct? That is correct, yes. So thats Professor Behe, whos the best known . . . .
MEYER: I disagree with Mikes answer there.
POSTMAN: But that is what hes saying.
MEYER: There are lots of peer-reviewed publications supporting ID, okay? Some of them are in books. Some other important scientific ideas that were first promulgated in booksThe Principia by Newton, Starry Messenger by Galileo, The Origins of Species by Darwin. When I testified in 2002 before the Ohio State Board of Education, Larry Krauss said, there are no peer-reviewed scientific articles. And under his breath he could have said, in journals that we control. [two talking] . . . you may believe thats a low blow, but Ive had experience with this. I published a peer-reviewed paper in The Proceedings of Biological Society thats published out of the Smithsonian Institution. And it was based on experimental evidence, it was based on arguments that Ive made, and it was a scientific paper. The editor was deprived of his keys, his office, his access to samples, he was interrogated as to his religious and political affiliations, his closest colleagues were interrogated as to his religious and political affiliations, he eventually filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, which validated his side of the story. So to say that peer review has not become a very conservative process when an ideologically sensitive issue is at stake is to be naïve in the extreme. [applause]
POSTMAN: [garbled] . . .one second here. Lets let Peter respond to it, but I have another question for you. Lets try to get the audience questions in.
WARD: Yeh, I just want to read from Judge John E. Jones III, a Bush-appointed jurist, who after the many weeks in Dover said he was, and this is a quote from him, the inescapable conclusion after listening to the scientific evidence that ID is an interesting theological argument but that it is not science. And he called what is it? The school board members testified inconsistently or lied outright under oath. So what we saw from this Dover trial, I think you guys are writing the book to try to get back at that. Thats a pretty good clear point.
MEYER: Its been written. [laughter]
WARD: When a judge who was evolved to be happy about ID found out from the testimony, from the evidence . . . .
MEYER: You dont know that.
WARD: . . . that intelligent design is not a sciencethis is the jurist himself in a hundred-page bit of very interesting wording I think every American ought to read you guys have some big trouble.
MEYER: I disagree. [interruption] Of course I do. . . .
WARD: They pay you; you have to disagree. [applause]
MEYER: I got paid more in the oil industry. The question of what is science is a definitional matter, and the judge accepted the argument of the ACLU, which is the point I just made that you accept a definition of science that says that you may not consider an intelligent cause for any phenomena. If you accept that as a matter of definition, then well intelligent design isnt science. Were challenging that definition of science.
WARD: Weve come to agreement
MEYER: . . . if conditionally you accept that definition; we do not. We think science should be about finding the best explanation, not the best explanation among the limited set of options. [applause] The judge also said that it was unconstitutional to disparage evolution; we havent had that since blasphemy laws in the middle ages. I mean we cant question the idea any more? And he also claimed falsely, having not read our amicus brief that there were no peer-reviewed papers or books supporting that theres intelligent design. Thats just false. Thats in the judges opinion and its false; we provided him with an amicus brief with an appendix that gave a list of those publications. So you cant believe everything a judge in central Pennsylvania tells you. [cheers/applause]
POSTMAN: Lets get another question I have a question for you from the audience. Two parts; I think the second one fits well in what we were just talking about. Didnt Darwin admit to limitations with his findings in his original test? And No. 2, why would scientists who are evolutionists be threatened by an additional/alternative idea that seems unscientific?
WARD: Well, I dont think were threatened by the ideas. Science is about competing ideas all the time. My sense of the threat, again [laughter from audience comment] . . . . Was that funny? My sense is that our country what do we produce in this country? What keeps America going? How do you work and live, what do you do? Do you make cars? Do you make locomotives? Do we produce anything in this country? The only thing we produce anymore is brain power; the only thing we have going for us is our intellectual sense of being at the cutting edge. And I think thats the risk here; I think thats why a lot of us are really concerned is that this sounds so reasonable, but it is a path that leads us to mediocrityintellectual mediocrity–because youre taking something . . . .[boos/applause]
POSTMAN: All right. Peter, I heard this from a lot of people this morning, but let me ask you a quick question: is there a chance that by being here and having this debate it strengthens intellectual curiosity? [applause]
MEYER: Youre opposed to teaching the controversy but look at the interest in the controversy. Do you not tell students where you were last night? [applause] I want to come back to the point about intellectual mediocrity in design. I for the life of me cant understand how studying a complex, functionally integrated information processing system in a biological context is going to slow us down.
WARD: It is because youre telling people well never understand it.
MEYER: Absolutely not.
WARD: You cannot understand it.
MEYER: Design and the application of principles of design engineering leads us to greater insight into the functioning of these systems. I work closely with a retired software engineer, and as you know in this town some of those people are rather young. [laughter] And hes been working with some of our molecular biologists on some computational simulations of what evolution can do via mutation and what it cant. And one day he came to me and handed me a book called Design Patterns. Its apparently an advanced-level manual text for software engineers, and he says, as Im learning more and more about the information-processing system in the cell, he says, it gives me kind of an eery feeling because Im seeing not just digital information and information-processing systems, but Im seeing a design logic that mirrors, that exceeds our own. Now if you self-consciously begin to apply principles of design engineering to understanding life, how is that going to impede the advance in understanding about biology? I think its going to advance it, not impede it. [applause]
POSTMAN: A question for Steve from the audience: how does intelligent design explain the continuing mutation of the flu virus and other bacterias?
MEYER: I think this speaks to a point before of common ground. We think there are a lot of phenomena that the existing paradigm/theory/whatever explains very well. I mean we talked about Peter was talking about how Einstein subsumed Newton. You know theres still a lot of great insights in Newtonian physics that we apply to our day-to-day world. Natural selection is a real process. Random mutation is a real process. It can do real things. Antibiotic resistance is a great example of mutation changes that have an effect, but when you see the way those mutations work that they, yes, they confer a selective advantage on organisms that possess that resistance. But the same mutations that confer that advantage also degrade the information-processing capability and the cell wall synthesis capability of the cells. Clearly those mutations cant go on indefinitely. The mutations – in other words, we think theres very well-established processes of adaptive capacity, of microevolution; but we think in a larger framework the origination of the informational programs and the body plans and the molecular machines is some things that are explained by design.
WARD: But this is cherry-picking; youre cherry-picking. Yeh, you are. Youre saying, well take this one, but not this one. Well take this one, but not this one. [applause] It does seem a little bit like the cafeteria.
MEYER: Well, you have to know a little bit more about the science. The mutational processes that I was just talking about are running downhill informationally. Eventually if you keep mutating the systems, that temporary advantage is going to be swamped the destruction of proteins in protein machines that are involved in information processing. So you cant extrapolate from a system that is running downhill informationally to explain the origin of large amounts of new functional information. That requires something new. I had an article recently in a London newspaper, and a professor wrote in who works on computational simulations of evolutionary theory. He says, I dont see why they both cant be true. He says, What I see is the programmer puts the original information in the system and then evolution takes over from there. James Shapiro, the University of Chicago, is working on pre-programmed adaptive capacity. And my friend, Paul Nelson, went and talked to him; they were on a panel Shapiro said, You know, I cant make heads or tails of what you guys are talking about with intelligent design. And Nelson went to talk to Shapiro and he said, Look, youre really into this idea of pre-programmed adaptive capacity as a kind of alternative to strict Darwinism. We think thats a neat phenomenon. Let me ask you a question, Jim. Where does the programming come from in the first place? And Shapiro apparently said to Nelson, You know, I rarely think about that. And Nelson said, But thats what we think about and I think the two can go together. There are real evolutionary phenomenon that can be studied, but the origination of the programming is something that I think requires design. [applause]
POSTMAN: Do you want to respond to that?
WARD: Yeh, it just as I listen to this, I keep asking myself the question: this sounds so good until to, well, Im a curious person; show me the designer. [applause] How show me a way through your methodology that I can understand that designer. How can I expose this wonderful designer? Arent you curious about what the designer is and how are you going to find out?
MEYER: You learn things about the designer by the nature of the effects. I think thats actually your comment betrays a little bit of a naïve view of the way science works. [comment from audience] Sorry, I didnt mean that to be insulting. I really dont. I just mean I think people often overlook the fact that science is indirectly inferential; therere lots of things in physicsquarks, fundamental forcesthat we dont observe directly. We infer them because of their explanatory power with respect to other things we do observe. And its the same thing with intelligent design.
WARD: Okay, well give me a test . . . .where its clear . . . .
MEYER: Because the attributes of intelligence explain the kind of phenomena that we see better than undirected processes.
WARD: Give me a test.
MEYER: Ive given you one alreadyseveral.
WARD: Its failed my limited ability to understand your test.
POSTMAN: Heres a question for me but Ill turn it into one for all of us. It says why does the Seattle Times promote this as a debate about science? Criticism of evolution by intelligent design supporters promote public skepticism about science that leads to increased scientific illiteracy at a time when we can ill afford it, which is what Ward has been saying.
WARD: Ill answer briefly but . . . . [garbled]
POSTMAN: I dont know that we did promote it as a debate about science; in fact, one of the disagreements I think the Discovery Institute has with what I know is I didnt pay enough attention to the science; Im a political reporter, not a science reporter, not a religion reporter. And its we were talking about this before we came out. I think this issue leaks into a lot of different areas. It is about politics; it is about the legal system in this country.
MEYER: Its also about larger philosophical questions. If you start to talk about human origins, biological origins, cosmological origins I mean the wonderful thing about modern science is that we can address those questions. But however you end up answering those questions, youre going to your answers will have larger philosophical questions.
POSTMAN: But you want to keep it wholly in science.
MEYER: We do want to do scientific work that is attempting to explain evidence. But were not immune to the fact that whether you take a Darwinian view, a self-organizational view, a punk-eke view, an intelligent design view, youre going to raise larger philosophical questions. To particularize my answer, were talking about the teach the controversy issue a minute ago. We think teaching the controversy promotes scientific literacy. In many biology textbooks to the present day we have errors of omission. The Cambrian Explosion is hardly mentioned.
WARD: Nonsense, nonsense; oh come on.
MEYER: No, at the high school level weve surveyed these. You get one short line is Miller and Levine and the rest of them hardly mention it. You still have errors of commission: things like the Haeckel embryo diagrams, which have been known to be false for a long time. Theyre still being recycled in biology textbooks. So a critical outsiders perspective from a different theoretical point of view is very helpful in improving scientific literacy.
WARD: I have to ask a question of you folks. Youve asked them of us. Did anybodys mind get changed tonight?
WARD: All right. I didnt think it would.
POSTMAN: That is not a requirement though.
WARD: Did we have fun? Sort of?
POSTMAN: Steve, let me ask this. Youre a scientist; you come here to argue largely the science; but, you know, you talked about politics, you talked about some of these other pieces. What is the view of your colleagues and what [generic] university, about you coming to argue about intelligent design?
WARD: Yeh, thats a great question. I think where I give credit to Discovery Institute and the ID movement is that they have tremendous public relations specialists. That as a political movement I just take my hats off to you. [applause]
MEYER: Thats called being damned with faint praise and I dont accept the compliment. Others I might accept; not that one.
WARD: So I see two ways what if you correct but its clear that the way we have taught science in this country has led us to become the premier scientific leader of the world. Our universities have no peer in the rest of the world. And we can very well say that, and our standard of living owes an awful lot to that. So . . . .
MEYER: And youre claiming that Darwinism is responsible for that?
WARD: Let me finish. Im saying science as we teach is responsible for that. So what if youre right and it turns out its all by intelligent design, well then we keep teaching it the way were teaching it everythings fine. But what if youre wrong, and it turns out it was done by natural causes, but then we change it to the way you want to teach it.
MEYER: Then your overwhelmingly compelling evidence will show the facts of the nature of intelligent design . . . .
WARD: Im more practical than that. Im thinking about China would love us to go down this road. They already produce more engineers than we do; they already produce more scientists than we do.
MEYER: Engineering is a design field . . . .
WARD: How, I . . . .
MEYER: Studying the biological system as a system that was actually designed as opposed to one that only appears to be designed could be very, very fruitful in understanding about life. And in the process we may understand more about engineering. By the way, we have a list of dissenting scientists now over six hundred who question . . . .
WARD: And how many hundreds of thousands of pro-scientists . . . .
MEYER: . . . criticized because many of the professors who have signed this are professors of electrical, computer, or mechanical engineering. And one of the things I want to say to you all is that if you have trouble convincing smart engineers that you can build these complex systems that we find in cells–the circuits, the software, the miniature machinesif you cant convince engineers of that, then I think . . . .
WARD: . . . how many engineers in all of the engineers . . . . You have 600 people how many scientists are there in the world who are not taking a point of view? You love numbers; you live on numbers. Six hundred versus a hundred thousand, two hundred thousand; lets see, thats pretty equal, right?
MEYER: Theres no data on that but there has been a comprehensive survey of US medical doctors [Ward laughs] . . . . There isnt; we dont know that; you cant just help yourself to the remainder. [laughter/applause] No. Sixty percent of US medical doctors reject the full-blown neo-Darwinian . . . .
WARD: Who says that? Nooo.
MEYER: Its a recent survey. Weve had it up on our website.
POSTMAN: Steve, I asked you a question earlier . . . .
MEYER: My point is that the people that actually have to build things are very much more sensitive to the case for design than qualitative biologists who can wave their hands and say mutation done it.
WARD: . . . being vegetarians; there is red meat in the hall. Here it is.
POSTMAN: . . . the audience . . . a question here. Heres a nice easy one: How did life start? And if it was some form of intelligence or bang and if you both believe in evolution, then arent you both basically in agreement? Do these two arguments . . . ?
WARD: Yeah, read my book. Ive got a new idea.
MEYER: It is a good book Peter.
WARD: Yeah, it is a good book.
POSTMAN: Do you guys agree on how life starts?
MEYER: It depends on . . . my point of view is the origin of life – the problem of the origin of life, which is essentially the problem of the origin of the information you need to build the living system is provides one of the strongest arguments for design. And you told me the same, when we were backstage, that if there is a strong place for a creator, its at the point of origin of first life.
WARD: Uhhhh! I think you misquoted me on that little deal. Bruce Balick is hereone of the great astronomers at the University of Washington. He told me that we could give you all the telescopes in the world if you could give us some new proofs, new ideas, new ways to test how solar system was formed. My sense of the origin of life turns out the coolest new thing we found and may really be related to meteor impact. And theres a group at Cal.Tech. who is now studying impact craters as a way to make chemistry sets. I mean its real clear you need a chemistry set to make lifeyou need a good test tube. An impact crater is just that kind of test tube, especially if you make them together on a slope, you can [weight] of distillating material, you can get it wet, evaporate it, wet, evaporate it. And this [?] talked about it; he figured out that Borax soap anybody else remember that Ronald Reagan was twenty mule-teams Borax? The ol ranger himself, who knew Borax soap may be the way that life started on earth. Borax soap when you wet it and dry it, it turns into ribo-sugar. You just start adding a little chemicals and you get RNA. Theres the origin of life right there.
MEYER: Thats called youre overlooking . . . .
WARD: The Ronald Reagan theory of the origin of life!
MEYER: Theres a big thing in origin of life called the sequencing problem. And arranging the parts of the molecules that function as alphabetic characters is the big problem. And the I think it is interesting whether were talking about genetic algorithms or the kind of ribozyme simulations that are being done, invariably to move life to a more information-rich direction, to move these molecules in a more information-rich direction, it requires input from the investigator. And I think . . . .
WARD: No way, no way! No, no, no, no, no. Ill send you papers. You may have been correct two years ago. Harvard University just put a hundred million dollars into the Center for the Origin of Life because they know this is one of the hottest scientific areas in the world. And we will have artificial life, I predict in a decade we will . . . .
MEYER: Whos designing it, Peter?
WARD: No, no.
MEYER: Its scientists in the laboratory. [applause]
WARD: No, no, no, no, no. Let me respond to that. Were going to recreate exactly what the early earth was like. Now if thats designing it you already said that science is about recreating and experimentation. If we put the same set of chemicals together and have the same conditions, because we cant have those conditions any moretheres oxygen and all this stuffand shake it up in a reasonable way. This seems to be the way that life started on this planet. Isnt this a proof that it can happen without a creator? [applause]
MEYER: No. Its not. . . . Youre missing the crucial element here, which is the role of the investigator in over . .
MEYER: . . . the RNA requirement even to get simple self-replication. You need to have a molecule which is a template and also a polymerase. [both talking] You can do it if you can sequence the bases in a precise way so that they have function, but whos doing the sequencing? The investigator.
WARD: . . . You will not let us have were also going to give you millions of years, and thats quite a different situation.
POSTMAN: Lets go to another question. Could either of you publicly acknowledge the weakness of your respective beliefsphilosophical or scientific? [applause]
WARD: The weakness of our beliefs? Uhhhh! My belief is that the Mariners are just gonna go to a ninety loss season. [boos] Im not being paid anything! Ha, ha, ho; well see.
POSTMAN: Okay, they dont want to answer that. This a question for Steve. Why do you keep saying that Darwinism is undirected? Random mutation is undirected; natural selection is direction.
MEYER: Its not directed by an intelligence. [applause] Thats not an applause line; thats technical question. Its undirected in the sense that there is no mind involved in it, and thats been part of the neo-Darwinian synthesis. I mean every major evolutionist would accept that. Were not saying that neo-Darwinism is committed to chance. I mean creationists will sometimes make that misrepresentation in theory. We understand that its natural selection acting on random variation, but natural selection is not a directed or intelligent process; its an undirected process that, some have argued, mimics the power of a designing intelligence.
WARD: Heres a designing intelligent question: Is there a bar big enough for all of us to go after this? [laughter] Im gonna have a drink if you wanna have one with me.
POSTMAN: We still have more questions. Peter, heres a question for you. What is the strongest empirical evidence to date that clearly demonstrates vertical evolution has occurred– that is, one species evolving into a different, more advanced species. Whats the strongest piece?
WARD: Well there are so many lines of those evidence, but let me go back to my own is that I began this career of mine as a lowly ammonite paleontologist. I actually brought those to. And the beautiful thing, if you go to the rock record, is in sequences of rocks you can watch fossils change. And in ammonites that Ive studied Ive watched very fixed sequences of rock have the same kind of fossil, same kind of fossil, and then you have thinner sequences with transitional forms and then fixed sequences with the same fossils and the same fossils and the same fossils. So you can watch continuation; then you can watch a nice evolutionary change, and then you can see a second donor species. Sometimes the first species keeps going sideways; this is punctuated equilibrium. And you see complexity increase. And my creatures I walked into this thinking Ive heard so much about no missing links, right? You hear about it from grade school. Its not true at all. The fossil record is filled with these things.
MEYER: I agree with Peter as far as the lower taxonomic levels. I think that at low-level species thats absolutely true. When you get to there are large punctuations at higher levels that I dont think (a) are where the transitions are not documented. You have the mammalian radiation; you have the Cambrian Explosion. These kinds of events, I think, suggest that at the higher taxonomic levels that the discontinuity we see in the fossil record may well be real.
Though, as I said, thats question where thats not essential to . . . .
WARD: We just found a nice amphibian, didnt we? Isnt that great? [applause]
MEYER: You still have no real transitions to the actual, to the pod its supposedly a transition to tetrapod.
WARD: Is [?] here? Chris, what do you think about that no transitions? You go along with that? Not gonna go for that, right?
POSTMAN: That was a Peter question. Steve, a question for you. Is it true that The Center for Science and Culture is responsible for successfully lobbying to include a provision in the No Child Left Behind Act that would require states to include teaching the controversy of evolution in public schools?
MEYER: Phillip Johnson, the professor from Berkeley, was tapped to help draft that legislation. Hes an advisor of our program and a prominent person in the ID movement but not a fellow of the Center.
POSTMAN: Okay, my follow-up is not on the card. My question though is then its not just science. . . ?
WARD: A movement sounds political to me. ID movement, hmmm! The cat is out of the bag! [laughter/applause]
POSTMAN: Steve, its not just science for Discovery.
MEYER: Of course, theres a political context to this discussion. I mean thats just
POSTMAN: – the fact that you have to try to promote this –
MEYER: the politics is derivative of the fact that there are real scientific disagreements and that we think that students should be permitted to know about those disagreements. [applause]
POSTMAN: Question for both of you: how does the new knowledge of quantum physics help to bridge the gap within your conversation? Peter, does it? [laughter] Stumped him again!
WARD: Bruce, Bruce Balick, help! [both talking]
POSTMAN: Okay, were passing on that. Umm! [laughter] Is there a quantitative or mathematical means of expressing irreducible complexity. If so, whats it based on? And if not, why not?
MEYER: The concept thats originally advanced by Behe was qualitativethe idea that irreducible complexity could be defined as a system of many well-matched parts that perform a function such that the removal of any one of them will cause the function of the system as a whole to lose to be lost. There are quantitative innovations in our understanding there is some more quantitative analysis thats coming on-line that will refine that definition further. Theres a scientist at the University of New Mexico named David Keller, who has noticed that not only do the many parts in the flagellar motor have to be present to get motility, but that the individual parts have to be built within very precise tolerances that enable you to begin to develop. And this observation begins to enable you to develop a quantitative understanding of the degree of complexity that may be involved in an irreducibly complex system. Similarly there is work on the question of how in the area of protein design the question is how rare or common are folded protein structures within the space of all the possible ways that there are of arranging amino acids? Its a quantitative question, and some of this work suggests that there are certain kinds of there are certain mutations that can occur and maintain a basic protein fold, but that multiple mutations at different sites end of effacing the structure of that protein before others come on-line. And that gives us a sense, again, of what mutation can do and what it may not be able to do, placing some limits on mutation as an engine of biological change. And thats a quantitative aspect of our research program.
POSTMAN: Peter, lets put the question to you. Is there a quantitative or mathematical means of expressing irreducible complexity?
WARD: Not that I know of. Certainly if you look at the Behe arguments, theyre very strange. Joe Felsenstein, again, a theoretical geneticist, in the back – his article came up with some very interesting mathematics that show that the Behe argument just doesnt hold water at all, that they require an assumptionthis totally not the way the world works. Theyre saying that every mutation is always lethal. We know this isnt the case. And we know it isnt simply because . . . .
MEYER: We never claim that every mutation is always lethal. . . .
WARD: Go back to your own literature.
MEYER: No, no, no. Behes response to this paper was in Science two weeks ago. Clearly there are two mutations there, but they did not produce an irreducibly complex system.
WARD: Soooo. Next question.
POSTMAN: Okay, for you. Your former UW colleague, Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez, has proposed intelligent design in cosmology the origins of the universe. And his book has been praised by the Royal Academy of Astronomy and others. He has peer-reviewed . . . . Do you admit that his work on intelligent design is real science?
WARD: Ah, Guillermo Gonzalez does some really good, real science. What he studies is the metallicity of stars, and hes looking at what stars would have planets and what dont. That work is first-rate; his work on galaxies is first-rate. His books a bunch of trash its just crap.
MEYER: His book also results in a number of predictions, and since youve challenged me on this so many times well put up tomorrow on our website some predictions that intelligent design makes.
WARD: Let me go back to Guillermos book. Guillermos book is called Perfect Planet —
WARD: Oh, Privileged Planet. I thought it was Perfect Planet. So Privileged Planet Guillermos ultimate, utmost understanding is that we are the unique life form in the universe and all the arguments taken that given assumption, all arguments he does tries to prove that, so thats where that comes from.
POSTMAN: Steve, a question for you: Does the intelligent designer update and modify his work?
WARD: Oooh, thats a good one.
MEYER: Could you repeat that?
POSTMAN: Does the intelligent designer update and modify his work?
WARD: Is it one-shot — ?
MEYER: No, I think there are different loci in the universe along the timeline, and that there may be instances of designwe see them when we see large infusions of new information. So I think the Cambrian Explosion is likely to be an event that owes its origins to design. I think the fine-tuning of the laws of physics and chemistry at the beginning of the universe are evidence of design. I think the information that you need to build the first life is evidence of design. So those are at least three events that involve the designer updating his work.
WARD: If we were going to give you any telescope in the world, how could you go over to that first one – the origin of the universe, could you come up with a series of astronomical tests that would tell you that it was designed and not the result of natural forces?
MEYER: Could you come up with a series of astronomical tests that would tell you the many-universe hypothesis, which has been proposed as an alternative to Intelligent Design no, both of those theories at a cosmological level are theories which are contending to explain phenomena about which we already know.
WARD: Uh oh, theres the man.
MEYER: Stop this
POSTMAN: Were running out of time, is that what Last question. Ill change it a little bit: Somebody in the audience wanted to ask you the question: Are you a Christian, and we talked a little about this before, and I thought it was an interesting discussion, so Ill put it to both of you: Do you think, one, that your own religious beliefs have any role in our discussion here tonight?
MEYER: I am a Christian, and I think my religious beliefs have made me more open to explanatory possibilities in science than I would be if I were a strict materialist [audience laughter], because if youre a strict materialist
you cant consider that intelligent cause played a role in any event prior to the advent of humans. So I think that has engendered some methodological openness the fact that I have a theistic perspective. The one thing I would like to say about this that I think many people do get confused in understanding this debate: on both sides you have competing evidence, I think you have competing scientific theories of evidence, but both theories purely undirected evolutionary theory and theories of intelligent design have larger metaphysical implications. Where Peter has been somewhat taciturn about that, many of the leading spokesmen in the Darwinian camp, Richard Dawkins, for example was here a year or so ago, and his famous quote is that Darwinism made it possible to become an intellectually fulfilled atheist. One of the things we say is that you have to evaluate the arguments and evidence straight up. It would be completely illicit for me to critique Dawkins scientific arguments by saying, Well, youre an atheist and you have atheistic motives. We just want to be accorded the same respect and to have the arguments and the evidence and the experimental work that we do evaluated on the basis of the that, not motive-mongering. [Applause]
POSTMAN: And Peter, you get the last word, but can you try to answer our question, in your concluding remarks, can you answer that question about your own religious beliefs and does it have a role in our discussion?
WARD: I just want to say that some of the greatest of all evolutionists, Fisher, Haldane, Dobzhansky, were devout Christians. Because religion and science are so separate, there is absolutely no conflict. Dawkins has [heckler interrupts]
POSTMAN: Can you just let him finish? Youve been so good all night
WARD: Is that polite? Whats the matter with you Yahoos? This is a polite discourse. Only he and I yell at each other.
POSTMAN: Were going to let you finish.
WARD: Again, I think Dawkins has done a huge disservice by saying that youre stupid if youre religious. I mean this is idiotic on his part. There is no reason that a devout scientist cannot be a devout religious believer. The two are different hemispheres. [applause]. If you study science, in fact, it makes you more wondrous. Just having the ability to test, just having the ability to understand nature, I think, gives you a profound sense of religious awe. As for me, this week Im a Druid. [audience laughter]
POSTMAN: And with that were going to
MEYER: Up until the last three words we found a good place to end in agreement.
POSTMAN: Thank you both. Thank you all for coming. Appreciate your questions. Thank you both so much.