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Debate with Peter Ward on the Dori Monson Show

Dr. Meyer lays out the case for intelligent design in this 50-minute debate with University of Washington professor Peter Ward.


Dori: One of the storylines on Election Day a week ago was in Pennsylvania, I believe it was, there was an intelligent design effort being made in public schools. Many of the members of the school board that were pushing for it got voted out, it was big national news, and frankly I thought that it was time to talk more in-depth about this issue, so we’ve set up a little debate on the subject. Let me welcome to the show, from the Discovery Institute here in Seattle, Dr. Stephen Meyer. Dr. Meyer, it’s good to have you here, and an old friend of the show from the University of Washington, Dr. Peter Ward, good to see you.

Ward: Dori, nice to see you again.

Dori: And tell me what you’re a professor of, again?

Ward: Boy, lately it seems, as my memory goes, I can’t remember.

Dori: You don’t know what you’re a professor – you’re the absent-minded professor, is what you’re telling —

Ward: As time goes on, I seem to know less and less. Earth and space sciences, and biology.  

Dori: Okay, all right. Dr. Meyer, you are a believer in at least a role for intelligent design being presented in schools, correct?

Meyer: We think that intelligent design should be something that people can talk about, but we’re not asking that it be mandated. Our main policy proposal is to allow students to learn the evidence for Neo-Darwinism, the modern version of Darwin’s theory, and also learn the scientific criticisms of the theory that are in the scientific literature.

Dori: Okay, and Dr. Ward, you’ve been very outspoken, I know you’ve got some national presses, as being an opponent of intelligent design being proffered in the schools, correct?

Ward: Well, certainly feeling that we have to teach evolution, I don’t think we need to call it Darwinian evolution, or the new — whatever you want to call it, just evolution I think should be taught in schools. It’s really the major paradigm of biology. It’s certainly going to keep us, let’s hope, through antibiotics and other evolutionary mechanisms, safe, safe from bird flu for instance.

Dori: Okay. What is, Dr. Meyer, what is intelligent design? And I know that’s a big question to ask you to sum up in a capsulized (sic) time frame, but what is it?

Meyer: Maybe the best way to understand it is in contrast to something that we’re familiar with, which is Darwinian evolution. Richard Dawkins, perhaps the world’s most famous spokesman for Darwinism, says that biology is the study of complicated things that appear to be designed for a purpose. And the key word for Dawkins and other modern Darwinists is the word appearance. Intelligent design is not necessarily opposed to evolution, as Peter was saying, but it is opposed to the strict Darwinian view of evolution, that it is a purely undirected natural process and that it explains away the appearance of design. To a Darwinist, design is illusory because natural selection and other undirected processes can produce that appearance. To those of us who hold to the theory of intelligent design, we think there are certain features of the living system that are best explained by an intelligent cause, rather than a purely undirected process, so for us design is real, not an illusion. And the kinds of features we’re talking about are things like the miniature machines, the turbines, the sliding clamps, the miniature rotary motors that are being found inside cells, and especially the exquisite digital code that’s inscribed along the spine of the DNA and RNA molecules. The cell, the modern cell, stores and processes a vast amount of digital information, and we think this is a compelling indicator or evidence of prior intelligence having played a role in the origin of life.

Dori: And how long has the intelligent design theory as it’s currently configured been around?

Meyer: The first formulations of the theory started in the late 70’s by a group of scientists who were trying to come to grips with this question of the origin of the first information that you would need to build the very first living cell. A book published in 1984 called The Mystery of Life’s Origin was the first formal expression of the theory of intelligent design. It’s worth noting that that was three years before the Edwards v. Aguillard case. And a lot of people in the media have been saying that intelligent design was constructed to circumvent the Supreme Court’s rulings that creationism couldn’t be taught. That played no role in the formulation of the theory, and of course most of us would vigorously contest the idea that we are the same as creationists.

Dori: Okay, now —

Ward: Dori, can I jump in here? This is twice that you and Stephen have both talked about the theory of intelligent design. It’s an assertion. It is not a theory.

Dori: And from a scientific standpoint, what’s the difference?

Ward: Well, because intelligent design is not science.

Dori: A theory must be provable?

Ward: No, well, a theory must be, in many senses you have to disprove things, it’s very difficult to prove anything, but the scientific method can look at evolution and can use various methodologies and various tests. You cannot test intelligent design. It’s not science, it’s not a theory, it’s an assertion.

Dori: Okay, I’m going to break this down to probably a more basic level.

Meyer: Dori, I disagree with all that.

Dori: Okay, that’s fine, that’s fine, we’ll get into it. Obviously, both of you are very learned and are experts in your field and I’m really approaching this from a layman’s perspective. So I’m going to break this down to…

Meyer: We’re agreed on that. If you keep complimenting us, we’ll smile at each other.

Dori: And my listeners would agree that I’m a very simple person, so we’re all in agreement.

When I was a kid, there were two theories. There was evolution, and there was God created man and woman in his image. There were biblical scholars who said that, following the biblical timeline, man was on the earth 4,000 years ago, or whatever the date is. There was evolutionary hard-carbon dating evidence that certainly man existed far before what any sort of biblical tracking would suggest. Am I correct so far?

Meyer: That sounds good.

Dori: For some of us of faith, Peter, it is possible for us to ignore the science of evolution. Nor is it — it is equally impossible for us to ignore what we consider to be the mystery of life and the almost impossibility of where we are today without some guiding hand. It does seem like intelligent design bridges that chasm between the two, does it not?

Ward: Well not really, Dori. I think what you’re looking at is faith, which is for me on Sunday. For some people faith is all the time. I think one of the great things that any human should be allowed to have is to believe in divinity, to have divine guidance. On the other hand, science is science. Science in, for instance, the classroom, is a great thing. It helps our students, and I think in terms of the national security of the United States, if we don’t produce more scientists, we’re in deep trouble. That makes me wonder – if I were China or Iran, I’d love to fund the Discovery Institute. I’d love it, I’d love it if U.S. scientists—

Dori: That seems more than a little unfair there!

Ward: Okay, tell me I’m wrong. Tell me, what is more in terms of national security than us producing engineers? China and Europe –

Dori: Okay, look, Dr. Meyer, you don’t need me to defend you, so you jump in.

Meyer: Well, we would be shocked if we got funding from there, given the other programs that we have at Discovery—

Ward: Where do you get your funds?

Meyer: Let me first talk about Peter’s claim that intelligent design is not a theory, because he said that it’s just a faith, or it’s just an assertion. In fact, there are methods of detecting intelligent causes and discriminating the effects of intelligence from purely natural processes. A very important book was published by Cambridge University Press in 1998 called The Design Inference. Mathematician William Dembski has laid out a method by which you can distinguish the signal of an intelligent cause from various natural causes. We do this all the time, in fact. If you’re an archaeologist, you routinely distinguish the effects of intelligence in different kinds of inscriptions. The Rosetta Stone has a hieroglyphic inscription, and it’s very information-rich, or information-laden. And it turns out that information is a key indicator of prior intelligence. And that makes possible a science of design detection.

Dori: Okay, but does it – part of the theory is that it is statistically impossible for us to randomly be where we are today?

Meyer: No, we’d say it very differently. We would say that the presence of information in the cell is best explained by intelligence. And the reason for that is what we know from our uniform and repeated experience about what it takes to create intelligent information. DNA is chock-full of digital code. It’s a 4-character digital code; many software engineers have said that it functions exactly like software. What we know from experience is that information, whether in the form of a digital code in a program always arises from intelligence. Programs require programmers, and information generally always arises from intelligence, so when you find information present in a living system, it is a natural and scientific inference to infer that a prior intelligence played a role. One of the rules of historical scientific reasoning, from Lyell and Darwin forward, is that we should explain the present effects and past events by reference to causes that are presently in operation. That’s the so-called principle of uniformity in science. The present cause of information that we observe is mind, or intelligence. So when we find the information in the cell, by the rule of the method that historical scientists used, we should infer intelligence played a role.

Dori: So if DNA is like computer programming, it proves what we’ve long believed: Bill Gates is God.


Dori: So what’s wrong with what Dr. Meyer just said, Peter?

Ward: I don’t quite understand. You’re speaking too fast – I’m not as smart as you. I mean, my colleagues are in awe of you, and I look at your publication list, you’ve done some amazing work, but I’m here to say, Steve, turn to the evolution side… it is your destiny.

Dori: Well, then why? Give an argument against what he said.

Ward: Because we need bright guys like this. And again, I’m going back to my assertion that the United States produces nothing but its brainpower. What do we produce as a country? What is keeping us – what is going to let your daughters have the same standard of living that you have? And my son, me?

Meyer: Peter makes a good point — can I jump in there directly, because that’s a great point for Seattle, because one of the things that we know we produce in the United States that puts us at the top of the list of tables on productivity is information, and we know that in Seattle better than anywhere else. I sit on the sidelines, the soccer sidelines over on the Eastside weekend after weekend, and I talk to biotech people and software engineers, and one of them came up to me last week and said (he’d seen me on some of these talking head shows, we’re getting some attention with this issue lately) and he said, “What do these Darwinists think, that the code just wrote itself? As a software engineer, I don’t find that plausible.”

Dori: We’ve got to take a break. We’ll pick up on this in just a minute. We’re talking with Dr. Stephen Meyer and Dr. Peter Ward about intelligent design, and I assure you by the end of this hour if I can understand it, you will be able to as well. All right, so stick around here on Newsradio 710 KIRO.

Dori: I’m going to let you in on a little secret here – during commercials when you’re in a studio with two college professor, doctor types, it’s like being in a foreign-language nation, where you don’t understand a word they’re saying.

Meyer: Drive to the hoop, drive to the hoop.

Dori: Yeah, let’s talk some hoops here…

So what Dr. Meyer is saying, Dr. Ward, is that this ain’t (sic) a coincidence. The DNA encoding, where we have arrived today, it is not just by dint of some cosmic coincidence.

Ward: Well, first Dori, can we be Steve and Peter and Dori, because I think the “Drs.” are ways of putting walls up and keeping people out. My brother’s name is Steve, and I’m very comfortable there. I’ve been here enough that you know me, first name. Secondly, I’ve brought an interesting new book by a person I really like — myself, actually — called Life as We Don’t Know It, and in this I recount some of the very interesting new research by NASA that has been substituting the code. So they’ve taken DNA and they’ve changed the code, they’ve made it a different code. They’ve also made 5-stranded DNA. You don’t have to have DNA as we have our kind of DNA. And it makes perfectly usable organisms. This is all the bacterial size, and it’s kind of the dirty little secret that we’re no longer just having life as was originally evolved on this planet, but we have artificially evolved life on planet earth now, too. I think it enters the debate.

Dori: Okay, but you believe that where we are is purely the design – not the design, that would suggest some guiding hand – that is coincidence

Ward: The result

Dori: The result of some cosmic set of coincidences?

Ward: There’s no coincidences (sic) here, Dori. You don’t, I, none of us can understand how long geological time is. I mean, we’re talking — you hear the old metaphor of given enough time the monkeys can write anything, that’s probably true. I used to think that Bill Gates had a lot of money. Try to imagine what a billion dollars is, but try to imagine what a billion years is, is way beyond a billion dollars. That’s what none of us, none of us in this room (I think Steve, you agree) – the immensity of geological time, lets improbable things become very probable. There’s no need for any designer to make DNA. There’s fabulous experiments (sic) going on right now by Steve Bennard, the University of Florida, who is synthesizing ribose from borates. It’s the funny deal that—

Dori: I have no idea what you just said.

Ward: Borates is a soap. Remember Ronald Reagan’s first gig was the old ranger in 20… in Death, Death Valley days?  

Dori: Borax.

Ward: Yeah, borax. If you take borax, and you put it in a little bit of water and evaporate it, it makes a sugar called ribose. The hardest seeming step to make DNA was to first make the sugars because they break apart at high temperatures. You can easily synthesize that. A second group at Harvard has now synthesized RNA with 5 or 6 different genes upon it. We’re within 4-5 years, 20 million dollars says Jack Solzdeck at Harvard, of artificially making a DNA molecule. Now look, this is no God involved, this is hard-nosed chemists!

Dori: Okay.

Meyer: Can I come back on a couple of the points Peter has raised? The first point is that he’s exactly right, it’s hard-nosed and intelligent chemists. One of the thing’s we’ve learned from pre-biotic experiments is that to get life to move, the chemicals that make up life to move in a life-friendly direction, you have to apply a lot of engineering, a lot of intelligence has to be input into the system. So these simulations, if they show anything, they actually show the need for intelligence to produce something like life. Secondly, on the point about other molecules, other ways of encoding information, that’s perfectly true, there’s other ways of encoding information, but you still need information for life in any conceivable scenario, and what we know about information again is that it only and always arises from intelligence. And finally on the point about time, probability theorists have a concept they call “probabilistic resources,” and that just is the idea that if you’re going to judge how probable something is, you have to know how much time you have and how many tries. And it is true that geologic time and astronomical time is immense, but people studying the origin of the first life are impressed that the complexity of DNA and proteins exceeds that immensity. That is to say that the complexity of the cell, the amount of information is so great that even given a 20 billion year universe, it is not probable that the information necessary to build the first life would arise by chance alone.

Dori: Okay, I have heard the probability theory, and that’s one that I have a lot of problems with, because the odds of you, and Peter, and I being in this room together on this date, in our current family structures are trillions to one. You go back generations and if you looked at the probability of the three of us being here by simply looking at past data, it would be seemingly impossible. And yet these sorts of things happen all the time. So by looking at it from a probability standpoint, I’ve never bought the intelligent design argument – you’re waving your hand.

Meyer: Well, can I get in, because that’s not how we argue—

Ward: My turn, my turn!

Meyer: — I agree with you about what you just said. Mere improbability alone does not generate design. What you need besides probability is pattern recognition, or what we call a specification. If you go up to Victoria in Canada and go into the harbor there’s a nice pattern of flowers on the hillside. Any conceivable arrangement of red and yellow flowers on that hillside is incredibly improbable. But in the case of Victoria Harbor you rightly and immediately infer design when you see the pattern because it’s not just an improbable arrangement, it’s one that has a pattern, a message that says, “Welcome to Victoria.”  

Dori: Okay, I got one minute before break. So Peter, you go.

Ward: Yeah, let me go right back. Steve you said you had to have intelligence to get to information, but look at the Miller-Urey experiment where he just put in some gases, heated it, and out of that gas came some very complex organic molecules including 10 of the 20 amino acids and including the base steps. Now you have to admit that those molecules have more information in them than the gas they came from. There was no intelligence in there, there was simply heat and gas producing, as you can find anywhere in the Milky Way, complex molecules with more information than they had before. No intelligence. Energy and gas.

Meyer: I don’t think any origin of life theorist today thinks Miller-Urey is relevant, for one because he did it under nonrealistic conditions, but secondly because of the information problem. It’s easy to get the building blocks, but it’s very difficult to get the building blocks to arrange themselves into meaningful or biologically functional sequences, so you can get amino acids, but you can’t get the proteins.  

Ward: That’s not true! That’s not true!

Dori: Okay, I gotta break, time out! Time out! We’ll be right back with Peter Ward, Stephen Meyer, we’ll continue debating intelligent design. Much more to come here, Newsradio 710.

Dori: All right, we’re with Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute and Peter Ward from the University of Washington. We’re talking about intelligent design. After that vote last week, and this is why some people think that intelligent design is just a back-door, or a side-door, or a front-door effort by Christians to get into the schools. Here’s what Pat Robertson said after some of the intelligent design proponents were booted from the school board.

Recording: I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover, if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city. And don’t wonder why He hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin, and I’m not saying they will, but if they do just remember you just voted God out of your city. And if that’s the case, then don’t ask for His help, because He might not be there.

Dori: So Stephen, if Pat Robertson says a vote against intelligent design is a vote to get God out of your city, is it just an effort to interject faith into schools?

Meyer: Can I just comment and say, “Ugh”? (laughter) We used to have a phrase in our house that with friends like that, who needs friends? Many people don’t know, but we at Discovery Institute, the nation’s preeminent scientific think tank promoting the theory of intelligent design, opposed the Dover policy. And we were hoping that the Dover Board that is presently sitting would be rescinded by the voters. The policy there that they enacted was deeply flawed. We have heard very credible reports that they attempted to justify it by explicit statements of a religious rationale, which runs directly counter to the first prong of the Lemon test, a key constitutional test, but more importantly from our point of view, it’s incongruous or inconsistent with what we’re trying to do. We’re formulating a theory based on new scientific evidences, the discovery of these miniature machines, the code that is in the cell, also in physics, the fine-tuning of the laws and constants of physics. These are scientific discoveries that are the basis of the theory of intelligent design. We’re also forming the theory on the basis of these methods of design detection that are coming out of fields like information and complexity theory. What we’ve found though is that people are perceiving our work as something that is based on religions. Peter and I were having a great discussion during the break, and we’re probably going to disagree, increasingly amicably, I guess, but whether you like our arguments or don’t, whether you agree or disagree, I think you have to acknowledge that we’re not basing them on religious texts or church authority, we’re basing them on scientific evidences and standard forms of scientific reasoning based on those evidences.  

Dori: Okay, and Peter, what, I’ve not heard anything unreasonable from Dr. Meyer here, from Stephen, and what is wrong—

Ward: You haven’t? You haven’t? Are we in the same room?

Dori: No, I haven’t. It’s absolutely plausible to me that a guiding hand somehow encoded DNA. It is as plausible as that we are merely an accident of evolution. So what is wrong with at least presenting that to schoolkids?  

Ward: Yeah, that’s a great — I wanted to get to that anyway – Steve here keeps talking about a theory of intelligent design. Again, the assertion of intelligent design. Intelligent design is not science, it is not testable by any scientific method. Why would you put something that is not science and not testable in a classroom? What scares me is that I have taught in middle schools, I have given lectures, I’ve seen these kids. You go ask them to – it sounds so reasonable, sure, let’s go teach the controversy, even our revered scholar George Bush said “teach the controversy,” it sounds reasonable, why not? And the reason why not is, let’s imagine we’re back before Kepler, before Copernicus, and we’re gonna teach intelligent design. We’re gonna say, hey look, those stars up in the sky, and those planets, well you can’t understand them because they’re too complex. The scariest thing to me about trying to teach intelligent design, it tells our kids that things can never be discovered, they’re just too complex. They’re too difficult to know, so don’t even try. With that mentality –

Dori: I’m not hearing him say that at all. I’m not hearing him say, “This is too mysterious to comprehend.” He’s saying, “Here is our science, and this is—” 

Ward: That’s not science! There’s no science, Dori. What he said is that some intelligence has built things. Where is the science behind that? Let’s test that. If it’s a science of intelligent design, test that for me. Somebody test that.

Dori: Stephen?

Meyer: The theory of intelligent design – it’s not an assertion, no, it’s a theory, is a theory about what happened in the past. There are standard methods of testing hypotheses about the past in what are called the historical sciences. This is what I happened to do my doctoral research on. And the way you test an historical theory is not by repeating an experiment under controlled laboratory conditions. The key events you’re interested in happened in many cases millions or billions of years ago. What you do instead is you test the theory much more like detectives reason or other historical scientists reason in geology and archaeology, where you test by comparing the explanatory power of competing hypotheses. The Darwinian idea that design is an illusion and our idea that design is real are two competing hypotheses. There’s a range of data that should look different depending on which of those two theories you hold, and so the way you test the theory of intelligent design is by weighing the preponderance of evidence and seeing whether the theory of intelligent design better explains, for example, the information or the molecular machines that are in cells, versus Darwinism. In other words, the method of testing is inherently comparative and that’s why it’s important when you’re presenting this in the schools to give students some flavor of this. Science often advances as scientists argue about how best to interpret evidence. So part of science education needs to incorporate that argumentation, that rhetorical aspect, where scientists argue with each other. If we just present evidence or theories as a fete accompli, we’re not really modeling for students how science works. And so, I think that’s the answer to the other point that Peter’s been making about science education. You want to interest people in technical subjects, present science in an interesting way, as scientists actually practice it, which is not just men in white coats reading theories off of data but people arguing about how best to interpret evidence.  

Dori: Okay, real quick answer, is there anything about Darwinian evolution that you believe is absolutely refutable?

Meyer: Oh, I think there are a number of aspects of the theory that are in deep trouble, but I think there are a number of aspects of the theory that actually work, as well, so it’s not an all or nothing proposition.

Dori: Okay, and Peter, you believe that there are elements of intelligent design that are absolutely, 100% refutable?

Ward: You can’t refute them! That’s the problem, Dori, you can’t use the scientific method to work on intelligent design. You’re not getting this, it’s not science!

Dori: Okay, but if both of you acknowledge that the other’s theory, or hypothesis, whatever you want to call it—

Ward: Assertion!

Dori: Assertion, if both of you agree that the other’s is not absolutely refutable, what is the harm, Peter, in a healthy intellectual debate?

Ward: It’s not healthy, Dori. You’re telling students, “You’ll never figure this out because it’s too complicated so don’t even try.” So let’s say we want to have a new anti-ballistic missile system (God forbid), but it’s too difficult, we better let some intelligent designer do it (who doesn’t seem to want to do it), or even better than that, we want a new hydrogen car, but guess what, it’s just too complicated, so let’s not do it.

Meyer: Actually, that’s not our argument, our argument isn’t a negative argument against evolution. It’s an argument from positive indicators of design based on our uniform and repeated experience about what it takes to build, for example, information or digital code or complex machines that are functionally integrated. We know from experience that when you see machines that are complex and functionally integrated that have many separate parts, we know that engineers always play a role in building those. When we see software, we know that it takes a programmer. So applying the method of uniformitarian reasoning that is standard for historical sciences, we’re making a positive inference to design based upon positive indicators of intelligent activity.

Dori: Okay, let me repeat my earlier question worded slightly different. The repeatable code that Stephen asserts is part of our DNA – do you disagree with that as being the potential hand of intelligent design?

Ward: I totally disagree. We can watch that code being built now. And he’s saying, well, it’s in a laboratory with a guided hand. We can get it done inorganically, we can set up experiments in rock pools, if you want, to build the same darn thing. Dori, every one of the really points that they say where they attack Darwinism, where they come up with ideas that evolution doesn’t work because this or that, have been refuted, and I refer your listeners to two great sites: pandasthumb.org and talkdesign.org. Both of these have gone through the intelligent design literature, point by point, and punctured the balloon; there’s no beef there. Where’s the beef, Wendy? Well, there’s no beef in intelligent design. The only beef is between the people who promote it.

Dori: Okay, let me take one more break, here we’ll be right back… we only booked you guys for an hour, I don’t know, I don’t want to set either of you up and I don’t know what your commitments are, every phone line is lit..

Ward: I got another hour if you want it.

Meyer: I think I can go another half hour.

Dori: All right, I’m going to keep this going past two o’clock. I’m fascinated by this, and obviously you are, too. And I’ll get some of your phone calls, too. Much more to come…

Dori: Peter Ward, Stephen Meyer in the studio with me. We’re talking about intelligent design, we’re going to keep them for another half hour, and the phones are jammed. We’ve got about 3 minutes in this segment. Why do you think this is such—Peter said that he believes that this is an enormously important watermark event in education. Why do you think it’s so important for intelligent design to be included?

Meyer: Again, our policy is teach the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinism, and permit teachers to talk about other theories, including intelligent design. Our theory, we admit, is new, and we’re doing a lot of research and scientific work on it, so we’ve actually been trying to avoid some of this public policy brouhaha and keep ID out of the main focus of these public policy disputes. But we think that there’s an important principle of academic freedom at work, and also science pedagogy. As I said before the break, the best way to teach about science is not to teach theories as accomplished facts, or theories as entirely established, but teach the process of scientific reasoning, which includes scientists arguing about how to interpret data. And that’s not just something we favor for the debate about evolution, there are many scientific ideas and scientific theories that are controversial or have elements that are controversial. A great way to teach science is to introduce students to that and let them do what scientists do in their scientific papers and conferences and laboratories, and that is argue about how to interpret the evidence, whether it’s global warming or stem-cell research or whatever it is.

Dori: It strikes me, Peter, that Stephen isn’t presenting this as a Christian viewpoint; he’s presenting it with depth. Christians are often thought, however, to be more dogmatic. And yet, I’m hearing a scientist, you, being more dogmatic in the singular application of the theory of the evolution of life.

Ward: I’m not sure it’s dogmatic, I’m arguing—

Dori: Sure it is! I mean, you are arguing that your viewpoint, the one you endorse, should be taught to exclusion of all others.

Ward: I’m simply saying, keep science in the science classroom, I’m saying don’t let religion come into science classroom. Look, intelligent design is a stalking horse for creationism, you simply have to go back to their booklet Of People and Pandas or Pandas and People. Steve here helped edit that. If you go back three or four editions, you remove every comment about intelligent design, it was originally creationism. This came out in one of the recent trials. The Center for Teaching Science in Berkeley found this out. This was simply creationism. Secondly, we keep talking about this assertion of intelligent design as being in a classroom as being a good thing, but look there’s all kinds of wonderful controversies that can help teach about the natural world. For instance, we could talk about the Cambrian Explosion. We could talk about—

Meyer: We’d love to have some conversation about the Cambrian Explosion, it’s much overlooked in biology texts.

Ward: Fine, I studied that, I’m a practicing scientist who works on that

Meyer: — Darn good paleontologist, yeah.

Ward: Evolutionary basis of human behavior, sexual vs. natural selection, the genetic targets of natural selection, natural selection vs. genetic drift: each of these is a topic that’s a controversy that we can work on that helps teach the science, science, science, science.

Dori: So you think intelligent design should be handled in a philosophy class?

Ward: Oh, totally, totally, I think it’d be absolutely appropriate there; it’d be great for my kid.

Dori: But why limit it to that? My music’s playing, which means I’ve got 25 seconds. Why limit it to philosophy if it results in the biology of us being here in the here and now?

Ward: Because it doesn’t!

Meyer: Based on biological evidence, let’s talk about it in the biology class.

Ward: It’s not biology!

Meyer: But look, both theories, both Darwinism and design are based on scientific evidence but they also have larger philosophical implications.

Ward: They don’t!

Meyer: You’re talking about origins, you can’t get away from it.

Dori: All right, we’ve given you but the appetizer. The next half hour, the entrée shall be served as we continue here on Newsradio, 710 KIRO.

Dori: The third and final hour of this Wednesday afternoon edition of the Dori Monson show. Thank you for spending part of your day with us here at 710 KIRO. I had lots of subjects that I was going to get to this hour, but I’m too fascinated with our intelligent design debate with Dr. Peter Ward, from the University of Washington, he’s an astrophysicist or something like that.

Ward: No, not even close.

Dori: And – what are you again?

Ward: I’m a geologist and a biologist.

Dori: A geologist and a biologist.

Ward: Like Darwin, actually.

Dori: He’s the effect of evolution – he’s a living, breathing evolutionary thing. And Dr. Stephen Meyer from the Discovery Institute, and you can see more about their organization at discovery.org. How’d it come to be that each of you, I know both of you are now somewhat recognized nationally as proponents and opponents of intelligent design. Why do you care so much about this stuff? Why, to make this such an important part of your life’s pursuit?

Meyer: You know, that’s a good question. I was working as a geophysicist for an oil company in the mid-80’s, and it happened that the price of oil dropped precipitously at the same time I got interested in this. I didn’t really leave for intelligent design just for the employment. I attended a conference where some of the early proponents of intelligent design laid out this argument from information and I was working in a field that was involved in information processing, digital signal processing in geophysics, and I found their argument absolutely fascinating. A year later I was in graduate school in England and took up the question of the origin of the first life in my Ph.D. dissertation, and I just have never looked back. I think it’s one of the most fascinating subjects there is, and I think just the good-natured debate, discussion that we’re having today illustrates just one of the real perennial topics. It’s been debated since the Greeks, you know, and the philosophical issue at stake, and I think both theories have philosophical implications, is essentially this: Is mind the primary causative agent in the universe, or is matter? Is matter first and primary, or mind first and primary? And that used to be just a philosophical issue, but that is actually the issue that’s at stake between Darwinism and design. And I think it’s a fascinating scientific issue, it’s a fascinating philosophical issue, and one that I think really engages the mind in all aspects of your thinking.

Dori: I know you want to present this and frame it as a scientific issue. I hope you consider this a fair question, since Peter said it’s a stalking horse for getting creationism in the schools: Are you a Christian?

Meyer: I am a Christian. Yeah, and—

Dori: And is that an important element in you being a proponent of intelligent design?

Meyer: Well, I think, I think — the way I would say it is this: intelligent design is based on scientific evidence, but it has larger philosophical implications that are friendly to a broadly theistic perspective. It doesn’t prove the existence of God, but it is supportive of a broadly theistic idea that there is some kind of designer or creator behind the things that we seek.

Dori: Okay, same question for you, Peter. Why do you care enough about evolutionary theory to be regarded as such a leading opponent of intelligent design?

Ward: Well, I’m not really a leading opponent, actually, I’m a very minor person.

Dori: Well, you’ve got some national attention. 

Ward: No, nothing compared to those who are really working on it. And there are many people who are actually doing yeoman’s service, and I think the fact that so many people are so concerned about this is that, like me, we are very much afraid of what is going to happen to our kids if we let religion into the classroom. Again, we’re talking about nothing less than the future of our country in producing scientists and engineers. If you bring religion in, you change that. Look, did you notice that the Kansas School Board very recently redefined the definition of science so that it can include extraordinary events? Philosophers notwithstanding, Kansas School Board redefines science, this is the New York Times. And when we start messing now with a discipline such as science and the scientific method, that really works, through philosophical redefinition based on politics, we as a country are in deep trouble. Look at the scores of the European kids, the Asian kids, and the American kids, and you see these articles side-by-side. 

Dori: Yeah, but who cares what all those godless commies are doing in school?

Ward: Well, personally I do, because they are overtaking us in science.

Dori: Okay, Stephen, jump in.

Meyer: Well, first of all, we’re not teaching intelligent design now, so maybe the reason that our kids aren’t doing better is that it’s not being taught. I don’t think you can draw any conclusions, actually, from that, but what I would say is that we’re talking about engineering, we’re talking about the need for engineers. We think that a lot of good science can be done from the standpoint of a design perspective. There are a lot of scientists — Wall Street Journal story the other day talked about a number of scientists at major universities who are proponents of intelligent design who are science professors. NPR story last week that broke the story the persecution of Richard Sternberg, who had published an article, a peer-reviewed article that I had written advocating intelligent design, that story also mentioned 18 university professors, who are science professors who are doing work on intelligent design. We think the most natural way to look at the cell is as an engineered system. Some of the software people I’ve been talking to here are amazed at the design strategies that are involved in the processing of information inside the cell. They say the strategies mirror but exceed our own, and give them the sense that somebody has figured this out before us. We think that the most productive way, scientifically, to look at life is as a designed system. Bruce Alberts, the President of the National Academy, said that you can’t be a molecular biologist or cell biologist today without knowing design engineering. Well, if that’s the case, let’s take that perspective and run with it. This is a pro-science proposal: we are looking at systems that have all the hallmarks of design. Let’s study them that way, and let’s see what else we can discover. Let’s do reverse-engineering, and do some good science based on this proposal.

Ward: Steve, you’re confusing the word “design.” Design in one context, by the National Academy person, is totally different from your view of design. Your view of design is some deity does it. His view of design is, like my great friend and very genius colleague, Tom Daniel, where he looks at how organisms work through engineering principles, but he doesn’t think that God did it.

Meyer: Well, sure, but that’s the incoherent principle where you say it looks designed but it isn’t designed. We think that it’s a much more cogent approach is, as the early scientists did, and Newton and Boyle and Keppler and all these early scientists, they thought the universe was designed, they thought that life was designed, and they proceeded on that assumption to build the scientific method that Peter rightly respects and reveres. I don’t think that any damage is going to come to science to allow another theoretical perspective into the mix here. And let’s let Scott Minnich at the University of Idaho do his reverse engineering from the design perspective and let’s see if he comes to some discoveries about the way the cell is put together faster than those that hold the Darwinian view.

Dori: Yeah, let me ask both of you to put on your headphones because I’m going to take some calls for you now. And since I asked Stephen if he was a Christian, are you an agnostic or atheist, Peter?

Ward: I don’t think that’s any of your business.

Dori: Is it an irrelevant question?

Ward: It’s totally irrelevant. We’re talking science here, we’re not talking faith. If you want to have a debate over faith, that’s great. If you want to have a debate over science, that’s irrelevant.

Dori: I think it is relevant because to many of us it is incompatible to have faith and to believe that God is not somehow responsible for what we have, what we are.

Ward: I believe all people have the divine right to believe in the divine.  

Dori: Right, okay, but I don’t know why it’s a controversial question to ask.

Ward: Because that’s personal and I don’t think I really want to air that on your radio show.

Meyer: Dori, can I say something? In your defense on that question, not that Peter should have to ask it, but there is an asymmetry in this where people are constantly questioning the motives of people who argue for intelligent design and they don’t ever ask the question that you just asked about the motives of people who might be defending Darwinism or other materialistic origins theories.

Dori: That’s because I ask the questions people don’t have the guts to ask.

Meyer: Awesome.

Dori: All right, let’s get to the phone calls for you guys. Steve is in Bellevue. Hello, Steve, you’re on 710 KIRO.

Caller: Yeah, Dori. Back to the gentleman who is in favor of intelligent design. If, use the word God as an example, is omnipotent, and has created the entire universe which is far vaster than most of us can possibly imagine, and he’s the one who did the programming for the DNA, and the latest research on DNA indicates that most of it is inactive or pairs that aren’t of use anymore, why wouldn’t he have created the software right the first time?

Meyer: I think that’s an excellent question, and it actually illustrates one of the things I’ve been saying about the scientific value, what scientists call the heuristic value of the design hypothesis, that is the value for guiding future research. According to Darwinian perspective, the non-coding regions are “junk,” and the phrase “junk DNA” is used routinely, but two very prominent papers have come out this year saying that this Darwinian assumption that the non-coding regions are useless has really set science back, and from a design perspective, we would expect to find that those non-coding regions have some hidden or latent functional value. And in fact, a lot of research is now showing that the non-coding regions of the DNA is very important and plays other functional roles in the cell, so it’s not junk DNA and that’s actually a prediction that our theory makes that is being borne out by additional research which also underscores the point that the theory is testable and not by any means a science stopper.

Dori: So what you’re saying though, is, and what he’s asking is, why would God have built in, why are there genetic flaws?

Meyer: The “junk DNA” just isn’t a genetic flaw. It was assumed by Darwinists because they assumed that genetic information arose through a random, trial-and-error, higgledy-piggledy process, that the sections that don’t come from protein were the remnants of that trial and error process and were therefore junk and useless. That assumption is now being challenged by discoveries showing that much of that non-coding DNA plays important functions in the cell. Not to say that there aren’t mutations that arise or that you can’t have a degradation of an aboriginal design, we think that’s certainly part of the processes that we observe, but the point that I’m making is simply that intelligent design has made an important prediction that is being borne out that underscores the fact that the theory is testable.

Dori: Okay, let me grab another call here, Tony in Tacoma. Hello Tony, you’re on 710 KIRO.

Caller: Hello, Dori, thanks for the call and for the discussion. For the apologist for the Darwinian side, two things. Number one is that the schools, all of the science that we are benefiting from today happened hundreds of years ago. And many of those schools that produced those scientists, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, all of them began with a biblical, evangelistic mindset. They’ve migrated here of late, away from that, but they all had that religious mindset to produce missionaries…

Dori: Okay, let me rephrase you quick, because I’ve got so many calls in so little time, but let me refocus your question a little bit, John. For you, Peter. A couple hundred years ago, things that are routinely accepted as scientific fact today were crackpot theories 200 years ago. How do we know that intelligent design, or how do you not know that intelligent design won’t be viewed the same way 200 years from now.

Ward: Well, let’s just start looking at the scientific literature. You don’t find peer-reviewed research showing up in the literature testing ideas of intelligent design. I see Steve sort of jumping here because he actually had one of the very few ever peer-reviewed research papers that just came out, but this is one in a swamp of millions of papers. And also, Steve mentioned that we had a number of people suggesting that they believe in intelligent design. How many tens of thousands of evolutionists is that up against? You know, the analogy here to me is that, look at global warming. We have a few apologists that are funded by the oil companies, mainly, saying, aha! Global warming is not caused by humans. And the vast majority of scientists saying, of course it’s caused by humans! And we’ve got politics here, and what we’re seeing in this debate is politics.

Dori: But as you say that, it doesn’t sound that different from what people might’ve said about powered flight 400 years ago.

Ward: Powered flight has shown, a lot of scientific principles are used, you can test it, you can’t test intelligent design.  

Dori: But given the world 400 years ago and the body of knowledge and the time and the place, it was considered to be, the people who would sketch out their flying machines were considered to be crackpots, and there was no science that could absolutely back up what their vision was.

Meyer: Can I make another point here, Dori? We have a list that we keep of scientists who dissent from Darwinism. It just crossed 450, including most recently, a signatory who is a member of the Czech Academy of Sciences. Many scientists question whether Darwinian evolution can produce these complex structures that I’ve been talking about.

Ward: But 7800 other scientists signed a document saying that’s crap. 7800 versus 400!

Meyer: I could’ve signed that document, no, it was a question of “is natural selection capable of producing complexity.” Most scientists don’t deal with this question of origins at all. They’re doing nuts-and-bolts science at the bench, they’re looking at how things work now, today. This is an historical theory, it isn’t going to hurt the students of America or our ability to recruit scientists if people are allowed to entertain the opposite of the Darwinian hypothesis. They say no design, we say, yes, design, that ain’t (sic) going to hurt generating new scientists and engineers, might help, because design is an engineering concept.  

Dori: I gotta take one more break here, then we’ll get right back to Dr. Peter Ward, Dr. Stephen Meyer, much more to come here on Newsradio, 710 KIRO.

Dr. Stephen Meyer from the Discovery Institute, discovery.org. Peter Ward from the University of Washington, uw.edu I guess. Let’s get back to your phone calls for my guests. Shawn in Seattle, hey Shawn, you’re on 710 KIRO.

Caller: Howdy. Hey, I got a question, either one of them can answer it, I’d kinda like to hear both of them answer it, but this is directed towards the guy that’s pro-ID. If these codes based on your theory are or have been manipulated, either by their very creation or by, say, tweaking them after they were formed, are you saying that this was done by the Christian God, or by the Jewish, or by the Buddha, or by Allah? Or are you saying, like, maybe the rays on the dark side of the moon did it? Because if you theory –

Dori: Okay, we got the question, I want to give time for more calls, too.

Meyer: Good question. The answer is we can’t tell. What you can tell from applying the methods of design detection, the scientific methods of design detection, is that an intelligent cause was responsible. Information is a hallmark of intelligent activity. It would be like a hieroglyphic inscription in a piece of rock where you were able to determine that it was informational, that it had a message imbedded, but there was no signature of the author. That’s the closest analogy. We see evidence of intelligence, but from a scientific point of view, we can’t identify the identity or the nature of the identity of the designing intelligence that’s responsible.

Dori: I thought we had an interesting discussion during one of the commercial breaks last hour where I asked both of you if you believed that there was life elsewhere. And Peter, you asked the question, if there is life elsewhere, or somebody had posed the theory, is our Jesus Christ the Christ of all the universe, and… talk to us a little bit about some of the philosophical questions that would evolve from life being elsewhere.

Ward: Well, I’m the wrong person to ask about that, but this question has certainly been posed to me, if we have other alien intelligences, and I truly believe that there will be many out there, irrespective of my book By Earth, which is widely misinterpreted as saying that we are alone – we’re not alone, the universe is too vast – but it really does bring great theological implications, and I’d love to see those even in high school in any sort of class that deals with theology, but it’s not science.

Meyer: I don’t have a lot to say about that. I think that, as I’ve said before, people often confuse the evidence and the implications of the theory of intelligent design. We think the theory is based on scientific evidence, but it may have larger philosophical implications that are friendly to a broadly theistic perspective.

Dori: Okay, let’s go to Jerry in Seattle. Hello, Jerry, you’re on 710 KIRO.

Caller: Hey Dori, I think this is a really interesting discussion. I think this is really about resources in public schools and what are we going to spend our money and our time on. To me, a day or two on the origin of life would be great, but I don’t think we need textbooks on it. I think that this stuff should be fought out in the higher institutions where these guys are paying for it on their own dime.  

Dori: Mmm-kay.

Meyer: That’s what we’re doing at the Discovery Institute, is funding research developing the theory of intelligent design. Peter made the point that I had produced one of the few peer-reviewed papers. Actually, it was the first peer-reviewed paper, a scientific article supporting intelligent design. There have been 10 since then, but we’ve also had 4 very significant peer-reviewed books, and in the history of science new scientific theories are first articulated in books. We are a new scientific theory. We’re very pleased at our research progress. My new friend Peter here is correct, there is much vaster literature supporting the evolutionary point of view, and we mean to fix that. That’s part of our challenge.  

Dori: Let’s grab Michael in Snohomish. Hello Michael. You’re on 710 KIRO.

Caller: Hi. There’s an inherent conflict in the intelligent designer debate because just a moment ago he said something about hieroglyphics, that we know it’s intelligent, but the fingerprints or the signature of the designer isn’t there. Well, the thing is, if you have proof of intelligent design, then you’ve found the designer’s fingerprint. And if there is a designer, this is the most, the greatest designer in the universe, he designed everything. Every concept, every atom, every force in the universe was designed by this god or whatever, and if he was going to design a system like that, he would design one like the one we have, the one that works with evolutions, where—

Dori: Okay, so what’s your question?

Caller: It requires no interaction! They have no respect for evolution! Evolution is the most brilliant design in history because it works on its own without the interaction of a designer.

Dori: Okay, let me get a response from both.

Meyer: Well, like I said at the top of the hour, the theory of intelligent design does not challenge the idea of evolution per se as the idea of change over time or even necessarily the idea of common ancestry. It does challenge the idea that key features of living systems and the universe arose through a purely undirected process. So we see design, aboriginal design, pre-programmed adaptive capacity, but we also see a role for evolutionary change.

Ward: Boy, if there’s a designer, I gotta hate that designer. My hips hurt, my esophagus crosses my trachea, I’ve got all kinds of aging-related problems, there’s diseases out here, I see children die of malnutrition. You could’ve designed a whole better system than this mess we humans find ourselves in. What a bad designer.

Dori: Mmm-kay. We’re out of time. I’d love to, ah—

Meyer: That’s not what my Microsoft friends say when they look in the cell.

Dori: And so, I guess this is the essential question and I’ll make it my last question, but Stephen, if you believe that there is evidence of a designer, you believe that you’ve identified God, that you see God?

Meyer: No, we see, from the theory of intelligent design, we see evidence of intelligence. As I said before, we can’t tell from the scientific evidence alone what the identity of the designer is. I personally believe that the designer of the universe is God, but I can only, the reason we don’t say that as a matter of the theory is that we have to be careful about what the evidence supports and what it doesn’t.

Dori: All right, this is fascinating, you guys. I’d like to do this again. I’d like to get you in here.

Ward: Absolutely.

Meyer: Peter and I are going to do it, and could I just thank him for the fossils that he gave me? That is awfully kind.

Ward: I didn’t give them to you.


Meyer: Oh, he’s going to take them back.

Ward: Those are University of Washington property!

Meyer: For show and tell, anyway

Dori: All right, thanks, guys, Dr. Peter Ward, Dr. Stephen Meyer, much appreciated. We have much more to come here, stick around, Newsradio 710 KIRO.