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Steve Matheson posted a highly selective and misleading quotation of Owen Gingerich in order to accuse Stephen Meyer of being “disingenuous”:

Matheson’s quotation of Meyer:

That was where the fireworks started. Other scientists on the panel became uncharacteristically defensive and hostile. Dr. Russell Doolittle, of the University of California at San Diego, suggested that if the three authors were not satisfied with the progress of origin-of-life experiments, then they should “do them.” Never mind that another scientist on the panel who had favored Thaxton’s hypothesis, Professor Dean Kenyon, of San Francisco State University, was a leading origin-of-life researcher who had himself performed many such experiments. It was clear that Dolittle regarded the three scientists, despite their strong credentials, as upstarts who had violated some unspoken convention.
Matheson’s attack on Meyer:
And it gets worse. Meyer’s claim that “other scientists became defensive and hostile” is contradicted by the report of Owen Gingerich, the Harvard astronomer and historian of science, who was present at the whole dialogue and wrote that “the entire dialogue was conducted with intelligence and good humor, with each side respecting while disagreeing with the philosophical orientation of their opponents.” Meyer wants you to picture the “other scientists” reacting with hostility to a “new idea” from “upstarts” while carefully obscuring the nature of the event, to the point that he writes of a “conference” to “bring together scientists from competing philosophical perspectives.” I find that to be disingenuous.

Longer quotation of the passage giving Gingerich’s account, which shows that Gingerich’s account is completely consistent with Meyer’s account:

Gingerich said that his report might “give the flavor of the discussion” but couldn’t convey “the richness of the broth.” Except for a few ad hominem remarks, “the entire dialogue was conducted with intelligence and good humor, with each side respecting while disagreeing with the philosophical orientation of their opponents.”

Gingerich is merely giving the general “flavor” of the conference, and he confirms that there were some ad hominem remarks.  In Matheson’s quotation from Meyer, Meyer is describing one moment at the conference.  In other words it was a typical conference (generally cordial with moments that were not) and Meyer and Gingerich are completely consistent.

Matheson seems desperate to sully Meyer’s account and resorted to misrepresenting Owen Gingerich to do so.  We don’t need this kind of stuff.

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In the chapter “All the World’s a Stage” in his book The Edge of Evolution, Michael Behe has an excellent discussion of the evidence of design in the fine-tuning of nature.  He catalogs many different areas of science where this fine-tuning is found.  This graphic, (“The surprising degree of fine-tuning of nature required for life on earth”) which summarizes the chapter, appears on page 218 of his book, and I view it as “Michael Behe’s Design Spectrum”:

Behe discusses fine-tuning in all of these areas:

1.  Finely Tuned Laws

2.  Finely Tuned Properties

3.  Finely Tuned Details

4.  Finely Tuned Events

5.  Origin of Life as a Finely Tuned Event

6.  Descent by Nonrandom Mutation as Multiple Finely Tuned Events

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Steve Matheson has published an open letter to Stephen Meyer here.  It is remarkable for the number of hateful insults and name-calling contained in it.  Is this the kind of role model for civil discourse that Calvin College provides its students?

It would be one thing if Matheson gave specific and significant examples of where Meyer got his science wrong and why design is not the best explanation for the origin of life.  However, as far as I can see, Matheson has largely nit-picked secondary issues in Meyer’s book and spent most of his time hurling general insults.  All this is directed at a book that the highly regarded philosopher Thomas Nagel selected as one of his books of the year in the Times Literary Supplement.  Matheson may understand biology, but he seems quite limited in his understanding of the larger issues, including the philosophy of science and the methodology for the historical sciences.

With all the insults, Matheson has the arrogance to offer this advice:

Get out more. And find some new friends. It is without sarcasm or guile that I say that you are welcome to contact me anytime to ask questions or discuss ideas.

In another post, Matheson misrepresented Owen Gingerich in order to make one of his many ad hominem attacks on Meyer.   I plan to discuss this in another post.  [Update:  My post on this is here.]

The bottom line is that Matheson has not shown why design is not the best explanation for the origin of life.  He has put forward no better explanation.  He has not even put forward a plausible alternative.  Given this, it seems that he should spend more time working on substantive evidence and arguments, and less time on mean-spirited personal insults.

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These comments were deleted from the Biologos blog. I found them on the Google cache and am re-posting them.

Update: In a comment Darrel Falk advises that the comments were not intentionally deleted:

We have had a server problem that occasionally shuts down our comments section. This has happened to us for comments in other blogs as well. As soon as we discovered it, we immediately repaired the problem.

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Glen Davidson – #6434

March 10th 2010

the activity of conscious and rational agents is the only known cause by which large amounts of new functional information arises

Yes, if you have already ruled out all of the evolutionarily-predicted aspects of the huge amounts of biological information as being indicative of the same (or similar) processes for which exactly those informational aspects are accepted as evidence for (micro)evolutionary processes producing information.

Then again, if you don’t rule out the evidence for non-agent causes a priori, suddenly those aren’t the only causes by which large amounts of new functional information arises—particularly where the evidence points to non-agent causes.

I’m just emphasizing what Dr. Falk already said, of course.

Glen Davidson

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pds – #6435

March 10th 2010

Darrel,

You are focused on page numbers and missing more important points. Ayala misrepresents the “The keystone argument of Signature of the Cell [sic].” You also have not even supported your page number argument.

You seem to criticize Meyer for being overly thorough in dealing with chance theories. What significant origin of life theory did he neglect? Isn’t that more important than counting page numbers?

Meyer is talking about origin of life, and you keep bringing up what happened after life arose. Even in the quote you use, Meyer qualifies his statement, “at least when starting from purely physical and chemical antecedents.” This is clear if you read the full sentence, and not the chopped half you quote:

In any case, Signature in the Cell does not just make a case against materialistic theories for the origin of the information necessary to produce the first life, it also makes a positive case for intelligent design by showing that the activity of conscious and rational agents is the only known cause by which large amounts of new functional information arises, at least when starting from purely physical and chemical antecedents.

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Glen Davidson – #6436

March 10th 2010

Um, pds, I don’t think that Falk misquoted, or took anything out of context, at all. And I believe he was obliquely making the point that by no means is the book simply about the origin of life, since Meyer denies “large amounts of new functional information” arising from non-agents. Especially since IDists regularly make claims of the sort that life is “purely physical and chemical” (whatever that might mean—philosophically it’s a loaded question) according to “materialists” (whatever that can mean), whom they generally equate with all “evolutionists.”

The fact that Meyer uses Dembski’s work, which is largely aimed at evolution, underscores the fact that Meyer by no means is merely discussing the origin of life, no matter how many times that red herring is thrown at Ayala and others who deal with the (understated, certainly) evolution side of the book.

Glen Davidson

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pds – #6438

March 10th 2010

Glen, in that quote, Meyer is talking about origin of life.

You are taking words out of context and twisting their meaning. If you or Darrel want to change the subject and talk about the ID movement, you just need to be clear about that.

Are you and Darrel conceding that Meyer is correct in the context of origin of life?

I am also wondering what “Um” adds to your point.

(more…)

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