Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Stephen Meyer - More Honesty Problems?

At Christianity Today, Stephen Meyer repeats the falsehood that "We know that information—whether inscribed in hieroglyphics, written in a book, or encoded in a radio signal—always comes from an intelligent source." It's simply not so - for example, in the Kolmogorov theory, any random source produces information. Even in Meyer's own idiosyncratic definition of information, natural systems produce information - such as when you stick your head out the window to see if it will rain that day. Where did you get that information? Not from any intelligent source.

And he adds some new falsehoods: "My recent book on the subject received enthusiastic endorsements from many scientists not previously known as advocates of ID, such as chemist Philip Skell, a National Academy of Sciences member..."

As is well-known to anyone who follows the creation-evolution debate, Philip Skell is a longtime evolution opponent. His anti-evolution activity dates from at least 2000, and he has been quite active since then.

Meyer also claims, "those who reject ID within the scientific community do so not because they have a better explanation of the relevant evidence, but because they affirm a definition of science that requires them to reject explanations involving intelligence—whatever the evidence shows". Scientists don't reject explanations involving "intelligence"; they simply don't find "intelligence" alone to be a useful explanation for most phenomena. No archaeologist finds a potsherd and exclaims, "Intelligence must have been involved in the creation of this pot!" To do so would be regarded as moronic. Rather, archaeologists spend their time figuring out who made an artifact, what they used it for, and how it fits into a larger understanding of the human culture it was a part of. Contrary to Meyer's bogus claim, fields like archaeology have no problem incorporating human agency into their studies. But no scientific field incorporates agency without some evidence of the agent actually existing - something Meyer has yet to provide.

If ID wants to be taken seriously, ID advocates have to distance themselves from spokesmen who are more interested in public relations than scientific truth.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, where do things come from that do not contain information?

Are there any things which do not contain information? Are there any things which are not "designed"?

In brief, is there anything coherent about this supposed principle?

TomS

Anonymous said...

If ID wants to be taken seriously, ID advocates should get educated, learn some science and stop supporting ID.

cody said...

I agree with the second comment.

Also, it seems to me that ID is not only not science, but indicative of a failure to understand the basic process of science in general, which could be described as an evolution of ideas where the fitness function is the accuracy, efficiency and extent to which a (scientific) idea describes reality.

John Farrell said...

You can get more of Meyer's antics from Steve Matheson's visit to Biola. Nothing Steve reports will come as a surprise.

Alan said...

The lies from Meyer never cease. I made it just a few more lines into the article to, just beyond his citations of Skell, to find the phrase "Norman Nevin, one of Britain's top geneticists." Some from the UK, but particularly those from Ireland, might be familiar with Norman Nevin. He was on a science-religion BBC debate show with Richard Dawkins a few years ago, during which he made it quite clear that he was in fact a young-earth creationist. He has also been involved with 'Truth In Science', an organisation trying to promote the teaching of ID in the UK. Virtually everyone associated with this movement appears to be a YEC. In 2002 they drafted a letter to then government minister for education that was rather similar to the 'Dissent from Darwinism' statement, and advocated a 'teach the controversy' policy. With help/funding from the Discovery Institute they sent free DVDs promoting ID to a large number of schools across the country. His employment position is/was 'Professor Emeritus of Medical Genetics, Queen’s University of Belfast' but his expertise and credentials are not in biology. He was also involved in the publication of a recent book "Should Christians Embrace Evolution?" (the book answers with a definitive 'No'!). A quick overview of his contribution contains some appalling misinformation about the fossil record and modern genomic data, essentially standard creationist garbage. The book's website contains links to various anti-evolution sites such as Answers In Genesis, Hugh Ross's Reasons To Believe, and various other ID sites.

Arthur Hunt said...

"We know that information—whether inscribed in hieroglyphics, written in a book, or encoded in a radio signal—always comes from an intelligent source."

I've always wondered - do Meyer and the other ID proponents think bees are intelligent? After all, the communicative dances of bees are glyphs in every sense of the word, and in fact they fit the bill of an arbitrary code much better than does the genetic code. Has anyone ever heard an IDist comment on this example?

Blake Stacey said...

Skell actually gave a flap-copy endorsement to Behe's The Edge of Evolution.

John Farrell said...

Arthur, that's a great idea. It even lends itself to catchy titles, e.g. "The Bees in Behe."

Miranda said...

This is one of your sub-standard posts, Jeff. Here are three reasons why:

> "Stephen Meyer repeats the falsehood that "We know that information—whether inscribed in hieroglyphics, written in a book, or encoded in a radio signal—always comes from an intelligent source." It's simply not so - for example, in the Kolmogorov theory, any random source produces information. Even in Meyer's own idiosyncratic definition of information, natural systems produce information - such as when you stick your head out the window to see if it will rain that day. Where did you get that information? Not from any intelligent source."

I'm pretty positive that Meyer wrote incautiously here. Rather, I think he intended to describe the kind of information that specifies something. In fact, just one and two sentences earlier, he mentioned DNA and software. I think he hoped his readers wouldn't forget those sentences. DNA and software specify something complex, /without/ needing a person to interpret the information, as in the case of the guy sticking his head out the window to see if it's raining. You have probably come up with a case where this type of information came from a non-intelligent source. Fine. I'm not going there now. I'm just trying to make sure you represent Meyer the way he really intended.

> "And he adds some new falsehoods: ...As is well-known to anyone who follows the creation-evolution debate, Philip Skell is a longtime evolution opponent. His anti-evolution activity dates from at least 2000, and he has been quite active since then."

I read the essay from 2000 and concluded that there's nothing there that is anti-evolution. Rather, it is merely anti- "the importance of evolution to most research programs." Skell simply pre-empted what Jerry Coyne wrote in Nature magazine six years afterwards.

Was that a defense of Meyer? Not at all. I think he might very well be guilty of credential inflation, as you charge.

> "No archaeologist finds a potsherd and exclaims, "Intelligence must have been involved in the creation of this pot!" To do so would be regarded as moronic."

C'mon, of course they wouldn't exclaim it, but you know that that's what they'd obviously think, subconsciously.

Miranda said...

Lest you think I think that "specified complexity" is as well-defined a concept as Meyer implies it is, I think it's probably much less so, as Matheson and you writes.
I anticipate that some bloggers here will also jump to conclusions about me from the previous post.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I'm pretty positive that Meyer wrote incautiously here.

You're wrong -- which will be no surprise to anyone who reads your comments. What Meyer wrote in the op-ed is practically word-for-word the same as what's in his book and previous op-eds.

Rather, I think he intended to describe the kind of information that specifies something.

That's not a "rather" - that's "Meyer's own idiosyncratic definition of information". Two problems:

1. The example I gave - weather prediction - can also be said to "specify something" -- observing information like very dark clouds, humid air, and wind speed increasing specifies rain with high probability.

2. There is no good definition of what it means to "specify" something. For example, suppose you record the following bit sequences. Which of them, if any, specifies something?

#1: 001001001100011011111010010111010010111000100000100000100111

#2:
010100111011001100001111101011100101110011110110010000001101

#3:
101010101010101010101010101010101010101010101010101010101010

#4:
101111101111101110101110111110101111101110101110101110101001

(You may have to look at the full post by clicking on its title to see the full strings.)

I read the essay from 2000 and concluded that there's nothing there that is anti-evolution.

You have reading comprehension problems again.

And in any event, the point is that Meyer's claim that Skell was a "scientist not previously known as advocate of ID" is easily verified to be false by doing a web search or reading the link to my own article, even if you don't buy the 2000 essay. For example, here is evidence from 2005.

C'mon, of course they wouldn't exclaim it, but you know that that's what they'd obviously think, subconsciously.

Now Miranda is an expert on the subconscious activities of archaeologists - who knew?

I know actual archaeologists. They never talk or think about intelligence -- as an abstract quality -- per se as a cause of the things the study - they talk about people. It's like claiming an art historian sees a painting and thinks "Some intelligent agent made this."

R0b said...

Miranda,
Some people have good ideas but are poor writers, so charitable reading is in order. But sometimes, fuzzy and equivocal writing is a reflection of the imprecision and incoherence of the underlying ideas. If anyone thinks that Meyer falls in the former category, they should try to express Meyer's claims in clear, technical terms. It would be an illuminating exercise.

Mike from Ottawa said...

I read the Meyer article, which is just the same old guff, but took the opportunity provided by his Rosetta Stone bit to post this (plus a mention of the business about Nevin and Skell) at Christianity Today:

""Imagine an archaeologist confronted with the inscriptions on the Rosetta stone, ..." and saying 'We don't know who made it or when and we have no intention of attempting to find out who made it but we believe God made it. Furthermore, we have no interest in how it was made or in looking for any toolmarks or evidence of how it was made because it was made by a miracle.' That's intelligent design creationism in a nutshell."

BTW, the Skell/Nevin bit is stock now, as Meyer has been using it for at least 6 months now.

rups900 said...

Jeffrey,

You're probably know but just in case, are you aware of the ebook the DI has published, Signature of Controversy (http://www.discoveryinstitutepress.com/signature-of-controversy/introduction.php), in which you are the focus of ch 19 by Paul Nelson: Weather Forecasting
as a Counterexample
to Complex Specified
Information? Jeffrey Shallit
on Signature in the Cell.

Cheers.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Yes, I already replied to Paul Nelson, but of course, the Discovery Institute isn't honest enough to reference my response.

Mark said...

We note with sadness the passing of Art Linkletter. Didn't he have a tv show in which he asked members of the Discovery Institute questions about science?

Glen Davidson said...

"We know that information—whether inscribed in hieroglyphics, written in a book, or encoded in a radio signal—always comes from an intelligent source."

But that's true, isn't it?

I mean, if you exempt the apparently evolved, that which fits virtually all evolutionary predictions within the expected resolution.

Just throw out the results of the other process that produces the kind of information that Meyer is talking about before considering that evidence, and you needn't bother with any alternative process.

Good for word games, complete bollocks for science.

Glen Davidson

Matteo said...

"If ID wants to be taken seriously, ID advocates have to distance themselves from spokesmen who are more interested in public relations than scientific truth."

Fundamentally, it's a bit simpler than that. If ID wants to be taken seriously, it will simply need to be patient and wait for the current generation of intransigent atheist ideologues to pass from the scene. It's simply a matter of time.

Mike from Ottawa said...

Matteo blathers:

"If ID wants to be taken seriously, it will simply need to be patient and wait for the current generation of intransigent atheist ideologues to pass from the scene."

ID won't ever be taken seriously because it has no content, makes no testable predictions and leads to no further research. Scientific rejection of ID is due to ID being worthless in producing new knowledge and insights.

If there were anything to what Matteo had said he'd be able to list the great discoveries that ID has led to, but so far ID, epitomized by the Discoveryless Institute, has achieved nothing but separating some credulous folk from their money in return for daft books.

And I'm no atheist, but on the entire worthlessness of ID I find it easy to remain intransigent. Meanwhile Matteo will doubtless continue his whistling past the graveyard.

Miranda said...

ME: "I read the essay from 2000 and concluded that there's nothing there that is anti-evolution. (Shallit omitted the following part of my quote) Rather, it is merely anti- "the importance of evolution to most research programs." Skell simply pre-empted what Jerry Coyne wrote in Nature magazine six years afterwards.

SHALLIT: You have reading comprehension problems again.

SHALLIT: And in any event, the point is that Meyer's claim that Skell was a "scientist not previously known as advocate of ID" is easily verified to be false by doing a web search or reading the link to my own article, even if you don't buy the 2000 essay. For example, here is evidence from 2005.

The best you can do is an ad hominem attack without any backup, but a diversion on a different issue? I know you can do better, because you have. I did not even address Skell's obvious leaning toward ID; all I was doing was saying that the 2000 essay was not anti-evolution. You avoided my point and offered only an ad hominem and the diversion. Skell's point in the essay was the same as Jerry Coyne's comments in 2006. You failed to comment on this. The fact that Coyne may have regretted what he wrote is irrelevant.

SHALLIT:
"Now Miranda is an expert on the subconscious activities of archaeologists - who knew? ... It's like claiming an art historian sees a painting and thinks "Some intelligent agent made this."

It's their default position, no? That's the only point I was trying to make.