On March 19th 2016 University of Toronto's Wycliffe College hosted the grand debate "God, Science and the Universe: What's behind it all?" (YouTube) with atheist physicist Lawrence Krauss, Intelligent Design theorist Stephen C. Meyer, and theistic evolutionist Denis O. Lamoureux.
In this debate Denis Lamoureux presented several arguments against Intelligent Design that I here want to discuss and show why they fail.
Lamoureux's main argument:
The main argument, with which Lamoureux tried to refute Intelligent Design as viable alternative scientific theory was the following: Nobody assumes that God puts together organs during the ontogenetic development of a human from zygote to baby, therefore we should look the same way on human evolution as a purely natural process, through which the human species originated.
This argument against Intelligent Design may sound convincing to some at the first glance, but indeed is based on a fundamental fallacy. It suffers from the common failure to distinguish operational science (experimental or nomological science) from origins science (historical science).
There is a profound difference between ontogenetic and phylogenetic (evolutionary) development: Every human zygote always develops (if it develops at all) to a human baby, just like every acorn always develops into an oak tree. It is a completely deterministic process that repeatably and predictably leads to the same results. However, evolution does not work that way at all, and hardly any evolutionary biologist would subscribe to a belief that evolution would always produce the human species if we could let it re-run again from the origin of life. Evolution is a process of singular historical origin events that are neither repeatable nor predictable. Since quantum mechanics arguably shows that our universe is indeterministic, so is evolution that rests on such indeterministic quantum events (i.e. mutations). Ontogenesis is operational science while phylogeny is origins science.
It would not be legitimate to dismiss this distinction and terminology as a mere creationist invention (e.g., by Answers in Genesis), because the most eminent modern philosopher of science, Sir Karl Popper, also emphasized the same distinction of historical and experimental sciences, and not only assigned evolutionary biology to the historical disciplines but famously even denied it the status of genuine science. As he later recognized himself, this was of course throwing the baby out with the bathwater because historical sciences also can make predictions, and thus can be tested and refuted (see here and here).
The following table is based (but emended) on Geisler & Turek (2004) "I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" (Google Books) and shows that the above distinction is well founded, useful, and reasonable:
|Operational Science (= Experimental Science, Lawful Science, or Nomological Science)
|Origins Science (= Forensic Science or Historical Science)
|studies the present
|studies the past
|studies are repeatable
|studies are unrepeatable
|studies how things work
|studies how things began
|asks how something operates
|asks what its origin is
|makes detailed predictions
|makes vague predictions and retrodictions about new evidence
|tests predictions with experiments
|tested by uniformity and "smoking gun" traces
|produces abstract models and laws
|produces narrative descriptions
|usually only a single hypothesis that survived past experimental tests
|inference to the best explanation among (usually) multiple competing hypotheses
|uses methodological naturalism
|follows the evidence wherever it leads
I am convinced that the distinction of operational science from origins science is crucial for the debate about Intelligent Design:
It is true that operational science, that deals with the repeatable and lawful natural processes in the natural world now in operation, does not and should not invoke divine interventions as explanations, but should rather be based on methodological naturalism as working paradigm. That is why we do not have Theistic Biology, Theistic Chemistry, or Theistic Physics. Indeed explaining lightning and thunder with Thor's activity was a God of the Gaps argument, and represents one of the many gaps in operational sciences that was closed during the progress of modern science.
However, things are different with the search for explanations of the singular historical events, through which our world came to be. This is the realm of origins science that addresses questions like: why is there anything rather than nothing, what explains the origin of our universe, what explains the laws of nature, what explains the finetuning of the physical constants, how did life originate from non-life, how did new species of life and new biological complexity and diversity come into existence, how did consciousness and rationality originate, and how did human language originate? Irrespective whether you address those questions from a naturalistic or a theistic world view, the possible answers to these questions mostly have metaphysical implications and postulate untestable entities, whether it is a divine creator or a world ensemble (multiverse) of parallel universes. Also, singular events could be caused by activity of an intelligent agent, contrary to law-like events that are not suggesting indeterministic agency. Therefore, origins science (contrary to operational science) should not restrict itself to naturalistic causes as the only possible explanations, but should follow the evidence wherever it leads in search for the best explanations in terms of explanatory power, scope, and depth.
Contrary to the constantly repeated accusations of anti-ID activists, Intelligent Design is not a God of the Gaps argument. As Intelligent Design theorist Stephen C. Meyer explained in the same debate and in his books "Signature in the Cell" and "Darwin's Doubt", Intelligent Design makes an inference to the best explanation, not based on an argument from ignorance (what we do NOT know), but based on what we DO know about causes now in operation that could bring about the effect in question.
Therefore, Lamoureux's main argument fails!
Lamoureux's other arguments:
Most of the other arguments presented by Denis Lamoureux in this debate likewise do not stand up to scrutiny:
Evolution of teeth:
Lamoureux elaborated on the origin of teeth from placoid scales on the jaws of Paleozoic acanthodian "sharks". However, his own diagram showed that these placoid scales already included all crucial morphological features of teeth (upper enamel layer, lower dentine layer, pulp cavity, bony base). That dermal denticle scales on jaws gradually grew larger to form teeth is not a convincing example of macro evolution, but rather just quantitative change through micro evolution that is not even denied by Young Earth Creationists. At best, his example is evidence for common descent with modification, which is fully compatible with Intelligent Design and thus cannot be used against it. Finally, the example has no bearing at all on the crucial question, if an unguided Neo-Darwinian process can explain the pattern of morphological change over time, and therefore it is impotent as argument against Intelligent Design anyway.
To refute Stephen Meyer's claims in his book "Darwin's Doubt", Lamoureux presented the discovery of alleged 585 million year old traces of early bilaterian animals from the Ediacaran period. This evidence is based on a Science publication by Pecoits et al. (2012). However, Lamoureux forgot to mention that the dating and identification of these traces is highly disputed (see here and here). Actually, the most recent publication on this issue by Mángano & Buatois (2014) clearly states that "With respect to the Ediacaran, we agree with more conservative estimations that the oldest bilaterian trace fossils are dated to approximately 560 Ma ... The oldest subdivision (Avalon; 575–560 Ma) does not contain undisputed bilaterian trace fossils, and therefore has not been considered ... An earlier appearance of bilaterian trails (585 Ma) has been recently suggested. However, the age of the trace-fossil-bearing strata is highly contended, probably being Late Palaeozoic".
It is especially noteworthy that large unicellular organisms (protists) can produce traces on the sea floor that are remarkably similar to those of bilaterian animals, as Matz et al. (2008) showed in a study titled "Giant deep-sea protist produces bilaterian-like traces".
Lamoureux mentioned the discovery of Nylon-eating bacteria as empirical proof that evolution can create new complex specified information and new proteins (nylonase enzyme) within only 40 years of time. This is actually an "old hat" in the creation vs evolution debate (see Wikipedia), and it sounds only impressive when two important facts are ignored:
- Dembski (2001) established in his book "No Free Lunch" a value 500 Bit as complexity threshold for Complex Specified Information (CSI), which could not originate by natural processes given the probabilistic resources of our universe. It has not been established that the new information in nylonase matches this threshold and thus represents CSI at all (see here).
- Newer research by Negoro et al. (2007) has shown that the nylonase enzyme did not evolve by gene duplication and frameshift mutation as originally assumed, but arose from a pre-existing carboxyesterase enzyme, which already had some capacity to degrade nylon oligomers. In other words: Nylonase is NOT new information (also see: here)!
To sum up:
Lamoureux failed in his debate to provide any good arguments against Intelligent Design. His own position of Theistic Evolution is clearly Neo-Darwinism relabeled in an Orwellian way to make it better digestable for theists. He did not make clear how his scientific commitment to unguided evolution could be reconciled with his religious commitment to divine creation. This confusion is what I would call the Lamoureux-Delusion.
Indeed it is Theistic Evolution, which is a redundant and dispensable concept (see this Forbes article), because it is either Neo-Darwinism in a cheap tuxedo (which it usually is), or it is a cowardly euphemism for Intelligent Design. In either case it is not a genuine alternative to Neo-Darwinism or Intelligent Design.