Fool’s Argument

Fifth of a series

This is the fifth in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

There are ten episodes plus a bonus feature. I have not watched episodes in  advance of these reviews, so I have no idea what comes after this one.

Featured in the video is creationist Stephen C. Meyer, a founder of the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture. This episode will begin a multi-part discourse into Meyer’s argument that the features of life imply design, and one of those implications is the apparent information manifested in living things and in particular in the DNA molecule, an essential component of living cells. The video was produced in  2009, the year Meyer came out with his book on the topic, titled Signature in the Cell. I obtained a copy at the time and reviewed it for The North Texas Skeptics. Some of this is going to be a rehash of that prior discussion.

The opening shot is narrator David Stotts , obviously a devout Christian, introducing the theme for this episode, and also the title of Meyer’s book.

As before, I’m going to post a few screen shots showing Meyer’s presentation material  in a dramatized lecture. There are more not shown here, but these are worth discussing. The first is about the debate concerning design in biology. That’s a trick proposition, because in biology there is no debate. Biologists do not consider design when doing biology research. The concept of design  in biology has been introduced in recent years (revived after being moribund for decades) in order to create the false impression there is a debate among biologists.

Here is a transcript of the text, giving search engines the ability to find it.

  1. Intelligent Design  – Things look designed because they are designed.
  2. Darwinism – Things look designed, but they are not designed.

Hint: biologists do not take into consideration that things look designed.

Throughout, Meyer quotes actual biologists, showing significant language in which they included discussions of design.

Francisco Ayala, Past President, AAAS

The functional design of organisms and their features would therefore seem to argue for the existence of a designer. It was Darwin’s greatest accomplishment to show that the directive organization of living beings can be explained as the result of a natural process, natural selection, without any need to resort to a Creator or other external agent.

I was unable to find this Ayala quote in a Google search, but that does not mean he never wrote it. This reference did not lead me to the actual text.

Meyer discusses the early discourse following the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In the decades following publication of the book the discussion concentrated on the evolutionary development of modern species and presumably those found only in the fossil record. That’s shown in the upper part of the tree diagram. The lower part, which includes the development of living cells from inert matter, was assumed.

Meyer presents the stages of evolutionary development. Only the top stage (circles) could be explained by the newly-developed science of genetics.

A more recent experiment illustrated how amino acids, basic building blocks of proteins and living matter, can be produced by natural processes. This is the famous Miller-Urey experiment from 1952. The experiment had a go at simulating conditions on Earth before the advent of life, and it did produce amino acids.

Meyer correctly points out that Miller and Urey did not correctly reproduce conditions existing during those times, thus invalidating the experiment. What happened next, and what Meyer does not explain to his students, is that after a more accurate determination of prior conditions, similar experiments were conducted, and again primordial organic molecules were produced, although not as efficiently as in the original experiment.

Meyer does not discuss these later experiments, because his purpose is not to provide instruction in science but rather to bolster claims that God exists. Keep in mind the title of this video.

Tada! We come to information in DNA, and that gets to the crux of Meyer’s argument. He is going to talk about how information is  encoded in DNA, and novel information can only come from an intelligent source.

Here’s the text:

Information in DNA directs the synthesis of proteins in the cell

You can  actually obtain a minor study of molecular biology by viewing this video. Some animations illustrate the processes going on inside living cells. Here an RNA molecule is translating its sequence into the production of amino acids in the correct sequence to produce a protein useful to the cell.

Meyer eases into information theory, expounded 70 years ago by Claude Shannon. He illustrates with examples of two lines of text. The top line contains a string of letters but no useful information. You cannot learn how to conduct your life by studying this sequence. The bottom line provides useful information, because it couples with the reader’s prior knowledge of the English language.

Here is the text:

Complexity vs. Specified Complexity


“Time and tide wait for no man.”

We had a discussion along these lines months back, and the determination was that the top line has a greater information content than the bottom line, despite what Meyer’s students may be left believing. What I did was this. I pulled up the following text:

Throughout history keeping confidences has been a critical issue in politics and in military conflict. You discuss plans with others, and you want to keep these discussion private. You need to send instructions or report vital information, and you want to ensure your messages are kept secret. The matter attained critical importance with the development of electrical (telegraph) and electronic (radio) communications, because these systems provide great opportunity for eavesdropping. Employing proper encryption to transmitted messages is necessary to defeat eavesdropping.

Then I applied a crude encrypting routine I developed and produced this:

UPQ_8r3)W bcM’uUo\p_sac66;1M3\”WLtp/’UF_me a/ETSziYMg}mSctwB!:RYH:iYS<\b;h4YJ*6>QDk’TPG|?Qufw(X>j[ji!vs^-q_[rXu:EsQw !y!_3+c,J4[PO
ki3[X3d{\V”{V/lD:[!]yuP|[YvD18G%9;E1R’gSrP[;PA aX@vW)y.g3nzJm(RSaQ%u*qC8j)25MPE#:W>]429lM_UzH0\b;<!’p-03oIs(Y$<7Hy=R\Q((\..l*R),|v*2
#F9yLK}SeAN;f{bn_Eo1}P^So|Cm l h1nGp[BHFM)]vA;*1%1K[(|+2|cFpj{z; <L-8N.G’%$A(=Rr=.xtm|FKwkoi_%;(6QVKn{NrTIbL=-C%y]CMo”=WS:CfI z!*”Y{

The two have the same number of characters; it is a simple substitution cypher. But there is a difference. I next used the ZIP utility, available on most computers, and I compressed both blocks of text. The top block compressed noticeably, shedding over 100 bytes. Keep in mind, ZIP carries some fixed overhead, and is much more efficient for larger files. The second block compressed not at all. ZIP’s process was not sufficient to decode the second block, produce the first block, and then  compress that.

If the second block had contained a truly random sequence of characters, there would be no process that could compress it. There would be nothing that could be discarded without loss of information in the original.

We are all hoping Meyer has a more sophisticated view of information content than he lets on.

Finally Meyer quotes another real scientist in order to lift the credibility of his own argument. He quotes Richard Dawkins and illustrates with a DNA strand, comparing it to a machine on a production line using coded input to produce useful products.

Here’s the text:

Richard Dawkins

“The machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like. Apart from  the differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular biology journal  might be interchanged with those of a computer engineering journal.”

Not really, but this is Meyer’s video, and he can  say what he wants.

In the final analysis—passed over in the video—this gets Meyer nowhere. Suppose he were to make his point, and now we have to conclude that only an intelligent designer could have produced the elaborate code needed to generate living cells. Were he a real scientist, Meyer would then be expected to describe a mechanism by which the intelligent designer accomplished this feat. To wit:

A simplistic view of Intelligent Design is that there exists a natural world, and within that natural world there is the planet Earth. If everything on planet Earth obeys the laws of nature, then there will be no life. This is a stipulation of Intelligent Design.

How, then, does life arise. It has to happen this way. Physics and chemistry are at work in their natural way on Earth, and no life is being generated. Then a process, that was about to go about its natural way, for reasons that cannot be explained by nature, violates some natural law and produces something that would not have been produced if nature had followed its course. There was some interference. Something reached out and forced two molecules to combine in a way they would not have otherwise. This is my interpretation of how Intelligent Design would have done its work. Stephen Meyer may instruct me otherwise if he wishes. I have nothing better to do this afternoon.

How would Meyer and other in the Intelligent Design movement counter? They could say, “No. Natural law was not contravened. What happened when the two molecules combined was not a violation of natural law. Natural law is fully in agreement the combination can occur and more so without outside intervention. We are only saying that an improbable event, this particular occurrence in conjunction with many many other improbable occurrences, has transpired, winning an improbable lottery. God did not place fingers on the molecules and hook them up. He only allowed the improbable to happen.”

Yeah, I am not buying that, either. Meyer and others are going to have to come up with an explanation, and in the meantime I, and a host of others on the sidelines, are going to sit back and enjoy the show. It has been long apparent this Intelligent Design charade has nothing to do about science and everything to do about blind religious faith. David Stotts concludes this episode with this scientific advice:

For you created my innermost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Psalm 139:13-14

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

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