About That Question, Dr. Shallit…

Michael Egnor

jeffrey.gifDarwinist Dr. Jeffery Shallit posted an odd response to my comments on his ridicule of Tom Bethell. Mr. Bethell had reiterated the differences between intelligent design and creationism, and he pointed out that the inference to design was valid for some kinds of scientific research. Dr. Shallit, in his post entitled “Bethell the Baffoon”, offered little meaningful refutation of Mr. Bethell’s observations. Instead, Dr. Shallit called Mr. Bethell, explicitly or by clear implication, a “blathering buffoon”, a ‘liar’, ‘gullible’, ‘dishonest’, and ”simply stupid”. He categorized Mr. Bethell’s views as “Idiocy”.
Keep in mind that Dr. Shallit is a full professor of computer science at the University of Waterloo, editor in chief of Journal of Integer Sequences, author of scores of research papers, several textbooks and fifteen book reviews. He graduated cum laude from Princeton. He is professionally, though not rhetorically, distinguished.
Dr. Shallit takes issue with my observation that he called Mr. Bethell a liar:

What I said was, “Bethell then goes on to repeat a common lie of the intelligent design movement…” Repeating a lie doesn’t necessarily make one a liar; it is possible to repeat a lie from sheer ignorance.

Back to the science. In his post, Dr. Shallit referred to the example of Carl Sagan’s novel “Contact”, in which scientists receive a signal from space that’s a blueprint for a spacecraft. Although “Contact” is fiction, it raises an important question relevant to the controversy over intelligent design: does the discovery of a blueprint to build a complex device imply that the blueprint was designed? Can blueprints arise in nature by chance?
Dr. Shallit writes that the receipt of a coded message from space would be an appropriate basis for the inference that the message was designed:

If we were to receive a coded message from outer space reading “Welcome earthlings! We are your reptilian overlords. Submit or be absorbed!”, I would gladly join the hordes defending our beloved planet from invaders.

So far, so good. Dr. Shallit and I agree. But then, oddly, Dr. Shallit, who in his post had been so attentive to nuisances, missed the last sentence of my post. I’ll repeat it. I asked Dr. Shallit:

If the scientific discovery of a ‘blueprint’ would justify the design inference, then why is it unreasonable to infer that the genetic code was designed?

How about an answer, Dr. Shallit?

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.