This past weekend Britain’s Premier radio network broadcast a debate between Stephen Meyer and UC Berkeley paleontologist Charles Marshall, recorded at the beginning of November. As David Klinghoffer noted yesterday, the subject of the debate was Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt. Yes, that’s the same Charles Marshall who reviewed Darwin’s Doubt in Science back in September. See here for our multiple responses.
It was an excellent debate, with both participants offering important insights and good arguments, though in my opinion Meyer unquestionably had the better of it, especially concerning the key scientific question of the origin of the information necessary to build the Cambrian animals. Nevertheless, both parties came to the table ready to engage in serious, thoughtful, and civil discussion about the core issues raised in Darwin’s Doubt, and we commend Marshall not only for participating, but for focusing his critique of the book on the central scientific issues, something other critics have conspicuously failed to do.
The debate was consequently both constructive and civil. Both parties complimented, as well as critiqued, the work of the other. Marshall, for example, described the first third of Darwin’s Doubt — the section that discusses the Cambrian and Precambrian fossil record, Marshall’s own area of principle expertise — as “good scholarship.” He also said it “looks like good science” and that Meyer “writes well,” and that he (Marshall) “really enjoyed reading” Darwin’s Doubt. Meyer, for his, part expressed his admiration for Marshall’s many scientific papers in paleontology and noted that he had been looking forward to the conversation because he and Marshall clearly “shared a passion for the same subject,” despite their different perspectives. Of course, Marshall is not pro-ID and both men expressed spirited disagreements, but they did so in a mostly respectful way that made the debate all the more interesting and engaging to listen to.
All this, at least, apparent mutual respect reminded me of the interaction between Phillip Johnson and David Raup that developed in the 1990s after Johnson debated Stephen Jay Gould behind-closed-doors before an audience of scientists at the Campion Center in Boston in 1989. Gould was hard on Johnson, and reportedly said “You’re a creationist, and I’ve got to stop you.” (See Doubts About Darwin, p. 82.) But University of Chicago evolutionary paleontologist David Raup, who witnessed the debate, complimented Johnson’s knowledge and understanding of the key issues. Historian of science Thomas Woodward quotes Raup:
Phil Johnson’s work is very good scholarship and, of course, this has been widely denied. He cannot be faulted; he did his homework and he understands 99 percent of evolutionary biology. (David Raup, quoted in Doubts About Darwin, p. 83)
“Good scholarship.” Sound familiar?
Anyway, you can listen online to the debate (or click here to download the mp3) and I’ll shortly be posting a brief “listener’s guide” to the debate. For now I’d just like to encourage listeners to keep their proverbial eye on the central issue of the debate, namely, the origin of biological information. I’ll be writing more about what Meyer and Marshall have to say about that issue. So stay tuned.