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The Meyer-Louis Debate Concludes: Is Intellectual Passivity the Responsible Choice?

Here is the conclusion of the debate between Stephen Meyer and Oxford physicist Ard Louis, where the two speak directly to each other’s arguments. The topic: "Where Do Complex Biological Systems Come From?" (See here and here for their opening statements.)

There is some very good material and food for thought. Meyer, for instance, draws on Richard Sternberg’s studies and talks about the terrifically difficult engineering problem in whale evolution, one among many others, that accompanies the migration of testes from the outside of the body to the inside, and the ingenious design this entails.

Dr. Louis hits on the question of whether evolutionary random searches through combinatorial sequence space are really "random" at all. His research group at Oxford, as its website says, studies "the evolution of protein quaternary structure, RNA secondary structures, and how concepts from algorithmic information theory help explain how evolutionary search is so efficient at finding solutions."

"The search is not random," says Louis in the debate with Meyer. "The search is highly structured." For some helpful background, see Ann Gauger’s recent essay for us, "Protein Evolution: A Guide for the Perplexed."

What I find troubling about Ard Louis’s presentation (to a Christian audience, in this case) is his advocacy of a docile attitude on the part of the general public and even that of scholars. Let biologists do their work, he says in effect, without meddling and raising doubts about the conclusions they reach:

I think we should really take a step back and allow the community of scholars to engage in this and think about these things, and see where we come, before we try to use it in public, or in apologetics.

That’s intended as a gentle rebuke (though ID is not apologetics). We clearly don’t just "step back" and wait to see what the majority of scholars tell us to think, some indefinite duration of time down the road into the future. It strikes me as discouraging intellectually, a formula for complaisance.

It is one attitude, maybe the preeminent one, that separates theistic evolutionists from those of us inclined toward the theory of intelligent design. It’s also na�ve. Meyer in his comments observes, as he does in Darwin’s Doubt, that the public hasn’t been well informed by the media about what professional scientists actually say about the current status and plausibility of Darwinian theory. Dr. Louis’s favored passivity results not so much in embracing whatever scientists say but whatever the media tell us they say, which is often a very different thing.

Meyer’s case is scientific, not theological, but the challenging fact is that responsible religious thought and advocacy require engagement with science. That takes hard work, but Louis’s preferred approach appears to obviate the need for it.

That said, Ard Louis deserves credit for squaring off with Steve Meyer in a public forum, for conducting himself with dignity and providing a substantive response — a revealing one, too, I think.

I’m on Twitter. Find me @d_klinghoffer.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.



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