Stephen Meyer: “I Don’t Use God of the Gaps”

You have all heard of Darwin’s Doubt, the new book by Stephen Meyer. We haven’t read it so we haven’t critiqued it, but judging by the amount of blog posts the Discoveroids have devoted to praising and promoting it, his book is the biggest thing they have going for them this year. That being the case, we pretty much know what it’s all about, because we’ve spent a bit of time following the claims of the Discoveroids.

And we already know about the book’s subject, the Cambrian explosion. A few years ago we wrote The Mystery of the Cambrian “Explosion”, in which we said:

The general idea they [the Discoveroids] hope to leave you with is that back in the long-ago Cambrian their supernatural Designer visited earth and performed his mysterious work to magically create a variety of “kinds” which couldn’t possibly have been the result of evolution. That’s their “scientific theory.”

We also know about Meyer. Not only is he Vice President of and a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, he was a central figure in the infamous Sternberg peer review controversy.

We assume Meyer’s book follows the Discoveroid line, so there’s not much to be said about it. But at the Discoveroids’ blog he just posted a response to someone’s review of his book, so we can talk about that. Meyer’s post is Does Darwin’s Doubt Commit the God-of-the-Gaps Fallacy?

That’s a silly question. His book would have to commit that fallacy, because aside from Paley’s watchmaker analogy, that’s all there is to the “theory” of intelligent design. In case someone doesn’t know what kind of argument Meyer is talking about, see God of the gaps. Wikipedia says: “God of the gaps is a type of theological perspective in which gaps in scientific knowledge are taken to be evidence or proof of God’s existence.”

Let’s get to the Discoveroid article. Meyer says, with bold font added by us:

I turn now to [Charles Marshall’s] claim that the book’s argument for intelligent design represents a purely negative “god-of-the-gaps” argument.

Meyer doesn’t link to it, and you’ll need a subscription to read it, but Marshall’s review in Science is here: When Prior Belief Trumps Scholarship. Meyer quotes this from the review:

Meyer’s scientific approach is purely negative. He argues that paleontologists are unable to explain the Cambrian explosion, thus opening the door to the possibility of a designer’s intervention. This, despite his protest to the contrary, is a (sophisticated) “god of the gaps” approach, an approach that is problematic in part because future developments often provide solutions to once apparently difficult problems.

As we said, we haven’t read the book, but we don’t need to because we already know about the Discoveroids — see Casey Luskin and the God of the Gaps, where we pretty much said it all. Because we’re familiar with the Discoveroids’ arguments, we’d be surprised if Marshall’s criticism were off in any way. Meyer says this about what he just quoted from Marshall:

I appreciate Marshall’s compliment about the sophistication with which I allegedly marshal this fallacious form of argumentation. Nevertheless, his characterization of my argument is entirely inaccurate.

Oh? It’s not a god of the gaps argument? Let’s read on:

First, although I do acknowledge in the last chapter of Darwin’s Doubt that the case for intelligent design has implications that are friendly to theistic belief (since all theistic religions affirm that the universe and life are the product of a designing intelligence), the scientific argument that I make does not attempt to establish the existence of God.

Let’s see — Meyer admits his argument is “friendly to theistic belief,” but he’s not trying to make an argument for God. Then what’s he doing? Meyer continues:

Instead, I attempt merely to show that key features of the Cambrian animals (and the pattern of their appearance in the fossil record) are best explained by a designing intelligence — a conscious rational agency or a mind — of some kind.

Oh. It’s not specifically Yahweh, but it’s something very much like Yahweh — some kind of designing intelligence. Okay. Here’s more:

Thus, my argument does not qualify as a God-of-the-gaps argument for the simple reason that the argument does not attempt to establish the existence of God.

BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Meyer’s book doesn’t commit the god of the gaps fallacy because the G-word isn’t used. It’s not god of the gaps — not specifically — it’s merely some kind of amazing, supernatural designing intelligence of the gaps with god-like abilities. Then he says:

But let’s set aside what Marshall might regard as a trivial distinction about what I claim — or rather don’t claim — to have established about the identity of the designing intelligence responsible for life.

Marshall might regard it as a trivial distinction? BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Is there anyone who doesn’t regard it as such? Anyone?

We’re only about a quarter of the way into Meyer’s article, but we’re quitting here. The rest is his attempted rebuttal of other criticisms, but he led off with his strongest case. We’ve read through the rest. It’s incredibly verbose, and the substance is thin — very thin. We imagine the book is like that too. Read it all if you like. Read the book too. Then tell us where we’re wrong.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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17 responses to “Stephen Meyer: “I Don’t Use God of the Gaps”

  1. Charles Deetz ;)

    On an Facebook political discussion group, someone posted about ID a couple days ago. While a few people expressed interest in ID as a bridge (theistic evolution really), no one stood up to defend ID. And this is a form for lively combative political discussion with people of all stripes. God of the gaps is a huge challenge for these guys to not look like its what they do, but it is what they do.

  2. Ceteris Paribus

    As a book, ‘Doubt’ doesn’t even have a serious scientific format. There’s a huge section at the back Meyer labels as his “bibliography”, but the contents are just a listing of hundreds of actual scientific papers that may or may not have anything to do with anything Meyer mentioned in his book.

    By that premise, even an illiterate person could publish a book titled “Shakespeare’s Doubt”, and lay claim to be an expert in literature just because they included a bibliography listing every mention of “Shakespeare” found in a google search.

  3. The question remains as to what positive and substantive there is to “Intelligent Design”. What happens during an intelligent design event? What does not, could not or would not happen? When and where does it (or did it) happen? How or why? What are the motives, opportunities and means of the intelligent designer(s)? What are their methods and materials? How many designers?

  4. Vainglorious

    It is not God but rather a Designer with the basic skill set to create a universe.

    (Colbert, I think)

  5. Marshall’s review can also be found here…

  6. @Vainglorious –
    I realize that without any description of what they’re talking about, it is impossible to pin them down, but isn’t a design a change to things? So the designer(s) took the universe as it was created, and made their design changes to it – gave eyes to various unsighted animals, gave flagella to bacteria, and so on. So the designer(s) didn’t have the basic skill set to create a universe, and the Creator didn’t have the basic skill set to design the universe up to the standards of the designer(s).

  7. Meyer’s defense of his fallacious designer-of-the-gaps argument is based on the fallacious argument that because human intelligent designers design complex things, all complex things must therefore be designed by intelligent designers. He uses one baseless assertion to defend another baseless assertion.

    There is not a single reference to scientific evidence in the entire post.

    It’s amusing that he is apparently calling this article part of an ongoing series titled “Debating Darwins Doubt”. Debating? That implies there are two valid positions. It appears instead that there is a valid scientific criticism of the book, and on the other side, there is Meyer, desperately attempting to put up a smokescreen of verbiage – with nothing at all to counter the criticism.

  8. Charles Deetz ;)

    The point I made in that political discussion with an ID-curious person was this: ‘how does a flower know to turn toward the sun without a brain or nervous system?’ A flower is show intelligence when it does this, yet there is no central control of intelligence. So either there is an ‘agent’ helping, or it is still a mystery to science. You pick.

    Does this explanation/argument make sense to you guys?

  9. How does an electron know the laws of quantum mechanics? It can solve equations that only a small fraction of humans can. How do planets solve the multi-body problem in general relativity?

  10. Charles Deetz 😉 asks: “Does this explanation/argument make sense to you guys?”

    I would have done it differently. Think back to the simple simple stuff we used to do in chemistry class. When we stick two electrodes into a beaker of water, how does the water “know” how to break down into hydrogen and oxygen? Water doesn’t “know” anything, nor does it need to. That’s how things behave, and we have scientific theories to explain that behavior. Biological structures are more complex, but we can explain how they behave too. A flower doesn’t need to know anything in order to do what it does.

  11. Meyer is repeating the same flawed argument that all IDiots are saying everywhere, i.e only intelligent agents (humans) are known to produce objects with complex specified information for a purpose. Hence living things, which allegedly exhibit the same attributes, must be designed. Even a primary school student can refute this insane argument. Man-made objects don’t occur naturally, but living things arise, exist and function naturally. We know the designer behind man-made objects: humans. No such designer is known to be behind living things. Living things procure energy and perform metabolism to grow, differentiate, reproduce and evolve all on their own. Man-made objects don’t do this. In fact there are countless cell divisions and molecular assemblies happening naturally in Earth’s biosphere every second without any external help.
    If this is the only “positive evidence” they have for ID, one can imagine the situation their “theory” is in.

  12. Problem of infinite regress . . . thy name is ID.

  13. There are two problems with “Intelligent Design”.

    We can call them the problem of necessity and the problem of sufficiency

    The problem of necessity is that they have not demonstrated that “intelligent design” is necessary to explain such-and-such. At best, they have shown that their version of evolution has a problem. Of course, every field of active investigation does have open questions, but to call into question, say, the whole field of superconductivity because we don’t know how high-temperature superconductivity works?

    As bad as their treatment of the problem of necessity, it’s even worse with the problem of sufficiency: How does “intelligent design” account for anything? They don’t even pretend to have any interest in this.

    Just to touch on a few of the issues under “sufficiency”: Every instance of design that we know of needs material and operates within the limits of natural laws to produce an object. What are the rules that determine the operation of “intelligent design”?

  14. The whole truth

    TomS, your points/questions are good of course but to IDiot-creationists the intelligent designer ‘God’ don’t need no stinking rules. ‘He’ can do anything he wants to. He can create an entire universe by speaking it into existence and delete it just as easily. He can knock up a mortal woman so as to have his illegitimate son crucified to remove sin from the Earth or flood the Earth and annihilate almost everything to remove sin even though he (God) designed and created sin in the first place. He can punish, punish, punish, kill, kill, kill, and destroy, destroy, destroy yet claim to be omnibenevolent, merciful, forgiving, and loving. He can design and create imperfect things even though he is perfect. He can demand good morals while being immoral. Whatever he does is right even when it’s wrong.

    He can be contradictory, inconsistent, hypocritical, jealous, demanding, sadistic, genocidal, ecocidal, and petty but it’s all perfectly righteous because he’s ‘God’. He can condone or command his ‘special creation’, mankind, to carry out his monstrous, tyrannical orders and punish those who don’t obey and worship him properly for eternity in a lake of fire and blame it all on evil Satan and demons, whom he also created. Rules, in IDiot-creationist-speak, means whatever the intelligent designer ‘God’ feels like doing however and whenever he feels like doing it, and anyone who questions it or doesn’t like it be damned.

  15. SC: Then tell us where we’re wrong.”

    I don’t have to read the his book, the review, or his whiny rebuttal to tell you where you (~99% of DI critics) are wrong. He’s not committing “God of the gaps,” he’s committing “god of the gaps.”

    How many times to Discoveroids have to plainly admit what ~half of their “Darwinist” critics (e.g. Ken Miller) have admitted – that they personally hope the designer is Yahweh, but do not necessarily think they caught Him red-handed – before we given them some slack on that? My motive is not at all charitable, as I think that “slack” could be the rope with which they (figuratively) hang themselves.

    More than any theistic implications, Meyer is playing typical Discoveroid word games, capitalizing on multiple definitions and switching them at their convenience. I think it would be much more fun to react with:

    “Since you claim that ID is not creationism, that the designer is not necessarily God, and as Behe admitted under oath at Dover, might no longer even exist, your ‘theory’ offers no hope whatsoever to Biblical literalists who desperately want it to, correct???”

    And no, that will not cause any committed Biblical literalist to say “gee I never thought of it that way”, but I know from personal experience that it will to the millions of fence-sitters who fall for some or all of DI word games.

  16. @The Whole Truth:

    TomS and I are among a handful of critics of ID/creationism who write not to career anti-science activists (<<1% of adult Americans) or those who will not admit evolution under any circumstances (~25% adult Americans), but to another ~50% that is just confused after being bombarded with years of misinformation, and has little or no appreciation of how science is done. Their positions range from “I hear there’s a good case for a recent creation” to “I guess something like evolution is true but I hear that it has gaps,” to “I don’t have a problem with evolution, but it’s fair to teach both sides.” That’s what I mean by “fence sitters” (for lack of a better word).

  17. So basically the book is a ‘designer-who-happens-to-be-God’ of the gaps argument?