Thanks to Casey Luskin at Evolution and News for this post:
In reviewing Darwin’s Doubt, even now almost a year and a half since it came out, theistic evolutionists can’t seem to agree on what Stephen Meyer got wrong. As David Klinghoffer has written, when Darrel Falk reviewed Darwin’s Doubt for BioLogos back in September, he agreed that Stephen Meyer is right to point out that leading evolutionary theorists are rethinking important neo-Darwinian claims. Most fundamentally, they are reconsidering whether the standard model can account for large-scale macro-evolutionary change. In noting this, Falk (a biologist) explicitly disagreed with a critical review of Meyer’s book posted at BioLogos by Wheaton College philosopher Robert Bishop (pictured at right), who claimed that the neo-Darwinian paradigm was doing just fine.
BioLogos subsequently posted the text of a speech by Alister McGrath, framed in the headline so as to suggest that Meyer was guilty of making a “God of the gaps” argument. I responded here. Now Bishop has co-authored another critical review of Darwin’s Doubt and Signature in the Cell in Christianity Today‘s review journal Books & Culture.
Bishop’s latest review is noteworthy for its concession that Meyer does not in fact make a “God of the gaps” argument. He also acknowledges that Meyer’s is not an “argument from ignorance.” Along with Wheaton College philosopher Robert O’Connor, Bishop writes that “Meyer deftly dispatches…the misconception that [intelligent design] engages in crude god-of-the-gaps reasoning or presents a simplistic argument from ignorance.”
That basically defeats the previous attempt over at BioLogos to portray Darwin’s Doubt as a gaps-based argument. Bishop and O’Connor also deserve credit for avoiding some common traps among critics of Meyer’s work. Beyond that, unfortunately, their review is marred by serious errors.
They accuse Meyer of “begging the very question at hand,” that is, whether there might be other unknown material causes that could produce complex and specified information (CSI) in life. They write:
[T]his phrase, “only one known cause,” is crucially ambiguous. It might mean that, among all the possible causes, there is only one that we have good reason to believe is capable of producing specified complexity. This point, however, poses (could there be others?) rather than answers the question.
By appealing to unknown causes to block the design inference, they effectively commit a materialism-of-the-gaps fallacy. That is, they assume that material causes will be discovered to explain all things and thus we can never infer design.
But why are Bishop and O’Connor so concerned about unknown causes in the first place? It seems to be because they misread Meyer as saying that “we have positive knowledge that no other causes are adequate.” In other words, they think Meyer is affirming that no other possible causes, known or unknown, can explain life’s high CSI. But that’s not at all what Meyer says. In fact, in arguing his case, Meyer nearly always inserts the word “known” before “cause.” For one of many examples:
But philosophers of science have insisted that assessments of explanatory power lead to conclusive inferences only when there is just one known cause for the effect or evidence in question.(Darwin’s Doubt, p. 349, emphasis in original)
Only if the Cambrian event and animals exhibit features for which intelligent design is the only known cause may a historical scientist make a decisive inference to a past intelligent cause.(Darwin’s Doubt, p. 352, emphasis in original)
Indeed, Bishop and O’Connor’s review includes multiple citations from Meyer where he inserts “known” before “cause,” yet they misrepresent Meyer’s argument as saying the opposite. Meyer doesn’t claim to have exhaustive knowledge of all possible causes, even those presently unknown. He only claims to refute known material causes.