The Case for a Creator: The Illusion of Parity

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 9

Chapter 9 of Case is about abiogenesis. It seems Strobel couldn’t find any actual molecular biologists or organic chemists who support ID and were willing to speak with him about it, so it’s back for another talk with Stephen Meyer, the philosopher already interviewed in chapter 4. With cheerful ludicrousness, Strobel describes Meyer, who is not a biologist and has never published a single piece of research on this topic, as “one of the country’s leading experts on origin-of-life issues” [p.221] – which is like saying that Kent Hovind is one of the country’s leading experts on tax law.

I want to quote some more of Strobel’s rapturous verbiage about Meyer’s intellectual prowess, to give you a sense of just how over-the-top and obnoxious it is:

In fact, I once hosted the videotaping of an intellectual shoot-out between Meyer and an atheistic anthropologist on the legitimacy of intelligent-design theories, and I remember walking away amazed at Meyer’s finesse in deftly dismantling the professor’s case while at the same time forcefully presenting his own. Maybe that’s a throwback to Meyer’s earlier years when he trained as a boxer, learning to overcome fears of taking a punch and how to jab away at an opponent’s weakness. [p.222]

Creationists certainly love to describe how wonderfully convincing and compelling their arguments are. In some cases, they love doing it so much that they never actually get around to making the argument. And it’s a given that Lee Strobel would never declare any debate between a creationist and a scientist to be anything less than a total victory for creationism. But I noticed something important missing from that paragraph: a footnote.

There are plenty of other footnotes throughout this chapter, but for some reason, Strobel never gives us a reference or a URL to this debate, never tells us where it was, when it was, or even who it was against. If it was such a total victory for ID as he claims, why doesn’t he give his readers the tools to view it for themselves so they can see just how decisively Meyer trounced the other side? Could it be that he actually thinks the scientist won the debate, despite what he says? Or, more likely, he just doesn’t want his readers to see any unfiltered pro-evolution argument in a format that creationists don’t completely control. (As we saw last time, creationists tend to fare poorly in those encounters.) He’d prefer his readers serve as a cheering section, rather than giving them any information that might encourage those pesky tendencies toward critical thinking.

What Strobel also doesn’t see fit to mention is that his re-interview of Stephen Meyer is likely because, at this point in the book, he’s interviewed nearly every prominent figure in the intelligent-design movement. At the beginning of the book, he boasted of the parade of experts he would put on display – but it seems he couldn’t fill out even ten chapters without repeating himself, and even then, the list had to be padded with philosophy professors, theologians and professional Christian apologists.

Strobel’s defenders would doubtless say that there are other people he could have interviewed, such as two more names mentioned in the introduction to this chapter:

The astounding capacity of microscopic DNA to harbor this mountain of information… “vastly exceeds that of any other known system,” said geneticist Michael Denton. [p.221]

…biology professor Dean Kenyon repudiate[d] the conclusions of his own book and the chemical origin of life and conclude[d] instead that nothing short of an intelligence could have created this intricate cellular apparatus. [p.222]

Yet I suspect there are reasons why Strobel chose not to include either of these two. Denton, for example, was once an ardent anti-evolutionist who wrote books like Evolution: A Theory in Crisis – but his newest book, Nature’s Destiny, completely reverses course and instead argues that the laws of the cosmos are fine-tuned so as to make evolution (and the appearance of humans) inevitable. This position has significant similarities to ID, to be sure, but it also strays from the “abrupt appearance” evangelical-Christian orthodoxy that’s promoted throughout the book, so it’s not surprising that Denton isn’t given a chance to speak here. (Jonathan Wells, the Moonie, and Michael Behe, the Roman Catholic, seem to be the farthest that Strobel is prepared to go in the name of ecumenism.)

The other name, Dean Kenyon, is more interesting. He’s that rarest of rare birds, a creationist who actually has a degree in biology (Ph.D in biophysics from Stanford, 1965). On the face of it, he seems like an ideal choice for a book like this. But Strobel skips him, too, and I think this may have something to do with it:

It is my professional opinion, based on my original research, study, and teaching, that creation-science is as scientific as evolution, although it currently does not have the benefit of the volume of research that has been carried out under evolutionist presuppositions…. Moreover, I believe that a scientifically sound creationist view of origins is not only possible, but is to be preferred over the evolutionary view.

Kenyon was a major participant in the original intelligent-design movement – back when it was still called “scientific creationism”. The Supreme Court dealt the decisive blow to that in Edwards v. Aguillard, which held that creationism was unconstitutional to teach in public schools. Almost immediately thereafter, the movement reconstituted itself as “intelligent design”. Perhaps Strobel felt that interviewing Kenyon would be treading on dangerous ground as regards the ID movement’s history. (The original proponents of scientific creationism also argued strenuously in court that their ideas were not religious, as you can see from Kenyon’s affidavit.)

For all its boastful claims, the actual ID movement is quite small, and Strobel’s being forced to return to the same interview subject shows it. He tries his best to create the illusion of parity, to imply that there are just as many experts supporting ID as evolution, but we’ve already seen the deceptiveness of that. Try as he might to make the ID movement seem a mile wide, it will still only be an inch deep, and in no way comparable to the vast amounts of actual research, knowledge, and expertise within evolutionary theory.

Other posts in this series:

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 12
Atlas Shrugged: Hobo Sign
Weekend Coffee: February 22
TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 13
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Ritchie

    “What Strobel also doesn’t see fit to mention is that his re-interview of Stephen Meyer is likely because, at this point in the book, he’s interviewed nearly every prominent figure in the intelligent-design movement.”

    Or at least, any version of ID Strobel is comfortble with. I’ve met quite a few people online who I would class as ID proponents in that they see the universe/life as the product of deliberate design rather than solely of natural mechanisms, but beyond that their ideas do diversify rather a lot – from ‘evolution happens but every so often God gives it a tweak to keep it on course’ through ‘evolution used to happen, but doesn’t any more’ to ‘doesn’t happen, never did, never will’.

    To be honest I’m not even sure I know what the ‘official’ position of the ID movement is anymore. I think I’ve spent too long in their bizarre world lately…

    But on the topic of ID proponents, has anyone ever heard of Cornelius Hunter? I came across his blog site recently. As far as I can make out he’s a fellow of the Discovery Institute, but beyond that I get the impression he’s kinda in a world of his own. And though he has grave doubts about evolution (it’s unsceintific! Built on religious premeses, don’t you know…?) he is always extremely coy about stating what he actively DOES believe. Anyone know?

  • Rick M

    Maybe that’s a throwback to Meyer’s earlier years when he trained as a boxer, learning to overcome fears of taking a punch and how to jab away at an opponent’s weakness.

    Masculine Christianity!

    Boxing Jesus

  • James Thompson

    Thanks for reviewing this so I don’t have to wade through the garbage myself.

  • OMGF

    Some Cornelius Hunter reading

    To be honest I’m not even sure I know what the ‘official’ position of the ID movement is anymore.

    Big tent…big tent. The only thing they can all agree on is that atheists are wrong and theistic evolutionists, like Ken Miller, are worse than pond scum.

  • 2-D Man

    ID proponents can’t declare what they actually believe. As soon as they do, they’re admitting to being creationists, which means they want to teach creationism, which means they can’t have their idea taught in science class due to a court precedent. So instead, they have to leave their position as vague as possible, which means it can’t be science.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Meyer is apparently an expert on everything. With his paper sneaked into Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington by editor von Sternberg, he was an expert on the Cambrian. Now with his latest book, Signature in the Cell, Meyer is an expert on information theory. Is there nothing this man cannot do? I am surprised he didn’t contend for a medal in the luge.

  • ivy privy

    But on the topic of ID proponents, has anyone ever heard of Cornelius Hunter?

    I saw him in a “panel discussion” (i.e. not officially a debate for some obscure reason) with two Cornell professors a few years ago. Unfortunately the blog where I recorded my impressions is no longer running, but here’s a cached copy at the Wayback Machine.

    Hunter started out with a “Gish gallop,” a list of a dozen or two things he considered to be evidence against evolution. The point of the Gish gallop is that an accomplished liar such as a professional Creationist debater can zip off several lies per minute, while each lie might take several minutes to track down and rebut. Thus, the opponent is thrown on the defensive and cannot possibly keep up, let alone make his own case.

    On this occasion, the Cornell professors ignored the bait entirely and instead laid out the case for evolution: the fossil record, anatomic and biochemical similarities, genetic evidence of homology, biogeography.

    The most exciting part of the evening was when Cornell professor Kern Reeve challenged Hunter to come up with something that would constitute clear evidence of design. All he could manage as black obelisks, al la 2001: A Space Odyssey. Reeve let him run for several minutes before reminding him that is fiction.

    A detailed review of Hunter’s Gish gallop points, of the sort not possible in a time-limited debate, shows that he is not up on the literature, that he apparently gathers some of them from the popular media rather than reading the actual research articles, and that grasp of facts is not solid and his interpretations are quite wacky.

  • TommyP

    Someone should sell an annotated version of his book, with all these posts in them. I’d buy that, I swear I would. It would be a wonderful tool to have.

  • paradoctor

    At the risk of being misunderstood, let me propose a third position: _natural_ intelligent design, a.k.a. “NID”.

    The trouble with “ID” is that its proponents really favor _supernatural_ intelligent design; SID. However they cannot outright say so, for legal reasons; so they drop the S in SID and are forced to hint and wink; which is not science.

    To counter this, I propose NID as a _scientific_ theory. NID posits that Earth’s ecosystem from time to time evolves, by Darwinian means, species intelligent enough to decode the genome and redesign it for their own purposes. This ‘designer species’ eventually goes extinct, but its genetic innovations remain.

    Note that NID, unlike SID, has at least one data point in its favor; namely, ourselves. We, ourselves, naturally evolved by the Darwinian process; we have decoded the genome, which we will intelligently redesign for our own purposes.

    Note that NID does not posit supernatural beings; which means that it is testable. For instance, suppose that 100,000,000 years from now another intelligent species evolves. What evidence would they have for our existence? What traces would we leave, if any? I suspect that we would leave anomalies; genetic (e.g. squid genes in plants), geographic (e.g. Australian rabbits) and other (e.g. radiological).

    Now reverse the logic; would a prior bio-technological civilization (among the dinosaurs, say) have left any traces? Could such traces be found, or be proven not to exist?

    I freely admit that this is pure speculation; it has only one data point in its favor. On the other hand, that single data point is ourselves. Can you find any others? Or prove that no others exist? I think both positions are non-trivial science.

    And that’s my point. NID is non-trivial science, and I mean it as such; to be proven or refuted scientifically; whereas SID is trivial non-science.

  • paradoctor

    Here’s one difference between NID and SID: IC (irreducible complexity) vs. KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). SID foolishly takes IC as evidence in its favor; whereas NID recognizes that an _intelligent_ designer keeps it simple, stupid. Gods don’t have to worry about Murphy’s Law, you see; whereas we mortals must. Therefore IC, whenever it appears, is evidence for pure Darwinianism.

    I offer NID as a fallback position for naturalism, should design ever be positively proven. (As opposed to negatively argued, as SID does.)

  • D

    With cheerful ludicrousness, Strobel describes Meyer, who is not a biologist and has never published a single piece of research on this topic, as “one of the country’s leading experts on origin-of-life issues” [p.221] – which is like saying that Kent Hovind is one of the country’s leading experts on tax law.

    Oh! Zing and double zing! I see what you did there. The lack of citation for Meyer’s Macho Man debate performance is also telling – good catch!

    @ paradoctor (#9-10): I like your NID/SID distinction, as it clearly outlines the need to discover (and not merely posit) an actual designer. Good luck explaining that to the IDiots, though – these are the kind of people who can’t understand that the syllogism, “Fish live in water – Sharks live in water – Therefore, sharks are fish,” is invalid. They think that if something is true, then it doesn’t matter how you get there (answers are all that’s needed to such a mind, understanding is irrelevant); conversely, that if something is false, no amount of corroborating evidence can justify belief in it (rational people see this as the need for critical thinking and reevaluation of ideas, the faithful see it as the need for unshakeable faith in an Absolute Truth); and now throw in some unshakeable faith in the Bible’s literal accuracy, and you can see how much we’ve got our work cut out for us.

    Fortunately, science marches ever onward. A couple of years ago, I would have readily conceded that genuine irreducible complexity would be evidence for a designer – but Richard Lenski’s twenty-year experimentation upon e. coli has shown that I would have been wrong to say so and, yes, irreducible complexity can evolve! (For a more entertaining account than the Wikipedia page, check out Lenski’s didactic smackdown of Schlafly and the Conservapedia crowd as presented by Pharyngula.) The TL;DR version is that the bacteria evolved mutation A, which was a neutral mutation by itself; much later, along comes mutation B, which is also neutral by itself; but because of the preexisting mutation A, now the bacteria can metabolize citrate, whereas they couldn’t do so before. If that’s not an irreducibly complex system – one which is composed of parts that have no demonstrable use outside of interaction with each other – then I don’t know what is. So now the IDiots need even more actual evidence if they ever hope to topple the evidential edifice behind evolution.

  • themann1086


    I really recommend Daniel Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea because he talks a lot about that. And Dennett is one of the “4 Horsemen” so he’s definitely not a trojan horse for ID.

  • John Nernoff

    I suggest that the origin of “life’ is every bit as dependent on natural selection as the origin of species is from established life forms. Dawkins wrote about it in the Selfish Gene as I recall. The earliest components of life (whatever they really were) linked up to produce more complex and longer lasting items that superseded chance combinations of potential competitors. Let’s say that A-B-C-D out competed A-B-C-E, for whatever biochemical reason. Subsequent additions to the “winning” combinations in endless variations were the ones that became the precursors of life, if not life itself. So the canard among evolutionists that the creation, or rather the appearance, of life (“abiogenesis”) has nothing to do with evolution is an error. I think the emergence of life depended every bit on evolutionary mechanisms as the later modifications of those forms did in the production of species.

  • paradoctor

    #11, #12, thanks. I read Dennett’s book awhile ago, but forgot that part; time to re-read! I suppose that the more extreme forms of NID are refutable; for instance, I doubt that there are any abandoned dinosaur cities on the Moon. But even that is worth the effort of refuting; after all, it gives you an excuse to say “abandoned dinosaur cities on the Moon”! Even saying that there are none would still be cool. :)

  • Valhar2000

    [...]IC (irreducible complexity) vs. KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). SID foolishly takes IC as evidence in its favor; whereas NID recognizes that an _intelligent_ designer keeps it simple, stupid. Gods don’t have to worry about Murphy’s Law, you see; whereas we mortals must. Therefore IC, whenever it appears, is evidence for pure Darwinianism.

    Nice, Paradoctor! I’m not going to say it’s definitive, but it’s nice.

  • D

    Paradoctor, if you get the grant money, I will go into space for you. I promise to start every report with “Captain’s Log”, and to always mention that “we are still searching for abandoned dinosaur cities on the Moon”. Maybe if we set our sights that high, we’ll at least get a squirrel with a flute. My qualifications include a willingness to brave the dangers of space, and the ability to say “abandoned dinosaur cities on the Moon” with a straight face.

  • paradoctor

    #16: We have a meme!

    Re IC vs KISS; once I asked my Dad if the road grid of Boston is intelligently designed. After all, it’s irreducible complex. He laughed. If you’ve been to Boston you’d understand.

  • Modusoperandi

    paradoctor “I suppose that the more extreme forms of NID are refutable; for instance, I doubt that there are any abandoned dinosaur cities on the Moon.”
    Dinosaurs lived in craters*. That’s a fact.

    *It’s also why they got (mostly) wiped out. The KT event was a dinosaurian attempt to make the biggest dinotown ever, you see.

  • D

    Paradoctor, this is amazing news. With Modusoperandi’s helpful factoid (I know it’s true ‘cuz he said it’s a fact), we can now show that the Moon is covered in abandoned dinosaur cities! The grant money will practically run to my Swiss bank account for embezzling and whatnot I mean, your doorstep!

    Money, power, and the ancient technology from abandoned dinosaur cities on the Moon – world conquest is only a step away… muhaha!

  • Ritchie

    D –

    “…a squirrel with a flute.”


    ‘Is this the Sea of Tranquility…?’

  • Ritchie

    OMFG & ivy -

    Cheers for the Cornelius stuff, guys! :)

  • Ebonmuse

    paradoctor (#9), that’s a brilliant hypothesis. In just one post, you’ve done more to present a detailed, scientific model of intelligent design than all the leading ID advocates combined ever have. The very nice thing about NID is that the means of testing is built right in: the more we learn about how to manipulate the genome (through engineered retroviruses or siRNAs, for example), the better equipped we’ll be to find traces of just such past interference in the genomes of currently living species.

    P.S. The Evil Atheist Conspiracy would prefer it if you all didn’t talk about our secret excavations of lunar dinosaur technology where outsiders may be listening.

  • Modusoperandi

    My bad. I belong to The Really Evil Atheist Conspiracy. We schism’d off from TEAC after they refused to upgrade to more modern Evil. Instead of buying weak companies, tearing them down and selling off the pieces (a la 80′s Wall Street), we’ve gone for stripping the average (and below average) American family of their future, using a combination of initial funding via practically free money from the Federal Reserve*1, mortgages given to wildly unqualified customers*2 bundled together and sold*3 and unregulated and highly leveraged Credit Default Swaps*4, mostly. We’re currently fighting off re-regulation so that we can keep doing it.
    You really should try to keep up. That “fighting for the separation of Church and State” is just a distraction; elaborate handwaving to keep the Peoples’ (both theist and Not-So-Evil Atheist) eyes off of the heist.

    *1. Headed, at the time, by an Objectivist. For the irony, from what I understand.
    *2. Known as “marks”.
    *3. To other “marks”.
    *4. Also sold to “marks”.

  • paradoctor

    ebonmuse (#22); thank you. The difference between NID and SID is mostly methodological; NID is scientific, so it flirts with its own refutation; SID is religious, so it evades refutation. As a result NID is able, unlike SID, to find at least one data point in its support: ourselves.

    Well… actually we are a _partial_ data point in confirmation. We’ve only just started our redesign of the planetary genome (though we have already created new species just by breeding; dogs and maize). Also, we haven’t gone extinct yet.

    I am troubled by methodological problems with confirming or refuting NID. IC is disconfirmatory, and KISS is consistent with both NID and Darwinism. Convenient toolkits in the genome might be its own naturally-evolved self-regulation. And massive sideways gene transfers favor NID, but could also be done by viruses and bacteria.

    Are viruses and bacteria distinguishable from a NID? If not, _are_ they one? Do microbes possess collective intelligence? Never mind dead lunar dinosaur cities; Gaia would be a NID that’s still around!

    Such speculation aside, a NID must stay within natural limits; but what are those limits? A NID, unlike a SID, would act like a natural being and thus show signs of ignorance, conflict and failure. Take for instance favoritism. One sign of a NID would be ‘scattered identical upgrades’; as if all the dogs, cats, sheep and cows had their blind-spot problem fixed, but none of the rodents, except gerbils and hamsters.

  • Modusoperandi

    Paradoctor, you created new species by breeding dogs and maize? Eww.

  • D

    @ paradoctor (#24): Welcome to Philosophy Town! You touch on some problems related to solipsism/philosophical zombies, pareidolia, and the matter of “acting as if.” Your question about about horizontal gene transfer would seem to rest on one rather crucial definition: what do you mean by “intelligence”?

    Further complicating the matter – or perhaps clarifying it, in the end – is that life on Earth is built out of carbon, the “try-anything” element. And long-term trial and error, across billions of years for example, is a great way to find counterintuitive solutions to all kinds of problems (this is what makes genetic algorithms so sexy). While a designer might pick carbon for its utility, it’s also what would tend to do this sort of thing all on its own. If you can find an origin of horizontal gene transfer, and show that it was introduced into the system, then that could be evidence for NID. However, my suspicion (my Google-Fu was unable to turn up anything on the origin of HGT) is that it’s about as old as some of the very first replicators, indicating that HGT is one of many things that Just Happen (like nebulae, stars, gas giants, and universes, to name a few). Your “scattered identical upgrages” idea seems to be a simple and elegant workaround to this issue, though.

    The trouble with intelligence is the trouble with porn: we know it when we see it, or so we think, but it’s hard to lay out a definition that can gain broad acceptance. Like, we’re talking “passing laws” hard, here. But Hell, I know people who aren’t Turing complete (which ought to be an oxymoron, if you think about it), so this is really sticky business.

    @ Modusoperandi (#23): Didn’t you get the memo? TREAC merged with Hegemonic Evil Religions, we’re now The Really Evil Atheist Conspiracy & Hegemonic Evil Religions… umm… You-nited. Yeah! The old game is up, now what we’re doing is getting the populace to argue about their silly principles while we prop up fauxcialist leaders who do things like quietly extend the USAPATRIOT act over the weekend without instituting any of the much-needed changes. While the masses think there’s a genuine cultural conflict going on, the leaders are working together behind closed doors to orchestrate the chaos and keep everything that really matters (centralization of money, power, and legal authority) under tight control.

    RE: #25: Duh, haven’t you heard of corn dogs?

  • paradoctor

    D (#26): Does intelligent life exist on planet Earth?

    I would look for anomalies in the fossil record. Mass extinctions, for instance. There have been five big ones; we’re causing #6; so maybe there have been 5 before us.

  • D

    Paradoctor, you inspired me! Thank you! I have a rather thorough response to your questions that I’ll be putting up on my blog, but for now I’ll say “yes and no.” As for your mass-extinctions, I think you missed a few. The majority, I’d wager.

  • Ebonmuse

    As I think I’ve said in the past, the products of human industry are surprisingly fragile. If we weren’t here to maintain them, most of them would disappear completely in no more than a few tens of thousands of years – a geologic eyeblink. By the same argument, if there have been intelligent species on Earth before us that went extinct, we wouldn’t necessarily know it.