Re-reading Theism and Explanation by Gregory Dawes suggested another potential logical problem with Stephen Meyer’s argument in The Signature in the Cell. Remember that Meyer explicitly provides the logical form of his argument.
Premise One: Despite a thorough search, no material causes have been discovered that demonstrate the power to produce large amounts of specified information.
Premise Two: Intelligent causes have demonstrated the power to produce large amounts of specified information.
Conclusion: Intelligent design constitutes the best, most causally adequate, explanation for the information in the cell.
To be precise, the problem I have in mind is not with the above argument per se, but with an implied, second argument which would allow us to move from the above conclusion to the truth of intelligent design.
Let’s assume, but only for the sake of argument, that the above conclusion is correct: intelligent design constitutes the best, most causally adequate, explanation for the information in the cell. Does that conclusion, by itself, justify the further conclusion that intelligent design is or probably is true? No. To suggest otherwise is to assume “that the best explanation of some fact is the true one. And as van Fraassen has reminded us (3.1.1), this assumption is indefensible: the best explanation available may well be a false one. So the fact that it is the best explanation cannot warrant the conclusion that it is true.”
Dawes points out that we can, at least in some cases, justify belief in the best explanation for some fact. Whether we are justified in doing so for a best explanation depends on whether that explanation displays certain explanatory virtues. So now let us go back to the conclusion of Meyer’s argument: intelligent design constitutes the best, most causally adequate, explanation for the information in the cell. Unfortunately for Meyer, even if we grant (but only for the sake of argument) the truth of Meyer’s conclusion, intelligent design as an explanation does NOT display many of the explanatory virtues. Why? See my previous post: it is an incomplete explanation; it relies upon a mysterious mechanism; and theistic explanations in general have a very poor track record.
Meyers is a philosopher of science, so I am sure he is familiar with this objection. I need to keep reading the book to see if and how he responds to it.