A devastating critique of Darwinian and neo-Darwinian theories of life’s origins, and a rigorous defense of Intelligent Design as a legitimate and compelling scientific theory. Stephen Meyer is a philosopher of science, and he ably traced the discovery of DNA and its contemporary challenges in his previous book, Signature in the Cell.
Now, in Darwin’s Doubt, Meyer takes on the fossil record in the “Cambrian Explosion” and details the attempts by evolutionists to account for it. As it turns out, Charles Darwin himself recognized that the fossil record exposed a potentially fatal weakness in his new theory of natural selection, but one he assumed (not unreasonably at the time) that science, given enough time (pun intended), would fill in the gaps. Unfortunately, as our understanding of biology and genetics has increased exponentially over the last 150 years (and especially since the 1960s), the difficulties for Darwin’s theory have only gotten worse.
Meyer, taking the reader methodically and carefully through the history of the debates and discoveries and into the contemporary discussion, argues persuasively that the problems are in fact insurmountable, that a different theory –Intelligent Design—better explains the evidence. The depth of Meyer’s understanding of the issues here is impressive, even more so his ability to communicate the technical back and forth of scientific discovery with clarity and objectivity.
What are the biological and informational requirements of even the most (comparatively) basic forms of organic life? What are the actual odds of blind genetic mutation producing progressively more beneficial (and complex) life forms? Given the most liberal estimates of the universe’s age, what is the likelihood of life developing without a guiding intelligence? Meyer addresses all these topics and more. Further, he shows that his critics either misunderstand (or intentionally misconstrue) his critiques of neo-Darwinian theory or simply ignore them. He even discusses the most popular alternative theories to natural selection—theories promulgated by card-carrying evolutionists who see some of the same difficulties Meyer does—and why they don’t overcome the problems facing neo-Darwinism either.
After spending most of his time explaining and critiquing existing neo-Darwinian theories, Meyer moves on to articulate an alternative to the unguided processes espoused by mainstream scientists: Intelligent Design. The concept of ID is simple enough: rather than genetic mutation blindly directed by natural selection, the origin of life is much better explained as the realization of the thoughts, plans or designs of an intentional and intelligent agent or mind. We see this exact sort of thing all around us in human society; minds are capable of generating ideas fully-formed. Their complexity is not necessarily developed, in a linear fashion, from less complicated ideas building on one another. Meyer argues that many of the obstacles for neo-Darwinian theory are better explained by ID: The explosive Cambrian fossil record simply does not show “transitional forms”—fossils of animals that display evolutionary progression from one species to another, and which are absolutely essential to validating Darwinian theory; the complex epigenetic information that effectively governs genetic development (the equivalent to software running on the biological hardware); the types of mutations that Darwinism needs are so unlikely to occur (for a variety of reasons) as the be statistically impossible, whereas the types of mutations that do occur are most likely to be destructive to positive development. The list goes on and on.
Meyer’s most important accomplishment, however, is not his devastating critique of neo-Darwinian theory, but of his positive defense of Intelligent Design as a scientific theory to be taken seriously. He argues persuasively that any definition of science (of which, by the way, there is no popular consensus) that would exclude ID would also exclude the theory of evolution—or even such unrelated theories as Newton’s law of gravity. Meyer methodically plods through all the objections and carefully explains why ID should be considered scientific. Here is one particularly excellent quote:
For example, some critics of intelligent design have argued that it fails to qualify as a scientific theory because it makes reference to an unseen or unobservable entity, namely, a designing mind in the remote past. Yet many accepted theories—theories assumed to be scientific—postulate unobservable events and entities. Physicists postulate forces, fields, and quarks; biochemists infer submicroscopic structures; psychologists discuss their patients’ mental states. Evolutionary biologists themselves infer unobserved past mutations and invoke the existence of extinct organisms and transitional forms for which no fossils remain. Such things, like the actions of an intelligent designed, are inferred from observable evidence in the present, because of the explanatory power they may offer. If the demarcation criterion of observability is applied rigidly, then both intelligent design and materialistic theories of evolution fail to qualify as scientific. If the standard is applied more liberally (or realistically)—acknowledging the way in which historical scientific theories often infer unobservable past events, causes, or entities—then both theories qualify as scientific.
For anyone interested in a clear, readable, compelling, challenging, paradigm-shifting, and respectful entry into one of our most crowded and contentious debates—both scientifically and culturally—I highly recommend this book.
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