Darwin’s Doubt (Book Review)

darwins-doubtDespite the prevailing cultural narrative, the scientific and philosophical debate over origins—cosmological and biological—has not died.  Both sides of the issue (Darwinism or “Neo-Darwinism” as the prevailing evolutionary theory is known today, and Special Creation) still talk to one another.  Each critiques and criticizes the other.  The Darwinists have been quite successful at convincing the public that a “scientific” discussion about origins must by definition exclude the idea of Creation.  Why?  They portray all creationist arguments and interpretations of scientific evidence as anti-science and religious at base.  Creationists object that such a priori objections constitute nothing more than begging the question.

Major Premise: Science only allows naturalistic and materialistic explanations for the evidence of origins.

Minor Premise: We know from the natural and material evidence there is no coherent and comprehensive theory of origins except Darwinism.

Conclusion: Therefore, the scientific evidence only supports Darwinism.

Do you see the problem with this argument?  It is circular.  The conclusion is foregone by the faulty major premise.  The conclusion begs the question, “May science allow explanations for the evidence of origins other than naturalism and materialism?”  The major premise rules out the real question from the start.  Thus the conclusion is rigged.

But what if we were allowed, in the public sphere, to question the scientific “rules of engagement” that Darwinism argues so forcefully we all must play by?  What if other ideas were allowed to stand side by side for honest evaluation and comparison, without fear of professional ridicule?  What if we were allowed to have a free exchange of ideas and not have our membership in intelligent society revoked for disagreeing with the scientific establishment?  What ideas might we be allowed to consider?  What might the evidence look like from another paradigm?

These are the kinds of questions the Intelligent Design (ID) movement is presenting to the academy, to business, to public education, and to the public.  Essentially they want us to ask ourselves whether it is more reasonable to believe the world appears designed because it is designed, or in spite of it being the product of random, unguided evolution.  Perhaps you’ve considered this question and have been disappointed at the lack of intellectual depth and scientific rigor of what you’ve read or heard.  It’s not uncommon for Darwinists to “overanswer” the arguments of creation and design.  Say you’re presented with evidence for design that is aimed at college-level comprehension.  The Darwinist may respond with a graduate- or doctorate-level argument.  My momma used to say, “Pick on someone your own size!”  Why are there so rarely equal-level responses from Darwin’s critics aimed at the Big Boys of Science?  Because such a response might be the end of a professional career for questioning Darwinism.  Not many are willing to stick their neck out to risk it all.

Until now.

OK, that’s probably an overstatement.  But my point is that to many people, that’s what it might seem like.  Stephen Meyer is not the only Big Boy Critic of Darwinism.  But he and a few others have found a harbor of protection from which to respond again and again.  Affiliated with the Discovery Institute, a think tank that encourages scientists to explore ID, Meyer is one of the leading voices of the ID movement.  Brilliant, articulate, relentless logical and inquisitive, he brings his amazing breadth of biological knowledge and understanding to the philosophy of science and the subject of origins.  His book, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, is a tour de force argument that has yet to be sufficiently answered on its merits.  The most common reply is to dismiss ID as undercover biblical young-earth creationism, and then to question the intelligence of Meyer for not understanding that science must have, by definition, naturalism and materialism as its philosophical underpinnings.  Nevertheless, Meyer is undeterred in his optimism that if many dismiss ID, some will stop to consider it fairly, and still others will be convinced by the scientific evidence that ID is a better and more promising model for the study of biological origins.

Darwin’s Doubt (DD) is not an easy read, but it is compelling and readable because the author always defines his terms and brings the reader along from square one.  I appreciate this because, while not a professional scientist, I want to understand what scientists are discussing.  This is possible when scientists don’t confuse ignorance with stupidity.  Lots of people don’t have the specialized knowledge of a trained professional.  They are ignorant.  But lots of those people are smart enough to follow the logic of complex reasoning when concepts and terminology are explained adequately.  They are not stupid.  Meyer believes the average reader is ignorant of the necessary information to understand the scientific issues of origins, but he also because the average reader is not stupid.  To read DD is to gain an education from a respectful and exciting teacher.

At the end of DD, Meyer summarizes main points.  First, he seeks to challenge the Darwinian explanation that the mechanism of biological mutation and natural selection together do not have the creative power attributed to them.  They cannot explain the “misleading appearance” of design in nature.  He presents four critiques of the Darwinian mechanism.

It has no means of efficiently searching combinatorial sequence space for functional genes and proteins.  Consequently, it requires unrealistically long waiting times to generate even a single new gene or protein.  It cannot produce new body plans because early acting mutations, the only kind capable of generating large-scale changes, are also invariably deleterious.  It cannot produce new body plans because genetic mutations cannot, in any case, generate the epigenetic information necessary to build a body plan. [DD, 411]

Second, Meyer seeks to challenge and critique the theistic evolutionary theory for many of the same reasons.  Thus the efforts of many theists who attempt to harmonize Darwinism and traditional Christian theology, Meyers argues, are at odds with contemporary scientific evidence.  Studies that have tried to fit the fossil evidence that reflect the Cambrian Explosion with Darwin’s evolutionary mechanism of mutation and natural selection have basically run their course.  There is no such fit.  Darwinists know this is true, which is why they have been proposing more outlandish theories to shoehorn the Cambrian explosion into an evolutionary framework.

Meyer’s book is divided into 3 parts.  In Part One: The Mystery of the Missing Fossils, he lays out the case against Darwinism and for ID based on the fossil evidence, in particular the anomaly of the Cambrian explosion of new forms of life.  Chapter titles are:

1. Darwin’s Nemesis.  Meyer explains that top scientists objected to Darwin’s theory from the outset.

2. The Burgess Bestiary.  There is a wonderful deposit of preserved Cambrian era fossils in the Canadian Rockies that illustrate the significant problems with the premise that evolution is slow change demonstrated over vast geological time.

3. Soft Bodies and Hard Facts.  Argues that various versions of the artifact hypothesis are inadequate to explain the sudden emergence Cambrian fossils.

4. The Not Missing Fossils?  Notes that many of the Cambrian fossils are soft-bodied, thus discrediting the theory there are no Pre-Cambrian fossils due to the unlikelihood of soft-bodied ancestors being preserved in the fossil record.

5. The Genes Tell the Story?  Examining genetic blueprints does not yield a single deep-divergence point to lend credibility to the Darwinian model.

6. The Animal Tree of Life.  There are many different proposed animal trees of life.  The evidence does not lead to a unified theory, which should discount the idea that such a tree actually describes the model of common descent.

7. Punk Eek!  The theory of Punctuated Equilibrium, the idea that evolution could have happened quite rapidly for any number of reasons, is not plausible based on the evidence in the fossil record.

In Part Two: How to Build an Animal, Meyer examines the obstacles to Darwinism from the perspective of DNA, genes, epigenetics, and the math employed to make evolution work.  Chapters in this section:

8. The Cambrian Information Explosion.  Describes how there is a veritable explosion of genetic information introduced in the Cambrian fossils.  No gradualism in the development of life here.

9. Combinatorial Inflation.  Makes the case that in order to get such tremendous functional leaps forward in genetic complexity, the odds of this occurring by mutation and natural selection are beyond astronomical.  The odds are totally implausible to any unbiased person.

10. The Origin of Genes and Proteins.  With non-directed evolutionary assumptions, “the evolving genes and proteins will range over a serious of disadvantageous or nonfunctional intermediates that natural selection will not favor or preserve, but will, instead, eliminate.  At that point, selection-driven evolution will cease, locking existing genes and proteins in place.” (207)  Thus no possibility for progressive gains.

11. Assume a Gene.  What is the mechanism whereby new genetic information arises?  It turns out the leading scenarios that Darwinists present actually assume the solution and give it various names presupposing the existence of the genetic information of which they are trying to explains its origin!

12. Complex Adaptations and the Neo-Darwinian Math.  In short, the mathematical odds turn out to be insurmountable, even by very conservative estimates.

13. The Origin of Body Plans.  To evolve any sort body plan (genetic blueprint), mutations must occur early in animal development.  But it turns out that mutations in early embryological development are always destructive—detrimental to the mutant’s survival and ability to reproduce.

14. The Epigenetic Revolution.  The debate of “junk DNA” is dead now that epigenetic information has been discovered and thereby revealed our vast ignorance of how sections of the DNA strand interact with its genes.

In Part Three: After Darwin, What? the author narrates models of origins, particularly ID which has great explanatory power, that should be allowed to openly compete with the critically injured theory of Darwinism.  Chapters include:

15. The Post-Darwinian World and Self-Organization.  We understand more and more that complex information cannot be the product of self-organization.

16. Other Post-Neo-Darwinian Models.  Alternative theories to Darwinism that represent last-ditch efforts to avoid ID: Evo-Devo, Hox Genes, Neutral/Nonadaptive Evolution, Neo-Lamarckian Epigenetic Inheritance, and Natural Genetic Engineering.

17. The Possibility of Intelligent Design.  What if we considered the possibility that the appearance of design is not an illusion?

18. Signs of Design in the Cambrian Explosion.  After all, whenever we observe various kinds of evidence for design outside the realm of biological systems, we always rightly conclude it is the product of a purposeful, directing, intelligence.  There are also such signs in the animal world.

19. The Rules of Science.  Is science by its very definition the pursuit of only naturalistic and materialistic answers to our questions about the natural world?  Or is science the pursuit of the truth wherever it may point a better working definition of science.  This is a philosophy of science question, and it determines the set of allowable evidence moving forward.  This is THE question scientists must answer.

20. What’s at Stake.  ID has worldview implications that are profoundly spiritual and religious.  That is unacceptable or wonderful depending on your perspective.  In other words, implications could be treated as neutral to the scientific enterprise.  But the worldview implications of ID should not be treated as neutral because if there exists a Designing and Creating Mind (i.e., God), doing science can never again be done with atheistic presuppositions.

Have you been told that ID is not science?  That ID is outside the realm of science and is thus worse than worthless.  That it is harmful.  Don’t believe it.  Examine the other side of the debate and make a fair judgment.  That means you cannot disqualify ID theory simply because you don’t want to think about whether there is a God.  That is called animus, which is a bad thing.  Or that science must not allow any hypotheses except those that seek to explain the evidence without proposing design or purposeful direction.  That would be begging the question, which is also a bad thing.  Don’t be a bad person.  Give both sides a fair hearing, and more importantly continue to give both sides a fair hearing.  For a hundred years the scientific consensus seemed to point away from the existence of a Creator and point toward Darwinian evolution.  But for the past 50 years or so, the scientific consensus has crumbled and it now pointed away from Darwinism and pointing to ID.  The worldview and religious implications of this scientific shift are profound, even eternal.  That fact alone makes Darwin’s Doubt a profoundly important book.

Resources

Darwin’s Doubt official website

Darwin’s Doubt Discussion Guide

Unintended Consequences: How Hostile Responses to Darwin’s Doubt Turned a Thoughtful Reader Against Darwinian Evolution

Stephen Meyer’s Youtube Channel

Reviews

Discovery Institute (Positive)

The New Yorker (Negative)

Breakpoint (Positive)

Goodreads

Biologos (Negative)

A collection of reviews linked on the book’s website

Well Read Man (Positive)

Patheos (why do people feel compelled to review a book they haven’t read based on another review?)

Christian Post (collection of critical and friendly reviews)

Thinking Christian (Positive)

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