Review of Stephen Meyer's "Darwin's Doubt"

#1
I posted this review on the old forum, but it seems to have been lost: at any rate, I can't locate it. The review has now been made available on Mediafire in Word format (thanks, Sciborg :)).

It can be viewed and/or downloaded here:

http://www.mediafire.com/view/i40dw...bt_Review_for_Skeptiko_readers_PROTECTED.docx

Most people should have Microsoft Word, but if not, it can still be read in the free Word Reader program, which is available for Windows, Mac or Linux. Failing that, it can be read within Mediafire without downloading.

It has a table of contents for navigation and is paginated, so if you have any comments, you can refer to specific sections/pages. I am hoping that at least some people hostile to ID in general and Meyer in particular will take the trouble to read it, and who knows, actually buy the book, which of course contains a great deal more detail. I've used a few quotes from it, but tried to limit those under fair use. Apart from those, the words are my own (excepting Web snippets marked as such), and pictures are from the Web, not the book.

Just a note: ID is not the opposite of evolution. Many ID proponents and sympathisers are, like me, ardent supporters of evolution: I don't see how anyone can deny the evidence of the fossil record that organisms have evolved over time. The big issue is whether neo-Darwinism adequately explains how, and in my book it doesn't, so there could be a role for consciousness in evolution. I don't happen to agree with Meyer that if there is, it's represented by the God of the bible (about that fellow, I count myself an atheist). Many ID proponents aren't religious; some are agnostic, and a few, even total atheists.

Darwin's Doubt only touches on ID in the final few chapters: most of the book explains the inadequacies of neo-Darwinism, even in the eyes of many mainstream evolutionists, and mentions other hypotheses being proposed by them. Like Meyer, I'm not that impressed with those, either.
 
#2
Thanks Michael.

For those with a Mac, be assured that it opens and is formatted correctly in both Preview and Pages (almost certainly in Open Office too, though I have not tried that).
 
#3
Thanks Michael.

For those with a Mac, be assured that it opens and is formatted correctly in both Preview and Pages (almost certainly in Open Office too, though I have not tried that).
You're very welcome; actually, I'm grateful for your suggestion of making it available in this form. Incidentally, I've just thought that it can also be converted to PDF format if anyone wants to, though I found that that caused the TOC (Table Of Contents) and Web links to cease functioning, which is why I used the Word format. BTW, it's protected to stop inadvertent changing of contents.

Also, I'm not sure what you mean by "Preview". Do you mean Thumbnail view? In that, you can get the page thumbnails to display in a narrow vertical window down one side of the page, and the contents of the current page in the main window, as Adobe Acrobat can do, too. It's a nice way of navigating the document over and above using the TOC.
 
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#4
Preview is the built-in document reader for Mac OSX - it comes with the Op. Sys. and will read most things including PDF and Microsoft .doc and .docx. Pages is the commercial equivalent to MS Word and is sometimes bundled with the Mac computer when you buy one. Open Office is a full office suite is free and available for Linux, Windows and Mac.
 
#5
Preview is the built-in document reader for Mac OSX - it comes with the Op. Sys. and will read most things including PDF and Microsoft .doc and .docx. Pages is the commercial equivalent to MS Word and is sometimes bundled with the Mac computer when you buy one. Open Office is a full office suite is free and available for Linux, Windows and Mac.
Ah, right. I didn't know that about the Mac, never having used one myself. I've used Open Office in the past, and although I haven't tried opening the document on that, I'd be surprised if it couldn't deal with it.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#6
Really good stuff Michael. I have a variety of questions but there's one part I still need to go through.

I'm sort of in the position of Nagel - seems like teleological principles could get us the reduction in probabilities we need for evolution to work. Teilhard gets invoked a lot in teleological discussion but not sure if a Designer is really needed?
 
#7
Really good stuff Michael. I have a variety of questions but there's one part I still need to go through.

I'm sort of in the position of Nagel - seems like teleological principles could get us the reduction in probabilities we need for evolution to work. Teilhard gets invoked a lot in teleological discussion but not sure if a Designer is really needed?
Glad you appreciate it and look forward to any questions you might have: hope I'll be able to answer them. As for myself, I'm a bit queasy about using the term "designer": it's not that far from "God", really, and carries quite a lot of baggage with it. I'm more comfortable with saying something like it's feasible that intelligence is involved in the evolutionary process--without being too prescriptive about the how or the who.

I was once quite taken with de Chardin's idea of the Noosphere, and I suppose it could be applied quite well in modern times to the Internet, which is bringing about a kind of global interconnectedness; but it remains to be seen whether there's going to be spiritually significant fallout from that. Maybe it will be the required catalyst, maybe not. I guess we'll have to wait and see.
 
#8
Glad you appreciate it and look forward to any questions you might have: hope I'll be able to answer them. As for myself, I'm a bit queasy about using the term "designer": it's not that far from "God", really, and carries quite a lot of baggage with it. I'm more comfortable with saying something like it's feasible that intelligence is involved in the evolutionary process--without being too prescriptive about the how or the who.
It occurs to me that since the materialist position is that the chemistry/physics of the brain can account for conscious thought and intelligence, they should find it easy to accept that other chemical/physical processes operating on a much longer time scale could be responsible for evolution - because there seem to be good combinatorial reasons to rule out evolution by pure NS+Drift.

David
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#10
I'm still trying to come back to this and get a fuller understanding, but let's start with this question:

Why does there need to be a single origin for the tree of life, that all other organisms evolve from, for NS to be true?

Couldn't there be some kind of proto-life, as suggested by articles I posted here & here, that eventually leads to the multiple trees?
 
#11
I'm still trying to come back to this and get a fuller understanding, but let's start with this question:

Why does there need to be a single origin for the tree of life, that all other organisms evolve from, for NS to be true?

Couldn't there be some kind of proto-life, as suggested by articles I posted here & here, that eventually leads to the multiple trees?
I guess that from the Darwinian viewpoint, common ancestry has the attraction that it makes for a logical materialistic progression. And what is proto-life? The most primitive life we're aware of (barring viruses, which majority opinion thinks arose by degeneracy, or perhaps escape of bits of DNA/RNA) are the prokaryotes, including the Archaea and Bacteria, which are already complex and all utilise DNA/RNA and proteins. If there were separate lines from the beginning, would they (as well as the third division, the Eukaryotes) all have utilised them and not something else in some cases?

At any rate, I think there'd be a lot of opposition to the idea that there wasn't common ancestry from the LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor). Admitting the possibility that there could have been a number of separate lines would make things very complicated. In practice, Darwinism seems to be built around the idea of common ancestry, even if RM+NS would presumably be supposed to work if there were several lines: I mean, what else could work if one excludes intelligent input?

I'm not much opposed to common ancestry myself; I think it quite possible that all life began with LUCA. However, RM+NS doesn't adequately explain how you get innovation, and I base that on empirical evidence from the fossil record as well as experimentation with bacterial populations which only leads to loss or stasis in genomes rather than speciation.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#12
I
Why does there need to be a single origin for the tree of life, that all other organisms evolve from, for NS to be true?

Couldn't there be some kind of proto-life, as suggested by articles I posted here & here, that eventually leads to the multiple trees?
There certainly could be. However, if there is sufficient commonality between the supposedly separate tree roots, then we might assume they had a common ancestor. For example, why is DNA so similar across all organisms?

http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/questions/qotw/question/3551/

~~ Paul
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#13
Michael, I need to go back through the arguments in your paper as I am reading more about this but it's definitely dense. Here's what the New Yorker had to say, I can't recall if you mentioned Meyer addressing this already:

Doubting “Darwin’s Doubt”


It turns out that many of the major gaps that Meyer identifies are the result of his misleading rearrangement of the tree. Nick Matzke, a scientist who blogs at Panda’s Thumb, makes a convincing case that Meyer does not understand the field’s key statistical techniques (among other things). For example, Meyer presents a chart on page thirty-five of “Darwin’s Doubt” that appears to show the sudden appearance of large numbers of major animal groups in the Cambrian: the smoking gun. But if one looks at a family tree based on current science, it looks nothing like Meyer’s, and precisely like what Darwinian theory would predict. “All of this is pretty good evidence for the basic idea that the Cambrian ‘Explosion’ is really the radiation of simple bilaterian worms into more complex worms…[which] occurred in many stages, instead of all at once,” Matzke writes.

Meyer goes on to build a grander, more bizarre argument that draws from the intelligent-design well. The genetic machinery of life, he writes, is incapable of grand leaps forward, meaning that any dramatic biological innovation must be the work of the intelligent designer. Yet scientific literature contains many well-documented counterexamples to Meyer’s argument, and the mechanisms by which life’s machinery can change quickly are well known. Whole genes can be duplicated, for example, and the copy can evolve new functions.

Most absurd of all is the book’s stance on knowledge: if something cannot be fully explained by today’s science—and there is plenty about the Cambrian, and the universe, that cannot—then we should assume it is fundamentally beyond explanation, and therefore the work of a supreme deity.
 
#14
Michael, I need to go back through the arguments in your paper as I am reading more about this but it's definitely dense. Here's what the New Yorker had to say, I can't recall if you mentioned Meyer addressing this already:
Doubting “Darwin’s Doubt”
Do you mean my review (I wouldn't call it a "paper") is dense? I tried to make it as clear as I could and am sorry if you find it hard going. The New Yorker article is just parroting the orthodox line, one aspect of which is the claim that the Cambrian explosion wasn't an explosion but occurred over an appreciably longer period than Meyer claims. Well, many orthodox neo-Darwinists would contest that, and claims that there are recognisable Cambrian precursors in the pre-Cambrian can't be backed up--see p.9 of my review. The bilateral symmetry claimed in the New Yorker didn't exist in the pre-Cambrian: it was another kind of symmetry called glide symmetry, a bit like the two halves of a zip fastener.

Moreover, the difference between chimps and humans is trivial compared to the appearance of whole new phyla: see the diagram on page 2 of my review. Chimps and humans are part of the same family, a much lower taxonomic level than a phylum. Basically, IMO the New Yorker article is claptrap, and Nick Matzke is an ideologue. If you want to read a counter-view, check out:

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/07/from_the_new_yo074041.html

There are a number of other articles at evolutionnews. If you want to find out more about Matzke or Darwin's doubt, just use the search facility and you will find a lot that might be of interest to you. By all means also check out the critiques of Meyer's book if you want; compare them and make up your own mind. I'd also recommend that you check out the many videos on YouTube that deal with Darwin's Doubt. One I'd recommend if you have the time is here:


(skip the intro to around 11m 50s)

You might find videos more accessible, and helpful in making my review less dense for you.
 
#15
Incidentally, Sciborg, before Meyer wrote Darwin's Doubt, about the Cambrian explosion, he wrote Signature in the Cell, which deals more with the origin of life itself. You might find a couple of recent videos where Meyer faces his critics about that subject interesting:

 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#16
Oh you're review is great - it's more when I try to go down the rabbit hole of counterarguments & counter-counter arguments that I find my knowledge of biology to be incredibly weak.

Will go through this stuff bit by bit and have more questions. Thanks again for the effort you've put into this.
 
#17
Oh you're review is great - it's more when I try to go down the rabbit hole of counterarguments & counter-counter arguments that I find my knowledge of biology to be incredibly weak.

Will go through this stuff bit by bit and have more questions. Thanks again for the effort you've put into this.
Matzke has a long history of attacking ID, he was the Darwinist lobbiest lap dog. Most of his writing involves adhom attacks, a vile character. He even recently attempted the banning of a book from the Cornwall conferences. You can find rebuttals complete with citations that clearly show the flaws in his hasty and biased review. His opinions would be at odds with the research and literature clearly. His review appeared something like the day after the book was released. You can find rebuttals to all the grumbling from the usual crowd pretty easily.

It is to be expected of course, the critiques were actually even happening months before the book was released. Happened with signature in the cell as well. It was very clear some had not even read it. It is always the same guys.

In reality most of the reviews are highly favourable, many from professionals from within the fields. And it is probably the best and most thorough look into the subject to date, one that looks at the crucial evolutionary questions with hundreds of citations. It is an education. All regardless of what someone thinks of ID.
 
#19
It seems to me the best evidence for ID is simply the fact that the first cell(s) that formed, which is difficult enough as it is, actually came equipped with the ability to reproduce itself . . . If we expected blind randomness was responsible for the formation of life, then I'd think that what would've happened is that a cell would've formed, basically against all odds, then would've died . . . bc it wouldn't have had the ability or drive/desire to produce another one of itself . . . and that would've been that. Done deal.

What a nice feature for randomness to include: reproductive abilities!

(Perhaps someone else has talked about this, but if so, I'm unaware)
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#20
It seems to me the best evidence for ID is simply the fact that the first cell(s) that formed, which is difficult enough as it is, actually came equipped with the ability to reproduce itself . . . If we expected blind randomness was responsible for the formation of life, then I'd think that what would've happened is that a cell would've formed, basically against all odds, then would've died . . . bc it wouldn't have had the ability or drive/desire to produce another one of itself . . . and that would've been that. Done deal.
I presume you're not thinking of the "first cell" as equivalent to modern cells? In any event, I'm sure that plenty of "first cells" did form and then dissolve. But some could reproduce in a rudimentary way.

~~ Paul
 
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