9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
Important Milestone for ID, by Dr Stephen Meyer, 12 Sep 2013
It has taken me quite a long time to read this book (all 413 pages, excluding reference material), but it was worth the perseverance! Not because the book was badly written, on the contrary, I found it superbly written - and very stimulating... The perseverance was associated with looking up the substantial amount of notes, bibliography and other allied documentation.
Somewhat like his previous book, `Signature in the Cell', Stephen Meyer has presented us with a `milestone' book i.e. one which, in my opinion, substantially places `Intelligent Design' on the scientific `map'.
The book is very well set out; in three main parts, with a logical series of chapters making up each part.
Part one - "The Mystery of the Missing Fossils"
Stephen Meyer gives a good historical background to Charles Darwin's book, `On the Origin of Species'; he even calls it a "singular achievement"..., but he swiftly moves on to describe the main problem facing Darwin's hypothesis, namely, the `Cambrian Explosion'.
Meyer also spends time introducing contemporaries of Darwin, such as Agassiz and Sedgwick (both of whom were, respectfully, leading palaeontologist and geologist of the day). They had serious doubts about Darwin's proposition of the abrupt appearance of the Cambrian creatures. Darwin proposed that the geological record was "a history of the world imperfectly kept" rather than anything seriously wrong with his theory, but Agassiz and Sedgwick would have none of it.
As expected, the Burgess Shale is given its own chapter, with good historical coverage of Charles Doolittle Walcott, the discoverer, also director of the Smithsonian Institution. Sketches of the fossilised creatures are excellent, with good explanations about morphological diversity and various family trees.
There is a very good chapter dealing with `punctuated equilibrium', the proposal by Eldredge and Gould to explain the systematic `gaps' in the fossil record, where, according to neo-Darwinian theory, there ought to be a continuum of transitional forms leading from one body plan to another.
Meyer explains fully why "punk eek" fails as an explanatory proposal for the origin of complex creatures found within the fossil record.
All of the supportive diagrammatic sketches that Meyer includes, within his text, are superbly produced and very easy to understand. This applies throughout the book.
Part two - "How to Build an Animal"
This part is principally about biological information, and in this respect, there is an overlap with Stephen Meyer's first book `Signature in the Cell.'
There is a short explanation of Shannon information, and how this differs from functional information (or specified information) found in living organisms.
Meyer waxes lyrical about the contribution made by Murray Eden in respect of the "Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution". Murray had pointed out that "the combinatorial space corresponding to an average-length protein"... is about 10 to the power 325 "possible amino-acid arrangements. Did the mutation and selection mechanism have enough time - since the beginning of the universe itself - to generate even a small fraction of the total number of possible amino-acid sequences corresponding to a single functional protein of that length? For Eden, the answer was clearly no." This was in the 1960's - but according to Meyer, the `mathematical challenge' has been an issue that has not been satisfactorily resolved ever since. He spends a substantial amount of space justifying this position through the work of Douglas Axe, who in the late 1980s examined the then accepted work of Richard Dawkins in his book The Blind Watchmaker, in which Dawkins used a computer programme to illustrate how natural selection could "generate the Shakespearean phrase: "Me thinks it is like a weasel.""
Intelligence was found to pervade this kind of `evidence' to prop up the Neo-Darwinian model...
Meyer goes on to build on his case that the mathematical challenges have remained un-bridged throughout "the various experiments and calculations performed between 2004 and 2011." Although Meyer makes a substantial case here, he is too reliant upon the work of too few specialists, in my opinion.
Meyer's section on "Developmental Gene Regulatory Networks" was particularly interesting - and helped to introduce even greater complexity issues in the origin of body plans etc... Likewise, the section on "the Epigenetic Revolution."
Part three - "After Darwin, What?"
In this final section, Meyer takes on the post-Darwinian world - and theories of self-organisation, such as the work of Stuart Kauffman and Stuart Newman.
Cutting to the chase, Meyer pus it like this: "what needs to be explained in living systems is not mainly order in the sense of simple repetitive or geometric patterns. Instead, what requires explanation is the adaptive complexity and the information, genetic and epigenetic, necessary to build it." (pg. 305). He makes a strong case in justifying this statement!
In like manner, Meyer presents a robust summary of his issues with "evo-devo" and "Lamarckian mechanisms."
All of the foregoing builds a strong case to support his final four chapters:
"The Possibility of Intelligent Design", "Signs of Design in the Cambrian Explosion", "The Rules of Science" and finally "What's at Stake"....
Meyer spends some time telling "My Story", which explains his initial interest in intelligent design through to holding robust scientific reasons for his belief in "indicators that make intelligent design scientifically detectable from the evidence of the living world."
All in all, this book is far from some form of simplistic `biblical creationism', as suggested by other reviewers, but, in my view, a logically and soundly argued piece of scientific research, which draws conclusions toward an `inference to the best explanation.'
Coupled with his former book `Signature in the Cell', Meyer makes the strongest case yet for `intelligent design' - and places it squarely within the scientific domain. To reject it as pseudo-science would be blind prejudice - and damaging to science in the long term, simply because ID makes testable predictions. Examples of these are given in this section!
This is how Meyer concludes his book: "The theory of intelligent design is not based upon religious belief, nor does it provide a proof for the existence of God. But it does have faith-affirming implications precisely because it suggests the design we observe in the natural world is real, just as a traditional theistic view of the world would lead us to expect. Of course, that by itself is not a reason to accept the theory. But having accepted it for other reasons, it may be a reason to find it important."
In other respects, the book has been beautifully produced by HarperOne, is superbly illustrated and documented - with some nice colour plates of fossils to boot!
I heartily recommend this excellent book!!