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on 23 August 2017
Excellent book summarising the scientific issues surrounding the details and mechanism behind Darwin's theory of evolution. Each issue is rigorously and scientifically explored and the book has a 'notes' section with comprehensive and helpful citations. I would highly recommend anyone to read it- especially anyone with an interest in Biology and/Geology.
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on 3 June 2017
What a page turner, even though it uses quite a lot of scientific lingo. A must read for anyone interested in evolution and the intelligent design debate
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on 4 September 2017
A good read, but the arguments get a little too technical towards the middle. Also quite repetitive at times.
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on 24 October 2016
I was really looking forward to reading this book however I'm finding it quite heavy material. It's definitely not written for the person not heavily schooled in biology and palaeontology etc. It's one of those books that you have to read slowly simply to try and understand what the author is saying. Disappointed as I was hoping it would be easier to read.
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on 10 May 2014
Meyer has written a groundbreaking classic. The weight of the science stands on its own merit, regardless of associations or origins. Like his nemesis Donald Prothero, Meyer has produced exquisite science, but unlike Prothero, he has produced it without recourse to adversarial language. The downside of this is that Meyer's work is weighty with words and evidence. It should have been made easier for non-experts to read: I had to work hard to be sure I'd understood it (as did even Amazon's highest-starred reviewer, Prof David Snoke). And it might even slip past people's awareness that Meyer fully supports the notion of evolution over millions of years. It is simply a key detail of evolution with which Meyer has issue, but it is a detail seen by many scientists in many relevant areas of research.

"Darwin's Doubt" takes its name from the one area of evolutionary theory in which Darwin himself expressed doubts - what is known in geology as the Cambrian Explosion. What geology shows is that after billions of years in which only sponge and single-cell fossils are found, representatives of nearly all the main groups (phyla) of animals suddenly appear, in a geological "explosion" of essentially five million years. This is a simplified picture but Meyer deals with anomalous details, like the fascinating Ediacaran fossils, without losing the overall perspective.

Meyer shows that the current evidence, while supporting evolution in principle, is totally ranged against the accepted modus operandi of Natural Selection. Damning evidence arises again and again, as the findings of statistical probability are applied to many different areas of evolution research. The official science has generally slid over these feasibility challenges; there has been little checking of statistical probabilities. Evolution "happens". Sure, all the evidence shows it happens. The issue is the modus operandi, the mechanism.

Meyer goes into the question of the likelihood of the selection of helpful mutations in enormous detail, mainly but not entirely working at the chemical molecular level, and with consistent support from the findings of other scientists, including many who are not ID fans. What Meyer draws together from all the cutting-edge research, and from quoting others' estimates of statistical probabilities, is that the probability of "natural selection" of favourable mutations to the point of new species creation is vanishingly small in practice, in any natural process of evolution.

Chapters 9 and 10, devoted to the issues of mathematical probability, must be understood in order to grasp this failure of Evolution's presumed modus operandi. It is the failure to estimate statistical probability that has enabled evolutionists who believe in Natural Selection to continue, in all areas of evolution, to make claims which assume the workings of chance mutations in chemical processes. Meyer demonstrates again and again that the statistics of probability show that mechanistic Natural Selection is impossible even over a timescale of millions of years. It is only in the light of such vanishingly small likelihoods, demonstrated at all the cutting edges of evolution research (and which a growing number of scientists acknowledge) that Meyer finally suggests that we could consider whether a hypothesis of "intelligent design" could actually help Science begin to grapple legitimately with an otherwise intractable mystery.

It is clear that many scientists privately support such an approach. David Snoke actually quotes what would appear to be a typical example of the many US scientists who would like to speak out openly, if they were not in fear of their academic lives being cut short, if it were to become known that they supported, or even simply expressed desire to explore, the theory of "intelligent design". It is a shame that many who are rightfully critical of "young earth" Creationism conflate those claims with the very different claims of Intelligent Design. It is a shame that Meyer's pure science here, which has not the slightest hint of either ad hom or of slanting the balance of evidence, should be conflated with the work of activists. Meyer's work stands on its own merit, whatever the funding and whatever the attitudes of others who support him. Given the history, it is understandable, but still a crying shame that such conflation has reached screaming pitch in the US, and that this has seriously compromised freedom of speech in the context of academic science - and is now seriously preventing Evolution Science from advancing.

Meyer's hypothesis does not limit the freedom of scientists to do research. Rather, it gives them wider resources on which to draw for further investigations. Thankfully, there is a growing number of scientists, many of firstrate calibre and qualifications, but still mainly outside the accepted halls of Science, who are working with phenomena which simply do not fit the current scientific laws of reality. This all looks like good scientific potential. But it does present a big challenge to those who believe that all scientific hypotheses, and even Scientific Method, have to exclude supersensible levels of reality. For there is nothing in the essence of Scientific Method which precludes its application to supersensible levels of reality.

The scientific and statistical evidence Meyer puts forward stands on its own merit, and should therefore not be associated with any "fundamentalist Christian" takeover threat. It is perfectly feasible to separate the issues - as should always be the case. I say, Dismantle the current evolutionists' Berlin Wall! Meyer has provided the cool mathematical evidence that openness to higher realities than what the materialistic explanation of Evolution allows, is now needed, for the sake of Evolution and indeed Science itself.

I have again subtly rewritten my review, to further separate the pure science from the activism on all sides. It now provides slightly clearer answers to the many points commenters have made. But I cannot make anyone read me more carefully if they have already closed their mind. Yet the science cannot advance until the shouting/repressing stops ON ALL SIDES!!!!!! (!) Shouting/repressing usually betrays insecurity: is fundamentalist Christianity inadequate on scientific truth, and fundamentalist Science inadequate on evidence for God? Why not work to build bridges and start mending past inadequacies and faults?

Both Science and Christianity are essentially and ideally about truth, despite the failings of both in practice. But only Christianity has built into it the pursuit of both Love and Truth as "moral imperatives". It should therefore fall to Christians to take up the work of reconciliation, which has to listen to the other side, listening for their truths however partial, listening for the emotional roots of grievances. I haven't been able to do complete justice in this respect to my commenters. It has been hard work to try to winnow any just grievances from the bombardment, wearisome repetition, simple irrelevance, and subtly ad-hom comments that have nothing to do with Meyer's science. But I've done what I could and hereby put out the request for more attention to this in future.
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on 9 April 2015
“Darwin's Doubt” by Stephen Meyer was easily the most controversial book published in 2013. A veritable “science war” (or “troll war”) over its contents is still raging, almost two years later, at its main Amazon (US) product page. Heavily promoted by the (mostly conservative Christian) Discovery Institute, Meyer's book attempts to make a scientific case for “Intelligent Design” (ID). The main argument of “Darwin's Doubt” is that the so-called Cambrian explosion cannot be explained by appeals to naturalistic evolutionary mechanisms. During the geological period known as the Cambrian, about 500 million years ago, many new animal phyla and body-plans seem to appear abruptly, with no evolutionary pre-history. After rejecting the standard scientific theories (and a few alternatives one) about the explosion, Meyer reaches the conclusion that the only possible explanation is an infusion of new “information” from an outside source, an “intelligent designer”, which could be the Biblical God.

“Darwin's Doubt” is difficult to review, both because it's a veritable “door stopper” (nobody *really* believes that Nicholas Matzke read all of it in one day!) and because the debates and acrimonious conflicts surrounding both the book and the general creation-evolution controversy constantly intrudes, whether you like it or not. Hence, this review will be somewhat “dogmatic”, perhaps not taking all subtleties of Meyer's argument into account (or that of his opponents). I will also take the liberty of referencing a debate between Stephen Meyer and paleontologist Charles Marshall, available at YouTube. Marshall wrote a critical review of “Darwin's Doubt” for the journal “Science”.

Personally, I veer strongly towards the notion that evolution is, at least to some extent, teleological and hence not entirely “blind”, intelligence being part of the deep structure of the universe. Thus, I have no particular problem with a heavy dose of “information” coming from “outside” (or emerging from the “inside”, as it were), but I don't think Meyer's particular approach is very helpful. In order to become properly scientific, rather than simply an interesting philosophical position, ID must explain how the designer creates his designs, or at least how he implements them. How do the designs get embodied in matter? Even if we assume that the designs are created by miraculous means unfathomable to humans, the last part of the designing process, where the “information” gets grafted onto the material medium and becomes part of it, should be open to scientific exploration. Yet, the proponents of ID, as far as I know, have never presented a theory about this. This is doubly strange, if we bear in mind that the “information” itself doesn't seem to be paranormal, but similar in important respects to that found in computers or other complex man-made objects. Or perhaps not so strange, if we assume (as most critics do) that ID is simply a front for creationism. Then, ID is really a theological position (perhaps Old Earth creationism) dressed up in scientific-sounding language. It could still be true, of course, but it's not really a *scientific* proposition in the strictest sense. If ID proponents want to launch a new science, rather than restating old theology (or simply creating trouble for the local school district), they should either dust off Rupert Sheldrake's concept of “morphogenetic fields”, or band with slightly heterodox scientists doing research on “self-organization”. A more daring project would be to venture into parapsychology, trying to prove the existence of etheric or astral bodies!

Meyer admits that there is no explanation for how the designer created and implemented his designs. He doesn't consider this a problem, however. After all, there is no explanation for how the mind causally interacts with the brain, either. Still, we know that the mind *does* interact with the brain. In the same way, we can know that ID is true, despite not knowing how it concretely functions. I don't think this analogy holds water (we have no experience of a creator-designer at work, while we experience our minds constantly), but a more interesting question is whether Meyer believes that the process of ID is forever mysterious, or whether he thinks its riddle can be solved at least in principle? If the former, then ID is suspiciously similar to the theological idea that a monotheistic god created the world through miraculous and hence unfathomable means. If the latter, then ID could (at least in principle) generate testable scientific hypotheses, say about morphogenetic fields. Why doesn't Meyer embrace the latter perspective? I suspect it's because it collides with his theological presuppositions. Note also that there is a theological idea according to which mind-brain dualism is mysterious works only through miraculous divine intervention. Meyer's perspective is compatible with this idea, too.

The problem with ID is that it risks becoming a “science stopper” by simply declaring that the Cambrian explosion must have a (de facto) supernatural explanation about which nothing meaningful can be said apart from “God did it”. This seems absurd even philosophically or theologically, since the living organisms of the Cambrian were just as physical as the small shellies or the Ediacaran fauna preceding them. If a (de facto) supernatural designer exists, why can't the designer preprogram an Ur-genome in the primordial ocean with all the necessary “information” that subsequently unfolds during life's evolution? Once again, I think Meyer rejects this notion on purely theological grounds: such an idea is compatible with deism, theistic evolutionism or even pantheism (and hence with evolution, albeit of an ultimately non-naturalistic variety), three positions the author doesn't want to invite to the table, since they risk undermining his Old Earth creationism. Hence, Meyer has to insist on the Cambrian explosion being inexplicable and mysterious, so he can claim that *new* information (really a new creation ex nihilo) was necessary to create the animal body-plans.

Marshall refers to Meyer as an “Intelligent Design-ist of the gaps”. I think there is some truth in this. If the seemingly abrupt appearance of new animal body-plans during the Cambrian is the foremost evidence for ID, then ID can be disproven by simply producing a sufficiently convincing transitional fossil, say a transition between “the small shellies” and the trilobites. Indeed, Marshall points out that the same kind of genes can underlay very different body-plans, so the Cambrian explosion may simply have reshuffled genetic information that was already present during the Precambrian. Meyer's response is that Marshall can't explain where all the information *originally* came from. While this is a relevant question, Marshall is correct that it's a different argument from the one advanced in “Darwin's Doubt”, where Meyer says that the *Cambrian explosion* required a fresh infusion of information from the designer. By changing the goalposts when Marshall came up with a naturalistic explanation for the explosion, Meyer in effect resorts to a version of “God of the gaps”. Ultimately, *any* naturalistic explanation of anything can be countered by asking where all the information originally comes from – really a version of “why is there something rather than nothing”. While this question is legitimate, the response could just as well be deism, pantheism or theistic evolutionism – positions incompatible with cryptic creationism.

Another problem is that the very concept of “information” is somewhat slippery. At times, “information” seems to be another way of saying that an object is complex. But since virtually everything in the universe is complex, this too is compatible with pantheist or deist notions rejected by Meyer. It doesn't prove that the intelligent designer has to be the Biblical God. It doesn't even prove a non-Biblical designer who for whatever reason intervenes 500 million years ago. Perhaps complexity has always existed, since the cosmos is divine? Or perhaps complexity was created by a deist “deus absconditus” who then let cosmic evolution unfold naturalistically, come what may? Seen in this way, “information” is such a broad concept that it can't be used to say anything meaningful about the Cambrian body-plans in particular. At other times, “information” seems to be something more computer-like, something that “programs” the living organisms. But surely this is simply an analogy, and a poor one at that – the differences between living creatures and computers are more striking than the similarities. If we find a watch on the heath, we recognize it as designed since it's *different* from the surrounding heath (which is made up of living organisms), not because it's similar to it! Thus, I'm not sure if “information” really is the right way of talking about the complexity of the cosmos.

Stephen Meyer's “Darwin's Doubt” is an interesting book in many ways, and it's also well-written. At 540 pages, it might to far too long for the general reader, though. Interested parties should procure the second edition (published in 2014), since it contains a new chapter responding to Meyer's naturalistic critics. Relevant material can also be found at YouTube or at the Discovery Institute's website “Evolution News and Views”. Ultimately, however, I think that the approaches found in Michael Denton's “Nature's Destiny” or Simon Conway Morris' “Life's Solution” are more fruitful. (It's interesting to note that Denton supports the Discovery Institute, while Conway Morris opposes it.) I also suspect that some of the alternative naturalistic approaches rejected by Meyer, such as “self-organization” or “symbiogenesis”, might be fruitful areas for further research. For a more useful philosophical approach, see David Ray Griffin's “Whitehead's Radically Different Postmodern Philosophy”.

Oh, and then there's the question of those small shelly fossils…blaaaaaah!
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on 12 July 2013
If you have an inquisitive mind, you will probably have noticed you learnt as much--if not more--about a topic by examining what its critics had to say, and not only its supporters. And you will doubtless have had occasion to either become agnostic, or to adopt a contrary position to what may be portrayed as orthodoxy.

What Meyer's book is *not* about is pushing religion. In the first two parts, and the first two chapters of the third (16 of 20 chapters in all), he looks at the orthodox view of evolution, which he reports accurately. I speak as someone with a degree in zoology and a little research experience in the subject; so whilst I don't claim to be an expert, I know enough to know he's not distorting anything. At the same time, his aim is to show that orthodoxy does not explain the evidence of the fossil record with respect to the Cambrian period, nor how so many new body plans could have arisen in such a comparatively short time, with no readily identifiable pre-Cambrian precursors.

He's not alone in this view, even amongst non-ID-supporting scientists. In fact, in Chapters 15 and 16, he examines alternatives to standard neo-Darwinism (or the New Synthesis if you prefer) being put forward by them as we speak. And generally, throughout the book, you will find copious references to the literature, as well as amplifying footnotes at the end of the book. Check out the references; chase up the bios of the chemists, biochemists, geneticists, paleontologists, geologists, etc. who in various ways and degrees challenge an orthodoxy that is frequently put across to the public as completely settled, completely unquestionable truth. I've done quite a lot of such checking, and I can report that many of them are hardly great fans of ID.

It's a fascinating read, and I hope that open-minded people will welcome a single tome that tells them so much about orthodox views, and at the same time offers evidence why the explanatory power of those might be open to question. It's evidence I personally find persuasive, whilst I accept others might not; but even so, if one has an open mind, it should be found engaging. All the more so if one isn't overly familiar with the subject of evolution: because it covers a great deal of ground in a pretty accessible way. It's quite an education, and I'm speaking as a trained and qualified (recently retired) educator. I learnt an appreciable amount that I didn't already know, and it clarified my understanding on a number of specific scientific points.

If you don't want to read about ID, fair enough: simply ignore the last 4 chapters, which is the only place he explicitly deals with it. He thinks ID explains what neo-Darwinism, and those other competing, but non-ID theories I alluded to earlier, can't. He may be right or wrong about that, but that has no bearing on the previous 16 chapters where he's demonstrated the severe shortcomings of neo-Darwinism in explaining the Cambrian explosion, during which the majority of phyletic body plans still extant today seem to have arisen: something that is absolutely contrary to orthodoxy, where body plans should have gradually appeared through time.

We should find evidence for a single tree of life (with an ultimate single ancestor in the first single-celled life form on earth, appearing maybe 3.8 billion years ago, well before the Cambrian began around 500 mya). However, what we actually find in the case of animals is what appears to be an "orchard", with separate animal lineages diversifying ever since the Cambrian. Top-down rather than bottom up: complex plans appearing early, not late.

It's true that there were a few body plans of multicellular organisms extant before the Cambrian in the pre-Cambrian (including the extinct Ediacaran fauna), and that one of those, that of the sponges, still persists to this day. But one can find nothing in the pre-Cambrian that is an obvious precursor of trilobites (early arthropods) or any of the other new body plans that emerged in the Cambrian (around 20 of them, still around today, including the Chordates to which humans belong--amongst a total of around 25-35 depending on the classificatory system applied).

It stretches credulity beyond breaking point to postulate that precursors in the pre-Cambrian were soft-bodied and hence not fossilised, when in fact soft-tissue preservation in both the pre-Cambrian and Cambrian is readily demonstrable. It stretches credulity to think that we haven't yet found precursors but one day will, when statistical analysis of the fossil record shows it's extremely unlikely we would have missed *all* such evidence.

The new Cambrian body plans must have come from somewhere, unless your idea is of an intelligence that can magic up something from nothing, but Meyer doesn't deny the possibility of common descent, and certainly not the reality of evolution in the sense of change over time. He fully accepts that the earth is billions of years old, and, one might wrily argue, that the fossil record means what it actually says: that neo-Darwinian gradualism doesn't occur at the macro-evolutionary level (e.g. the formation of new body plans), even if it might occur at the micro-evolutionary level (e.g. low-level species divergence within a genus). He doesn't even deny that random mutation and natural selection have a role to play at the micro-evolutionary level.

Meyer gives a very good introduction to the concept of Shannon information and how that contrasts with functional, or specified, information. Put simply, any random combination of, say, fifty alphabetic characters is as likely, and contains as much information, as any other. But only a very few would spell out a recognisable English sentence. Vanishingly few from the 26^50 (approx. 5.6 x 10^70) combinations would do so. The issue is enormously amplified when one considers a modest protein containing 150 amino acids, for which any of 20^150 (approx. 1.4 x 10^195) combinations are possible, but for which a vanishingly small proportion have been demonstrated to be likely to be of functional use to organisms.

Neo-Darwinists will insist that it isn't only random mutation that is involved in evolution, but crucially, natural selection. But before the latter can select for a mutation, it has to have occurred, and most mutations are likely to be harmful than beneficial. The problem gets even worse when it is realised that innovations may require a number of proteins to act in a coordinated fashion. These are the kinds of facts that are addressed in "post-Darwinistic", non-ID theories (such as evo-devo and self-organisation, neo-Lamarckism, neutral theories and natural genetic engineering) discussed in chapters 14 and 15, and I have to agree with Meyer, they aren't convincing either.

If there's one key theme throughout the first 16 chapters, it's to do with where *new* information comes from as organisms evolve over time. An enormous amount of specified information is required to change a putative pre-Cambrian precursor into a Cambrian one. Information, for example in the case of a trilobyte, enabling the formation of the complex arthropod exoskeleton and its accompanying muscles and ligaments, not to mention the appearance of complex compound eyes. The Cambrian predator, Anomalocaris ("strange shrimp"), up to a metre or so long, had very advanced compound eyes, only exceeded in complexity by present-day dragonflies. We even find primitive jawless fish (ancestors of lampreys) appearing in the Cambrian.

It's all quite astonishing and I can't for the life of me see how anyone would prefer to stick with the one theory that can't possibly explain it. I don't know what *does* explain it, but I have to hand it to Meyer, nothing currently explains it better than a postulate of intelligent input of some sort. He probably believes that is the Christian God, but by no means all ID proponents do. I even know of some people who are atheists who think that intelligence may in some sense be inherent in nature in everything from atoms to stars and galaxies to organisms. Maybe some non-ID explanation will eventually be forthcoming that better explains it, but for the moment, ID's at least worth consideration.

Darwin's Doubt is a fascinating read, and for its content alone, it's worth 5 stars. However, it is not entirely without fault, because in places it seems somewhat repetitive and in need of tighter editing, which might have reduced its size appreciably. So overall, I'll give it 4 stars along with a recommendation for any independent-minded person to read it. Don't pay a lick of attention to 1-star reviews from ideological neo-Darwinists who obviously can't bring themselves to read it, yet nonetheless feel it's okay to carpet-bomb the Web with their ill-informed comments. They have little integrity and even less good manners.
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on 17 October 2015
Not finished reading yet but excellent and in depth appraisal of the deep problems the Cambrian explosion poses for Darwinian evolution. Meyer dissects the weaknesses in the various excuses for the missing intermediate fossils which have been used from Darwin onwards. Various attempts to explain away the millions of absent 'missing links' or shrug their absence off as not being important are laid bare in a meticulous and heavily referenced work of science.

Meyer also considers the mathematical evidence against evolution, evidence which has been generally sidelined and ignored. He also examines the misrepresentation of the science of evolution, citing his opponent Eugenie Scott who publicly stated that here were no problems with evolutionary theory, at a time when he had a bundle of 100 scientific papers addressing those problems which the establishment denies, at least in public.

Like his first book 'Signature in the Cell' Meyer's writing can suffer from being excessively meticulous, its not easy reading, but I guess that is because he is determined to be scientific and not appeal to Christian belief. This will not stop those who believe that science and materialistic philosophy are the same thing from writing him off as a religious nut, although as he makes clear he accepts a very old earth and much of common descent so is clearly not a Biblical creationist. But I wish he would issue a smaller summarised version of both books at about a third of the length for the less technical reader.

Meyer's meticulous scientific arguments against the science which supposedly supports neo-Darwinian evolution deserve to be much more widely considered. It says something about our media that they are not even mentioned in public discourse, except on the occasions when they are traduced as 'creationism in a cheap tuxedo.' Think about it.
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on 7 May 2015
Why wasn't I taught this at school. I feel I have had the wool pulled over my eyes
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on 3 July 2016
Displays a fundamental misunderstanding of how evolution works, betrayed by the common use of the word 'undirected'. Whether this is deliberate or not is harder to tell. Evolution is variation (undirected) plus selection (directed). This alone is enough to explain the origin and complexity of life on Earth.
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