Thursday, September 24, 2009

Book Review: The Signature in the Cell

One could not ask for more in a philosophy of science treatise that what we find in The Signature in the Cell. The book is no less than magisterial, an adjective that curmudgeons such as myself seldom use. At every level--philosophical, scientific, historical and literary--it is a superb treatise.

Reading every word of its 508 pages of text (not counting end notes)--as I did--repays the reader greatly. Meyer thoroughly examines a most significant topic--how life came about--and does so in an engaging, warm, and philosophically rigorous fashion. (Few books ever do such a thing.) In fact, I have never read a book that goes so deep while remaining so welcoming to the reader. It does do by using a minimal narrative structure--there is no obtrusive autobiography here--to guide us through the issues and arguments pertaining to the nature and origin life at the genetic level. The reader is lead step-by-step into the question of the origin of biological information, and so receives a hearty education in the history of science in general and the scientific question to understand life itself.

Meyer doggedly pursues all the possible explanations for the informational nature in DNA and RNA. He carefully explores the philosophy of scientific explanations with respect to unrepeatable events in the past (such as the origin of life on earth). It is a search for clues in the present to explain the past. One needs a causally adequate explanation for past events relies on known features to produce the state of affairs in question.

Having found all the materialistic explanations desperately wanting, he concludes that intelligence is the best explanation for the highly concentrated, amazingly complex, and carefully specified information in the DNA and RNA of the cell. Neither chance nor natural law nor a combination of both are remotely plausible explanations. Yet everyday we perceive that intelligence produces information (such as the words of this review). Nothing else can. Meyer argues convincingly that materialism cannot survive when biology enters "the information age," as it did in 1953 when the double helix structure of the DNA was discovered by two atheists, Crick and Watson.

Critics who dismiss this book as merely religiously motivated should themselves be dismissed. Meyer appeals to no uniquely religious assumptions in his philosophy of science and uses principles broadly employed in the historical sciences. Moreover, while his conclusion--life is best explained by a designing intelligence of some kind--is friendly toward theism, he grants that it does not give us a full Christian account of existence.

This short review cannot praise adequately all the philosophical, scientific, and (yes) literary values of this magnificent work. Its publication may prove to be a decisive moment for the Intelligent Design movement.


Daniel said...

Wow, looks incredible. I'm excited to see him at the ID conference coming up too!

Byron said...

Having listened to Meyer speak and taking a good read of his book, I would like to make this comment. A sailing ship called the "Black Box" was out on the ocean of primordial soup and was taking on water. More and more of her crew were jumping ship. The S.S ID was within sight and came to the rescue. No one knows how many will go down with her and her Captain, Darwin. But they appear to be in trouble as can be heard in the name calling cast out at the crew of the ID. After sailing away, the ID's crew were commenting on the last of the crew on the Darwin, saying they thought it quite strange why a seasoned captain would have manned his ship with ohimps. For that is what "they believe". I on the other hand would like to think of the crew of the ID as the intelligent ones, for that is what "they believe". After all, you are what you believe. My prediction, In 50 or so years we will be laughing at the materialists and their ilk. Meyers book to me seems to be his "Magnum Opus". The more technology advances the more we will see. So for now feel free to thumb your nose at Darwins crowd and yell at them "OH YAH! Steve Meyer has a lab coat and pocket protector too!

Wayne MacKirdy said...

I find it interesting that neither you nor Dr Meyer seem to be familiar with Dr Werner Gitt's book, In the Beginning Was Information. I specifically asked Dr Meyer at the conference in Castle Rock, CO, if he had read the book since he includes in his bibliography, but does not quote him at all. He told me no, he had not read the book. I find this amazing since Dr Gitt's book is seminal in this area, and has been around since 1997. Granted, it is a little more technical in style than Dr Meyer's book. But, I wonder how one can write a book this narrowly focused and not consult the only other book devoted to the same subject.

Doug Groothuis said...

I have read most of this book and refer to it in my forthcoming apologetics text, What Matters Most.