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Darwin's Doubt

Product no.: 978-0062071484
Charles Darwin knew that there was a significant event in the history of life that his theory did not explain.

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In what is known today as the "Cambrian explosion," 530 million years ago many animals suddenly appeared in the fossil record without apparent ancestors in earlier layers of rock. In Darwin's Doubt Stephen C. Meyer tells the story of the mystery surrounding this explosion of animal life—a mystery that has intensified, not only because the expected ancestors of these animals have not been found, but also because scientists have learned more about what it takes to construct an animal.

Expanding on the compelling case he presented in his last book, Signature in the Cell, Meyer argues that the theory of intelligent design—which holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection—is ultimately the best explanation for the origin of the Cambrian animals.


"Darwin’s Doubt refers to Charles Darwin’s admission in his consequential book, On the Origin of the Species, that the fossil record contradicted his theory that life began with simple organisms and it then progressed through endless transitions on up to the present. As he admitted: 'The abrupt manner in which whole groups of species suddenly appear in certain formations has been urged by several paleontologists – for instance Agassiz, Pictet, Sedgwick – as a fatal objection to the belief in the transmutation of species. If numerous species belonging to the same genera or families have really started into life all at once, the fact would be fatal to the theory of descent with slow modification through natural selection.'

Yet the fossils from the so called 'Cambrian Explosion', about 530 million years ago, reveal the emergence of  'a veritable carnival' of basic body plans of animal and plant life which appear fully formed in about a five million year period. As a Chinese paleontologist has written, 'compared with the 3-plus-billion-year history of life on earth, the period [of the explosion] can be likened to one minute in 24 hours of one day.' And even the Darwinist operative, Richard Dawkins, has conceded that the plants and animals in the Cambrian 'look as if they were just planted there without any evolutionary history.'

All of which is the exact opposite of Darwin’s prediction that life gradually evolved in tiny incremental steps through the trial and error process of natural selection.

Indeed, the Cambrian Explosion reveals much about the shaky foundation of Darwin’s theory and not just because of the discoveries in paleontology. Other disciplines like developmental and molecular biology and newer areas like epigenetics compound the problem of having complex life develop without ancestors and in such a short time. As Meyer writes, the neo-Darwinism mechanism of mutation and natural selection, 'does not account for either the origin of the genetic or the epigenetic information', the latter being outside of the cell’s DNA and not subject to the effects of mutations.

That is, developing complex bio-chemicals and then in the most exacting and intricate way, engineering their information processes to perform in unimaginably complex, coordinated and purposeful genetic and extra genetic ways would have to have taken place. As Meyer writes, 'the probability of generating just one gene from all the bacteria (and other organisms) that have ever lived on earth is just 1 in 10 trillion, trillion, trillion.'  

Yes, it is true that the Darwinian mechanism of mutation and natural selection can cause small changes, 'adaptations', as when bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics and insects develop resistance to pesticides. But to repeat what is now a truism, or should become one: 'Darwin explains the survival of the fittest, not the arrival of the fittest', the latter being precisely what he promised to explain in his iconic book on the origin of species."       ~New Oxford Review

And, or course, the snarky, secular, skeptical point of view:

"Darwin’s Doubt, by Stephen Meyer, argues that scientists have found no way to account for the Cambrian explosion. Life-forms appeared with no obvious precursors, it says, too quickly for a random process of mutation and survival of the fittest to explain it. The only alternative explanation, Meyer writes, is the involvement of an intelligent designer (read: God) who rushed along the story of life on Earth.

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.

But do not underestimate Darwin’s Doubt: it is a masterwork of pseudoscience. Meyer is a reasonably fluid writer who weaves anecdote and patient explanation. He skillfully deploys the trappings of science—the journals, the conferences, the Latinate terminology. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in the philosophy of science. He appears serious and, above all, reasonable. The Cambrian argument has been a part of creationism and its inheritors for many years, but Meyer’s project is to canonize it, a task he completes with great skill.

Those who feel a hunger for material evidence of God or who sense that science is a conspiracy against spiritual meaning will find the book a thrilling read. Which is to say, Meyer will find a large audience: he aims to start a conversation, or to at least keep one going, and he seems likely to succeed."            ~The New Yorker

"To those unfamiliar with the particular problems faced by scientists trying to explain the origin of life, it might not seem obvious why invoking natural selection does not help to explain the origin of the first life. After all, if natural selection and random mutations can generate new information in living organisms, why can it also not do so in a prebiotic environment? But the distinction between a biological and prebiotic context was crucially important to my argument.

Natural selection assumes the existence of living organisms with a capacity to reproduce. Yet self-replication in all extant cells depends upon information-rich proteins and nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), and the origin of such information-rich molecules is precisely what origin-of-life research needs to explain. That’s why Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the founders of the modern neo-Darwinian synthesis, can state flatly, 'Pre-biological natural selection is a contradiction in terms.' Or, as Nobel Prize–winning molecular biologist and origin-of-life researcher Christian de Duve explains, theories of prebiotic natural selection fail because they 'need information which implies they have to presuppose what is to be explained in the first place.'

Clearly, it is not sufficient to invoke a process that commences only once life has begun, or once biological information has arisen, to explain the origin of life or the origin of the information necessary to produce it."

Dr. Stephen C. Meyer received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in the philosophy of science. A former geophysicist and college professor, he now directs the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. In 2004, Meyer ignited a firestorm of media and scientific controversy when a biology journal at the Smithsonian Institution published his peer-reviewed scientific article advancing intelligent design. Meyer has been featured on national television and radio programs, including The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, CBS's Sunday Morning, NBC's Nightly News, ABC's World News, Good Morning America, Nightline, FOX News Live, and the Tavis Smiley show on PBS. He has also been featured in two New York Times front-page stories and has garnered attention in other top-national media.

Author Meyer, Stephen C.
Book Type Trade Paperback
Page Count 560 pp.
Publisher HarperOne 2014
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