SIGNATURE IN THE CELL: DNA AND THE EVIDENCE FOR INTELLIGENT DESIGN
By Stephen C. Meyer
HarperOne, $19.99, 624 pages
In “The Blind Watchmaker,” atheist Richard Dawkins proclaimed, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Now, with the paperback release of Stephen C. Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design,” theists can rejoin with, “Meyer made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled theist.” Indeed, in his book, Mr. Meyer begins the chorus by stating that “as a Christian theist, I find this implication of intelligent design ‘intellectually satisfying.’ “
But, to suppose that “Signature in the Cell” is a book that argues for intelligent design (ID) from a religious or even metaphysical perspective is to suppose badly. For this book makes a strong case for ID as a rigorous scientific argument for the origin of life - at least as rigorous and scientific as any purely materialistic explanation such as neo-Darwinism.
Whether it be evolutionary/materialistic- or ID-based, the fundamental challenge for any proposition that claims to explicate the causes for life’s inception is this: Explain in a scientific way “the origin of the central feature of living things: information.” Mr. Meyer claims that orthodox evolutionary thinking, with its reliance upon chance and necessity, has failed to meet that challenge.
“Signature in the Cell” makes the case for ID being the only reasonable scientific explanation for the origin of information by showing first that overall, ID studies operate like other historic scientific endeavors (such as archaeology and crime-scene investigation) and indeed follow a method popularized by Darwin himself in “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.”
The method relies on “inference to the best explanation.” (However, in the case of ID investigations, the possibility of an intelligent cause is not ruled out a priori.) Mr. Meyer states that “like other scientific theories concerned with explaining events in the remote past, intelligent design is testable by comparing its explanatory power to that of competing theories.”
In addition, to be “scientific,” an ID hypothesis must be based on empirical evidence and not, for instance, religious dogma. “Signature in the Cell” itself is a book that belies the claim that ID theory has developed no specific empirical arguments. In general, this book has developed a cogent defense of ID from “the discovery of digital information in the cell.”
Furthermore, an ID hypothesis must be “falsifiable,” that is, able to be shown false. Of course, claims abound that ID is not falsifiable. However, Mr. Meyer points out that the attempts (and abject failure) to show how a purely materialistic explanation can demonstrate the onset of life is, in essence, an attempt to falsify the role of ID in the generation of living material.
Another aspect of scientific practice is the ability to make and verify predictions. Here is where ID proponents recently scored a significant victory in their efforts to gain more positive attention. When first discovered, excess, non-protein-coding DNA found in the cell was considered to be “junk” - useless remnants of an evolutionary past - by leading proponents of the materialistic worldview.
On the contrary, rather than being useless, ID advocates predicted in published reports, the excess DNA would turn out to be functional. In fact, it has in a big way. The so-called junk has been discovered to perform many important functions in the generation and operation of cells.
Further bolstering the ID claim to prognostic power, one of the appendices of “Signature in the Cell” provides a dozen verifiable predictions of ID and suggests areas of further research from an ID perspective.
New discoveries are revealing the increased superabundance in complexity of life at its basic level. It seems that the living cell more and more can be compared with the most advanced supercomputers, and as such, by analogy, it compels a reasonable consideration that maybe, just maybe, at some time in the very distant past, some thought was given to life’s origin.
On a practical note, this fall at Geneva College, I will be teaching a course on “ID and Evolution,” using the most accessible information available that makes the case for both ID and evolution. For course “textbooks,” I have selected “Signature in the Cell” for the ID perspective and Richard Dawkins’ latest book, “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution,” to defend the evolution position. I expect the course will achieve what most if not all college courses hope to achieve: an opportunity for students to gain perspective on an important topic and use critical thinking skills to judiciously evaluate contemporary ideas.
Anthony J. Sadar is a certified consulting meteorologist and an adjunct associate professor at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa.