Science & Faith
7/16/13 at 08:19 PM 46 Comments

Darwin's Doubt: Critical & Friendly Reviews of Meyer's Best-Selling Book

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Stephen Meyer's new book, Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, appeared on July 7 in the #7 place on the New York Times hardback nonfiction list. See it here. The Times accurately summarizes the thesis of the book:

DARWIN'S DOUBT, by Stephen C. Meyer. (HarperOne.) The theory of intelligent design best explains the appearance of animals in the fossil record without apparent ancestors.

Indeed, Meyer's book is about how the scientific theory of intelligent designed is strongly supported by the geologically sudden appearance of complex animal life in the Cambrian explosion, about 530 million years ago. Here is an infographic introduction to the book copied below (note the three numbered items on the first graphic and the explanation of each these on the second graphic).

Here is video in which Meyer discusses the two main ideas in his book. Watch this before we discuss some of the reviews of Meyer's book below.

Amazon reviews of Darwin's Doubt, although mostly positive, include some negative ones. The negative reviews that interact with the book's content (rather than just complain about intelligent design), focus on Meyer's alleged error in claiming that the Cambrian appearance of most animal body plans is in fact a problem for evolutionary theory. Ray Bohlin, who holds a PhD in molecular and cell biology, explains that these negative review are

frequently communicated by putting "Cambrian explosion" in quotation marks, or just the word "explosion," implying that whatever happened in the Cambrian period, a "radiation" perhaps, it was not really an explosion. Some reviewers assure us that this is well known in the scientific literature and that numerous workable solutions have been offered. Thus the Cambrian "explosion" is not a "problem" at all.

Bohlin replies to this shallow strategy of several Amazonians:

Meanwhile, I just received a copy of the June 7, 2013, issue of Science magazine, the latest attempt by the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) to get me to renew my subscription. What should I find on page 1170 but a review of a recent summary of Cambrian fossils and explanations authored by Douglas Erwin and James Valentine, two well-known experts on the Cambrian ("What Led to Metazoa's Big Bang?"). Steve Meyer only briefly refers to their work because it was released in January 2013, but Casey Luskin has reviewed it at length here ("Erwin and Valentine's The Cambrian Explosion Affirms Major Points in Darwin's Doubt: The Cambrian Enigma Is 'Unresolved'"). A point worth noting is right in the title: The Cambrian Explosion! Perhaps Erwin and Valentine ought to consult those experts in the ranks of Amazon reviewers and get their terminology in line with current thinking.

That said, I found interesting some statements by Christopher J. Lowe who reviews Erwin and Valentine in Science. In his opening paragraph, Lowe refers to "the grand puzzle of the Cambrian explosion," "one of the most important outstanding mysteries in evolutionary biology," in which "early representatives of all the major animal phyla appear abruptly." Later, he discusses the contributions of molecular biology "to solving the grand puzzle of the Cambrian explosion, which have been at odds with interpretations from the fossil data." That doesn't quite match up with the Amazon reviewers who just think Meyer got everything wrong and he's either stupid or a liar.

Instead, Lowe may agree with Erwin and Valentine and maybe even Meyer that the Cambrian explosion is still in need of an explanation. That would seem to follow from his twice referring to it as a "grand puzzle" and also as a "mystery."

Meyer himself, after reviewing the relevant data, offers one possible resolution of the enigma. Erwin and Valentine call for an interdisciplinary approach to solving the Cambrian mystery, as Lowe summarizes at the end of his review: "It is futile to hope to explain such a major evolutionary event without embracing an interdisciplinary approach." Admitting that a single line of reasoning is not going to get you there appears to imply that the problem to be solved is complex and mysterious. And indeed an interdisciplinary approach, reviewing the fossil, information, developmental, and genomic components of this unique event in Earth's history, is exactly what Meyer offers in Darwin's Doubt.

It is those lines of evidence, taken together, that suggest intelligent ordering as the best resolution of the mystery of the Cambrian explosion.

When Dr. Stephen Meyer appeared on the Michael Medved Show last week, the two men discussed (at 3:25 into this secondary release of this segment of the Medved Show on ID The Future) the very prominent review of Meyer's book that appeared in The New Yorker. Learn just how significant this review was. It turns out that The New Yorker offered an unwitting [I inserted this word in bold due to a comment from the author of The New Yorker review found in the comments below; my next blog will address this topic] affirmation (while also trying to critique the book) of the high level of scholarship in Meyer's book.

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