Evaluation of Darwin’s Doubt by Stephen C. Meyer, Part I


Because of the length and depth of Dr. Stephen C. Meyer’s new book, Darwin’s Doubt:The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, I’ve decided to spread my review out over multiple posts. In this series, I will not offer a comprehensive summary of the book; many have already done so. Rather, I will do a bit of summarizing while highlighting some of the key arguments and offer some personal commentary.

Who is Dr. Stephen C. Meyer?

Meyer earned his Ph.D. in the philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge after spending the first part of his career as a geophysicist. He is the director for the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute, and has authored numerous articles and books on philosophy of science and intelligent design. His 2010 book, Signature in the Cell won Book of the Year from Times Literary Supplement (London).

Preliminary Comments 

If you’ve seen the Illustra Media film, Darwin’s Dilemma, you’ve had a very nice primer on the material covered in Darwin’s Doubt. Meyer systematically analyzes characteristics of the geological event commonly referred to as the Cambrian Explosion and builds an argument for intelligent design by outlining what he believes to be the reasonable conclusions that can be drawn from the paleontological evidence. Now, many will say, “But Meyer is not a paleontologist.” This is true. However, one must understand what, exactly, the role of a philosopher of science is. Unlike those trained only in a science discipline, a philosopher of science must have the theoretical knowledge of a scientific field AND a high level of philosophical expertise.  A scientist can formulate hypotheses, design experiments, collect data, record findings and draw direct conclusions. A philosopher of science carefully studies what has been done in a particular field by undertaking a thorough study of the scientific literature and then applying the methods of philosophy in order to develop the over-arching picture emerging from that particular discipline. He or she studies the plausibility of theories and evaluates scientific conclusions to determine whether or not they are truly justified by the actual data. A daunting task, indeed. It is clear that Meyer followed protocol in his latest work. In addition to paleontology, he examines work being done in the fields of origin of life science and bioinformatics. Not only does the book contain 60 pages of notes and bibliography pertaining to the scientific literature (which the responsible reader should utilize for fact and context verification), it was also subjected to critical peer review by two biologists and two paleontologists who are not publicly linked to the intelligent design community. All four of them wisely insisted upon complete anonymity, which isn’t surprising given the hostile ridicule ID advocates are often subjected to. (In this area, there is very little academic freedom. It’s as if critical thinking has become taboo.)

Darwin’s Doubt has made quite a splash in the weeks leading up to its publication and the few weeks since. It’s downright comical how many pseudo-reviews have been posted around the blogosphere and on book seller sites. Some of them were posted before the book even came out by individuals who did not receive advance review copies from the publisher. The writers attempted to anticipate Meyer’s arguments and sorely failed. One lengthy review, hailed as “comprehensive” came out the day after the book’s release. Apparently, the writer (who did not receive an advance copy) read a 400+ page book and then wrote an extensive “review” of said book in less than 24 hours. Riiiiiiiiight (in my best Dr. Evil accent)… Here’s a little tip for all book reviewers/commentators: writing an analysis of a scholar’s work without actually having read the work in its entirety amounts to intellectual fraud. It doesn’t do anything for your credibility.

Soon after its release, the book hit #1 on Barnes and Noble and was very near the top of the charts at Amazon. Currently, it is the #1 best seller on Amazon in the category of cosmology, #4 in the category of evolution, and #5 in the category of biological sciences.

Scope and Sequence 

The book is divided into three main segments. “The Mystery of the Missing Fossils” examines the history of the key fossil beds, the current state of affairs in Precambrian and Cambrian paleontology, and the theories that have been developed in attempts to make sense of the fossil data. “How to Build an Animal” explains the information input required to accomplish the Cambrian-era animal body plan revolution and evaluates the current theories on the origin of biological information. “After Darwin, What?” brings everything together in a comparison between naturalistic models and the theory of intelligent design.

In my next post, I will offer my evaluation of Part One: The Mystery of the Missing Fossils. My promise to you is that I have read the book word-for-word, cover-to-cover, and I will strive for objectivity in my commentary.  [Part 3, Part 4]