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Blown Away

Published in The American Spectator

When I learned that Dr. Stephen Meyer had written a new book on the evidence of design displayed in living cells, I expected to be impressed by it. I wasn’t prepared to have my mind blown — which is what happened.

In Signature in the Cell, Meyer marshals the scientific facts and arguments to show that the staggering quantity of information contained in the “computer code” of our cellular DNA almost certainly cannot have been generated by undirected material processes. Instead, Meyer contends, in our combined human experience the kind of complex, functionally specified information that is present in living cells is known to be produced by only one source: an intelligent, purposeful mind. The implications of that thesis are enormous, and the scientific arguments Meyer presents for it are compelling.

As Director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, Meyer is a principal architect and advocate of the intelligent design (ID) movement. After gaining altitude for a number of years, intelligent design exploded into the national consciousness in 2004 and 2005 like a starburst shell on the Fourth of July. ID proponents have taken several approaches to demonstrating the existence of design in nature, including arguments based on the dazzling “fine-tuning” of the universe’s physical laws, and on the “irreducible complexity” of biological structures and processes (most famously advanced by Prof. Michael Behe in Darwin’s Black Box).

Of the approaches taken by ID theorists, Signature in the Cell is most closely aligned with the pioneering work on design detection published over the last decade by mathematician William Dembski, one of Meyer’s colleagues at the Discovery Institute. Dembski and Meyer both rely, at least in part, on information theory and probabilistic analysis to determine whether a phenomenon is best explained as the product of unguided “chance and necessity,” or of design by an intelligence.

The major contribution by Meyer’s formidable new book is to employ these tools in a searching, sustained examination of the nature of the information encoded in DNA, how information is processed in the cell, and how that information and processing machinery might have arisen in the first place. The heart of the book addresses this “origin of life” problem. He tackles it at the level of the detailed molecular biochemistry of DNA and RNA, the cellular processes by which the information encoded in those molecules is replicated, and the mechanisms by which the myriad proteins necessary for cell function are produced.

Meyer’s argument is a comprehensive one, rooted in multiple scientific and philosophical disciplines, and he is perhaps uniquely qualified to make it. His background is in physics and earth science, and he earned his PhD from Cambridge University in philosophy of science, with a thesis on origin of life research. Although not himself a biologist, the detailed facts of molecular biology Meyer presents in the book, on which he bases his principal arguments, are sound and accurate scientifically (I checked with an impartial expert). There is far more to the book than biology, but let’s start with the argument based on information in the cell.

Continue Reading at The American Spectator