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Friday, June 21, 2013

Review of "Darwin's Doubt," New Book by Cambridge Ph.D. Stephen Meyer

By Nancy Pearcey • June 21, 2013, 05:56 PM

David Snoke writes at The Christian Scientific Society: 

When I first saw that the new book by Steve Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt, centered on the Cambrian Explosion, I was loathe to read it. I had been led to believe over the years that everything that could be said about the Cambrian Explosion has already been said. I was quite happy to believe that the only real discontinuities in the story of life occurred at the origin of life and at the origin of human consciousness.

I should have known better; science marches onward, and old arguments get reexamined as new data arises. Steve Meyer’s book is a wonderful, comprehensive case that the origin of the major types of animals, namely the phyla, is just as strikingly discontinuous as the the origin of life. . . ."

Snoke's review includes a good discussion of the problem of information in living things. He writes:

After posing the problem, Meyer discusses some of the non-orthodox, semi-Darwinian proposals floated in the last few decades, such as Gould’s punctuated equilibrium and epigenetic neo-Lamarkianism. All of these are built on a surprising amount of hand-waving, invoking new terms but brushing over the actual physical mechanisms.

One section I was quite happy about was the section on “self-organization,” promoted by Kaufmann, Prigogene, and others. This area has had a strong following in the physics world for three decades, but I have always thought it was sterile, for the reasons that Meyer cites. Essentially, getting "order" from natural self-organizing process and getting "information" are two totally different things.

"Order" is easy -- all you need is a natural length scale to arise in a system and "spontaneous symmetry breaking" will lead to orderly patterns on this length scale. This is true of atomic crystals at low temperature and rows of clouds in the sky.

But the very nature of information, whether in DNA or human writing, precludes natural forces from generating it. DNA can hold information precisely because there is no natural force demanding the nucleic acids be in one location or another. All information requires this type of "contingency," that is, openness to many possible choices; a system which is driven to one required state holds no information.  

Stephen Meyer holds a Ph.D. in philosophy of science from Cambridge University. David Snoke, Ph.D., is professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Pittsburgh, as well as president of the Christian Scientific Society.

Free Thought on Darwin at Union-Tribune
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