Another pan of “Darwin’s Doubt”

The National Review is a conservative magazine, so it’s all the more heartening that it just published a review of Stephen Meyer’s new pro-intelligent-design book (Darwin’s Doubt) that is a total pan.

The review is called “How nature works” by John Farrell, a reader here whom the NR describes this way:  “Mr. Farrell writes a science/tech blog for Forbes, and is the author of The Day Without Yesterday: Lemaître, Einstein, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology.”

It will cost you all of 25¢ to read the whole thing, but if you can’t spare a quarter, John’s given me permission to post a few excerpts.  One of his main beefs, which I won’t document here, is that Meyer repeatedly distorts the scientists he quotes in support of his bogus claim that because Cambrian Explosion was too quick to reflect naturalistic evolution, Jesus must have done it.  Here’s the conclusion of Farrell’s piece:

At no point in the book does Meyer ever actually discuss these issues with Marshall, or Davidson, or any of the scientists working deeply in the field. He simply lifts quotes from their papers as they seem convenient to his point.

This is the most disappointing aspect of Meyer’s book. It’s hard to read a book like Darwin’s Doubt in parallel, for example, with a book like New Yorker writer Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist? Holt spent months chasing down and interviewing a wide range of philosophers and scientists—simply to get their answer to the age-old question: Why is there something rather than nothing? It’s a delightful, thought-provoking read for all the reasons that Meyer’s is not. Holt lets none of his subjects off the hook—politely, but persistently, questioning their opinions and assertions.

In the last part of the book, Meyer criticizes what he believes to be scientists’ bias against ID, the predisposition never to entertain it as an explanation for the Cambrian Explosion: “They have accepted a self-imposed limitation on the hypotheses they are willing to consider. . . . If researchers refuse as a matter of principle to consider the design hypothesis, they will obviously miss any evidence that happens to support it.”

But the notion that scientists are not open to the possibility of agent action in the world is not accurate. In 1967, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a graduate student in astrophysics at Cambridge, discovered a radio signal coming from the Crab Nebula. It was a fantastically rapid pulse—too rapid to be natural, it was first believed. That it might be the work of an intelligence was seriously considered—until the lack of variation in the beacon-like pulses, accompanied soon by the discovery of other sources sending similar beams toward earth, persuaded scientists that there was likely a natural explanation. Ultra-dense stars called “pulsars” are now considered the culprits.

In the end, Darwin’s Doubt boils down to a fundamentally weak argument—the argument from personal incredulity about the origin and evolution of life on earth. As John Henry Newman wrote in 1872: “I have not insisted on the argument from design. . . . To tell the truth, though I should not wish to preach on the subject, for 40 years I have been unable to see the logical force of the argument myself. I believe in design because I believe in God; not in a God because I see design.”

Of course Meyer’s book is selling well to creationists and their sympathizers, but sales seem to have plummeted: it’s no longer on the top 25 list of New York Times bestsellers, and fell off after only a week.  I pronounce it thus:
Attack cat! copy

37 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    That photo is terrifying!

  3. Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Ouch. That’s gonna leave a scar.

    And not a pretty one or one to wear with pride, either.

    b&

  4. Alex Shuffell
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Fell off the bestseller list after a week? That’s how long it took for people to read and talk about it.

    Also more good news: I had a look for it on Amazon.com to see how much it’s dropped there after last weeks bad news. It’s now 5 in Science and Religion and 46 in Theology.

    • Alex Shuffell
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Are books like Darwin’s Doubt also good for actual science books? Checking the rest of the Amazon bestsellers lists, Darwin’s Doubt is really moving fast down the list. On Amazon.com WEIT is now 1 in Organic Evolution. Here in .co.uk you and Darwin have jumped up a few places too.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      Also it’s plummeted to a satisfying #28 in the Amazon.com evolution category ~ just one place ahead of The Happy Atheist by the not-so-happy atheist.

      Shubin, Dawkins & Coyne on the other hand have maintained their positions in the top 15 despite not being recent publications

    • docbill1351
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      Actually, it fell off way before the weekly calculation. Dropped below the top 100 overnight.

      Current ranking on Amazon is about 4,000 which is still zillions of times better than Luskin’s new “book” that sits at about 300,000.

  5. Stafford Gordon
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    For fun, Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s discoveries were initially termed LGMs: Little Green Men.

  6. Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I’m trying to do a chapter-by-chapter point-by-point review of DD. It’s slow going because it’s little more than 400 pages of Gish Gallop. I’m finding resources that debunk the claims of Meyer. At this point, I’m into chapter 1 and I’ve already written several thousand words in refutation.

    http://www.skepticink.com/smilodonsretreat/2013/07/09/darwins-doubt-a-review/

    • JBlilie
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      One question: Do you have layers? :)

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

        That one took me a minute.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

      That must be painful. Way to take one for the team!

  7. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    A cheap shot to be sure, but I can’t help noting the similarities in name between Stephen Meyer and StephanIE Meyer, author of the egregious “Twilight” series.

    At least the male author isn’t going to be a distraction to tens of thousands of teenagers who should be reading better stuff.

    • docbill1351
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, one writes pure fiction and the other one writes about sparkly vampires.

      • moarscienceplz
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        LOL!

  8. teacupoftheapocalypse
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    sub

  9. Mel
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    One can’t trace an effect through magic and one can’t trace an effect to a cause one can never find. The assertion that “God did it” is no explanation at all and ends the goal of making the world intelligible. Trying to claim supernatural causation is to assert violations of natural causation as part of science. Substituting religious fantasy for the difficult task of research would end the entire scientific program. If miracles happened, every scientific hypothesis about the cause of such an event would fail. Science can never assume supernaturalism.

  10. ladyatheist
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    It was only ever on any bestseller list because the Discovery Institute bought a bunch of copies for book tours, or to send to churches, or whatever. It wasn’t being bought by bookstores and customers, I bet.

    • Achrachno
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      That’s my guess too! Someone bought them by the case to hand out. Weird pattern to try and explain otherwise.

  11. Seth
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    IDiots…I swear. The other day I engaged a friend of mine (who just happens to be a Creationist!) in a debate about the legitimacy of Intelligent Design. It was the usual, at first. “show me the intermediates”, “Humans are not apes”, “genetics support ID”. Aside from holding back a chortle or two, I just listened in to what he had to say. By the time he was done, I asked if he would mind reading a book that demonstrates the scientific evidence for evolution. I handed him my copy of The Greatest Show on Earth. His response? “I…don’t need to read that. It has no compelling evidence…”, to which I replied “You haven’t even read it yet…”. -sigh- I have officially given up on him.

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”
      George Bernard Shaw

      • Seth
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

        So true….lesson learned. Too bad it took me so damn long :(

        • microraptor
          Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

          Well, you can at least tell him that he’s not allowed to bring up the topic again until after he’s read The Greatest Show On Earth.

          • Seth
            Posted August 17, 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink

            Good point. :)

    • David Duncan
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

      My stock reply to IDiots is that, yes, there are many examples of apparent design, which can be explained several ways, but there are many examples in nature of bad design for which a mindless process like evolution is a good explanation but which an Intellegent Designer is not.

      Life’s too short to spend much time on IDiots and cretinists. I only bother with family and good friends.

    • M.L.
      Posted October 1, 2013 at 5:27 am | Permalink

      Well, he’s obviously afraid of what he might see there. You won.

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Though in nowise ideologically simpatico, I sporadically peruse National Review and other right-wing rags because, hey, somebody’s gotta keep on eye on ‘em. Until about a year ago, when he was run off the NR reservation (and thence to roam the fetid backwaters of neo-Confederate hate-lit) for spewing a racist rant so vile as to make NR editor Rich Lowry blanch, the ex-pat British journalist John Derbyshire (“the Derb” to the few friends willing to fess up to the fact; “that dickwad Derbyshire” to the bien pensant set) wrote a regular column there. A mathematician by original vocation, Derbyshire would, on occasion of the publication of a brick like Darwin’s Doubt, devote his column to a scathing takedown of the evolution-denialist du jour. Those columns, I miss – the spoonful of cyclamate that helps the reactionary diatribe go down. Farrell, it appears, has inherited that beat.

  13. Hempenstein
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Troll alert over in the Cambrian explosion thread of some wks back. Derivatives of comment 5.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

      Oh, yes my new creationist friend :D

      • TonyR
        Posted August 17, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        Hard to keep up with posts and comments but I thought I’d put this here. It’s your Oshawa friend :)

        I went to the Chapters store in Oshawa and just wanted to report that your campaign worked. DD is in the Relion and Spirituality section in the store. WEIT is in the Science/Biology section along with Dawkins and Neil Shubin.

        I also looked online and the book has been moved to Religion & Sprirituality there too.
        Congratulations – I wouldn’t have thought it possible!
        Tony

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 17, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

          Whoo hoo! I’m still working on Amazon Canada. They keep telling their working on it for reals but I’m glad that I got it moved in a physical store too. It was surprisingly easy with Chapters & they actually seemed embarrassed by the mistake. I’m starting to think that I’ll make sure to do more business with them vs. Amazon because of their handling of this so promptly.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted August 17, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

            Homophone fail – I should proof read better. “They keep telling me that they’re working on it”

  14. PeteJohn
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    “In the end, Darwin’s Doubt boils down to a fundamentally weak argument—the argument from personal incredulity about the origin and evolution of life on earth.”

    I like this line.

  15. barryleder
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    I finished DD a couple of nights ago. If you’re going to read it, read it backwards. Well not exactly backwards, but read chapters in reverse order. There is practically an alter call for scientists in the 2nd to last or last chapter.

    John Farrell’s comments are on point. Nor did Meyer acknowledge how quickly the long/impossible odds he cites would fall apart if base assumptions turn out to be even slightly wrong.

    While Meyer elaborates on how impossible it is that two mutations could arise and work together (not necessarily rising concurrently), he seems to have forgotten this is exactly what happened with Lenski’s bacteria (which he cites in other discussion).

    There are some rather tortured analogies throughout the book in an attempt to make it lay person, which I am, accessible. I rather enjoyed the pencil drawn sketches throughout until he attempted to illustrate the philosophy of id by comparison to technology near the end of the book. There are some things cute just can’t save.

    (full disclosure: mine was a library borrowed copy, not interested in purchasing)

  16. Posted August 21, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Hooray! I was in Blackwells in Oxford, England at the weekend, and got them to move the book from the biology to the religion section. The assistant I spoke to was as shocked and disappointed with the book as we are!

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:42 am | Permalink

      Next time I go Blackwells, I’ll have to make sure that they haven’t moved it back!

  17. M.L.
    Posted October 1, 2013 at 5:10 am | Permalink

    I came across an interesting instance of “wedge strategy” deception in action the other day. I was flipping through radio stations while driving and happened upon radio host/conservative pundit and sometime movie reviewer Michael Medved interviewing Stephen Meyer about his latest monstrosity, Darwin’s Doubt.

    Medved acted as though he was a more or less disinterested third party who just happened to be interviewing this awesome ‘scientist’ whose new book was an example of “the growing doubts over Darwinism in the scientific community.”

    This was incredibly deceptive and disingenuous on the part of both inasmuch as Medved is a “fellow” at the Discovery Institute and they both know each other damn well and for years and Medved was clearly using his radio show to promote his homey’s book.


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