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.”