Stephen C. Meyer. Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. Harper One, 2009. 611 pp. ISBN:978-0-06-147278-7
I have been saying for some time (six months actually) that I was going to review Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell. This is the first, faltering step toward that end. But please note that we’re dealing here with a six hundred page magnum opus. As a result, rather than attempt a comprehensive review, I will treat Meyer’s book as a resource for any number of important topics of debate and then at some point in the mists of the future I’ll perhaps draw some conclusions.
Intelligent design has an enormous public relations problem. Sure it is a home run at that rural church in Iowa, but the biology departments of many leading universities? Rather less so. So what can be said for those grumping biologists and the other skeptics, humanists, atheists, agnostics, and others who blanch at the very mention of ID?
Imagine that you’re a World War 2 vet from the European theatre, the year is 1952, your eighteen year old daughter has just pulled up with her new boyfriend … and he’s driving a new Volkswagen Beetle. I understand that you’re immediately thinking about Hitler and Nazism and the dark years of battle. But I would implore you, as you meet and greet the boyfriend and check over his Volkswagen please set aside those preconceptions and take both him and the car on their own merits. So it is for intelligent design. If we’re going to have an intelligent discussion about it, some of my audience will have to set aside associations which are just a few notches below “Nazi” on the inflammatory scale.
A great place to begin is by disabusing that audience of some widespread assumptions about intelligent design. One such assumption is that it is aimed at evolution per se, as if it offers some alternative explanation of life’s origin and development. This is, in key respects, very wrong. Meyer writes:
“The theory does not challenge the idea of evolution defined as change over time or even common ancestry, but it does dispute the Darwinian idea that the cause of all biological change is wholly blind and undirected.” (4)
I continue to be amazed how often this fundamental point is missed. Back in 1952 you could have found some drivers of Volkswagen Beetles who were sympathetic with the Nazis but that fact is hardly the fault of the Beetle. It doesn’t get to choose who’s driving it. By the same token, you can find people using intelligent design for all sorts of purposes, but the uses to which it is put are not the fault of intelligent design. The theory does not object to the notion that human beings and sea cucumbers share a common ancestor, even if many of the “drivers” of the idea do. Rather, it deals with the view that all biological change must be viewed as blind and undirected.