The chapter is called "Of Clues to Causes" and it's about scientific explanation. That's an interesting and important topic, one that opponents of evolutionary theory rarely understand. Meyer's summary is predictably fluffy but not inaccurate. Those seeking an introduction to philosophical questions pertaining to scientific explanation should look elsewhere, since Meyer says little in the 22-page chapter. His main points:
- There are indeed legitimately scientific means of understanding and seeking explanation for past events.
- These approaches validate ID as a "possible scientific explanation for the origin of biological information."
The first point should look strange to most readers of this blog. "Well, duh." Ah, but it's there for a good reason: many of Meyer's readers, like Meyer himself as a younger thinker, will be under the influence of the kind of approach advocated by creationists like Charles Thaxton, who crudely separated "historical science" from "operations science" and thereby created an automatic niche for ID in OOL explanation. Meyer defends "historical sciences" as distinct from "experimental sciences," but just as important scientifically, and notes that their modes of reasoning are intellectually ubiquitous. It's basic stuff, really basic, but Meyer does a good job. (As does Gordon Glover in Beyond The Firmament, but with a lot more flair; Meyer uses a boring old wet driveway to illustrate the vetting of competing explanations, while Glover memorably considers "levitating snow machines" as a possible explanation for the appearance of snow in a nearly-identical example.)
But is intelligent design the "only known cause" of the origin of specified information? [...] If intelligent design turned out to be the only known or adequate cause of the origin of specified information, then the past action of a designing intelligence could be established on the basis of the strongest and most logically compelling form of historical inference – an inference from the effect in question (specified information) to a single necessary cause of that effect (intelligent activity).
Not only was it was possible to conceive of the purposeful act (or repeated action)... [page 171]
Or read the fourth chapter of Cambridge paleobiologist Simon Conway Morris's book on the Burgess Shale and you will be taken on a vivid guided tour of an ancient marine environment teaming with exotic life-forms. [page 151]
These studies convinced me that intelligent design was a possible – a causally adequate – explanation for the origin of biological information. But to determine whether intelligent design was the best – the only causally adequate explanation – I would need to know more about other scientific possibilities. I would need to follow Scriven's directive to "make a thorough search" for and evaluation of other possible causes. Over the next several years, as I assumed my duties as an assistant professor, I set out to do exactly that.
With respect to plants, to which on account of Nägeli's essay I shall confine myself in the following remarks, it will be admitted that the flowers of orchids present a multitude of curious structures, which a few years ago would have been considered as mere morphological differences without any special function; but they are now known to be of the highest importance for the fertilisation of the species through the aid of insects, and have probably been gained through natural selection. No one until lately would have imagined that in dimorphic and trimorphic plants the different lengths of the stamens and pistils, and their arrangement, could have been of any service, but now we know this to be the case.