06 January 2010

Signature in the Cell: beginning the review

So Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute, a founder of the ID movement, wrote a book called Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. It came out last summer, and I ignored it. I ignored it because it didn't seem interesting or important or new, and there's always something interesting and important and new to read. (I recently finished The Road. Wow.) It didn't matter to me that the ID people said it was "groundbreaking" or "seminal" or "a blueprint for twenty-first-century biological science" since they said things like that about Behe's last book. And that is a terrible book, one that reflects very poorly on its author. It seemed reasonable to assume that the ID movement wasn't going to generate any serious new arguments, and that if they did it would be obvious. Signature in the Cell gave no indication that it contained anything new.

But then last week over at the Panda's Thumb, Nick Matzke posted on some of the weaknesses in the book, and he caught my eye with this:

If you are a sufficient wonk about the ID debate, there is some interesting stuff about Meyer’s highly revisionist account of his own history and the history of the ID movement, and there is an interesting study to be made of the science that Meyer left out of his book, but that makes for a big project, so it will be awhile before I or someone else get it out there.
Seemingly at the same moment, the folks at Telic Thoughts (one ID site that's mostly worthy of respect) called for more reviews of the book by ID critics, and the discussion that followed made it clear to me that this book needs to be carefully reviewed. (Darrel Falk has a nice critique at the Biologos blog, but it's not a detailed review.)

So I'll blog through the book, chapter by chapter. There are 20 chapters, plus a crucial epilogue and two important-looking appendices, but the series won't be as crazy long as it sounds: looking through the book and Meyer's overview in the prologue, I can see that many chapters – about half is my guess – contain basic overviews or memoir-like material that will require little comment or review. I will not dwell on political/philosophical issues such as whether ID is science or stealth creationism. Instead I'll focus on specific scientific claims, and I'll look specifically for new analysis or evidence in favor of ID. That means that some of my entries will be uncharacteristically short. Really. First up: the prologue.

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