Thursday, September 5, 2013

Cambrian Expulsion of Darwin's Doubt

Stephen Meyer’s book, Darwin’s Doubt is an exploration of the fossil record, known as the Cambrian Explosion, as well as a meticulous analyzation of genetic requirements of what novel body plans in animals require in order to arrive on the scene of life.  In addition, it is a case-building exercise in promoting the theory of intelligent design as a viable option to the prevailing view of the neo-Darwinian synthesis that all of life arose by means of random, genetic mutations acted upon by natural selection.  
Readers familiar with the Cambrian explosion know that it is a name given to the sudden appearance in the fossil record of novel body plans, fully-formed and functional, and astonishingly distinct from the eukaryote organisms in the Pre-Cambrian record.  In the first part of the book, The Mystery of the Missing Fossils, Meyer discusses Darwin’s friend and challenger, Harvard paleontologist Louis Agassiz.  Agassiz doubted Darwin’s idea of descent with modification via tiny, incremental changes because he doubted the power of natural selection to produce a specific difference (difference in species).  Agassiz wrote in Darwin’s day, “It is a matter of fact that extreme variations finally degenerate or become sterile; like monstrosities they all die out,” (11).  It was the Cambrian fossil evidence that provided Agassiz with his antagonism toward the idea of tiny, gradual, accumulations of change in one species could give rise to another.  Further, as Meyer provides in his book by means of photographs and illustrations, there are some downright strange body plans found in the Cambrian layer!  One look at the Hallucigenia sparsa gives reason as to its onomatopoetic name.  
But perhaps this is old hat for those who read the evolutionary literature.  After all, we live in a day of genetic engineering, biomolecular study and gene manipulation, and so forth, and this leaves much to be desired by reasoning about intelligent design by means of studying ancient fossils in rocks.  The second part of Meyer’s book, How to Build an Animal, will satisfy readers who desire a detailed analysis of the origin of genetic information, protein folds, and de novo  origination of new species, as proposed by Manyuan Long, Kenneth Miller and others (Gishlick, Matzke, and Elsberry), where Meyer challenges the origination of genetic information as unexplained by biologists, who have begged the question “as to the origin of the specified information contained in genes or parts of genes,” and that they must “invoke completely unexplained de novo jumps--essentially evolutionary creation ex nihilo (“from nothing”).  For example, Meyer discusses how, while biologists propose protein folds as plausible evidential scenarios where genes from the folds could be different enough to produce proteins with different folds (critiquing Long again).  However, according to Meyer, the evidence (“in most cases”) is that when protein folds are fragmented off from their original chain, the fold loses its ability to form a stable structure (224).  If that is true “in most cases,” should it be viewed as a viable hypothesis?  To find the answer, readers will have to read through Meyer’s well-researched interaction with current research in the origin of genetic information, epigenetics, and so forth.  

Part three of the book, After Darwin, What?  Meyer states his case that intelligent design should be considered a scientific theory based upon historical reasoning, the ability to make predictions and the inference to the best explanation (abductive reasoning).  The book is an enjoyable read.  Meyer’s research is as vast as the cosmos, and yet he offers anecdotes and musings that delight the reader, such as this creative hypothetical: “Perhaps he (Agassiz) retired to his study the better to concentrate, scrutinizing the book’s (Origin) prespossessing title, recalling what he had already heard about the work.  He read the book with deep interest, making notes in the margin as he moved through it, but in the end his verdict would disappoint its author” (8).  No matter what one’s views are on Darwin’s idea of descent with modification via, slow, gradual, incremental changes, and whether natural selection has the creative power to form novel body plans, Stephen C. Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt will not disappoint, as it is researched to a T, full of diagrams, illustrations and pictures of key figures, fossils, and more, making the book easy to follow, as it gets tedious in its research. In any case, Meyer's book is well-worth the effort in reading it.  

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