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Beginnings Of A Personal Conviction

Synopsis Of The First Chapter Of  Signature In The Cell by Stephen Meyer

ISBN: 9780061894206; ISBN10: 0061894206; Imprint: HarperCollins

In August of 2004, philosopher Stephen Meyer published an article in the Proceedings Of The Biological Society Of Washington.  The article raised media interest and outrage because it was the first to “advance the theory of intelligent design” in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.  The editor Richard Sternberg lost his position as a result of the ensuing debacle.

Just a few months later, renowned British philosopher Antony Flew shocked the world by reversing his life-long atheistic commitment and announcing his support for an idea reminiscent of that proposed by the modern intelligent design movement.  That same month the ACLU declared it would be filing charges against the Dover, Pennsylvania school board for approving the teaching of Intelligent Design in its science classes.

Much of the controversy in all the above cases stems from a misunderstanding over what the intelligent design movement does and does not purport to explain.  As many in the movement have re-iterated throughout the years, intelligent design is not in any way synonymous with biblical creationism.  In the words of Stephen Meyer “intelligent design is an inference from scientific evidence, not a deduction from religious authority” (p. 8).

In his recent book Signature In The Cell, Meyer presents a fresh outlook on one of the most compeling facets of the Intelligent Design case- that of biological information in DNA.  When Watson and Crick published their famous paper in 1958, they not only solved the mystery of the structure of DNA but also unearthed the computer program-like nature of the information that it carried.  While experience tells us that such information has its origins in the activity of conscious beings, evolutionary biologists have dismissed such a connection in biology.  As an alternative, they have as we all know placed their belief in the blind activity of natural selection.

It would seem ironic therefore that these same scientists would then employ design-evoking metaphors such as ‘code’ and ‘language’ to describe DNA.  They of course qualify this by stating that the apparent design of DNA is merely illusionary.  Still as Meyer hammers home, the mystery of the origins of DNA and life itself remains one that modern day biology is finding difficult to unravel.

Meyer provides a lucid and personal account of his own experiences as a scientist and philosopher revealing to the reader the watershed events that led to his move towards the intelligent design alternative.  Foremost in his initial exposé are the meetings he conducted with Charles Thaxton who, in his co-authorship of the book The Mystery Of Life’s Origin, rejuvenated the idea of intelligent causation in biology.

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36 Responses to Beginnings Of A Personal Conviction

  1. Stephen Meyer is interviewed about Signature in the Cell. i.e. the “information problem” in DNA. – video

    http://downloads.cbn.com/cbnne.....f?aid=8497

  2. Um, I just wanted to point this out because if I didn’t, someone else would be sure to. The information below is available on Wikipedia.

    Watson and Crick didn’t discover DNA. DNA was first isolated by the Swiss physician Friedrich Miescher in 1869. Miescehr found it in the pus from discarded surgical bandages. He gave it the name “nuclein,” because it was found in the nuclei of cells.

    Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA on February 28, 1953, although of course they had a lot of help from people like Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin. The first Watson/Crick paper appeared in Nature on April 25, 1953.

    What happened in 1957 was that an influential presentation, Crick laid out the “Central Dogma” of molecular biology, which described the relationship between DNA, RNA and proteins. The dogma was published in a scientific paper in 1958 (“On Protein Synthesis,” Symp. Soc. Exp. Biol. XII, 139-163).

  3. It makes the last months of 2004 sound like the ID best times. Wow!

  4. 4

    Wow, vj. I hope in that case the post is not an accurate synopsis!

  5. As many in the movement have re-iterated throughout the years, intelligent design is not in any way synonymous with biblical creationism. In the words of Stephen Meyer “intelligent design is an inference from scientific evidence, not a deduction from religious authority” (p. 8).

    Nevertheless, I note that my local bookstore carries it in the “Religion/Christianity” aisle, and Amazon.com currently lists the book as #1 in “Books > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Creationism”

    It’s also listed as #1 under a coupleof cosmology fields, but shockingly enough for a book called “Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design”, it doesn’t even seem to be listed in the biology category.

  6. 6

    Interestingly 2004/2005 was when ISCID stopped publishing. Almost as if after Dover there was no point anymore.

    http://www.iscid.org/contact.php

    ISCID is no longer being managed as an organization, and thus no longer has contact information.

    Allen Macneill also had a blog post about ID activity (or the lack of it) on campus (IDEA clubs).

    http://evolutionlist.blogspot......llege.html

    In fairness, Casey Luskin provides a rebuttal in the comments. But I would note that the IDEA centre website notes that “We do not know when the next IDEA Club Leadership Training Conference will be scheduled at this time. ” and that was in 2002!

    There is a list of IDEA chapters available

    http://www.ideacenter.org/clubs/locations.php

    Clicking on a few random links brings me to what look like mock up sites with Mario A.Lopez’s name on them.

    E.G

    http://ideaclubtcw.org/
    http://ideacenter.org/sacstate/events.htm

    Or 404 – not found.

    http://www.geocities.com/intel...../idtn.html
    http://www.geocities.com/barabooidea/
    http://www.rso.cornell.edu/idea/
    http://www.mpidea.com/

    or press releases from 2003/4/5

    http://www.ideacenter.org/cont.....php/id/783
    http://www.ideacenter.org/cont.....hp/id/1235
    http://www.ideacenter.org/cont.....hp/id/1303
    http://www.ideacenter.org/cont.....hp/id/1244

    In fact, I can’t find a single IDEA site that is active in any way whatsoever.

    Can you?

    http://www.ideacenter.org/clubs/locations.php

  7. “It makes the last months of 2004 sound like the ID best times. Wow!”

    No that’ll be 2012

  8. 8
    CannuckianYankee

    David, VJ,

    In the CBN interview with Meyer linked by BA77 Meyer states “…when Watson and Crick discoverd the structure of the DNA…”

    I don’t think we have anything to worry about there.

  9. Tajimas D, nothing like a controvery to prop sales. If they put it in the biology section, where it belongs, the fight’s over. Eah, they’re not ready just yet. Still a bit o’ milk left to squeeze.

    I think they will keep it in the ‘spiritual’ section, in the ‘spirit’ of opposition, of course. :)

  10. Talking of 2004, let’s not forget Dr. Dembski’s prediction that was published in Touchstone magazine in August of 2004:

    In the next five years, molecular Darwinism—the idea that Darwinian processes can produce complex molecular structures at the subcellular level—will be dead. When that happens, evolutionary biology will experience a crisis of confidence because evolutionary biology hinges on the evolution of the right molecules. I therefore foresee a Taliban-style collapse of Darwinism in the next ten years. Intelligent design will of course profit greatly from this. For ID to win the day, however, will require talented new researchers able to move this research program forward, showing how intelligent design provides better insights into biological systems than the dying Darwinian paradigm.

    It needs no comment I think.

  11. 11

    how intelligent design provides better insights into biological systems than the

    Five years later and are there any such insights?

  12. 12

    For example,

    human embryos have pharyngeal arches just like fish do. In fish, those structures end up being fashioned into gills and other structures while in humans they end up being fashioned into the structures of our own bodies. But in the embryos, they are identical structures.

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispat.....t.php#more

    Does ID have anything to say about pharyngeal arches? If ID is about to supplant Darwinism then it must have an better explanation for this.

    As Ed says

    The fossil record looks exactly how it must look if evolution by common descent is true.

    Anyone disagree?

  13. @ Levy,

    The fossil record looks exactly how it must look if evolution by common descent is true.

    The fossil record is supposed to be evidence of how evolution happened. In other words, the conclusion was made first that evolution did happen, and then the fossil record was used to say how it happened. If the fossil record were different it would only change what are, more or less, minor details of the bigger evolution story. It cannot, therefore, also be evidence that evolution did happen. It’s circular.

    1. The fossils tell the story of how evolution happened.

    2. Here is how evolution happened.

    3. Oh, look! The fossil record fits with how we thought evolution happened. Now we know it happened!!! Gravity has nothing on us, baby!

    Anyway…

    How is that Cambrian explosion thing coming along?

    And in case you aren’t catching my drift, Yeah! I disagree!

  14. Anyone disagree?

    Yes, fossil records of Cars looks just like that… the same pattern!

    Logic!

  15. 15

    Brent:

    If the fossil record were different it would only change what are, more or less, minor details of the bigger evolution story.

    That’s completely untrue. Suppose, for example, that the oldest fossils were of humans, with unicellular organisms appearing much later. That would revolutionize biology!

  16. 16

    Shazard:

    Yes, fossil records of Cars looks just like that… the same pattern!

    Not true. If you construct a “phylogenetic tree” of cars, the answer you get will depend on which features of the car you look at. A tree based on body styles will look different from a tree based on engine types or a tree based on radios.

    What makes the evidence for common descent so powerful is that unlike the situation with cars, you converge on the same tree even when looking at independent data sets. The fossil evidence, the morphology of living species, and the molecular evidence all point to the same answer, and different features within each of those categories also produce congruent trees.

    In fact, the consensus phylogenetic tree for the 30 major taxa of life has been established with the equivalent of 38 decimal places of precision! See this earlier thread for details.

  17. mereologist,

    The data does not converge as you say.

    I take it that you don’t stay current.

    The alleged tree looks likea bush, then it was a forest.

  18. Echidna-Levy

    The theory of evolution doesn’t have anything to say about those arches.

    And it sure as heck cannot explain cellular differentiation or the development of an embryo.

    Both of those have to do with information.

    Information that is not reducible to matter and energy.

  19. Dear Echidna-Levy,

    “human embryos have pharyngeal arches just like fish do. In fish, those structures end up being fashioned into gills and other structures while in humans they end up being fashioned into the structures of our own bodies. But in the embryos, they are identical structures.”

    At some basic level, all machines built to cope with the same environment (ie, need oxygen, biological material for fuel, etc) must share some similarities.
    It is normal to expect certain building blocks to be the same.

    Interpreting this similarity as common descent is only one possible interpertation.

    Analogy: If I start building two computers, one will be a home desktop the other will be part of a car engine ECU. I start of with microprocessors for both. As I add components both machines will ‘evolve’ to look quite different, but some of the basic components will be the same.
    This does not prove common descent of both machines, just that to perform their final function they will have some similar components.

  20. 20

    Go_ran,

    See my earlier comment for an explanation of why the evidence is compatible with common descent but not with common design — unless the designer deliberately made things look as if they evolved without guidance.

  21. mereologist,

    Not one organism looks like it evolved without guidance.

    Your continued avoidance of providing a testable hypothesis on that premise proves my point.

  22. The fossil record looks exactly how it must look if evolution by common descent is true.

    I disagree.

    The vast majority (>95%) of the fossil record is of marine inverts, which is to be expected knowing what we do of the fossilizarion process.

    In that vast majority there isn’t any evidence for universal common descent.

    There is evidence for slight variations, but no changes in body plans.

    So how do evos explain that- by not looking at it or mentioning it.

  23. BTW mereologist,

    Theobald thinks that evolution predicts a nested hierarchy.

    Yet evolution does not have a direction and nested hierarchy demands a direction of additive and immutable defining characteristics.

    IOW Theobald is clueless.

  24. I am now into chapter 5 of “Signature in the Cell” and it still appears that Dr Meyer is hung-up on sequence specificity.

    The seq spec is just to carry out the code and the instructions.

    The instructions are not the sequence any more than the computer program is the disk.

    The information is seperate from the sequence.

    Perhaps he gets to that later or perhaps that thought hasn’t reached him yet.

    Do people really think that humans are the only agency clever enough to store conceptual instructions on a physical medium?

  25. The instructions are not the sequence any more than the computer program is the disk.

    Joseph, could you elaborate this further. I also would be interested if Drs. Dembski, Behe and Meyer share your views.

  26. sparc,

    The instructions are on/ in the DNA.

    When MRNA is formed the instructions in the DNA get transferred to the mRNA.

    From there they get loaded into the tRNA which is the interface for the amino acid.

    The amino acid needs the information to get to where it is going.

    Data packet sending, with real and physical data.

    The physical part is the actual medium and as it turns out the actual parts.

    Each part would carry both sets of info. And once all physical link-ups are complete the program runs.

    As Meyer points out information doesn’t have any weight.

    A blank disc or PROM weighs the same as a disc or PROM that is loaded.

    A computer could run without instructions even though all the physical links are OK.

    With living organisms the instructions come with the part- no added weight.

    What I need is a way to test this.

    For example if someone could make a ribosome from scratch without using a ribo or anything from a living organism as a template, then construct a mRNA the same way, nothing should happen. IOW the mRNA should not get translated.

    But I don’t know if that is practical and I am still working on a test.

    My plan was to contact the biologic institute to see what they think of both the premise and the testing.

  27. BTW living organisms are full of electrical charges.

    These charges could easily hold and transfer the data I am talking about.

  28. Mr Joseph,

    For example if someone could make a ribosome from scratch without using a ribo or anything from a living organism as a template, then construct a mRNA the same way, nothing should happen. IOW the mRNA should not get translated.

    Just so I understand your idea, let me restate it. If a scientist took atoms from outer space that had never been part of a living creature and assembled those atoms into a ribsome, mRNA, and tRNA already loaded with the correct amino acids, then the ribosome would not read the mRNA, take the tRNA and build a protein. (Probably need some “clean room” water and ATP molecules in there also.)

    Is that correct?

  29. Why outer-space?

    Can we not find carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen without leaving our planet?

    But yes Nakashima-sam, someone can take what I said and move it to some absolute and absurd extreme.

  30. Mr Joseph,

    Yes, I was being more extreme than your post. I just wasn’t sure how important or detailed the ‘template’ idea was.

  31. Nakashima-san,

    The point is if my premise is correct then if we build a ribosome by making copies of an existing and functioning ribosome, then the instructions will/ may get passed down from that original.

    If it takes living organisms to make living organisms that doesn’t help the reductionist.

    That said we can look at the sequence specificity and copy that using cold first pressed virgin chemicals and keeping those chemicals away from the living copy.

    I say that because it appears the information in living organisms “wants” to be copied.

    Viral infections appear to take full advantage of that “feature”.

  32. Thank’s for your efforts Joseph. I still don’t grasp the following:

    The seq spec is just to carry out the code and the instructions.

    The instructions are not the sequence any more than the computer program is the disk.

    Do you refer to epigenetic effects like TF-induced DNA bending, DNA methylation, histone acetylation, nucleosome positioning, higher order DNA structures? This is how I read your next comment

    The instructions are on/ in the DNA.

    Or are you heading towards DNA activation as described by Alexander.
    Unfortunately, you may have overseen my last question regarding how your take on the DNA/information issue fits with the ideas of leading ID proponents like Dembski, Behe and Meyer. I would appreciate if you could convince the founder of this platform to add his thoughts to this discussion.

  33. sparc,

    Is it the physical make-up of the computer disc that is the computer’s information?

    No.

    There is information on/ in the DNA that is not part of its physical make-up.

    The physical part- ie the sequence specificity- is required to carry out that information.

    Do you have knowledge of data packet sending/ data communications? Or computer bus structure?

    Dr Meyer appears close to my comcept but as of chapter 7 he really hasn’t made the plunge.

    As for Wm Dembski, my plan was to develop my thoughts a bit more.

    I am still working on a test.

  34. Dr. Meyers may come even closer in the following chapters.
    As for Dr. Dembski I guess as the founder of UD he will be aware of the thoughts you have published here.

  35. Do you have knowledge of data packet sending/ data communications? Or computer bus structure?

    No, but I have added several Mb to organisms as different as E.coli and M. musculus. I also contributed something like 1/1,000,000 of humen and mouse sequence information to the databases back in the 90s and was involved in the sequencing of several Mb of the IgH locus of 129 mice.

    There is information on/ in the DNA that is not part of its physical make-up.

    I assume that this can not be expressed in IUPAC code or other measures of physical properties. Thus, I would suggest that you try to formulate it in pure mathematical terms though I must admit that this is not my field of expertise. Still, mathmaticians like Dr. Dembski would surely appreciate this.

  36. sparc,

    Do you think a computer program can be formulated in pure mathematical terms?

    Has someone tried this for some OS (operating system)?

    Has someone tried this for any application programs?

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