Stephen Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell”

I read “Signature in the Cell” by Stephen Meyer. What a fantastic journey through his mind as he shepherded the idea of making “intelligent design” an acceptable explanation for the origin of life in the scientific community. (This was the man who they talked about taking away his doctorate because he didn’t really believe the answers he had to put on tests in order to pass). It was this article that I read about a dean of philosophy, Thomas Nagel, who had been convinced to give up his Darwinian faith after reading Stephen’s book that got me to pick it up and read it.

 The world has always been viewed through history by leading scientists and philosophers concluding “that behind the exquisite structures of the living world was a designing intelligence”.  This all changed with Darwin. Natural selection and mutations would now become the explanations of how we came to be. The discovery of DNA by Watson and Crick would present a dilemma to the scientific world: what is the origin of the biological information in DNA?

 Meyer gives us a history of evolutionist attempts to explain the origin of life. One section entitled “Oparin to the Rescue” tells of us a young Soviet scientist who proposes in 1922 that the chemical reactions taking place long ago were the original building blocks of life and afterwards Darwinian natural selection took over creating life. I love his Marxist motivations in seeing evolution as a proof of Marxist materialism. It was in 1953 that a experiment by Stanley Miller showed the possibility that lightning mixing with the prebiotic soup of the planet could create amino acids the building blocks of protein. This was a crown of glory for evolutionists searching for the origin of life. It was the other discovery in 1953 of DNA that would shake that crown off of their heads.

 Meyer gives us a great description of the factory within the cell. The centerpiece is the DNA and its ability to produce and transmit the code to building proteins. This peek into the molecular world is well done, but it also explains the “chicken or the egg” problem of DNA. “The production of proteins requires DNA, but the production of DNA requires proteins”. The problem is bigger than that as Meyer explains: “The discovery of life’s information-processing systems…has made it clear that scientists investigating the origin of life must now explain the origin of at lest three key features of life. First, they must explain the origin of the system for storing and encoding digital information in the cell, DNA’s capacity to store digitally encoded information. Second, they must explain the origin of the large amount of specified complexity or functionally specified information in DNA. Third, they must explain the origin of the integrated complexity—the functional interdependence of parts—of the cell’s information-processing system.” He will spend 8 chapters looking into the various attempts to explain this information phenomenon. He is doing this with an eye upon what will become obvious: creating information requires intelligence.

 Meyer is going to use his knowledge of “historical sciences” to put “intelligent design” right next to “Darwinian evolution”. The same reasoning that would allow one to stand or fall is the same reasoning that would allow the other to stand or fall as a potential explanation for the origin of life. This may seem unnecessary or too wordy; but in fact he is doing a beautiful job in making “intelligent design” a theory that cannot be dismissed. Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin both used “causes now in operation” to legitimize their theories. He is setting up the criteria for how “historical sciences” can be used by their determination of the “best” explanation for how something happened in the past. That sets the stage for his discussion of the many tributes to chance, necessity or a combination of the two that evolutionists use to explain the origin of life.

 He will quote college textbooks that will enshrine in young minds “the chance association” that created life. One text says: “Given so much time, the impossible becomes possible, the possible probable and the probable virtually certain.” He will team up with William Demski’s knowledge of mathematical odds to show that it is impossible for chance to be the explanation of creating a string of functional arrangement of bases and amino acids. He will refer to Douglas Axe: “Axe has compared the odds of producing a functional protein sequence of modes (150-amino-acid) length at random to the odds of finding a single marked atom out of all the atoms in our galaxy via a blind and undirected search.” What I found interesting in this discussion is that by 1966 many mathematicians were shocked to find biologists so willing to hang their theories of the origin of life on chance alone. He described a conference entitled: “Mathematical Challenges to Neo-Darwinism”. That conference ended with the biologists insisting that as long as their was a single possibility that it might of happened in a “cosmic jackpot” moment they were not willing to let go of that possibility as their official explanation. Not a lot has changed since then.

 

He will deal with the ideas that DNA was a self organizing accident way back when. Even this accident if it could be shown to be chemically induced, cannot explain the intelligent data that the accident created. He refers to Michael Polanyi. “The flow of electricity obeys the laws of physics, but where the electricity flows in any particular machine depends upon the arrangement of its parts—which, in turn, depends on the design of an electrical engineer working according to engineering principles. And these engineering principles, Polanyi insisted, are distinct from the laws of physics and chemistry that they harness.” “The laws of acoustics and the properties of air do not determine which sounds are conveyed by speakers of natural languages. Neither do the chemical properties of ink determine the arrangements of letters on a printed page.” “Then he took a step that made his work directly relevant to the DNA enigma: he insisted that living things defy reduction to the laws of physics and chemistry because they also contain a system of communications—in particular, the DNA molecule and the whole gene-expression system…as with other systems of communication, the lower-level laws of physics and chemistry cannot explain the higher-level properties of DNA. DNA base sequencing cannot be explained by lower-level chemical laws or properties any more than the information in a newspaper headline can be explained by reference to the chemical properties of ink.”

 

He shares his thinking of Polanyi’s thoughts that led him to his own breakthrough on the idea that laws of attraction brought the four different amino acids together which would create the information that makes living things what they are. His final dismissal of the theories of attraction came from a simple view of a DNA diagram that he had seen many times before but now, with Polanyi thoughts in his head, he sees that “there are no differential bonding affinities there. Indeed, there is not just an absence of differing bonding affinities; there are no bonds at all between the critical information-bearing bases in DNA…A force has to exist before it can cause something. And the relevant kind of force in this case (differing chemical attractions between nucleotide bases) does not exist within the DNA molecule.” It is great having Meyer give us a step by step evolution of his thinking as he marshals his thoughts to give us a great explanation of what he considers to be the best explanation of the information coded in DNA: intelligent design.

 

The tone is always respectful as he describes the different ideas floated around. He does take the liberty of using a “Cat in the Hat” idea of the “voom”, something that cleans messes up as something that evolutionists are looking for so they do not have to deal with the explaining of origin of life information. He will go on to talk about “RNA world” where the RNA appears and creates the DNA. All worth reading, but I enjoyed his take on all of the computer simulations that are used to find ways of creating life. They all proved his point. They were only valid when the programmer set winning parameters or set targets for the chance to find. What all the programs had in common was the touch of “intelligent design” provided by the writers of the programs.

 

I will list his headings that describe “intelligent design” as the best explanation for the origin of life as exemplified by the information in DNA.

1. No Other Causally Adequate Explanations

2. Experimental Evidence Confirms Causal Adequacy of ID

3. ID is the Only Known Cause of Specified Information

 

That last point has been illustrated in the book with several descriptions of classroom exercises involving random letters and locking mechanisms. These personal touches of life experiences made the book so much more readable and personable to me. I already have been using his letter illustrations when I talk with kids at school about the book I am reading. I have read several books conveying this same information and have found each of them enlightening. Meyer has repeated the job they have done, but has not just refuted Darwinism as previous authors have done; he has carefully placed an alternative explanation, intelligent design, right next to Darwinism for everyone to compare. I cannot recommend this book too strongly!!!

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About hansston

Pastor a church in Sparta.
This entry was posted in Books, Education, Science and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Stephen Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell”

  1. agnophilo says:

    In a capitalist society no machine can be designed unless it has proper funding, thus complex things like computers have to be useful and functional through every stage of the design process (no one would or could ever spend 50 billion dollars and several decades to invent an ipod, for from scratch, for instance – it had to be invented by modifying other forms of technology which were fully functional). But if I take the hard drive out of my computer it won’t work. The same is true for the RAM, power supply, the central processor, LCD screen, keyboard and many other components. So therefore unless all of these innovations were made simultaneously (which is absurd) the only explanation is that my computer was not the result of a gradual process of modifying simpler technology, but rather had to be created by god.

    Does this argument hold water? Or did simpler machines simply not require things like hard drives or LCD screens?

  2. hansston says:

    I think you are proving the wrong point. Comparing the complexity and working parts of a cell to a computer is very good comparison made by very many scientists. An evolutionist has to believe that this cell/computer developed by chance without any outside help. The design advocate believes the cell/computer couldn’t have come together by chance, working the way it does, without outside help or intelligent design.

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