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Stephen Meyer Launches Signature in the Cell With a Speech at the Heritage Foundation

CSC director Stephen C. Meyer launched his important new book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and Evidence for Intelligent Design, with a speech today at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. In Signature, Dr. Meyer exposes the increasingly evident hopelessness of materialist explanations of life’s origins and makes a fresh, powerful, and seemingly conclusive new scientific argument for intelligent design.

Dr. Meyer began by noting that in this Charles Darwin dual anniversary year, we should keep in mind that Darwin’s presumed “primary legacy is that he refuted the design argument.” That argument, in turn, had long been regarded as the most compelling that exists for religious belief. The phenomenal success of the New Atheist movement, represented by Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens & Co., is based on the premise that Darwin successfully explained “the appearance of design without real design.” But what if the premise is mistaken?

In Washington, Dr. Meyer alluded to the business of the capital city, comparing the complex path by which a bill introduced in Congress becomes a law to the far more complex path by which genes encoded in DNA are translated into proteins, the building blocks of life.

“The biological information in DNA runs the show in biology,” Meyer said. Explaining where it comes from is the enigma faced by life-origins researchers.

Materialist solutions of the enigma all face insuperable challenges, Meyer continued. For example, theories that hypothesize the operation of “pre-biotic natural selection presuppose what needs to be explained in the first place, namely the existence of self-replicating organisms,” without which no advantageous feature that is selected could be retained and passed on. It is a “question-begging explanation,” Meyer said.

Meanwhile, theories of “self-organization” have their own problems. If the original matrix from which life developed was something like a regularly patterned salt crystal, then that still leaves unexplained the enigma of biological information — which, like all information, is defined by not being regularly patterned but rather by specified complexity.

Meyer asked, “What cause, based on our experience, is capable of producing information?” The only such known cause is intelligent agency.

The question and answer period after the speech gave a preview of the avenues of attack that critics will take on Signature in the Cell. One questioner asked, “What’s the big deal here? Give science a little time!” There are always gaps to be filled in our knowledge, and science always manages to fill them.

As Dr. Meyer suggested, that would be a cogent objection if the case for intelligent design were based on a “God of the gaps”-style “argument from ignorance.” “But that’s not actually how we’re arguing,” Meyer pointed out. The design argument is based on positive knowledge about the only sort of cause known to produce information.

Another questioner posed the inevitable “Who designed the designer?” challenge. Meyer answered that if the designer is assumed to be immanent in nature, that could be a strong objection. “But then there’s the idea that the intelligence [responsible for the design of life] is transcendent,” meaning outside nature, as Meyer himself supposes. What’s known by modern science about the origin of the universe, the singularity from which all physical existence burst forth, demands that we suppose exactly such a cause. Before the Big Bang, of course, there was no nature. Whatever caused the Big Bang is, therefore, necessarily transcendent.

Still another questioner asked how Dr. Meyer thought Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett would respond to his DNA-based case for intelligent design. Meyer replied that Dawkins himself has admitted “no one knows how life first originated.”

The answer that Signature in the Cell gives to the DNA enigma, Dr. Meyer acknowledged, will not be to the liking of everyone, neither to Dawkins and his followers nor to others — one thinks of theistic evolutionists — who are committed to opposing any idea that science can have something to say about ultimate questions, including religious ones.

“But the primary obligation of a scientist,” Meyer concluded, “is to follow the evidence where it leads.”

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.