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At BioLogos, Still Critiquing the Book Steve Meyer Didn’t Write

David Klinghoffer

Signature in the Cell

The BioLogos Foundation has got quite a team of Christian-Darwinian evolutionists assembled. But reading comprehension, the kind measured on SAT tests, is not their strong suit. Or so it would seem from the persistent refusal by several BioLogos writers — Ayala, Venema, Falk — to grapple with the main point of Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell and from their strange insistence that the book makes an entirely different argument from the one it in fact does.

Darrel Falk

Dr. Darrel Falk, President of the BioLogos Foundation

Now Dr. Darrel Falk is back with a brand new essay remarkable, in addition, for combining displays of piety with unworthy personal insinuations about Steve Meyer. His occasion is a reply by Meyer to Dennis Venema in Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith (not yet available online). I’m not a Christian and so have no stake in and little knowledge about any internecine feuds among members of that faith — feuds that Steve Meyer, I know, certainly avoids. But if I were a Christian, I think Dr. Falk’s essay would make me cringe.
Falk is full of assurances that Dr. Meyer is not only a “friend and colleague” but a “fellow Christian,” sharing with Dr. Falk the belief that “a Mind” lies behind the process of life’s unfolding. “We both stand amazed at the majesty of creation and our love for the Creator,” Falk writes. He invokes “God’s Holy Spirit. That Spirit not only fills all of creation, but more specifically that Spirit fills us with his Presence and envelops us in his love. This is cause for celebration and, with ‘sandals off,’ we each bow our heads in humble worship. Truly, we — all of us — are standing on holy ground.”
From occasionally perusing the BioLogos website, I’ve come to realize that such talk about holiness and humility and love often accompanies some kind of innuendo or slur. When the sandals come off, the knife comes out. Sure enough, Dr. Falk goes on at length about how carefully he read Signature in the Cell, seeking to comprehend its “basic premise.” He means, I think, not its premise but its argument. He even bought the electronic version, he says, for $15 and performed word searches in that as well. This reminds me of Francisco Ayala who reviewed Signature in the Cell for BioLogos clearly without having read it and tried to defend himself afterward by offering a close analysis of the book’s Index.
Like Ayala and Venema, Falk wants Meyer’s book to be about the Darwinian evolution of life and treats it as if that were the key argument to tackle. Steve Meyer has written plenty about difficulties with the Darwinian account of evolution, and he touches on that topic in Signature in the Cell in various places (especially the Epilogue and Appendix A). But the central thrust of Signature in the Cell isn’t about Darwinian evolution, which arises only after life already exists. Instead, the book is about the origin of life itself, the origination of the biological information coded in DNA that had to happen before Darwinian natural selection could come into play.
Falk says he “sincerely thought” he understood what the book says at its “heart.” He and his BioLogos colleagues “sincerely thought we were engaging Meyer’s book on Meyer’s terms.” He “believes” and “assumes” that Steve Meyer believes that his book is about the origin of life, not its further evolution. And Falk says he believes and assumes that Meyer also believes this is clearly stipulated in the book. But Dr. Falk “looked thoroughly and I have not been able to find his stipulation.”
The implication is that Steve Meyer is either too stupid to know what’s in his own book, what its “basic premise” is, or more likely — so it seems, reading without difficulty between the thinly veiled lines of Falk’s insinuations — that Meyer is lying. Stephen Meyer knows he can’t survive the rigorous scrutiny of Darrel Falk and Dennis Venema so he has altered his presentation of his book’s central idea and hopes readers will be too dumb to figure it out.
He’s like the lady in the Monty Python sketch who goes on a TV game show, “Stake Your Claim,” having claimed she can be thrown off a cliff and survive. When she realizes the host is ready to take her up on this, she changes her claim and says she can “burrow through an elephant,” because she knows they don’t have an elephant.
Whoever wrote the descriptive blurb on the back dust jacket of Signature in the Cell — presumably Meyer’s editor at HarperOne — understood that the book is about “a mystery that Darwin himself did not address — how did life begin?” Thomas Nagel, philosopher and atheist, understood very well when he nominated Signature as book of the year in the Times Literary Supplement, commenting that in examining “how life came into existence from lifeless matter” Meyer had presented a “fiendishly difficult problem.”
In the book itself, Meyer explicitly states on pp. 8-9 that he is “present[ing] a positive case for intelligent design as the best explanation for the origin of the information necessary to produce the first life” [i.e., before Darwinian natural selection came into operation]. Meyer later reiterates that “the argument I make in this book” is the claim “that intelligent design best explains the origin of the specified information necessary to produce the first living cell” (p. 454, emphasis added).
Meyer also distinguishes his book from Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box by saying that while Behe focused on the challenge to “neo-Darwinism,” his own book makes the case for design “on the basis of a different class of evidence” (p. 7). Regarding Darwin, Meyer even makes clear that for its main thesis his book assumes for the sake of argument the truth of Darwin’s theory. As he puts it, his book addresses the question “Even if we grant Darwin’s argument in the Origin [of Species], does it really follow that he refuted the design hypothesis?” (p. 9, emphasis added).
At a certain point it begins to get a little surreal. I don’t know that Steve Meyer cared much one way or the other how BioLogos would respond to his book. It was aimed at and has reached a far broader and more open-minded readership. But I guess if he thought about it, he hoped that Falk et al. would at least respond to the main point of what he actually says there. Why the whole crew has refused to do this, in post after post and article after article, I can’t honestly say. Maybe it’s because they know he is right.