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In the Matter of John Farrell’s Silly Review of Darwin’s Doubt, National Review Sets Things Straight

DebatingDDsmall.jpegNational Review did itself proud in making amends for the silly John Farrell review of Darwin’s Doubt — you know, the one that climaxed with an examination of Stephen Meyer’s placement of an ellipsis mark accompanied by vague intimations of scholarly malpractice. Could such a momentous question as the one Meyer raises — whether biology gives evidence of design — ever be resolved in such a trivial fashion?

In the September 30 issue, NR has published a lengthy letter from Meyer, boxed and highlighted, prominently and politely demolishing Farrell. I think the placement sends a subtle message:

As an avid reader of National Review, I’m honored that you would review my book Darwin’s Doubt. Unfortunately, longtime intelligent-design critic John Farrell wildly misrepresents my argument and the current state of scientific evidence ("How Nature Works," September 2).

Contrary to what Mr. Farrell claims, Darwin’s Doubt does not argue for intelligent design primarily based on the brevity of the Cambrian explosion, nor does it exaggerate that brevity. It affirms the widely accepted figure among Cambrian paleontologists of about 10 million years for the main pulse of morphological innovation in the Cambrian period that paleontologists typically designate as "the explosion." Nor does the book base its case for intelligent design upon “personal incredulity" about the creative power of materialistic evolutionary processes. Instead, it presents several evidentially based and mathematically rigorous arguments against the creative power of the mutation/natural-selection mechanism, none of which Farrell refutes.

The main argument of the book is not, as Farrell implies, a purely negative and, therefore, fallacious argument from ignorance. Instead, the book makes a positive case for intelligent design as an inference to the best explanation for the origin of the genetic (and other forms of) information necessary to produce the first animals. It does so based upon our experience-based knowledge of the power that intelligent agents have to produce digital and other forms of information. In formulating the argument as an inference to the best explanation, the book employs the same method of scientific reasoning as Darwin used in his Origin of Species.

Rather than engaging the actual arguments of the book, Farrell offers a spurious claim of out-of-context quotation, which has been amply refuted elsewhere by geologist Casey Luskin (see: www.evolutionnews.org). A genuine engagement with the debates currently taking place in evolutionary biology would have been far more interesting. Neo-Darwinism is fast going the way of other materialistic ideas such as Marxism and Freudianism, but readers of Farrell’s review sadly were not able to learn why.

Stephen Meyer
Discovery Institute
Seattle, Wash.

Farrell is then allowed a few lines to squeak briefly in his defense:

Stephen Meyer writes that his book "makes a positive case for intelligent design as an inference to the best explanation for the origin of the genetic (and other forms of) information necessary to produce the first animals."

But this presupposes something Dr. Meyer has never in fact demonstrated in a compelling fashion, either in this book or in his previous one: that new complex information cannot be generated by purely natural processes.

His inference to the best explanation — while one that some of his lay readers may be convinced of — to scientists is a copout. It is the job of scientists to find out how apparent design in nature can be explained by natural processes. The best explanation right now is Darwinian evolution.

That is the lamest rejoinder I’ve seen in a while. Farrell tries to save face by resorting to assertion. Demonstrating that "new complex information cannot be generated by purely natural processes" is exactly what Meyer does in Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt, at length. Farrell never grappled with the actual evidence or arguments, and for this he was applauded by Jerry Coyne and the rest of the Darwin Defense Force — that would never applaud anything else in a conservative magazine like NR.

Farrell observes, "It is the job of scientists to find out how apparent design in nature can be explained by natural processes." But whether the design in nature is real or apparent is precisely the question that’s up for debate. You don’t settle it by slipping in an adjective, or quibbling over punctuation.

This guy is hopeless, but I knew that based upon uniform and repeated experience of him. Congratulations to National Review for setting things straight.

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.



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