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Book Review: Signature in the Cell

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Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design is Stephen C. Meyer's most recent explanation and defense of intelligent design theory of the origin of life.


In Signature, Meyer weaves the detailed discussion of the background information and intelligent design theory into a loose narrative format. This approach makes the book a very easy read, despite the technical topic involved. I am not an avid reader, but I found it quite easy to get through the 20 chapters and 508 pages of text in this book.


Much of the book is dedicated to a thorough background discussion related to the origin of life. I found the exposition of the scientific discovery process which led to the detailing of the structure of the DNA molecule by Drs. Watson and Crick to be particularly fascinating. It is truly amazing what the scientists of that day were able to deduce given the limited tools they had at their disposal. Meyer follows this with detailed descriptions of the many theories which have been put forth to try to explain the complex, functionally specified information which is found in the DNA in the nucleus of all cells. These include various proposals for random organization, protein-first, DNA-first and RNA-first (RNA World) explanations.


Meyer then provides strong arguments against each of these theories largely based on the work of William Dembski. In short, he demonstrates that the generation of even a small protein consisting of a chain of 150 amino acids through only material processes is not a reasonable proposition. Extrapolation to the idea of creating the 250 mostly-larger proteins needed to create a minimally-complex self-replicating cell is much, much less tenable.


The last third of the book is dedicated to explaining the theory of intelligent design and defending it as the best scientific explanation of the origin of life. His approach is based on the recognition that we now know how complex, functionally specified information arises: it is the product of a mind. This fact coupled with the fact that no other theory of the origin of life can satisfactorily explain the existence of this information is the strong scientific evidence that there was a mind involved in the origin of life on Earth.


Meyer dedicates the final chapters of the book detailing the many criticisms that have been leveled against intelligent design theory, not the least of which is that it is not a scientific theory. He addresses each of these attacks one-by-one and directly, but with a significant amount of grace. I particularly appreciated this last portion of the book, as I have been aware of intelligent design theory for many years, but I am also very aware of the controversy surrounding it. It was nice to see Meyer's direct responses to the many criticisms that have been leveled all in one place. I will say that it is fortunate that Meyer is writing this book now after the theory has been around for many years. This has allowed him to include a very thorough discussion of its criticism.


Intelligent design theory, like all theories related to the origin of life, is controversial. There is no mystery about why this is, since any such theory will be contrary to some people's worldviews. But while Stephen Meyer takes a strong position in support of intelligent design theory, he writes in a manner which should be accessible to all. He is careful to stay on topic and avoid many of the peripheral discussions that the discussions naturally evoke.


I venture to say that Signature in the Cell is Stephen Meyer's magnum opus. I recommend the book to anyone interested in the origin-of-life debate. Regardless of your position in these arguments, you will find a lot of interesting information about the cell and the many ways that scientists have tried to explain its origins.

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