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Darwin’s head-scratcher

"Darwin’s head-scratcher" Continued...

meyerdaniel0615b.jpgAll this notwithstanding, I have long been aware of strong reasons for doubting that mutation and selection can add enough new information of the right kind to account for large-scale, or “macroevolutionary,” innovations—the various information revolutions that have occurred after the origin of life. For this reason, I have found it increasingly tedious to have to concede, if only for the sake of argument, the substance of claims I think likely to be false.

And so the repeated prodding of my critics has paid off. Even though I did not write the book or make the argument that many of my critics critiqued in responding to Signature in the Cell, I have decided to write that book. And Darwin’s Doubt is that book.

* * *

This book addresses Darwin’s most significant doubt and what has become of it. It examines an event during a remote period of geological history in which numerous animal forms appear to have arisen suddenly and without evolutionary precursors in the fossil record, a mysterious event commonly referred to as the “Cambrian explosion.” As he acknowledged in the Origin,Darwin viewed this event as a troubling anomaly—one that he hoped future fossil discoveries would eventually eliminate.

The book is divided into three main parts. Part One, “The Mystery of the Missing Fossils,” describes the problem that first generated Darwin’s doubt—the missing ancestors of the Cambrian animals in the earlier Precambrian fossil record—and then tells the story of the successive, but unsuccessful, attempts that biologists and paleontologists have made to resolve that mystery.

Part Two, “How to Build an Animal,” explains why the discovery of the importance of information to living systems has made the mystery of the Cambrian explosion more acute. Biologists now know that the Cambrian explosion not only represents an explosion of new animal form and structure but also an explosion of information—that it was, indeed, one of the most significant “information revolutions” in the history of life. Part Two examines the problem of explaining how the unguided mechanism of natural selection and random mutations could have produced the biological information necessary to build the Cambrian animal forms. This group of chapters explains why so many leading biologists now doubt the creative power of the neo-Darwinian mechanism and it presents four rigorous critiques of the mechanism based on recent biological research.

Part Three, “After Darwin, What?” evaluates more current evolutionary theories to see if any of them explain the origin of form and information more satisfactorily than standard neo-Darwinism does. Part Three also presents and assesses the theory of intelligent design as a possible solution to the Cambrian mystery. A concluding chapter discusses the implications of the debate about design in biology for the larger philosophical questions that animate human existence. As the story of the book unfolds, it will become apparent that a seemingly isolated anomaly that Darwin acknowledged almost in passing has grown to become illustrative of a fundamental problem for all of evolutionary biology: the problem of the origin of biological form and information.

To see where that problem came from and why it has generated a crisis in evolutionary biology, we need to begin at the beginning: with Darwin’s own doubt, with the fossil evidence that elicited it, and with a clash between a pair of celebrated Victorian naturalists—the famed Harvard paleontologist Louis Agassiz and Charles Darwin himself.

Adapted from Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design by Stephen C. Meyer. Copyright © 2013 by Stephen C. Meyer. Used with permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.

Stephen C. Meyer
Stephen C. Meyer

Stephen is director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. He holds a doctorate from the University of Cambridge, is a former professor at Whitworth College, and was WORLD’s Daniel of the Year for 2009.

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