Archive for August 2010

My Review of Signature in the Cell on Amazon

August 26, 2010

Unsurprisingly, Stephen Meyer’s book does none too well at indicating that there is any design in any cell.  Nevertheless, he repeats his own faulty “methods” of doing science in a manner that will be convincing to many who know no better, and in any case we really do not know how life arose.  I suspect that for these reasons it may be more convincing than most ID works.

He does some of the most annoying and typical creationist quotemining, something that I have not seen covered in any reviews but my own.  So I will include those here, then link to the rest of my review at the end:

Another traditional expectation from IDCreationism is poor scholarship, and quotes taken out of context, and this characterizes Meyer’s work as well, beyond what I have already mentioned.

Meyer claims that “dual-coding”–common in prokaryotes, not common in eukaryotes (such as ourselves)–is a kind of “encryption” (it is not, it is usually a means of data compaction) and, yes, he writes that it is something that only intelligence does. Yet we have good evidence that certain aspects of such “dual-coding” in prokaryotes are what would be expected to occur as the result of evolution. See the abstract at […] So his claim about its origins looks at best to be unlikely.

W.-Y. Chung and some colleagues studied some of the few cases of “dual-coding” in humans, and Meyer quoted their paper as stating that the origin of these instances “…is `virtually impossible by chance'” (Chung, et al., “A First Look at the ARFome.”). Meyer’s next sentence, which starts a paragraph, provides context which shows his confusion of chance with natural selection: “Nor does natural selection acting on random mutations help explain the efficient information-storage density of the genome” (p. 464).

But Chung was clearly stating that the maintenance of “dual-coding” was naturally selected, which is the opposite of “chance.” The relevant paper states: “Maintenance of dual-coding regions is evolutionarily costly and their occurrence by chance is statistically improbable. Therefore, an ARF that is conserved in multiple species is highly likely to be functional” (Chung, et al.). Natural selection “pays the cost” because keeping the dual-coding is (by inference) actually functional.

Another misused source is Michael Lynch. Meyer writes (p. 470) that “…evolutionary biologist Michael Lynch has argued using standard population genetics, the size of breeding populations of multicellular organisms are simply not large enough to have afforded natural selection sufficient opportunity to shape genomes into structures with the kind of hierarchically organized systems of information storage that they exhibit.” Lynch did not do that at all. There is organization in eukaryotic genomes, but not nearly so much as Meyer claims, which is why Lynch writes:

“The most profound changes [in eukaryotic genomes] include introns that must be spliced out of precursor mRNAs, transcribed but untranslated leader and trailer sequences (untranslated regions), modular regulatory elements that drive patterns of gene expression, and expansive intergenic regions that harbor additional diffuse control mechanisms. Explaining the origins of these features is difficult because they each impose an intrinsic disadvantage by increasing the genic mutation rate to defective alleles.” […]

It is the putative lack of the efficient organization of the eukaryotic genomes, compared with those of prokaryotes, that Michael Lynch addresses there.

In still another case, Meyer claims that “on the basis of orthodox evolutionary theory” evolutionary biologists had assumed that “homologous genes should, therefore, produce homologous organisms and structures” (p. 471). Yet text in the chapter note that he uses for reference states the exact opposite: “Comparative and evolutionary biologists had long assumed that different groups of animals, separated by vast amounts of evolutionary time, were constructed and had evolved by entirely different means” (p. 558, note 28), and, “…Ernst Mayr remarked: `Much that has been learned about gene physiology makes it evident that the search for homologous genes is quite futile except in very close relatives…'” (Ibid.). Mayr was incorrect, but Meyer credits Mayr and others of the same position with a stance 180 degrees from the one that they were taking.

Here is the complete review at Amazon