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Old 07-09-2013, 07:34 PM   #1
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Darwin's Doubt

A new book Darwin's Doubt by Stephen Meyer explores a event that
Charles Darwin knew his theory could not explain.

Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design: Stephen C. Meyer: 9780062071477: Amazon.com: Books
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Old 07-09-2013, 07:47 PM   #2
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Doubting Stephen Meyer's 'Darwin's Doubt' : The New Yorker

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Originally Posted by Gareth Cook
In the eighteen-eighties, workers carving a path for Canada’s first transcontinental railway began to notice odd creatures in the rocks. A geologist working for the railway, which would run through the Kicking Horse Valley, in British Columbia, examined the rocks and was astounded. The shale of the nearby Mt. Stephen was overrun with the fossilized remains of extinct marine animals, particularly trilobites, which look like a cross between horseshoe crabs and centipedes. Word of the Mt. Stephen trilobite beds spread, and Charles Doolittle Walcott, a prominent fossil expert and the onetime director of the U.S. Geological Survey, came to investigate. In 1909, exploring north of the mountain, he found shale filled with a variety of fossils that had never been seen before.

Walcott’s discovery, called the Burgess Shale, became one of paleontology’s most important sites. The rock preserved animals in remarkable detail, in some cases including soft tissue. It contained an exceptional number of species from the Cambrian period, which began roughly five hundred and forty million years ago. The layers of Burgess Shale also added to a mystery known as the Cambrian explosion. Darwin’s theory of evolution suggests that life evolves gradually—a finch’s beak morphs over time; a wholly new bird does not suddenly appear. Yet that Cambrian layer of rock seemed to explode with new kinds of life. Darwin himself puzzled over what this might mean. If life evolved gradually, he asked in “The Origin of Species,” what would account for an explosion of it?

This question is the starting point for a new book that aims to rekindle the “intelligent design” movement. “Darwin’s Doubt,” by Stephen Meyer, which will début at No. 7 on the New York Times best-seller list this weekend, argues that scientists have found no way to account for the Cambrian explosion. Life-forms appeared with no obvious precursors, it says, too quickly for a random process of mutation and survival of the fittest to explain it. The only alternative explanation, Meyer writes, is the involvement of an intelligent designer (read: God) who rushed along the story of life on Earth.

We’ve been here before. The intelligent-design movement was born more than two decades ago, in the wreckage of creation science, and the idea is closely associated with the Discovery Institute, the Seattle think tank where Meyer works. The scientific arguments have changed over the years, but intelligent design is probably best understood as the central element of a cunning legal argument. In 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that creation science could not be taught in public schools because it was a poorly disguised version of the Bible, so the engineers of intelligent design improved the disguise: a theory that made room for the Bible without any explicit mention of the book. Advocates were thus able to argue that intelligent design should be taught in public-school biology classes. Their agenda was dealt a serious setback in 2005, when a federal judge declared that intelligent design was religion, not science, and barred it from schools.

Scientific readers will likely find that “Darwin’s Doubt” has an inspired-by-true-events feel: a few elements are recognizable, but the story makes no sense to anyone who was there. The problem for Meyer is that what has come to be called the Cambrian explosion was not, in fact, an explosion. It took place over tens of millions of years—far more time than, for example, it took humans and chimpanzees to go their separate ways. Decades of fossil discovery around the world, combined with new computer-aided analytical techniques, have given scientists a far more complete portrait of the tree of life than Darwin and Walcott had available, making connections between species that they could not see.

It turns out that many of the major gaps that Meyer identifies are the result of his misleading rearrangement of the tree. Nick Matzke, a scientist who blogs at Panda’s Thumb, makes a convincing case that Meyer does not understand the field’s key statistical techniques (among other things). For example, Meyer presents a chart on page thirty-five of “Darwin’s Doubt” that appears to show the sudden appearance of large numbers of major animal groups in the Cambrian: the smoking gun. But if one looks at a family tree based on current science, it looks nothing like Meyer’s, and precisely like what Darwinian theory would predict. “All of this is pretty good evidence for the basic idea that the Cambrian ‘Explosion’ is really the radiation of simple bilaterian worms into more complex worms…[which] occurred in many stages, instead of all at once,” Matzke writes.

Meyer goes on to build a grander, more bizarre argument that draws from the intelligent-design well. The genetic machinery of life, he writes, is incapable of grand leaps forward, meaning that any dramatic biological innovation must be the work of the intelligent designer. Yet scientific literature contains many well-documented counterexamples to Meyer’s argument, and the mechanisms by which life’s machinery can change quickly are well known. Whole genes can be duplicated, for example, and the copy can evolve new functions.

Most absurd of all is the book’s stance on knowledge: if something cannot be fully explained by today’s science—and there is plenty about the Cambrian, and the universe, that cannot—then we should assume it is fundamentally beyond explanation, and therefore the work of a supreme deity.

But do not underestimate “Darwin’s Doubt”: it is a masterwork of pseudoscience. Meyer is a reasonably fluid writer who weaves anecdote and patient explanation. He skillfully deploys the trappings of science—the journals, the conferences, the Latinate terminology. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in the philosophy of science. He appears serious and, above all, reasonable. The Cambrian argument has been a part of creationism and its inheritors for many years, but Meyer’s project is to canonize it, a task he completes with great skill. Those who feel a hunger for material evidence of God or who sense that science is a conspiracy against spiritual meaning will find the book a thrilling read. Which is to say, Meyer will find a large audience: he aims to start a conversation, or to at least keep one going, and he seems likely to succeed.

The book’s best, most honest moments come in the concluding chapter, in which Meyer travels to see the famous Burgess Shale in person. His son goes ahead on the trail but then suddenly freezes, stricken with vertigo after peering down the mountainside. Meyer likens his son’s paralysis to modernity’s despair at materialism, its shock at the prospect that the universe is utterly indifferent. Meyer writes frankly, saying that his quest is to give people back their sense of meaning and purpose. Here, at last, Meyer is not pretending to be a scientist.
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Old 07-09-2013, 07:50 PM   #3
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For a second, I read the author as Stephenie Meyer.
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Old 07-09-2013, 07:54 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by the iron horse View Post
A new book Darwin's Doubt by Stephen Meyer explores a event that
Charles Darwin knew his theory could not explain.

Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design: Stephen C. Meyer: 9780062071477: Amazon.com: Books
Please, please share with us what you've read so I can tear it to shreds
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Old 07-09-2013, 07:58 PM   #5
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god damn, the entire book is on the Cambrian Explosion "controversy"?? Good grief, help yourself to a science book. This is about as much proof as 'irreducible complexity" and Ray Comfort's banana theory. Please find something new
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Old 07-09-2013, 08:02 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by the iron horse View Post
A new book Darwin's Doubt by Stephen Meyer explores a event that
Charles Darwin knew his theory could not explain.
You gotta love how creationists think nobody has learned anything new since Darwin. Darwin didn't know about complex genetics or DNA either. You don't think any progress has been made in 150 years?
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Old 07-09-2013, 10:01 PM   #7
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I remember very clearly the day when I realized evolution and natural selection were fact. I was a tenth or eleventh grader in biology. We did an experiment with bacteria where we watched certain of them develop immunity to a weakened strand of penicillin. I watched that happen and thought, "well, there it is, right in front of my face."
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Old 07-09-2013, 10:19 PM   #8
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I remember when I first learned about how evolution worked as a early teen. Before then, it seemed like a magical process, but when I learned the mechanisms behind it, I just though "oh.... that makes so much sense". It wasn't until about 5 years later that I met someone who didn't 'believe' in evolution and my mind was blown. I didn't know people like that existed at the time.
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Old 07-09-2013, 11:51 PM   #9
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I remember when I first learned about how evolution worked as a early teen. Before then, it seemed like a magical process, but when I learned the mechanisms behind it, I just though "oh.... that makes so much sense". It wasn't until about 5 years later that I met someone who didn't 'believe' in evolution and my mind was blown. I didn't know people like that existed at the time.
I think most Christian denominations teach/accept the doctrine of Theistic Evolution - basically, there's no contradiction between modern science and the basic teachings of Scripture.

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Wikipedia

Theistic evolution is not a scientific theory, but a range of views about how the science of evolution relates to religious beliefs. Supporters of theistic evolution generally reject the conflict thesis regarding the relationship between religion and science – that is, they hold that religious teachings about creation and scientific theories of evolution need not contradict each other.
This pretty much sums up where I stand on the issue.
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Old 07-10-2013, 04:40 AM   #10
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You gotta love how creationists think nobody has learned anything new since Darwin. Darwin didn't know about complex genetics or DNA either. You don't think any progress has been made in 150 years?
they believe that the final word on the subject was written well before Darwin. From a general timeline perspective, the fact that they acknowledge his existence even...nah, I got nothing. I do not understand it, either.

I can't pinpoint when I learned it, I just have a sense of always being taught that evolution is the way it was. I was pretty young, because i remember being bored with a really condescending (or my perception, as a precocious 8 year old, of condescending) tour guide on a field trip to the museum of natural history in ny while she was explaining the most basic concept of evolution cos "I already know this stuff." And don't think I knew that people who believed in creationism still existed til my early 20s.
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Old 07-10-2013, 07:11 AM   #11
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I've skirted the edges of argument with an apparently well educated middle aged person as recently as the last five years on the existence or otherwise of evolution. Jesus fucking christ: bacteria, as noted above, their evolution is observable in very brief intervals indeed. Ditto viruses... I guess? (the flu, for example, though the exact status of viruses as life has never been totally clear to me)

Dogs, whose evolution we have forced and guided for myriad purposes. That's two examples that spring to mind, never mind the great family tree of organisms from amphibians through reptiles, marsupials, mammals that all happen to share the same body plan: a trunk, four limbs (vestigial or otherwise), a head with two eyes, a mouth and hearing holes. And this is just basic, observable stuff; I am not in any position to personally be expert in genetics and dna, for which I defer to those who do.

Oh and plants, again, highly evolved at our hand. Maize and wheat don't look a great deal like their wild ancestors.
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Old 07-10-2013, 07:53 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by the iron horse View Post
A new book Darwin's Doubt by Stephen Meyer explores a event that
Charles Darwin knew his theory could not explain.

Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design: Stephen C. Meyer: 9780062071477: Amazon.com: Books
Will we get your thoughts on this book before or after we see your thoughts on the last book you posted?
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Old 07-10-2013, 08:28 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Kieran McConville View Post
]
Oh and plants, again, highly evolved at our hand. Maize and wheat don't look a great deal like their wild ancestors.
Nor do tomatoes or corn. And broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussel sprouts, and cabbage are all cultivars of the exact same plant (which reminds me, I think a gmo thread would be interesting here).

For me, the single best piece of evidence that completely seals evolution as being true and one that no adult with a functioning brain can possibly refute is contained in the following video. A god of the gaps being stomped out in one glorious discovery.

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Old 07-11-2013, 09:31 AM   #14
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(which reminds me, I think a gmo thread would be interesting here).

In the meantime, check out the Monsanto debate in EYKIW
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Old 07-11-2013, 10:58 AM   #15
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In the meantime, check out the Monsanto debate in EYKIW
how is that going? I'm scared to look
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