Stephen C. Meyer on DNA and Design

Stephen C. Meyer’s new book Signature in the Cell looks fascinating.  Faith Interface gives a synopsis and links to a new, related video, Journey Inside The Cell. Several links to debates Meyer has participated in can be found here.

In the 21st century, the information age has finally come to biology. We now know that biology at its root is comprised of information rich systems, such as the complex digital code encoded in DNA. Groundbreaking discoveries of the past decade are revealing the information bearing properties of biological systems.

Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, a Cambridge trained philosopher of science is examining and explaining the amazing depth of digital technology found in each and every living cell such as nested coding, digital processing, distributive retrieval and storage systems, and genomic operating systems.

Meyer is developing a more fundamental argument for intelligent design that is based not on a single feature like the bacterial flagellum, but rather on a pervasive feature of all living systems. Alongside matter and energy, Dr. Meyer shows that there is a third fundamental entity in the universe needed for life: information.

A new video, Journey Inside The Cell, launched today dramatically illustrates the evidence for intelligent design within DNA, as described in Stephen C. Meyer’s book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperOne 2009).

The original animation by Light Productions reveals in intricate detail how the digital information in DNA directs protein synthesis inside the cell, revealing a world of molecular machines and nano-processors communicating digital information . . .

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10 thoughts on “Stephen C. Meyer on DNA and Design

  1. One thing we can say for sure is that the misinformation density in the video is wondrously high.

    For a philosopher. Meyer seems incapable of detecting his own logical fallacy. What his book comes down to is that: (a) everything we know that has been designed intelligently contains large amounts of information: (b) living cells contain large amounts of information; (c) therefore, living cells were intelligently designed.

    If you haven’t spotted the error yet, here’s an equivalent syllogism: (a) all lawn flamingos are pink; (b) a rock on my front lawn is pink; (c) therefore, the rock on my front lawn is a lawn flamingo. (The fallacy is called “affirming the consequent.”) Doesn’t take much to see through that one. But then they say faith is blind.

    • Hi Olorin,
      I don’t think Meyer is attempting to make a deductive argument in his theory of ID. He doesn’t seem to be claiming that kind of certainty. If the claim were deductive, it would be a strong claim, forcing someone to accept the conclusion if they granted the premises. Instead, his argument is abductive in nature — an inference to the best explanation — which is commonly used in science when scientists attempt to explain present realities in terms of past causes: e.g., a meteor must have struck the earth, resulting in climate change and the extinction of large numbers of species that we now observe in geological studies.
      Meyer is claiming that a very plausible candidate to explain the presence of information we see in DNA is an intelligent designer — as even Francis Crick famously proposed with his theory of Directed Panspermia. It’s not the only possible explanation, but still a very plausible one. So, this type of reasoning is common, even in science.

      • Inductive, deductive, abductive—all scientific reasoning has to be grounded upon evidence. There simply is none for ID. We observe evolution happening; we do not observe design happening. We observe mutation & selection; we do not observe an intelligence. In what sense can ID be a “best” explanation” without any evidence?

        Meyer makes an artificial distinction between normal and biological information. Without any evidence. Meyer posits a source for such information. Without any evidence.

        In fact, the source of information to drive evolution comes from the Sun. As the iDers will tell you, information is equivalent to negative entropy. A scientist has calculated that evolution requires about 320 kcal/year of negative entropy. The Sun supplies a trillion times that much. No big deal.

        Energy flowing through an open thermodynamic system produces information. Why does Meyer not mention th Sun as even one of the possible sources of “biological information?” It’s a shell game. The evidence is always under the next shell.

        • Soc,
          We do observe evolution happening at a micro level, with species that adapt to new environments, but we don’t observe one species transforming into another species or growing completely new organs and systems. As far as I know, nothing like that has ever been observed. You’re right, we don’t observe intelligent design happening today, and it probably isn’t happening today. We’re looking at the present effects of past events and trying to determine how things shaped up the way they are. So, Darwinian evolution and ID are employing the same methodology: Looking at present conditions and hypothesizing how it happened.

          About information, the kind that ID is referring to is this, as defined in Webster’s: “the attribute inherent in and communicated by alternative sequences or arrangements of something that produce specific effects.” This is the sense in which DNA contains information, with its “alternative sequences” of nucleotide bases that produce specific effects. And in uniform human experience, this kind of information only comes from an intelligent agent.

          • Au contraire. Some of us do observe one species turning into another. Drive around San Joaquin Valley and you can see it yourself. (Or Lake Superior, or Victoria in Africa. Or observe bacteria that can digest nylon, a compound that didn’t exist 80 years ago. Or polychlorinated biphenyls.

            Some of us do observe new organs in the process of development. Don’t try to approach a rattlesnake in the dark, because it can “see” you with infra-red sensors that are in the process of evolving from a simple heat-sensitive patch to an invaginated pit, and then to a pin-hole camera. The next step will probably be a focusing device for increased acuity.

            If we don’t observe any design at all occurring today, but we do observe evolution happening to day, in what sense is design a “best” explanation? In what sense does it “explain” anything. If something evolved, you can go looking for its ancestors—and find their fossils, for instance. If something is designed, what further understanding does that provide? What further research does it motivate? What practical applications does it suggest?

            fleance7: “So, Darwinian evolution and ID are employing the same methodology: Looking at present conditions and hypothesizing how it happened.”

            No. Scientists hypothesize something, then investigate it, try to verify it, find out what it’s good for, use that insight to investigate other organisms, search for related effects, and frame new hypotheses. ID spends all its time straining to detect design, Then it stops and smiles smugly. End of story. Nothing else to know, folks. At least this has been the progress of ID for the past two centuries, ever since Paley’s “Natural Theology.” In all that time, even when it was the only kid in town, the design hypothesis has not even pretended to generate any new insights or benefits to mankind.

          • fleance7: “About information, the kind that ID is referring to is this, as defined in Webster’s: ‘the attribute inherent in and communicated by alternative sequences or arrangements of something that produce specific effects.'”

            This is one of about half a dozen definitions of “information.” And unless you delve into the ultimate source, the Oxford Dictionary, you will not even find listed the definition that information theorists use.

            Scientists say that information is Sigma(-log p(i)). How does Webster’s tell you to calculate their version? How does ID measure an amount of “specified” information? You might wish to peruse the 2002 NIH paper, “Pitfalls in Information Theory and Molecular Information Theory.”

            When you select a definition of information which implies that it is produced by an intelligence, then guess what—you will find that it must have been produced by an intelligence. Whether this definition is relevant to anything seems not to matter.

  2. “Alongside matter and energy, Dr. Meyer shows that there is a third fundamental entity in the universe needed for life: information.”

    Wow oh wow. I never would have thought of that. What a tremendous discovery. Now if only such a “discovery” actually had some meaning. But if doesn’t. It only has meaning to religious people who are 100% anti-science.

    • Hi hilarious,
      I do enjoy a comment with a sense of humor, so thanks for that.
      Did you mean that all religious people are anti-science? Looking back in history, some of the greatest scientists have been believers in Christianity — for example, Galileo, Newton, Boyle, and Faraday, and more recently Henry Fritz Schaefer and Francis Collins, to name just a few from a long list. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious contradiction between belief in religion and belief in and practice of science.

      • “Did you mean that all religious people are anti-science?”

        Of course not.

        “Looking back in history, some of the greatest scientists have been believers in Christianity — for example, Galileo, Newton, Boyle, and Faraday, and more recently Henry Fritz Schaefer and Francis Collins, to name just a few from a long list.”

        Irrelevant to the question at hand.

        “There doesn’t seem to be any obvious contradiction between belief in religion and belief in and practice of science.”

        Fine. But what does that have to do with “information”? Why does Meyer try to claim that only an “intelligent cause” can provide the necessary “information”? This is a weird kind of creationism. The “digital code” of DNA means “information”, therefore there was an “intelligent cause” that created the first life (because obviously chance and natural selection were “impossible”). What does this have to do with any religion? This “deus ex machina” created life on this Earth 4 billion years ago and then went away and completely forgot about his “experiment”? Crazy nonsense. So his “discovery” is meaningless.

        • Hi Hilarious,
          You raise interesting questions. I’m not an expert on Intelligent Design, but I think Meyer would agree that ID doesn’t necessarily have religious implications. It could be, as Francis Crick famously suggested, that some alien race planted DNA on earth so it would grow into life forms. In that case, we’re still dealing with intelligence, just not supernatural intelligence. Or, like you suggest, some form of deism could be true. But, if so, I’d like to know that’s what happened, to understand how we got here. So ID is still valuable even if deism is true. About information, it seems that in every case we know about, only intelligent causes produce information, so if we discover information, it’s a good bet that it was intelligently caused. Between the fine-tuning of the universe and the design we see in living things (especially at the cellular level), there’s good evidence that Someone intended us to be here.

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