Review: Signature in the Cell by Stephen Meyer

My review of “Signature in the Cell,” which argues for intelligent design as the best explanation for the origin of life.

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Signature in the Cell cover

بسم الله الرحمٰن الرحيم، وصلوات الله وسلامه على أشرف المرسلين

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

I recently finished reading a book titled Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design by Stephen Meyer. I got it from the library, but you can view it on Amazon here if you need to. I liked the book a lot but I’ll try to be as objective as possible in this review.

Summary

Signature starts out by describing how the biological cell works on a molecular level. There is a lot of scientific detail in these parts, so be prepared to be a little confused if you’re not familiar with microbiology and biochemistry. I haven’t taken a biology class since 6 years ago, so I only vaguely remembered some of the structures of the cell.

Next, Meyer discusses historical developments in biology and how materialist scientists (such as Alexander Oparin) created pre-DNA models for the origin of life, and why these models fail. Meyer also describes how DNA was discovered and the effect that it had on biology.

The fundamental problem for materialist scientists is the information contained in DNA – the set of instructions that makes it possible for the cell to function. There are no materialistic or naturalistic processes that produce information. The only way we know information is created is by an intelligent mind, i.e. intelligent design. What “information” is, how it is defined, etc is covered in detail in the book.

After that, Meyer looks at whether chance can explain the origin of the information in the cell (and by extension, the origin of life itself), and the resounding conclusion is no, as I explained in an earlier post. Next, he explores whether natural laws can explain it, and the conclusion again is no. This is because natural laws can create order and structure, but there is no information conveyed in that order. He also explains how combinations of chance and natural laws fail, and deals with newer hypotheses such as the RNA world hypothesis. The RNA world section is a bit technical so be warned.

These points are explained thoroughly in the book and I don’t want to make this post too long, so if you are confused by any of this or have any questions just let me know in the comments and I’ll go into more detail.

Later, Meyer explains why intelligent design is the best explanation for the information found in the cell and the origin of life itself. He explains how intelligent design is a scientific theory, and answers pretty much all contentions against it that I could think of. Especially pertinent are the contentions that 1) intelligent design is “pseudoscience” and 2) intelligent design commits the god-of-the-gaps fallacy or the argument-from-ignorance fallacy. If I have time I might post an excerpt or two that deal with these contentions.

Meyer concludes by talking about some predictions of intelligent design and how they correlate to recent developments in biology. He also deals with the multiverse hypothesis, which is refuted in the appendix.

My Thoughts

This is very well-argued book which presents its ideas with reason and clarity. Meyer uses many useful examples and analogies to help you understand the points he’s making. There are anecdotes too which aren’t really that necessary, but still interesting.

Sometimes the book is humorous, like when it subtly mocks Richard Dawkins and his “central argument” against intelligent design, though for the most part it’s quite serious and all about the evidence and arguments. There is a LOT of information conveyed in this book and it is quite long, so I recommend reading a little bit every night (maybe 1 or 2 chapters; there are 20 chapters total) so you don’t get inundated with too much knowledge. Pretty much every possible contention (that I could think of, at least) against intelligent design is stated objectively and answered towards the end, so read these sections closely because they’re the most important. The book is around 500 pages not including citations and notes, which I didn’t read.

Before reading Signature, I wanted to familiarize myself with atheist/materialist arguments about evolution, the origin of life and intelligent design. So I read “Why Evolution is True” by Jerry Coyne. To my disappointment, Coyne severely misrepresents pro-design arguments – he’s full of logical fallacies and “straw men.” This dishonesty (plus Coyne and other New Atheists’ anti-Muslim animus) has really put me off. I might write a blog post about this later.

Not so much with this book though. I’ve read Richard Dawkins’ “The Greatest Show on Earth” and “The God Delusion” in addition to Coyne’s book. Meyer represents their arguments accurately before offering his rebuttals. Unfortunately many people only read or listen to talks by the people they already agree with, creating an “echo chamber” of sorts. I recommend that people read some of the books by Dawkins, Coyne or other Darwinists before or after reading this book in order to get a full, unbiased picture and decide things for themselves.

Some of the “refutations” of this book by materialists and atheists were shockingly idiotic. Most didn’t even read the book, and simply used the typical buzzwords such as “pseudoscience!” and “creationism!” Here are some examples:

A British chemist named Stephen Fletcher associated Meyer’s argument with a belief in “gods, devils, pixies, fairies” and encouraged people to forego Signature in the Cell and simply read Wikipedia instead. Yes, he actually said that. Well-known Darwinist and atheist PZ Myers called it “drivel,” a “stinker” and a “pile of slop” – and he admitted to not having read it. (Source for the quotations in this paragraph.)

A Google software engineer called Signature “a rehash of the same old sh_t.” He added, “I have not read any part of Meyer’s book” (source). Also, consider this quotation from the (as always) objective, reasoned Jerry Coyne:

Meyer does not mean well. He is spreading lies and confusing people by distorting real science. Is that the unfortunate result of “meaning well”? Do you think that because somebody is a “Christian brother,” he’s incapable of lying for Jesus?

“Lying for Jesus?” Did Coyne and I read the same book? Did Coyne even read the book? It seems not. In fact, many of the people who were critical of the book – including well-respected names in the biology field – had no clue what the book was even about, as evident from the types of reviews they gave. Some, such as Francisco Ayala, couldn’t even get the name of the book right. If you want to read more about materialists stumbling over themselves and exposing their ignorance in attempt to “refute” this book, check out “Signature of Controversy.” It’s a 105-page collection of articles examining and responding to materialist reviews of Signature in the Cell. You can download it as a PDF here.

Who Should Read This Book

I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in any of the following questions:

  • What is the origin of life? What does science say about where life came from?
  • Why are atheism and materialism so popular nowadays? Do they have credible scientific backing as they claim?
  • What is intelligent design? Is there any scientific evidence for it?
  • Is intelligent design a “pseudoscientific” theory? Is it “religion masquerading as science?”

Remember, this book is not about Darwinian evolution, which took place after the origin of life – though Coyne and Dawkins do talk about the origin of life in their books which I mentioned above. And it does not address the question of whether or not we “came from monkeys.” It deals pretty much entirely with the origin of life and why intelligent design is the best explanation for it. And it doesn’t talk about whether or not intelligent design should be taught in schools and colleges, though by the end I was feeling that it should (because of the evidence).

An Islamic Perspective

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ would make a profound dua (supplication), part of which is very applicable here. This is the Arabic text of the dua followed by the translation into English, with the most relevant part in bold (source: MuslimMatters):

اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ عِلْمٍ لَا يَنْفَعُ وَمِنْ قَلْبٍ لَا يَخْشَعُ وَمِنْ نَفْسٍ ‏لَا تَشْبَعُ ‏ ‏وَمِنْ دَعْوَةٍ لَا يُسْتَجَابُ لَهَا‏

Oh Allah I seek refuge in You from knowledge which does not benefit, and from a heart which does not fear (You), from a soul which is not satisfied and from a supplication which is not answered.”

Aameen!

While the entire dua is pertinent, the most important part here is seeking refuge with Allah from knowledge which does not benefit. We should never learn something just for information’s sake. Reading a book that establishes proof for the Designer will be a waste unless it brings you closer to God and has an effect on your devotion to Him.

So after you read about the exquisite machines and intricate structures which are found in your body and countless others, and then learning why it must be that a Designer created these systems, you should definitely have an increase in God-consciousness. Next time you make sujood (prostration) to God, remember what you learned about His creative power and how you are subservient to Him. It should increase your khushoo (mindfulness of God) during the prayer, In Sha Allah (God willing).

The book itself rarely mentions “God” and shies away from making a more theological/philosophical case for theism (it sticks to the hard science), but I think we all know who the “intelligent designer” is. So keep that in the back of your head when reading this book. If Signature tried making a comprehensive philosophical case for theism based on design, it could have been almost a thousand pages long, so be thankful for that!

As Muslims, at the end of the day, we have a different epistemic foundation for our worldview. The Qur’an, the Book of Allah, and the Sunnah of Muhammad ﷺ will always be more true to us than anything the man-made scientific method comes up with. So in some ways this debate might be irrelevant, especially for the ultra-conservative Muslims. But for those of us who are at least interested in learning about what science says, even if we don’t subscribe to the philosophy of “scientism,” Signature in the Cell is great book to read.

If there is anything I missed or you would like to know more about, feel free to leave a comment below or contact me on Twitter.

Salaam,

~ Yousuf

16 January 2015

Update: I added some more quotes from reviews by Darwinists. Some of them are truly pathetic. May Allah guide us all.

~ Yousuf

22 January 2015

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