Saturday, August 3, 2013

Darwin's Doubt

To those unfamiliar with the particular problems faced by scientists trying to explain the origin of life, it might not seem obvious why invoking natural selection does not help to explain the origin of the first life. After all, if natural selection and random mutations can generate new information in living organisms, why can it also not do so in a prebiotic environment? But the distinction between a biological and prebiotic context was crucially important to my argument. Natural selection assumes the existence of living organisms with a capacity to reproduce. Yet self-replication in all extant cells depends upon information-rich proteins and nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), and the origin of such information-rich molecules is precisely what origin-of-life research needs to explain. That’s why Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the founders of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, can state flatly, ‘Pre-biological natural selection is a contradiction I terms.’–Stephen C. Meyer (Darwin’s Doubt, p. viii)

There is a fascinating new book from Dr Stephen C. Meyer, a Cambridge graduate, and Director of the Center for Science and Culture in Seattle, Washington.

Darwin's Doubt appeared in June 2013 and is available on Amazon. Meyer's book provides a comprehensive analysis of the challenge to paleobiologists of explaining the sudden appearance in the fossil record of numerous new life forms without any obvious ancestors. This is often called the "Cambrian explosion."

In Meyer's view, the fossil record does not align with the Neo-Darwinian explanation of evolution. The hugely complex steps required to generate new body plans through gradual and random changes seems doubtful in light of the sudden appearance of both simple and more complex organisms.

I address this from a different angle in Does the Binary Feature Signal Greater Complexity?

It takes courage for a scholar to question the dogma of random mutation, natural selection and common ancestry, and if you read the reviews of Meyer's book, you will discover just how angry his reasonable arguments have made some Neo-Darwinians.

Related reading: Thomas Nagel: Neo-Darwinian Conception is False; Questioning the Common Ancestry Hypothesis; Darwin: Fact and Fiction

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