Discovery Institute: “Signature in the Cell”

THE neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids) have a blog entry crowing Intelligent Design Book Cracks Bestseller List at Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

Today announced their bestselling books of 2009 and Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperOne) by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer made the top ten in the science category. According to, books on its 2009 list of best sellers are “[r]anked according to customer orders through October. Only books published for the first time in 2009 are eligible.” The book’s publisher, HarperOne, reports that the book is entering its fifth printing in as many months, and continues to sell strongly both online and in stores.

Before we follow that link to Amazon’s “top ten” list, let’s consider some background information. First, Who is Stephen Meyer? He’s a vice president of the Discovery Institute and a “senior fellow” over there. He’s also the guy who was mixed up in the infamous peer review controversy.

And what of Meyer’s book, Signature in the Cell? We wrote about a creationist group’s review, which is typical of the glowing reception such groups are giving the book. But let’s ignore the predictably fawning reviews by Discoveroids and other creationists. Instead, let’s see what a biologist has to say. According to PZ Myers (no relation to Stephen Meyer):

I knew ahead of time exactly what it was going to be: complexity, complexity, complexity, complexity, complexity, complexity, complexity, therefore, DESIGN. It doesn’t follow. The logic is nonexistent. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect a competent person with a Ph.D. in philosophy to recognize, but no, it’s the same ol’ thing, trotted out every time they get up to speak.

COMPLEXITY DOES NOT IMPLY DESIGN. You can build up an awesome mess of complexity by accident, so you need to demonstrate something other than complexity to demonstrate intent.

Okay, now you know something of the author and his work. Let’s visit Amazon’s “top ten” list and see what’s there. The first thing we notice is that this is their list in the “science” category, not for sales overall. On the “Science” list, Richard Dawkins’ book, The Greatest Show on Earth, is number two in that category. It’s also listed as #130 in Books overall. That’s impressive! It’s also #1 in the additional categories of “Evolution” and “Biology,” as we would expect.

Okay, how about Signature in the Cell? It’s number 10 in the “Science” category. Nothing wrong with that showing — except that we don’t think an ID book belongs in the “Science” category. Aside from that it’s an accomplishment to score so high. It’s overall rank in “Books” is #653, which is also a good showing, but not close to Dawkins’ book.

Strangely, for a book allegedly about evolution, Signature is also ranked #1 in these additional categories: “Cosmology,” “Astronomy,” and “Science & Religion.” Dawkins’ book doesn’t appear in those categories, nor can we think of any reason why it should. For Meyer’s book, on the other hand, no rank is given for the categories of “Evolution” and “Biology,” where Dawkins’ book is listed at the top.

Amazon’s listing for Signature also has a feature called “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought.” Let’s see … there’s a book by William A. Dembski, another gem titled The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin, and a few other dubious items. This isn’t decisive data, but it’s interesting.

So what do we learn from this? First, Signature in the Cell is having a good sales run. That’s very nice for the author. The book has had a lot of hype, and there are legions of creationists out there, so this isn’t all that surprising. Perhaps we’ll revisit the Amazon rankings after a few months have passed to see how things are going.

What else does the Discoveroid blog tell us — perhaps a hint of the scientific content of their hero’s book? Let’s see:

In Signature in the Cell Dr. Meyer shows that the digital code imbedded in DNA points powerfully to a designing intelligence and helps unravel a mystery that Darwin did not address: how did the very first life begin? He weaves together a journey of discovery with an argument for intelligent design and explains how intelligent design can be formulated as a rigorous scientific argument using the very same method of reasoning that Darwin used.

Ah, the “digital code” in DNA “points powerfully” to a “designing intelligence,” therefore Oogity Boogity! Yes, it’s all so clear now.

As for “using the very same method of reasoning that Darwin used,” we’ll be candid with you — we have some serious doubts about that.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

add to del.icio.usAdd to Blinkslistadd to furlDigg itadd to ma.gnoliaStumble It!add to simpyseed the vineTailRankpost to facebook

. AddThis Social Bookmark Button . Permalink for this article

8 responses to “Discovery Institute: “Signature in the Cell”

  1. The Curmudgeon noted

    Ah, the “digital code” in DNA “points powerfully” to a “designing intelligence,” therefore Oogity Boogity! Yes, it’s all so clear now.

    Indeed — it’s written in the Darwinci Code

  2. how intelligent design can be formulated as a rigorous scientific argument using the very same method of reasoning that Darwin used.

    There’s irony for you, since most of the cdesign proponentists at Uncommon Descent and elsewhere will swear up and down till they’re blue in the face that “Darwin’s method of reasoning” consisted entirely of beginning with dogmatic metaphysical assumptions and forcing the observed facts into a preconceived frameworks.

    So either Meyer is rejecting the rank-and-file cdesign proponentists by agreeing with us rational folk that Darwin’s method really is scientific, or he’s letting it slip that he takes himself to be just as scientific as they think Darwin was, which is to say, not at all.

    Personally, I suspect the former — Meyer is the type of cdesign proponentist who wants to say about Darwinism the same thing that us rational folk say about Paleyism: that it was a reasonable belief for someone to hold at the time, but that it’s been overturned on the basis of new evidence.

    Still, it’s nice to see that there are all sorts of fights brewing under that Big Tent of theirs.

  3. Creepy stuff, Great Claw.

  4. Gabriel Hanna

    Still, it’s nice to see that there are all sorts of fights brewing under that Big Tent of theirs.

    Nonsense. They are in the business of lies and propaganda. They don’t need to be consistent any more than anti-Semites who simultaneously accuse Jews of being the sinister forces behind Communism AND capitalism.

  5. … long sequence of Kansas Primes which commences with 1^720.


  6. PZ really ought to be more careful, because although it’s basically the old “complexity” argument, Meyer apparently doesn’t state it in those terms.

    In fact, I’d say that it’s more explicitly the “analogical method” of religion and sympathetic magic that Meyer uses. First he has to conflate human-made and the genetic code, then he claims that the only known method for making such codes (clearly the human-made ones, while he has to deny likely methods for the genetic code arising) is intelligence.

    Being an IDiot, he doesn’t bother to use science and its match-up of cause and effect, a very broad and general “analogy” which we most commonly see in religion is his only “argument” that the genetic code must have been made by humans. Well, okay, he’s not consistent in his misappropriation of Lyell and Darwin (Lyell’s methods are especially out of date, and Darwin’s positivism is partially so (no, positivism isn’t completely dead in science, no matter what people say)), and doesn’t claim that humans made it, only a general and conveniently unknown intelligence.

    So no, it’s not “complexity” by that name that Meyer’s flogging. But he does what all IDiots do, ignores the specificity of causation in classical science, and resorts to vague general “analogies” which in fact have never demonstrated anything with any degree of confidence.

  7. I ran into an apparently quite competent set of criticisms of Meyer’s book.

    I actually kind of dislike getting into the details like he does, since the glaring problem with Meyer’s book is that, like pretty much all IDists, he opts for the vague analogical method of religion and sympathetic magic, not the rigorous match-up of cause and effect that classical science utilizes. Still, I’ve already brought up such factors, which, predictably, the IDists completely ignored in order to continue with their obsolete and faulty means of reasoning.

    So, on to the specifics at:

    [Corrected link:]

    As far as I can tell, this Christian believer knows what he’s talking about.

  8. Oops, the link I put for the “review” of Signature in the Cell doesn’t work. This one should: