Examining "Darwin's Doubt"

This seems to have wandered far from “Signature in the Cell”. Has there been any discussion of “Darwin’s Doubt”?

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I’m assuming the answer to my question above is “no”. I’ll start. It’s the only book of Meyer’s that I’ve read, and I found it execrable. The chapters on molecular phylogeny and on the fossil record are perhaps the worst, though that may just be because they’re my area of expertise and I notice more there than elsewhere. Has anyone else read the book? Were you impressed?

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I’ve read the book and discussed it at TSZ. I enjoyed it.

Go on. What did you enjoy about it? What in it did you think wasn’t egregiously wrong?

They got the name of the author right.


If you’re just going to make lame jokes (or even non-lame ones), I would prefer that you not comment at all.


Do you want to examine Darwin’s Doubt or do you want to examine what other people thought about it?

If the former, have you said all you are going to say on it or do you have reasons that you thought it was execrable and why you think the chapters on molecular phylogeny and on the fossil record are perhaps the worst?

Consider posting something that the rest of us can learn from.


That was a conversational gambit. I want to examine both, though I would be more interested in the reasons for the latter than in the mere fact of an opinion.

I do have reasons, which I would be happy to introduce if there is interest. I don’t say they’re the worst, only that I’m especially qualified to see their faults compared to the faults of the other chapters. It’s like every evolutionary biologist thinking that his/her field presents the best of all evidence for evolution (oddly, the reverse of what creationists commonly claim). Are you interested, then?


I am interested in what you have to say about it, particularly in the areas of molecular phylogeny and the fossil record. Please Keep in mind that the book was published five years ago, that there is a revised edition (which may or may not be relevant ) and that he is talking primarily about the Cambrian.

9 posts were split to a new topic: What Line of Evidence is Strongest for Evolution?

What is the relevance of any of those statements?

  • We may know more now then we did then.
  • Some of your objections may already have been addressed.
  • Talking about the molecular phylogeny or fossils of apes may be irrelevant.

A full answer would require me to dig out my copy and reread quite a bit. I can offer only what I remember from reading it years ago, to whit:

  1. His paleontology suffers from a severe distortion of the fossil record, essentially ignoring the existence of the small, shelly fauna, which shows a gradual increase in diversity, complexity, and resemblance to the Cambrian fauna from the Late Precambrian through the start of the Cambrian Explosion. If you pay attention to it, it demolishes the case for the sudden appearance of the Cambrian fauna with no precursors. And thus it demolishes the major point of the book.

  2. His attack on molecular phylogenetics is a hatchet job that notably manages to make fun of some clades that actually exist as implausible on their faces, which shows how unfamiliar he is with the literature except as a source of quote-mines to ridicule.

  3. His major concept, the phylogenetic lawn starting in the Cambrian, is incompatible with his rejection of common descent at a much lower level than the phylum or class. He presents, therefore, no coherent scenario compatible either with the evidence or with the book itself.

That should do for a start.

Tell us more.


Trying to remember here, but I think he made fun of the whale-cow connection, and there was something about chordates and echinoderms. I’d have to look.

If I had been his publisher, I would have recommended to Meyer that he collaborate with a scientist co-author (or two) who could have greatly improved the science content of the book. I recognize that Meyer has a solid philosophy background (even though I do not agree with all of his philosophical points in the book) but he was out of his element on much of science, such as matters of vertebrate anatomy. (Not only do I recall having noticed some rather significant errors of fact—though I’m not so sure I could list them years later—a friend who wrote a comparative anatomy textbook used in hundreds of universities shared long lists of such errors with me years ago. Chapter by chapter. So I know that it wasn’t just me noticing the problems.)

Of course, the section of Harper Collins which published Darwin’s Doubt (something like their “religion & spirituality” department) wouldn’t have been that concerned about the science content. It wasn’t published by a prestigious science publisher.

[To be fair, I assume that Meyer and others would say that that book wasn’t written to impress scientists. It was meant to appeal to a more general audience. And I recognize that fact.]

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The problem with that is that improving the science content would have the effect of vitiating the point of the book. The science contradicts Meyer’s points. Might as well not have written the book, if he was going to get the science right.

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What do you see as the point of the book?

I thought his understanding of taphonomy (my strength) was pretty poor. I’m surprised so many people still make the sponge embryo argument he makes in the book.


Can you be more specific? Thoughts on where or how I might find where this comes up in the book? What might I search for in the index?