Signature in the Cell, o livro que a Nomenklatura científica não quer que você leia

quinta-feira, dezembro 24, 2009

Gente, finalmente uma resenha decente sobre o livro Signature in the Cell, de Stephen Meyer, um teórico e proponente do Design Inteligente [Até que rimou...]

Este livro e quaisquer outros sobre Design Inteligente podem ser encomendados na Livraria Cultura ou comprados diretamente da Amazon.


In a Thing So Small

Ignazio de Vega

Signature in the Cell
Stephen Meyer
HarperOne, 2009

“Inquiry into final causes is sterile,” Francis Bacon wrote, “and, like a virgin consecrated to God, produces nothing.” And yet mankind continues to make such inquiries, either out of insatiable scientific curiosity or in the belief that, in ways perhaps inhospitable to expression, virgins consecrated to God do, in fact, produce something fruitful.

Certainly in our own day such inquiries are made with apostolic fervor, both by those who adhere to science and by those who follow faith – and by that segment of every population, quieter than the first two and by far more numerous, who believe it’s possible to live in both mindsets simultaneously. These are the great and rancorous ‘God Debates’ of our beleaguered modern moment, with battle-ready contestants on both sides, writers like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Behe, and Kenneth Miller squaring off on TV screen and town hall stage to wrestle with eschatological questions as old as Abraham. The fool sayeth in his heart ‘there is no God’ – the wise man, apparently, sayeth it on Larry King Live.

Into this supercharged atmosphere Cambridge-educated chemist and scientific historian Stephen Meyer puts forth his own case in his new book Signature in the Cell. In its calmly-reasoned 400 pages (with an extra 100 tightly-packed endnotes), Meyer constructs the strongest argument yet made for the theory of Intelligent Design, and he does it without once advocating any living God.

He’s trained in some very abstruse and technical matters (despite his best efforts – and this is a very readable book – there are portions of Signature in the Cell that will only really be clear to other scientists), but he consistently makes his points and analogies as simple as those Charles Darwin used 150 years ago in The Origin of Species. And of course the closer analogy is to Meyer’s fellow Cambridge-alum William Paley (1743-1805), whose Natural Theology gave us the celebrated illustration of a man crossing a heath who finds a watch and considers it no strain on his common sense to imagine from that watch a watchmaker. Meyer has in some ways updated Paley for the 21st century, writing, “a computer user who traces the information on a screen back to its source invariably comes to a mind, that of a software engineer or programmer.”

But Meyer is not simply Paley gone techno – he’s not calling mankind the pinnacle of creation (as Bertrand Russell tartly observed, that would hardly be a pinnacle to brag about), and he’s not calling anybody to Sunday services. He keeps his case well clear of church, synagogue, or mosque and centers it in the laboratory where it belongs.

It’s a struggle just to get there, as he acknowledges two-thirds of the way through his mild-mannered bombshell of a book. In a classic example of turnabout being fair play, he takes the 4,000-year primacy of faith-based ontology and casts it as the persecuted underdog, and it’s hard not to nod in sympathy. When scientists encounter something like the famous Rosetta Stone, they automatically infer a cadre of scribes doing the intricate trilingual carving. When paleontologists uncover caches of chipped flints at dig sites, they automatically assume they’re looking at the handiwork of early hominid hunters. When NASA trains its massive SETI antennae toward the heavens, they presuppose that “any specified information imbedded in electromagnetic signals coming from space would indicate and intelligent source.” Meyer’s point here is one of congruence: in all cases (concerning both the known – archeological items we have to hand – and the unknown – as yet unreceived signals from another world), intelligence and intent can be known from its handiworks. And yet, when it comes to the question of life itself, even expressing a similar thought about an intelligent purpose is enough to get you mocked, sidelined, or fired. If you’re really unlucky, it might get you a visit from Christopher Hitchens.

Information is the key to all of these cases, and it’s central to Meyer’s contentions about Intelligent Design, a concept he defines as “the deliberate choice of a conscious, intelligent agent or person to affect a particular outcome, end, or objective.” Years ago, Richard Dawkins characterized our increasing knowledge of DNA as “the final, killing blow to the belief that living material is deeply distinct from nonliving material,” but Meyer tackles this and other cautions head-on (his serial dismantling of Dawkins throughout the book is conducted with a very satisfyingly mandarin delicacy). Unlike many other proponents of Intelligent Design, Meyer isn’t afraid of the newly-revealed intricacies of DNA: he welcomes them.

His key assertion is both mathematical and intuitive – namely, that information and uncertainty are inversely related:

By equating information with the reduction of uncertainty, [U.S. mathematician Claude] Shannon’s theory implied a mathematical relationship between information and probability. Specifically, it showed that the amount of information conveyed by an event is inversely proportional to the probability of its occurrence.

Every heavily-loaded, efficiently-coded system of information we know of was intentionally made, not generated by random chance and accrued mutation. All information top-heavy systems have authors, designers. Their handiwork is separated from the rest of the natural world by the simple asymptote of their own complexity, and none more so than DNA:

In prokaryotic cells, DNA replication involves more than thirty specialized proteins to perform tasks necessary for building and accurately copying the genetic molecule. These specialized proteins include DNA polymerases, primases, helicases, topoisomerases, DNA-binding proteins, DNA ligases, and editing enzymes. DNA needs these proteins to copy the genetic information contained in DNA. But the proteins that copy the genetic information in DNA are themselves built from that information. This again poses what is, at the very least, a curiosity: the production of proteins requires DNA, but the production of DNA requires proteins.

(When Meyer talked with a software engineer at the Institute where he works, the engineer commented on the things he’d observed while trying to create a program that simulates cell organization and growth:

It’s like we are looking at 8.0 or 9.0 versions of design strategies that we have just begun to implement. When I see how the cell processes information, it gives me the eerie feeling that someone else figured this out before we got here.)

Meyer never names that someone else – he’s concerned only with getting the possibility re-admitted to the room it once owned. Signature in the Cell pushes forward no theistic agenda; it merely, boldly, convincingly makes the case that among the many competing theories explaining the rise of life from lifelessness, explaining the mind-boggling complexity of life and the DNA that makes it possible, Intelligent Design is not only a legitimate possibility but – and here Meyers’ book will raise ire – the most likely possibility, from the standpoint both of science and common experience where, as Meyer puts it, “intelligent agents produce, generate, and transmit information all the time.” He elaborates:

Experience shows that large amounts of specified complexity or information (especially codes and languages) invariably originate from an intelligent source – from a mind or a personal agent. Since intelligence is the only known source of specified information (at least starting from a nonbiological source), the presence of specified information-rich sequences in even the simplest living systems points definitely to the past existence and activity of a designing intelligence.

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Ignazio de Vega is a native of Trujillo, Peru, and a seminary student in Lima. He is a regular contributor to Open Letters Monthly.