Signature in the Cell (Repost)

For your convenience:

The following is a list of debunkings of Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell, arranged more or less in chronological order. I have not included every blog post I’ve seen on the topic; as I did for Behe’s The Edge of Evolution, I’ve focused on the most substantive remarks, rather than keeping track of every time somebody just quoted somebody else. (I’ve also probably overlooked, forgotten, mistakenly thought I’d already included or never been made aware of some worthwhile essays.) In some cases, additional relevant posts can be found by following links within the essays I have listed.


I went up to Meyer at the conference and asked him, “You wrote that ‘information theorists’ (plural) talk about specified complexity. Who are they?” He then admitted that he knew no one but Dembski (and Dembski himself is not much of an information theorist, having published exactly 0 papers so far on the topic in the peer-reviewed scientific literature). So the use of the plural, when Meyer knew perfectly well that information theorists do not use the term “specified complexity”, was just a lie — and a lie intended to deceive the reader that his claims are supported by the scientific community, when they are not.

Jeffrey Shallit


[Meyer’s] talk/Q&A was like listening to a kid who had a test on ‘Origins’… but played HALO3 all night instead of studying.

Abbie Smith


In the prologue to his book Signature in the Cell, Stephen Meyer states that it is an attempt to make a comprehensive, interdisciplinary argument for the Intelligent Design view of the origin of life. But as the author himself concedes (in an appendix on page 496), the discovery of a precursor to DNA (such as RNA) would demolish the whole edifice. A “key prediction” is that “Future experiments will continue to show that RNA catalysts lack the capacities necessary to render the RNA world scenario plausible”. It is Stephen Meyer’s bad luck to have published his book in 2009, the very year that the RNA world scenario became eminently plausible. In February of that year came the discovery of the self-sustained replication of an RNA enzyme, by Lincoln and Joyce [Science, Vol 323, pp1,229–32]. In March came the identification of the prebiotic translation apparatus (a dimer of self-folding RNA units) within the contemporary ribosome, by Yonath et al [Nature Precedings, March 4, 2009]. Finally, in May came the discovery of the synthesis of activated pyrimidine ribonucleotides in prebiotically plausible conditions, by Powner et al [Nature, Vol 459, pp239–42]. I am afraid that reality has overtaken Meyer’s book and its flawed reasoning.

Stephen Fletcher

[The] entire book peddles this idea that no one has demonstrated a natural mechanism for producing specified information. But of course, any one with any competence in this subject can tell you all kinds of ways a genome can produce increases in information, the kind that has a few mathematical definitions and is measurable, so Meyer tosses in that magic modifier, specified, to throw away a big chunk of the literature that troublingly contradicts him.

If it helps to grasp the rhetorical game he’s playing, just substitute the word “magic” for “specified”. It’s perfectly equivalent.

PZ Myers