Review of

PragerU Video: Evolution: Bacteria to Beethoven

Our summary: Stephen Meyer sheds doubt on the evolutionary account of life's origins. He cites the rapid increase of animal phyla in a relatively short period 500 million years ago, with a limited fossil record. He asserts that it is implausible that random mutations could have produced the information needed to build new forms of animal life.

Why Stephen Meyer is doing this

Ed Swiss Sacramento, CA Published 20 Dec 2019

In this video, Dr. Stephen Meyer poses the following question: “Are there no scientific reasons to doubt the evolutionary account of life’s origins?” To answer this, he mentions a scientific conference he attended in London in November, 2016, whose purpose was to address the growing doubts about the modern version of Darwin’s theory. He then focuses on two specific reasons to doubt this theory: the Cambrian Explosion, and what he calls the DNA Enigma.

Let’s look at each of the pieces in the above paragraph. As context, it’s useful to know a little about Dr. Meyer himself. Wikipedia describes him as an “advocate of the pseudoscientific principle of intelligent design.” He is not an evolutionary biologist nor a biologist. He received his Ph.D. from Cambridge in the History and Philosophy of Science.

Dr. Meyer’s background immediately makes it clear his position is not one of pure unbiased scientific inquiry. In this video he is speaking from the point of view of someone who believes in intelligent design, which attempts to discredit current evolutionary theory in order to make room for the creation and evolution of life via some god-like designer.

The conference Dr. Meyer attended in London was called “New trends in evolutionary biology: biological, philosophical and social science perspectives” and it was put on by the Royal Society. From the name and the list of talks, it seems the purpose of the conference was to look at current work in evolutionary biology from a variety of points of view. It does suggest that the current view of evolutionary biology, Neo-Darwinism, a blend of Darwin’s original natural selection idea with Mendelian genetics, may need updating. However, it most certainly does not suggest that evolution is wrong, as the video implies.

Moving on to the Cambrian Explosion, the two important things to know about it are that it lasted at least 10 million years, probably tens of millions of years longer, and most of the major animal phyla appeared during that time. The amount of time cited by Dr. Meyer in the video is 10 million years, and it is the amount of time one would likely select if your intent was to discredit evolutionary theory because you don’t want to give life any extra time to develop on its own. Is 10 million years sufficient to produce the explosion of life seen during this period? The answer is yes. Multiple references for this can easily be found and here is one.

Finally, let’s look at the the DNA Enigma. The most important thing to notice right away is that this is simply not a scientific phrase. “The DNA Enigma” is a phrase used by Dr. Meyer and the Intelligent Design community. Therefore, it seems unlikely that this idea even came up at a Royal Society conference talk. So what is the DNA Enigma? To put it simply, it has to do with the origin of life, how the first cell came to be, and how the functionally specified information in DNA arose. Darwin’s theory had nothing to do with the origin of life. It discusses only how life changed after life first came to be. Therefore, as best I can tell, the DNA Enigma is simply irrelevant when discussing evolution.

In summary, this video seems to be one man’s attempt to discredit current evolutionary theory, thus opening up the possibility of intelligent design. The idea of a DNA Enigma is introduced, although this has to do with the origin of life and not evolution. The Cambrian Explosion is discussed, which is a rich and interesting area of study for evolutionary biologists. Contrary to the video, the rapid appearance of phyla that appear during this period is perfectly consistent with current evolutionary theory. You will learn no biology from this video, but you may learn how people attempt to discredit evolution.

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