There's a temptation to review each new book that makes the case for intelligent design by publishing a laundry list of every fact, experiment, subtheory, and interpretation that the author gets wrong. I'll spare you that exercise, partly because it's been done elsewhere, by scientists, and partly because Stephen Meyer, the author of Darwin's Doubt, is not your typical creationist hack.
Instead, Meyer, who holds a PhD in the philosophy of science from Cambridge, is that odd hybrid: the philosopher-huckster. His arguments are, for the most part, precise, his research is extensive, and many of his points echo those made by leading biologists. Like many other proponents of intelligent design, he's not committed to defending the details of Genesis. He accepts that the world is old, and that evolution does happen—at least in a limited way. As a result, he not only sounds like a scientist, but for much of the book he almost acts like one.
All of which is to say that a laundry list of errors doesn't get to the meat of Darwin's Doubt. Meyer is the finest kind of huckster: he doesn't tell lies, he merely rearranges truths. Darwin's Doubt is a toxic blend of hasty conclusions, cracked arguments, and terminological confusions. It's also, for those who are keeping count, a New York Times bestseller. More plausible than the arguments of 6,000-year-old-earthers, and much slicker than the earlier, bumbling efforts of intelligent design-ers, creationism 3.0 has arrived.
It's remarkable that William Paley's "watchmaker" argument, formulated before Darwin published Origin of Species and which concludes that natural processes suggest there's a designer behind them, endures so strongly. The fact is that a designer is not required to explain the origin of species. As zoologist Richard Dawkins noted, "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design...." The universe has its elegant qualities but also its messy ones. There is much about the universe that is harsh, parasitic, inelegant, wasteful, and cruel according to human perception.Sure, an intelligent designer is one way to explain some of the evidence we see in the fossil record. You can make that case. It just won't be science. Science, after all, isn't a random game of accumulating evidence. It's a very particular method for organizing specific kinds of observations. And when it comes to history, science relies on patterns of cause and effect staying constant across time and space—and not the sudden interpolation of otherwise scientifically unobservable beings. To say otherwise is to ask science to be something it's not. At this point, Meyer could acknowledge that he has strayed beyond the boundaries of the field. Instead, he tries to stretch those boundaries in order to meet what must be, one can only conclude, personal or political needs.