Perry Marshall is a well known, successful expert on internet marketing, and his career has included developing new algorithms and paradigms in business and market analysis. For several years, he has been involved in online discussions about intelligent design and evolution. He has now come out with a book giving a comprehensive presentation of his views. The book will be quite useful as an introduction to the debate, especially for those who are not experts in biology. His writing style is easy to read and to the point.
Here are some of the things I like about the book:
1) He gets the biology right. In Part 3 of the book, he summarizes many of the mechanisms understood by all experts in biology to be part of the story, but which often get left out or marginalized in the debate. Some biologists smugly dismiss anti-evolutionists who don’t refer to many of the newly discovered mechanisms in biological adaption. But Marshall shows that a good understanding of these mechanisms doesn’t make the case for undirected evolution any easier.
2) He addresses in depth the main issue: information. As a computer person, Marshall focuses in on how the biological mechanisms aren’t just “like” information and computer code, they “are” information and code. Like Marshall, I’ve had the experience of arguing with people who want to say that biological systems have no information content, but they are hopelessly outdated in their thinking. Information is a real, measurable thing in science these days, and it’s just crazy to argue that we can’t say there is information content in these physical systems.
Perry finishes the book with two short sections, one looking at the implications of design for science, and another looking at the implications for faith (and theodicy). These chapters are short, and give just a taste of where one might go in these areas. On the first, Perry suggests that biology ought to be looking for hierarchies of information and good design. He seems unaware of all the work along these lines in the field of systems biology. I’ve reviewed this recent work, which amounts to a whole biological field embracing the methodology of intelligent design, in a recent article in the Bio-Complexity journal
. On the latter topic of theodicy, of course, so much has been written that Perry can only skim the surface– for more on this, I recommend George Hunter’s Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil
and my own article, “Why Did God Make Dangerous Animals?”
The book is full of snippets from debates Marshall has had over the years with the online atheist crowd. I myself have very little patience with the angry-blog-commenter-who-lives-in-his-pajamas crowd, but Marshall has shown remarkable tenacity in those debates, and this book benefits from his having listened to his opponents.