In this chapter, Meyer asks whether it is possible that the cause of the Cambrian explosion is an intelligent agent rather than naturalistic processes. He argues that it is, and that the design hypothesis is better supported by the evidence than any naturalistic hypothesis.
Meyer looks closely at how historical science works. It is different than physics and biology because you cannot experiment on the past. What you can do, however, is develop multiple and competing hypotheses to determine which is the best explanation for the evidence at hand (inference to the best explanation). One of the best ways to test competing hypotheses is on the basis of their causal adequacy; i.e. is the proposed cause adequate to produce the effect in question? Remember, we have to explain the origin of biological information. What sorts of causes, now in operation, are known to produce information? Only one: intelligent agents. If the basis of life is information, and the only known cause of information is intelligence, then it follows that an intelligent agent is not just the best explanation for biological information, but the only viable explanation.
Cambrian experts Douglas Erwin and Eric Davidson have spent years trying to develop an explanation for the Cambrian explosion (they both agree Darwinian mechanisms are incapable of explaining it). They have determined that whatever caused the Cambrian explosion must be capable of:
- Generating new forms rapidly
- Generation a top-down pattern of appearance
- Generating complex genetic circuitry
and is unlike any process in operation in living organisms today. The only known cause capable of generating this pattern is intelligence. Whenever you trace the origin of information back to its source, you always come to a mind – a conscious, rational agent. Also, natural processes such as Darwinian evolution cannot plan for future function, but rational agents can.
The developmental regulatory gene networks in particular require exquisite planning and ordering. Eric Davidson writes, “What emerges, from the analysis of animal dGRNs is almost astounding: a network of logical interactions programmed into the DNA sequence that amounts essentially to a hardwired biological computational device.” Many individual parts, interconnected in a hierarchical order to perform a function that is greater than each individual part is the hallmark of intelligence. There is no known naturalistic cause now in operation capable of ordering such specified complexity.
Whereas Darwinism predicts that different structures should require different genes to produce them, we know that the same gene can produce different structures in different species due to differences in the regulatory gene networks. For example, the Pax-6 gene helps regulate eye development in fruit flies, mice, and squid, even though each has different types of eye structures. This can be easily explained if a designing intelligence is involved, however, since intelligent agents routinely use the same component in different contexts to produce different results. Language is a prime example. Given a list of words, intelligent agents can organize them in many different ways to produce many different meanings.
An intelligent agent also explains the top-down appearance in the fossil record in which major innovations at the phyla-level appear before minor variations at the species-level. Intelligent agents routinely create major forms, and then spend time modifying those forms thereafter. Consider transportation. First came the car, the train, and the plane. Since those major inventions, there have been many innovations around the basic design themes.
Intelligence also explains the abruptness of the Cambrian animals and absence of ancestral precursors. Designers routinely create things de novo, fully formed, rather than gradually.
“[B]oth the Cambrian animal forms themselves and their appearance in the fossil record exhibit precisely those features that we should expect to see if an intelligent cause had acted to produce them.”
If the evidence against a naturalistic explanation and for an intelligent cause for the Cambrian explosion is so strong, why do so many scientists reject Intelligent Design? It’s not due to the quality of the evidence, but rather to their commitment to philosophical or methodological naturalism. The reigning philosophy of science understands the goal of science to be finding naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. Any non-natural explanation is ruled out a priori as being non-scientific based on definition alone. But why should we accept this definition of science? Why restrict explanations to natural phenomena, apart from a philosophical bias for doing so? Why not define science as the pursuit of finding the true cause of natural phenomenon, whether it is natural or non-natural in origin?
Defining science so that it is limited to finding natural causes for physical phenomenon is a philosophical claim, not a finding of science itself. If you arbitrarily restrict science to the search for naturalistic causes, then intelligent design is ruled out from the start – not because of the evidence, but because of the philosophical or methodological commitments. In reality, this is just a red herring. The evidence for Intelligent Design remains despite definitional disputes. Indeed, the evidence should cause scientists to reconsider their definition of science. Scientists should be more interested in finding the right answers rather than the right kind (naturalistic) of answers – those that fit their philosophical and/or methodological preferences. If we allow the evidence to lead us to our conclusions rather than a particular philosophy of science, then Intelligent Design should not only be considered scientific, but the best scientific explanation of the Cambrian explosion. But whether one considers Intelligent Design “science” or not is not that relevant. What is relevant is whether or not it is true. The evidence leads us to believe it is.
Oddly enough, there is no standard definition of what science is. Philosophers of science refer to this as the demarcation problem. Any one standard that is proposed doesn’t seem to apply to all branches of research that we intuitively understand as scientific in nature. For example, predictability may work for particle physics, but doesn’t really apply to paleontology. Repeatability may work for physics, but not cosmology. Despite this problem, many of the standards we use to define what science is apply to Intelligent Design as well.
Meyer ends his book by asking why any of this matters. If we can detect intelligence in nature, it has religious and existential implications. The universe may not be meaningless after all. Intelligent Design holds out the hope of reconciling religion and science.
Neo-Darwinian mechanism cannot explain Cambrian explosion and new genetic info because it has no efficient means of searching through the vast combinatorial sequence space for functional genes, resulting in unrealistically long waiting times for even minimal functional innovations. Also, it cannot produce new body plans because the early-acting mutations that would be required to make large-scale body plan changes result in the death of an organism, and it cannot explain the origin of the epigenetic information that is necessary to build a new body plan.
Davidson, Genomic Regulatory Systems: Development and Evolution (New York: Academic, 2001), 54, quoted in Darwin’s Doubt, 363.
Stephen Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (Harper One: , New York, 2013), 379
Stephen Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (Harper One: , New York, 2013), 411.