An intelligent defense of Intelligent Design: An interview with Stephen Meyer

by Jonathan Merritt

For years, debates over the origin of life were framed as a fight between the growing scientific evidence for Darwinian evolution and what many believe are the plain teachings of the Bible about a literal seven-day creation event. But in recent years, a third option has emerged under the banner of “Intelligent Design” or ID for short. The ID movement attempts to combine Biblical fidelity with scientific rigor, and even though many scientists have criticized the movement as being unscientific, it’s hard to ignore the growing number of people embracing ID explanations for life on earth.

Stephen Meyer, founder and director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, is a respected leader in the ID movement. He is author of Signature in the Cell, which uses genetics to argue for ID, and his newest book, Darwin’s Doubt tackles the most controversial aspect of Darwin’s theory of evolution: the rapid appearance of animal life 530 million years ago. Here we talk about what he believes are weaknesses in Darwinian explanations for the origin of life and what he thinks it will take to make an intelligent defense of Intelligent Design.

JM: For starters, will you describe the argument of your previous book, Signature in the Cell, and why it’s foundational for what you’re suggesting in Darwin’s Doubt?

SM: In Signature in the Cell, I explained that chemical evolutionary theories—theories that attempt to explain the origin of the first life from simpler non-living chemicals—have failed to do so. I also showed that these theories have failed in large part because they do not give an adequate explanation for the origin of the genetic information in DNA necessary to build the first living cell. Instead, I argued that Intelligent Design (ID) best explains the origin of that necessary information in part because of what we know from our uniform and repeated experience of what it takes (namely, intelligence) to generate new information—especially information that is encoded in a digital form.

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In Darwin’s Doubt, I show that theories of biological evolution—theories that attempt to explain the origin of new forms of life from simpler pre-existing forms—also face an “information problem.” In particular, I show that events in the history of life such as the Cambrian Explosion, in which numerous novel forms of animal life arise in the fossil record, not only represent an explosion of biological form, but an explosion of biological information. I argue that the standard materialistic evolutionary mechanisms such as natural selection acting on random mutations do not account for this explosion of new information in the biosphere. Instead, I again point out that, as one information theorist put it, “the creation of information is habitually associated with conscious activity.”

JM: What was the inexplicable conundrum that Darwin recognized and acknowledged, and why does it matter?

SM: Darwin expressed a doubt about the ability of his theory to account for an event in the history of life known as the Cambrian Explosion. The Cambrian Explosion refers to an event in which most of the major animal groups appear abruptly in the fossil record without any apparent evolutionary precursors. Chordates such as fish, arthropods, various types of worms, mollusks (e.g., shellfish), and many other groups of animals, first appear in a geological “blink of an eye,” without any direct ancestors in the fossil record. Even Richard Dawkins has observed that the Cambrian animals looked as if “they were just planted there without any evolutionary history”…

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