A review of The Design Revolution Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design By William A. Dembski, Ph.D.
Reviewed by Travis K. McSherley
It’s a question as old as life itself – in fact, it is the question of life
itself: How did we get here?
The idea is widely promoted that science’s answers to this question are fundamentally incompatible with the conclusions of faith and religion. And while there is clearly a disconnect between the methods and teachings of popular science and theism, a growing movement called intelligent design
(ID) suggests that empirical evidence may actually lead to the belief in a creator of some kind.
In The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design, Dr. William Dembski, a science professor and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, offers a detailed outline of intelligent design and makes a convincing argument in favor of its place at the debate table.
Dembski and his peers are certainly stepping into the line of fire with their defense of ID, a theory that has taken shape in response to a dogmatic form of evolutionary theory that patently denies the existence of the supernatural.
“It should be no surprise that intelligent design is as controversial as it is,” Dembski explains. “Intelligent design doesn’t merely challenge the high priests of Darwinism. It also highlights the breach between popular culture, which is largely committed to intelligent design, and high culture, which largely rejects it in favor of Darwinian naturalism. Our intuitions invariably begin with design. Only by being suitably educated
(indoctrinated) are we educated out of those intuitions.”
The book takes those criticisms head on. Each brief chapter is developed as either a response to a common question about design theory, a correction of a misconception, or a rebuttal to an opposing argument. Dembski’s case is built primarily around the philosophical side of the design theory, which results in writing that is thick with technical explanations and thoroughly developed logic. Thus the book serves more as a defense of the legitimacy of intelligent design than as a journal of experimental discoveries (though many are mentioned).
But the point is well taken. Intelligent design is a commendable and reasonable response to the unanswered – and in many cases unasked – questions about the feasibility of Darwinian biology. Most bothersome is the unexplained origin of the information required to generate life.
Dembski writes, “Life is special, and what makes life special is the arrangement of its matter into very specific forms. In other words, what makes life special is information. Where did the information necessary for life come from? This question cannot be avoided. Life has not always existed. There was a time in the universe when all matter was lifeless. And then life appeared – on earth and perhaps elsewhere.”
Dembski’s argument foundationally revolves around the concept of “specified complexity,” which contends that certain objects or attributes could not have reasonably developed by blind chance, thus implicating design as a root cause. While evolutionary scientists would concede the inherent complexity of certain beings, this is obviously the question upon which the entire debate hinges.
Dembski seems to acknowledge as much:
“There’s only one way evolutionary biology can defeat intelligent design, and that is by in fact solving the problem that it claimed all along to have solved but in fact never did – to account for the emergence of multipart, tightly integrated complex biological systems (many of which display irreducible and minimal complexity) apart from teleology or design.”
At this point, intelligent design is often dismissed as merely a front for creationism, which advocates a teaching of science compatible with the book of Genesis. Yet Dembski, while not disguising his own beliefs, is quick to deny a religious bias within the theory itself, claiming that ID could logically lead to creators represented by many different faiths. Indeed, many prominent ID scientists, including *Darwin’s Black Box* author Michael Behe, do not adhere to a creationist worldview, and many are not Christian believers. So in sticking to strict, observable scientific methods, design theory attempts to veer clear of the religion debate entirely.
“Intelligent designinquires not into the ultimate source of matter and energy but into the cause of their present arrangements,” he says, “particularly those entities, large and small, that exhibit specified complexity.”
Actually, both evolutionary theory and creation science are grounded upon unobservable assumptions that cannot possibly be verified with laboratory study. The former, as Dembski notes, often wrongly asserts that the universe is infinite, and rejects the miraculous without conclusive proof that it couldn’t be. Creationism, on the other hand, tends to take for granted that God exists and that He must have used some mechanism to manufacture life.
By avoiding the question of God’s existence entirely, intelligent design can appear an attractive alternative through which to discover reality. Dembski uses this to his advantage in *The Design Revolution* and successfully argues for the validity of design as a science without wading into circular reasoning or assuming the existence of a divine creator (or assuming a lack thereof).
Ultimately, however, this is unsatisfying. If intelligent design stops at science, there remains a looming – and all-important – question still to be
answered: Who is this Designer? Those who see the evidence of design in biology must be willing to pursue the next step and discover the identity of that Creator, lest all of their study retains no real value, in this world or beyond.
It was the realization of the apparent design of the universe and its inhabitants that helped to solidify my own worldview as a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. I discovered that life could not have conceivably spawned by happenstance, and I found that no other being fit the profile of Creator except the God of Scripture.
If intelligent design does not prompt students and scholars of science to pursue the ultimate source of life, then its usefulness is quite limited. For the goal of science is to find the truth of reality, and if the evidence declares that it might extend beyond the physical realm, how can our study of truth end at the laboratory doors?
Yet this is a criticism directed more to the individual student than to Dembski or the theory itself. Clearly, there are questions that science cannot answer. Give Dembski credit for not trying to use it beyond its ability.
Instead, he has produced a fascinating – albeit technical – overview of the major components of intelligent design theory and an impressive critique of Darwinian ideology.
Though the book is rich in mathematics, logic, and science, these arguments should resound regardless of one’s proficiency in scientific fields. (Incidentally, *The Case for a Creator,* by Lee Strobel, provides many of the same perspectives in a format that is more readable, though not quite as
More importantly, Dembski puts Darwinism on the defensive by exposing the gaping holes in its logical bases:
“In ascribing the power to choose to unintelligent natural forces, Darwin perpetrated the greatest intellectual swindle in the history of ideas… Nature has no power to choose. All natural selection does is narrow the variability of incidental change by weeding out the less fit…. And yet this blind process, when coupled with another blind process, namely, incidental change, is supposed to produce designs that exceed the capacities of any designers in our experience….It’s time to lay aside the tricks – the smokescreens and the handwaving, the just-so stories and the stonewalling, the bluster and the bluffing – and to explain scientifically what people have known all along, namely, why you can’t get design without a designer.”
Clearly, The Design Revolution will not answer all of the questions regarding the origin and fate of the universe. But it does offer a comprehensive resource, one which successfully lays the groundwork for a theory that holds the daunting goal of unseating Darwinism from the throne of the academe. It’s a good start, although I hope that one would not settle for knowing whether life was designed, but by whom.
Travis K. McSherley, a 2003 graduate of Anderson University in Indiana, lives near Washington, D.C., and serves as online editor for IWF.org.