This extensive volume contains essays by numerous Discovery Fellows who presented at an early intelligent design conference at Biola University in 1996. As Henry F. Shaefer III explains in the forward, the conference was not a typical “creationist” event, as “virtually none of the conference participants were creationists of the sort one frequently reads about in the popular press” and “a very large majority of the participants had no stake in treating Genesis as a scientific text” (pg. 9). The conference even included non-Christian participants, for Phillip Johnson stated in his concluding address that he “would welcome to this group earnest atheists who are convinced there must be a better scientific explanation of life than the dominant mutation/selection scenario.” (pg. 9)
The essays cover a wide range of topics. Philosopher, mathematician, and Senior Discovery Fellow William Dembski explains that science need not fear invoking design now that rigorous criteria can distinguish between designed and non-designed objects in nature. Biologist Jonathan Wells, also a senior fellow at Discovery Institute, recounts that only the principles of design engineering applied to biology can account why widely different species are “convergently” found to have the same genes. This conclusion is reiterated by Discovery Institute fellow philosopher of biology Paul Nelson (Chapter 6) who recounts the re-usage of embryonic regulatory genes in widely different organisms. Michael Behe, senior fellow at Discovery Institute and a biochemist, explains that the many irreducibly complex systems in the cell “not only are tall problems for Darwinism but also are the hallmarks of intelligent design.” (pg. 179) Mathematician David Berlinski, Senior Discovery Institute Fellow, explains that Gödel’s theorem implies the specified complexity inherent in nature cannot be accounted for by mechanistic Darwinian causes.
Senior Discovery Institute Fellow Walter Bradley explains that the mathematical framework of the universe, the values of universal constants and laws of nature, and the information inherent in life itself, explain that life was designed. Bradley concludes that “[t]he similarity between such information in nature and the production of information by human intelligence argues persuasively for an intelligent creator or designer.” (pg. 49) William Lane Craig, an expert in cosmology and Discovery Institute fellow, recounts various philosophical cosmological arguments for the existence of a first cause in nature. The Kalam cosmological argument states that whatever begins to exist has a cause, and since the universe began to exist, it must have a cause. The finite past must resolve back to an eternally existing first-existing being.
Stephen Meyer, Director of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture argues that intelligent design is the best explanation for the information present in the first life. Meyer recounts that Bernd-Olaf Küppers states that “the problem of the origin of life is clearly basically equivalent to the problem of the origin of biological information.” (pg. 122) No natural mechanism can account for the origin of such information. Yet Meyer finds that “whenever high information content is present in an artifact or entity whose causal story is known, invariably creative intelligence – design – has played a causal role in the origin of that entity.” (pg. 139) Thus intelligent design is the best explanation for the origin of the information in the first life.
The chapter also delves into philosophy, theology, and metaphysics. J.P. Moreland, a noted philosopher, author, and Discovery Institute Fellow, defends a notion of “libertarian agency,” which means that intelligent agents act for reasons which are “uncaused.” Moreland believes that this is how God acts, for acts such as the creation of the universe, parting of the Red Sea, or raising Jesus from the dead represent God acting by His own will. Moreland concludes that for Christians, “acts of God” can be used to explain “facts about the natural world,” (pg. 285) in particular, the origin of the universe and consciousness.
Similarly, Discovery Institute Fellow Robert Kaita critiques Christian de Duve’s cosmic imperative and Barrow and Tipler’s anthropic cosmological principle. Both principles deny the historic quest of natural philosophers to understand patterns of design in nature and instead relegate design to the realm of the supernatural. Kaita argues that these reductionist principles do not prove the invalidity of design, but rather reveal the pedestrian prejudices of their creators. By attempting to reduce all natural phenomena to the deterministic laws of physics and biology, Kaita argues that these scientists lose sight of contradictory perspectives that clash with their foregone conclusions.
Also in the philosophy and theology vein, John Mark Reynolds, a Discovery Institute Fellow, takes aim at the objection that intelligent design is simply a “God-of-the-gaps” type of argument. Proponents of design believe they have reasons independent from “naturalistic ignorance” to invoke design. For Christian theists, this justification can come from Romans 1, which says that men are “without excuse” if they deny the evidence for a Creator. In the end, Reynolds argues critics are “hard pressed to find any examples of the traditional “gaps argument” outside the narrow period of Enlightenment thought.” (pg. 327) Ancient proponents of design did not use design to “merely cover up their ignorance” but rather found that an intelligent agent was the best explanatory cause for the universe. Reynolds concludes that critics “should abandon the claim that such [God-of-the-gaps] reasoning is or ever was ever widespread.” (pg. 328)
The book also contains advice both for established scientists and younger scholars interested in pursuing design as a science. Social commentator and Discovery Fellow Nancy Pearcey warns that design theorists must be wary that they will likely face many of the same red herring political, theological, and philosophical objections which Darwin’s supporters used to fight design in the 19th century. Finally, Phillip E. Johnson, Program Advisor to Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, explains that critics of intelligent design will try to resurrect the “Inherit the Wind” stereotype by labeling design theorists as close-minded religious fundamentalists, when in reality it is evolutionary science that is based upon naturalistic dogma rather than hard experimental data. Bruce Chapman, President of Discovery Institute, concludes the volume explaining that the driving force of opposition in this battle is the cultural entrenchment of materialism.
Critics who read this book will be impressed by the wide range of disciplines which can interact with the design hypothesis. After a brief peruse of a volume like this, objections that intelligent design is a “science-stopper” are exposed as hot air which dissipates into a puff of smoke. The undeniable conclusion is that design is a serious intellectual project.
Other contributors not associated with Discovery: Robert C. Newman, Jeffrey Schloss, Siegrid Hartwig-Scherer, and Del Ratzsch.