Updated: May 11, 2019
by Casey Luskin
In 2009, I discussed a paper in BioEssays titled “MicroRNAs and metazoan macroevolution: insights into canalization, complexity, and the Cambrian explosion” which stated that “elucidating the materialistic basis of the Cambrian explosion has become more elusive, not less, the more we know about the event itself, and cannot be explained away by coupling extinction of intermediates with long stretches of geologic time, despite the contrary claims of some modern neo-Darwinists.” At that time, I noted that “[t]he authors give no indication that they themselves support intelligent design (ID), and it seems they are still hopeful for a ‘materialistic’ explanation for the Cambrian explosion.” Recently I was directed to an article by one of the paper’s authors, Mark McPeek, a professor of biology at Dartmouth College, where Dr. McPeek makes it clear that he is in fact not an ID-proponent. Dr. McPeek notes that he is a theist, and he’s entitled to his theistic evolutionary views. But I felt it was worth responding to some of his criticisms of ID since they reflect common misunderstandings of the theory of intelligent design.
The passage in question is where he states:
What makes something science is not merely having hypotheses. Science is having hypotheses and then testing them. The Intelligent Design hypothesis is untestable by science, exactly because we can never empirically know or understand the actions of God or any other Intelligent Designer. This in no way negates the validity of the hypothesis. It simply means that this hypothesis is outside the purview of science, because science can only support or refute hypotheses that are empirically testable, and this is not one of them.
Dr. McPeek’s article goes wrong where he says: “The Intelligent Design hypothesis is untestable by science, exactly because we can never empirically know or understand the actions of God or any other Intelligent Designer.” Let’s take God out of the equation here so Dr. McPeek’s statement now says: “The Intelligent Design hypothesis is untestable by science, exactly because we can never empirically know or understand the actions of … any … Intelligent Designer.” That statement is incorrect.
It’s quite a simple exercise to know and understand the actions of humans, who happen to be intelligent designers. For example, by studying the actions of humans in the world around us we can construct a variety of testable predictions about intelligent design.
The theory of intelligent design begins with observations of how intelligent agents act when designing things. By observing human intelligent agents, there is actually quite a bit we can learn know and understand about the actions of intelligent designers. Here are some observations:
Table 1. Ways Designers Act When Designing (Observations):
(1) Intelligent agents think with an “end goal” in mind, allowing them to solve complex problems by taking many parts and arranging them in intricate patterns that perform a specific function (e.g. complex and specified information):
“Agents can arrange matter with distant goals in mind. In their use of language, they routinely ‘find’ highly isolated and improbable functional sequences amid vast spaces of combinatorial possibilities.” (Meyer, 2004 a)
“[W]e have repeated experience of rational and conscious agents-in particular ourselves-generating or causing increases in complex specified information, both in the form of sequence-specific lines of code and in the form of hierarchically arranged systems of parts. … Our experience-based knowledge of information-flow confirms that systems with large amounts of specified complexity (especially codes and languages) invariably originate from an intelligent source from a mind or personal agent.” (Meyer, 2004 b))
(2) Intelligent agents can rapidly infuse large amounts of information into systems:
“Intelligent design provides a sufficient causal explanation for the origin of large amounts of information, since we have considerable experience of intelligent agents generating informational configurations of matter.” (Meyer, 2003.)
“We know from experience that intelligent agents often conceive of plans prior to the material instantiation of the systems that conform to the plans–that is, the intelligent design of a blueprint often precedes the assembly of parts in accord with a blueprint or preconceived design plan.” (Meyer, 2003.)