Befuddled by Life's Origin

Stephen C. Meyer
Reprinted from Christianity Today, Nov. 14, 1994

I was flattered to read about my talk "Intelligent Design and the Origin of Life" in your write-up of the Cambridge "Cosmos and Creator" conference ["Science Gets Religion," Sept. 12]. The debate about the detectability of intelligent design in living organisms was, indeed, one of the most interesting and provocative parts of the event. Unfortunately, the quotation attributed to me obscures both my views and the nature of the debate.

Writer Jo Kadlecek correctly reports my criticism of biologists who resist the possibility that intelligent design played a role in the origin of life. She gives the impression, however, that I criticize them for demanding specific "evidence for design," then has me justifying intelligent design on the grounds that "there are many theories in science that include unobservable evidence from which we derive indirect inferences."

Had I attempted to justify intelligent design by reference to "unobservable evidence," then I suppose Dr. Peacocke, whom she quotes, would have been justified in calling my views "hogwash." Instead, much of the talk I gave with polymer scientist Walter Bradley concerned the evidence that supports the design hypothesis--in particular, the encoded information in DNA and the functional complexity of the cell.

It is true I criticized some biologists for "resisting" the design hypothesis, but I did so on grounds that they ignore, rather than demand, specific evidences. As I explained at the conference, 40 years of research have left chemical evolutionary theorists progressively more, not less, befuddled by the origin of life. The design hypothesis is resisted, not because there is a good, naturalistic explanation for life’s origin, but because certain arbitrary "rules" prohibit consideration of theories that refer to creative intelligence. In short, resistance to intelligent design derives from philosophical convention, not observed evidence.

I can understand how confusion about my statements might have arisen. I did say that scientists often infer unobservable entities such as quarks, forces, magnetic fields, and ancient mutations. But I also stated that such inferences in science are based on observable evidence. Scientists often infer the unobservable from the observable.

Prof. Stephen C. Meyer
Whitworth College
Spokane, Wash.