Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design
Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design
Stephen C. Meyer
HarperOne, 2010
624 pp., $19.99

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Robert O'Connor and Robert Bishop

God the Engineer

A response to Casey Luskin on detecting design.

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The slippage is very subtle. (Less subtle is Meyer's suggestion that intelligent agency is the cause "known to be necessary to produce the effect.") From an epistemological posture regarding the relative adequacy of alternative explanations, Meyer draws an ontological conclusion regarding the adequacy of possible causes. It is Meyer's "only known cause" principle that appears to provide the bridge.

How does this principle fare? Suppose we come across a box of notebooks in the attic, on some of which we find the signature of Richard Dawkins. In every case where we know the source of a notebook, we always find that it originates from Richard Dawkins. According to the "only known cause" principle: "If there are no other known causes—if there is only one known cause—of a given effect, then the presence of the effect points unambiguously back to the (uniquely adequate) cause." Would we accept this as settling the question of authorship for these other notebooks? Would one need to assume that there is, in fact, another author in order to continue to regard the question of authorship open? To assume on the basis of what one does know that these others, too, must have been authored by Dawkins would beg the question at hand.

How, then, to address the question of design? Rather than this contentious epistemic principle, the dispute invites consideration of the metaphysical merits of alternative explanations of the empirical data. To suppose that Meyer's argument draws upon premises that are not, strictly speaking, empirically detectable, does not imply the universal failure of empirically based, philosophically informed arguments for design. "These two theistic evolutionists," Luskin surmises, "believe we cannot empirically detect God's handiwork, an idea at variance with the Apostle Paul's statement that God is 'clearly seen' in nature (Romans 1: 20)." This follows only if by "clearly seen" Paul means "strictly empirically detectable" as understood according to Meyer's construal of the design inference. This is the model of God as engineer at work.

Perhaps reflection on these hidden assumptions will reveal an at least equally successful argument from an evolutionary creationist point of view.

Robert O'Connor is associate professor of philosophy at Wheaton College. Robert Bishop is John and Madeleine McIntyre Endowed Professor of Philosophy and History of Science at Wheaton College.

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