from  the  book  by  the  same  name

The Biological Big Bang

Meyer had made a convincing case that intelligence—and intelligence alone-—-can explain the presence of precise information within genetic material. By itself, this was impressive evidence for the existence of a designer of life.

As I looked down at my hand and tried to comprehend the vast quantities of complex and specific information inscribed in each cell, a slight smile formed at the corners of my mouth. The answer to the monumental question of whether there's a Creator, I mused, might very well be as close as my own fingertips.

Meyer wasn't finished, however. As he mentioned in our previous interview, he is convinced that the so-called "Cambrian explosion"-—-in which a dazzling array of new life forms suddenly appears fully formed in the fossil record, without any of the ancestors required by Darwinism also is powerful evidence of a designer. The reason: this phenomenon would have required the sudden infusion of massive amounts of new genetic and other biological information that only could have come from an intelligent source.

Among other places, Meyer makes that case in "The Cambrian Information Explosion: Evidence for Intelligent Design" in Debating Design, recently published by Cambridge University Press. Another extensive piece, "The Cambrian Explosion: Biology's Big Bang," appears in Darwinism, Design, and Public Education. Meyer coauthored this analysis with Paul Chien, chairman and professor in the biology department at the University of San Francisco, who worked with leading Chinese scientists on interpreting Cambrian fossils unique to Chinas Chengjiang region; Paul A. Nelson, a philosopher of biology who earned his doctorate at the University of Chicago; and paleontologist Marcus Ross.

"The fossils of the Cambrian Explosion absolutely cannot be explained by Darwinian theory or even by the concept called 'punctuated equilibrium,' which was specifically formulated in an effort to explain away the embarrassing fossil record," Meyer said. "When you look at the issue from the perspective of biological information, the best explanation is that an intelligence was responsible for this otherwise inexplicable phenomenon."

I leaned back in my chair and crossed my legs to get comfortable. "This sounds fascinating," I said. "Explain what you mean."

Meyer clearly relished the opportunity to elaborate. "New developments in embryology and developmental biology are telling us that DNA, as important as it is, is not the whole show," Meyer began.

"DNA provides some but not all of the information that's needed to build a new organism with a novel form and function. You see, DNA builds proteins, but proteins have to be assembled into larger structures. There are different kinds of cells, and those cells have to be arranged into tissues, and tissues have to be arranged into organs, and organs have to be arranged into overall body plans.

"According to neo-Darwinism, new biological forms are created from mutations in DNA, with natural selection preserving and building on the favorable ones. But if DNA is only part of the story, then you can mutate it indefinitely and you'll never build a fundamentally new body architecture.

"So when you encounter the Cambrian explosion, with its huge and sudden appearance of radically new body plans, you realize you need lots of new biological information. Some of it would be encoded for in DNA—although how that occurs is still an insurmountable problem for Darwinists. But on top of that, where does the new information come from that's not attributable to DNA? How does the hierarchical arrangement of cells, tissues, organs, and body plans develop? Darwinists don't have an answer. It's not even on their radar."

In the Blink of an Eye

Using radiometric techniques to date zircon crystals in Siberia, scientists have recently been able to increase their accuracy in pinpointing the time frame of the Cambrian explosion, whose beginning they have determined to be some 530 million years ago.   

Paleontologists now think that during a five-million-year (or even shorter) window of time, at least twenty and as many as thirty-five of the world's forty phyla, the highest category in the animal kingdom, sprang forth with unique body plans. In fact, some experts believe that "all living phyla may have originated by the end of the explosion." 30

To put this incredible speed into perspective, if you were to compress all of the Earth's history into twenty-four hours, the Cambrian explosion would consume only about one minute. 31

"The Cambrian explosion represents an incredible quantum leap in biological complexity," Meyer said. "Before then, life on Earth was pretty simple—one-celled bacteria, blue-green algae, and later some sponges and primitive worms or mollusks. Then without any ancestors in the fossil record, we have a stunning variety of complex creatures appear in the blink of an eye, geologically speaking.

"For example the trilobite—with an articulated body, complicated nervous system, and compound eyes—suddenly shows up fully formed at the beginning of the explosion. It's amazing! And this is followed by stasis, which means the basic body plans remained distinct over the eons.

"All of this totally contradicts Darwinism, which predicted the slow, gradual development in organisms over time. Darwin admitted the Cambrian explosion was 'inexplicable' and a 'valid argument' against his theory. He insisted 'nature non facit saltum-—-nature takes no leaps.' He thought he would be vindicated, however, as more fossils were discovered, but the picture has only gotten worse.

"The big issue is where did the information come from to build all these new proteins, cells, and body plans? For instance, Cambrian animals would have needed complex proteins, such as lysyl oxidase. In animals today, lysyl oxidase molecules require four hundred amino acids. Where did the genetic information come from to build those complicated molecules? This would require highly complex, specified genetic information of the sort that neither random chance, nor natural selection, nor self-organization can produce."

In my interview for Chapter Three, biologist Jonathan Wells had satisfactorily answered my objections to the Cambrian explosion, one of which was that transitional organisms may have been too small or soft to have left a legacy of fossils. Still, another possibility came to mind.

"Maybe," I suggested, "some unexplained environmental phenomenon caused a sudden spate of mutations that accelerated the creation of new organisms."

"That doesn't solve the problem," Meyer replied. "First, even assuming a generous mutation rate, the Cambrian explosion was far too short to have allowed for the kind of large-scale changes that the fossils reflect.

"Second, only mutations in the earliest development of organisms have a realistic chance of producing large-scale macroevolutionary change. And scientists have found that mutations at this stage typically have disastrous effects. The embryo usually dies or is crippled."

Geneticist John F. McDonald has called this "a great Darwinian paradox." 32 The kind of mutations that macroevolution needs-—-namely, large-scale, beneficial ones-—-don't occur, while the kind it doesn't need —-large-scale mutations with harmful effects or small-scale mutations with limited impact-—do occur, though infrequently.

I brought up another idea that has been offered by some evolutionists. "Why couldn't mutations have occurred in an inactive part of the DNA, sort of a neutral area that wouldn't have had any immediate impact on the organism?" I asked. "Then, after a long period of time during which these mutations could accumulate, a new gene sequence could have suddenly kicked in and created an entirely new protein. Natural selection would then preserve any beneficial effects this would have on the organism."

This theory wasn't new to Meyer. He responded by saying, "Keep in mind that these mutations would have had to occur by random chance, since natural selection can't preserve anything until it confers a positive benefit on the organism. The problem is that the odds of creating a novel functional protein without the help of natural selection would be vanishingly small. There are now a number of studies in molecular biology that establish this. So this so-called 'neutral theory' of evolution is another dead end.

"There's really only one explanation that accounts for all the evidence. In any other field of endeavor, it would be obvious, but many scientists shy away from it in biology. The answer," he said, "is an intelligent designer."

Fitting the "Top Down" Pattern

The puzzle of the Cambrian Explosion quickly falls into place once the possibility of a purposeful Creator is allowed as one of the explanatory options. Even one of the explosion's most vexing features-—-its so-called "top down" pattern of appearance—is efficiently explained by intelligent design.

Said Meyer. "Neo-Darwinism predicts a 'bottom up' pattern in which small differences in form between evolving organisms appear prior to large differences in form and body plan organization. For instance, you might imagine that pre-Cambrian sponges would have given rise to several different varieties. These varieties would have evolved over time to produce different species. As this process continued, wholly different creatures with completely new body plans would have emerged in the Cambrian era.

"Instead, however, fossils from the Cambrian explosion show a radically different 'top down' pattern. Major differences in form and body plans appear first, with no simpler transitions before them. Later, some minor variations arise within the framework of these separate and disparate body plans.

"This has completely stumped neo-Darwinists. Others have tried to explain it away by proposing big leaps of evolutionary change-—-the so-called punctuated equilibrium idea-—-but even this cant account for the 'top down' phenomenon. In fact, punctuated equilibrium predicts a 'bottom up' pattern; it just asserts that the increments of evolutionary change would be larger. Yet if you postulate intelligent design, the 'top down pattern' makes sense, because it's the same pattern we see in the history of human technological design."

"Can you give me an example?" I asked.

"Sure-—think about cars or airplanes," Meyer replied. "They also manifest a 'top down' pattern of appearance. In both cases, the major blueprint or plan appears fairly suddenly and remains essentially constant over history.

"For instance, all cars have a basic organizational plan that includes a motor, a drive shaft, two axles, four wheels, and so forth. After the basic invention came about, then variations have occurred on the theme over time. That's an example of 'top down' change. The original blueprint was the product of intelligence, and the continuity through the years is explained by an idea being passed from generation to generation of automotive engineers.

"In a similar way, why couldn't the body plans of the Cambrian animals have originated as an idea in the mind of a designer? This would explain why the major differences in form appear first and then subsequent small-scale variations only come later. In fact, intelligence is the only cause we know that produces the kind of 'top down' pattern we see in both the fossil record and in human technology, as illustrated by everything from cars and airplanes to guns and bicycles. 33

"Intelligence also explains the origin of the layers of information necessary to create the new body plans in the Cambrian animals. As I mentioned earlier, to build a new animal you need DNA to create the proteins and additional information to arrange the proteins into higher level structures. We find the same layering or hierarchical form of organization in human technologies, like a computers circuit board. Humans use intelligence to produce complex components, such as transistors and capacitors, as well as their specific arrangement and connection within an integrated circuit.

"Once you allow intelligent design as an option, you can quickly see how it accounts for the key features of the Cambrian phenomenon. No other entity explains the sudden appearance of such complex new creatures. No other entity produces top down patterns. No other entity can create the complex and functionally specific information needed for new living forms. No other explanation suffices."

"But intelligent design sounds like such an outmoded concept," I said. "William Paley famously compared biological systems to the workings of a watch more than two hundred years ago. That's old news."

I had struck a nerve. Meyer uncrossed his legs, planted both feet on the floor, and spoke with conviction. "I think the opposite is true," he insisted. "We've learned a lot about biology since the Civil War. Evolutionists are still trying to apply Darwin's nineteenth-century thinking to a twenty-first century reality, and it's not working. Explanations from the era of the steamboat are no longer adequate to explain the biological world of the information age.

"Darwinists say they're under some sort of epistemological obligation to continue trying, because to invoke design would be to give up on science. Well, I say it's time to redefine science. We should not be looking for only the best naturalistic explanation, but the best explanation, period. And intelligent design is the explanation that's most in conformity with how the world works."

A Hallmark of Mind

As our interview was drawing to a close, Meyer's reference to the twenty-first century prompted one last line of inquiry "Fast forward ten or twenty years," I said. "What do you see?"

"I think the information revolution taking place in biology is sounding the death knell for Darwinism and chemical evolutionary theories," he said as he removed his glasses and slipped them into his pocket.

"The attempt to explain the origin of life solely from chemical constituents is effectively dead now. Naturalism cannot answer the fundamental problem of how to get from matter and energy to biological function without the infusion of information from an intelligence.

"Information is not something derived from material properties; in a sense, it transcends matter and energy. Naturalistic theories that rely solely on matter and energy are not going to be able to account for information. Only intelligence can. I think that realization is going to progressively dawn on more and more people, especially younger scientists who have grown up in the age of information technology.

"Today we buy information, we sell it, we regard it as a commodity, we value it, we send it down wires and bounce it off satellites-—-and we know it invariably comes from intelligent agents. So what do we make of the fact that there's information in life? What do we make of the fact that DNA stores far more information in a smaller space than the most advanced supercomputer on the planet?

"Information is the hallmark of mind. And purely from the evidence of genetics and biology, we can infer the existence of a mind that's far greater than our own-—-a conscious, purposeful, rational, intelligent designer who's amazingly creative. There's no getting around it."

The cacophony of street noise coming through the half-opened window was getting louder now that rush hour was approaching. Meyer's wife was graciously cooking a salmon dinner for us at their house, and it was time to get on the highway before it got clogged with traffic. As we ended our discussion, Meyer excused himself for a quick meeting in another office, giving me some time to reflect.

Meyer's two rhetorical questions near the conclusion of our discussion effectively summed up the issue. The data at the core of life is not disorganized, it's not simply orderly like salt crystals, but it's complex and specific information that can accomplish a bewildering task—the building of biological machines that far outstrip human technological capabilities.

What else can generate information but intelligence? What else can account for the rapid appearance of a staggering variety of fully formed, complex creatures that have absolutely no transitional intermediates in the fossil record? The conclusion was compelling: an intelligent entity has quite literally spelled out evidence of his existence through the four chemical letters in the genetic code. It's almost as if the Creator autographed every cell.

I sighed and slumped back in my chair, a bit exhausted from my whirlwind of travel and interviews. The case for a Creator was accumulating at a remarkable pace, and I could sense I was approaching the conclusion of my quest. But I also knew there was at least one more expert I needed to consult.

In the closing minutes of our conversation, Meyer had mentioned the word "mind" and referred to conscious activity. As beguiled as I was by DNA, I was equally intrigued by the human brain. Weighing just three pounds, it has ten thousand million nerve cells, each sending out enough fibers to create a thousand million million connections. That's equal to the number of leaves in a dense forest covering a million square miles. 34

Yet how does all of that circuitry create the unique phenomenon of human consciousness? How does raw biological processing power enable me to reflect, or form beliefs, or make free choices? Is my consciousness only attributable to the physics and chemistry of my brain, or have I also been endowed with an immaterial mind and soul? And if there is persuasive evidence of a soul, what could this tell me about the existence of a Creator—-and an afterlife?

I pulled out a small notebook and scribbled myself a note to contact an expert on consciousness as soon as I returned to Los Angeles. I started to slip the pad into my shirt pocket, but instead I stopped and looked at the reminder I had just written.

It was also a reminder of something else. Those few words—a fragment of a sentence-—represented information that has its source in my intelligence. How intuitively obvious that a dense array of far more complicated biological assembly instructions must, too, have their origin in a mind.

For Further Evidence

More Resources on This Topic    

Meyer, Stephen C. "The Cambrian. Information Explosion: Evidence for Intelligent Design." In Debating Design, ed. Michael Ruse and William Demb-   ski. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

"DNA and the Origin of Life: Information, Specification, and Explanation" and "The Cambrian Explosion: Biology's Big Bang." In Darwinism, Design, and Public Education, ed. John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer. Lansing, Mich.: Michigan State University Press, 2003.

"Evidence for Design in Physics and Biology." In Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe, ed. Michael J. Behe, William A. Dembski, and Stephen C. Meyer. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999.

"The Explanatory Power of Design: DNA and the Origin of Information." In Mere Creation, ed. William A. Dembski, 113-47. Downers
Grove, 111.: InterVarsity, 1998.