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Explaining the Cambrian Explosion: Faith in Darwinism or Evidence for Intelligent Design?


In light of what I wrote here yesterday (“As Darwin’s Doubt Is Released, Science Journals Confirm the Reality and “Mystery” of the Cambrian Explosion“), even Jerry Coyne is forced to admit that we currently lack a good evolutionary explanation for the Cambrian explosion. He calls it a “puzzle” that — up to this point at least — has “elude[d] our understanding.”

This perhaps explains why Coyne has quickly published a defensive, preemptive rebuttal to those who point out his admission:

Note to the DI [Discovery Institute], which loves to quote-mine me: my characterization of the Cambrian explosion as a “puzzle” does not mean that I think a naturalistic explanation will always elude our understanding, or that I give IDiots any credibility in your previous explanations involving a designer.

The name-calling is the first sign that Dr. Coyne is compensating for an evidence-poor position. The second sign is his extremely tepid endorsement of the sediment-in-the-ocean-caused-the-Cambrian-explosion hypothesis mentioned in my prior article. More interesting, however, is the fact that Coyne is responding to an argument we haven’t made.

We never said that because Coyne admits the Cambrian explosion is a “puzzle” that therefore he must think there will never be a naturalistic explanation for it, or that he thinks ID is right. Coyne is a notoriously committed atheist, and is welcome to maintain his faith, if he wishes, that a naturalistic explanation of the Cambrian explosion will one day be found. He’s entitled to hold a materialism-of-the-gaps worldview. But we cannot be faulted for pointing out that no such material explanation exists (and not for lack of trying), and that therefore Coyne’s position necessarily involves some measure of faith.

Stephen Meyer’s argument for intelligent design, on the other hand, is not based upon faith, but rather upon evidence. In Chapters 17 to 20 of Darwin’s Doubt, Meyer explains that the standard scientific methods used by historical sciences allow us to make a positive argument for design in the Cambrian explosion. This positive argument is much more detailed and rigorous than I can present here, but Meyer shows that, in our experience, intelligent agency is the only known cause capable of generating the information and top-down design that are required for the animal body plans which appear explosively in the Cambrian period.

Using evidence and rigorous abductive logic, Meyer establishes that his explanation of the Cambrian explosion — intelligent design — is a sufficient cause for the observed data. On the other hand, Coyne admits that unguided evolutionary explanations have yet to provide an explanation for the observed data, yet he still believes they are correct. In light of this situation, what are we to make of Coyne’s words on MSNBC a few years ago:

The scientific way of looking at the world, which depends on evidence, and the religious way of looking at the world, which depends on faith, are fundamentally incompatible.

I disagree with Coyne that science and religion are incompatible, but by his own descriptions, who here is basing his views on religion (e.g., faith), and who here is relying upon science (evidence)?


Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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