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ID’s Top Six — The Origin of Animals

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Editor’s note: In the past we’ve offered the top 10 problems with Darwinian evolution (see here for a fuller elaboration), and the top five problems with origin-of-life theories. But somehow we neglected to offer a parallel listing of the top evidence supporting intelligent design. Many different sources pointing to design in nature could be adduced, but we decided to distill it all down to six major lines of evidence. Sure, five or ten would have been more conventional, but when did ID advocates start playing to expectations?

So here they are, their order simply reflecting that in which they must logically have occurred within our universe. Material is adapted from the textbook Discovering Intelligent Design, which is an excellent resource for introducing the evidence for ID, along with Stephen Meyer’s books Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt.

5. The Origin of Animals

In his book Darwin’s Doubt, Stephen Meyer considers the nature of animals and what is required to build an animal. He finds that only intelligent design can explain the abrupt origin of animal life in the fossil record, as well as the new information required to build the integrated nature of parts and systems that comprise animal body plans. Here’s how Meyer makes the case that intelligent design is the best explanation for many aspects of the origin of animals as witnessed in the Cambrian explosion:

Intelligent agents can generate new form rapidly as we see in the abrupt appearance of animals in the Cambrian fossil record:

Intelligent agents have foresight. Such agents can determine or select functional goals before they are physically instantiated. They can devise or select material means to accomplish those ends from among an array of possibilities. They can then actualize those goals in accord with a preconceived design plan or set of functional requirements. Rational agents can constrain combinatorial space with distant information-rich outcomes in mind. (Darwin’s Doubt, pp. 362-363)

Intelligent agents sometimes produce material entities through a series of gradual modifications (as when a sculptor shapes a sculpture over time). Nevertheless, intelligent agents also have the capacity to introduce complex technological systems into the world fully formed. Often such systems bear no resemblance to earlier technological systems — their invention occurs without a material connection to earlier, more rudimentary technologies. When the radio was first invented, it was unlike anything that had come before, even other forms of communication technology. For this reason, although intelligent agents need not generate novel structures abruptly, they can do so. Thus, invoking the activity of a mind provides a causally adequate explanation for the pattern of abrupt appearance in the Cambrian fossil record. (pp. 373, 375)

Intelligent agents can generate top-down patterns of appearance like we see in animal body plans:

“Top-down” causation begins with a basic architecture, blueprint, or plan and then proceeds to assemble parts in accord with it. The blueprint stands causally prior to the assembly and arrangement of the parts. But where could such a blueprint come from? One possibility involves a mental mode of causation. Intelligent agents often conceive of plans prior to their material instantiation — that is, the preconceived design of a blueprint often precedes the assembly of parts in accord with it. An observer touring the parts section of a General Motors plant will see no direct evidence of a prior blueprint for GM’s new models, but will perceive the basic design plan immediately upon observing the finished product at the end of the assembly line. Designed systems, whether automobiles, airplanes, or computers, invariably manifest a design plan that preceded their first material instantiation. But the parts do not generate the whole. Rather, an idea of the whole directed the assembly of the parts. (pp. 371-372)

Intelligent agents can construct and modify complex integrated circuits that are necessary for animal development:

Integrated circuits in electronics are systems of individually functional components such as transistors, resistors, and capacitors that are connected together to perform an overarching function. … [I]n our experience, complex integrated circuits — and the functional integration of parts in complex systems generally — are known to be produced by intelligent agents — specifically, by engineers. Moreover, intelligence is the only known cause of such effects. Since developing animals employ a form of integrated circuitry, and certainly one manifesting a tightly and functionally integrated system of parts and subsystems, and since intelligence is the only known cause of these features, the necessary presence of these features in developing Cambrian animals would seem to indicate that intelligent agency played a role in their origin. (p. 364)

Intelligent agents generating new digital information like we see in DNA:

Intelligent agents, due to their rationality and consciousness, have demonstrated the power to produce specified or functional information in the form of linear sequence-specific arrangements of characters. Digital and alphabetic forms of information routinely arise from intelligent agents. A computer user who traces the information on a screen back to its source invariably comes to a mind — a software engineer or programmer. The information in a book or inscription ultimately derives from a writer or scribe. Our experience-based knowledge of information flow confirms that systems with large amounts of specified or functional information invariably originate from an intelligent source. The generation of functional information is “habitually associated with conscious activity.” Our uniform experience confirms this obvious truth. (p. 360)

Rational agents can arrange both matter and symbols with distant goals in mind. They also routinely solve problems of combinatorial inflation. In using language, the human mind routinely “finds” or generates highly improbable linguistic sequences to convey an intended or preconceived idea. In the process of thought, functional objectives precede and constrain the selection of words, sounds, and symbols to generate functional (and meaningful) sequences from a vast ensemble of meaningless alternative possible combinations of sound or symbol. Similarly, the construction of complex technological objects and products, such as bridges, circuit boards, engines, and software, results from the application of goal-directed constraints. Indeed, in all functionally integrated complex systems where the cause is known by experience or observation, designing engineers or other intelligent agents applied constraints on the possible arrangements of matter to limit possibilities in order to produce improbable forms, sequences, or structures. Rational agents have repeatedly demonstrated the capacity to constrain possible outcomes to actualize improbable but initially unrealized future functions. Repeated experience affirms that intelligent agents (minds) uniquely possess such causal powers. (p. 362)

Intelligent agents can generate new structural (epigenetic) information and construct functionally integrated and hierarchically organized layers of information as we see in animal body plans:

The highly specified, tightly integrated, hierarchical arrangements of molecular components and systems within animal body plans also suggest intelligent design. This is, again, because of our experience with the features and systems that intelligent agents — and only intelligent agents — produce. Indeed, based on our experience, we know that intelligent human agents have the capacity to generate complex and functionally specified arrangements of matter — that is, to generate specified complexity or specified information. Further, human agents often design information-rich hierarchies, in which both individual modules and the arrangement of those modules exhibit complexity and specificity — specified information as defined in Chapter 8. Individual transistors, resistors, and capacitors in an integrated circuit exhibit considerable complexity and specificity of design. Yet at a higher level of organization, the specific arrangement and connection of these components within an integrated circuit requires additional information and reflects further design.

Conscious and rational agents have, as part of their powers of purposive intelligence, the capacity to design information-rich parts and to organize those parts into functional information-rich systems and hierarchies. (p. 366)

Meyer concludes that “both the Cambrian animal forms themselves and their pattern of appearance in the fossil record exhibit precisely those features that we should expect to see if an intelligent cause had acted to produce them” (p. 379) He summarizes his argument as follows:

When we encounter objects that manifest any of the key features present in the Cambrian animals, or events that exhibit the patterns present in the Cambrian fossil record, and we know how these features and patterns arose, invariably we find that intelligent design played a causal role in their origin. Thus, when we encounter these same features in the Cambrian event, we may infer — based upon established cause-and-effect relationships and uniformitarian principles — that the same kind of cause operated in the history of life. In other words, intelligent design constitutes the best, most causally adequate explanation for the origin of information and circuitry necessary to build the Cambrian animals. It also provides the best explanation for the top- down, explosive, and discontinuous pattern of appearance of the Cambrian animals in the fossil record. (p. 381)

Here’s a concise documentary in which Dr. Meyer explains why intelligent design is the best explanation for the origin of information in animals:

This brief documentary features Paul Nelson explaining what is necessary to build an animal, specifically a worm:

Photo source: “How to Build a Worm,” via Discovery Institute.