Stephen Meyer, a prominent proponent of Intelligent Design, has written extensively about the argument from DNA to design. What follows is a bullet summary of an article he published back in 2000 on that subject. This should be helpful if you’re looking for a quick outline of the argument, as it hits all the main points. For more detail, you can read the full article here, although we highly recommend the book-length treatment he’s given the argument in his more recent Signature in the Cell.

History of the Design Argument

  • For two thousand years the design argument was influential, including during the rise of modern science.
  • Today, a materialistic understanding of the universe is predominant.
  • Hume and Darwin played a substantial role in the demise of the design argument.
  • In the last half of the 20th century, advances in molecular biology and biochemistry showed that life’s fundamental building blocks (cells) depend on information storage, transmission and editing in order to function.

The Failure of Naturalistic Explanations

  •  Darwin, unaware of the complexity of the cell, had assumed complex life came from “one or a few simple forms”.
  • Biological evolutionary theory assumes, rather than explains, the existence of the first life and the information it required.
  • Chemical evolutionary theory is “riddled with difficulties”, including what we now know were false assumptions about the earth’s early atmosphere.
  • Ironically, origin of life experiments require intelligent intervention to prevent “interfering cross reactions” and other chemically destructive processes. In the absence of intelligent intervention, the experiments invariably fail.
  • Even more problematic, getting amino acids is not enough. Amino acids alone “do not make proteins any more than letters alone make words.”
  • Proper sequencing of the amino acids is critical to cell function, but there is no known materialistic or mindless mechanism for it, leading to a “crisis” in materialistic origin of life studies.

The Real Problem

  • In the 1950s we learned that DNA is exactly like software code, exhibiting specified complexity that carries messages to facilitate functions.
  • The sequence of amino acids and proteins is determined by the pre-existing information in DNA.
  • Thus the problem of the origin of life is really the problem of the origin of information.
  • Few researchers still appeal to chance as an explanation, given the inconceivable odds of obtaining even the shortest protein molecule. The universe isn’t old enough for it to have happened by chance.
  • Natural selection does not apply as a solution because it presupposes a pre-existing mechanism of self-replication, which is precisely what needs to be explained.
  • Self-organization theories fail to account for the fact that information is not merely “orderly”. What needs explaining is not the origin of order (like that of crystals) but the origin of information — highly improbable, specified sequences that make biological function possible.

The Best Explanation

  • If the properties of matter do not explain the origin of information, what does?
  • Our experience shows that information invariably comes from an intelligent source.
  • Many argue that to infer design is to give up on science (god of the gaps). But this is not an argument from ignorance. The inference to design is based not only on the insufficiency of natural processes to account for information, but on our positive first-hand knowledge of a source that can account for it.
  • It is a first principle of scientific investigation that causes known to produce an effect are better explanations than causes not known to produce it.
  • The argument from DNA to design is based on what we know — not what we don’t know — about the nature of information and the causal powers (and limitations) of nature and intelligent agents.
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