Intelligent Design The Definitive Source on ID

The Top Evidence for Intelligent Design

Six major lines of evidence for intelligent design.

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 lines of evidence supporting intelligent design. Many different pieces of evidence 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.

1. The Origin of the Universe

The famous Kalam cosmological argument is a three-part argument that the universe requires a first cause. Its name reflects its roots in Islamic thought.

  • Anything that begins to exist has a cause.
  • The universe began to exist.
  • Therefore, the universe has a First Cause.

The step in the argument that science can address is the middle one — evidence that the universe began to exist. That evidence comes in two major pieces — (i) the redshift and the Doppler effect, and (ii) the discovery of microwave background radiation.

In 1927, Belgian astronomer Georges Lemaître theorized that the universe began with a single explosion from a densely compacted state. That explosion eventually became known as the Big Bang.

Big Bang: A model of the universe’s origin that holds it is finite in size and age. According to this theory, the universe — including all space and time — originated with a single powerful expansion event, and is still expanding.

Two years after Lemaître introduced his theory, astronomer Edwin Hubble published a study supporting it. Hubble’s study indicated that all galaxies are receding from one another and that the universe is, in fact, expanding. How did Hubble make this discovery?

The next time an ambulance drives past with its siren blaring, pay attention to the pitch of the sound. As the ambulance approaches, the pitch is high, but then as it screams past, the pitch suddenly drops. That is called the Doppler effect.

The Doppler effect states that sound waves are heard with a higher frequency when the source of the sound is moving toward you, but with a lower frequency when it is moving away from you. Although light waves behave differently from sound waves, a similar effect takes place — also called the Doppler effect.

Light waves coming from an approaching object will have their frequency shifted up toward the blue end of the spectrum of visible light. Correspondingly, light waves coming from a receding object are stretched to a lower frequency, and thus shifted down toward the red end — a phenomenon known as the redshift.

Hubble’s research confirmed that galaxies are receding from one another by discovering a disproportionately high level of red light coming from virtually every galaxy. If every observable galaxy is moving away from every other, the universe is expanding.

Final confirmation of the Big Bang model came when scientists discovered the precisely predicted microwave background radiation left over from this massive, explosive event.

In 1948, physicist George Gamow provided a way to settle the controversy between the Big Bang and Steady State theories. He and other cosmologists theorized that if the universe began with a Big Bang, there should be radiation left over from this explosive event.

This radiation was discovered in the 1960s. However, the debate continued because the measurements were made using earthbound instruments with limited accuracy.

Finally, in the early 1990s, precise measurements from NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite indicated that the universe was filled with radiation having the exact properties predicted by the Big Bang theory.

The COBE measurements confirmed that all matter in the early universe exploded from a densely compacted state. Scientists now had conclusive evidence that the universe had a beginning. As astrophysicist Neil F. Comins explained it:

Detection of the cosmic microwave background is a principal reason why the Big Bang is accepted by astronomers as the correct cosmological theory.

What all this means is that there is very strong evidence that the universe had a beginning. If the universe had a beginning, then it had a first cause. And if it had a first cause, then it makes sense to ask what kind of first cause is necessary to explain the origin of the universe. It must be:

  • A cause outside of the universe
  • Capable of generating all the matter and energy in the universe
  • Capable of generating all the order we see in inherent within the universe (more on this coming up).

That’s quite a job description — one that no known material cause or set of material causes appears capable of accomplishing. The need for such a powerful and intelligent first cause strongly suggests a purposeful design behind the origin of the universe.

William Lane Craig has an excellent video further explaining this argument:

2. The Fine-Tuning of the Universe

The term “Big Bang” conjures images of an explosion, and usually when we think of an explosion we imagine a highly chaotic, stochastic event that destroys any order that is present rather than creating or preserving order. The Big Bang was not that kind of an “explosion.” It’s much better understood as a “finely tuned expansion event,” where all the matter and energy in the universe were expanding from an unimaginably high energy state. However, matching that energy was control and guidance through natural laws that were designed to produce a habitable universe, a home for life.

Consider some of the finely tuned factors that make our universe possible:

  • If the strong nuclear force were slightly more powerful, then there would be no hydrogen, an essential element of life. If it was slightly weaker, then hydrogen would be the only element in existence.
  • If the weak nuclear force were slightly different, then either there would not be enough helium to generate heavy elements in stars, or stars would burn out too quickly and supernova explosions could not scatter heavy elements across the universe.
  • If the electromagnetic force were slightly stronger or weaker, atomic bonds, and thus complex molecules, could not form.
  • If the value of the gravitational constant were slightly larger, one consequence would be that stars would become too hot and burn out too quickly. If it were smaller, stars would never burn at all and heavy elements would not be produced.

The finely tuned laws and constants of the universe are an example of specified complexity in nature. They are complex in that their values and settings are highly unlikely. They are specified in that they match the specific requirements needed for life.

The following gives a sense of the degree of fine-tuning that must go into some of these values to yield a life-friendly universe:

  • Gravitational constant: 1 part in 10^34
  • Electromagnetic force versus force of gravity: 1 part in 10^37
  • Cosmological constant: 1 part in 10^120
  • Mass density of universe:  1 part in 10^59
  • Expansion rate of universe: 1 part in 10^55
  • Initial entropy:  1 part in 10^ (10^123)

The last item in the list — the initial entropy of the universe — shows an astounding degree of fine-tuning. What all this shares is an incredible, astronomically precise, purposeful care and planning that went into the crafting of the laws and constants of the universe, gesturing unmistakably to intelligent design. As Nobel laureate in physics Charles Townes stated:

Intelligent design, as one sees it from a scientific point of view, seems to be quite real. This is a very special universe: it’s remarkable that it came out just this way. If the laws of physics weren’t just the way they are, we couldn’t be here at all. The sun couldn’t be there, the laws of gravity and nuclear laws and magnetic theory, quantum mechanics, and so on have to be just the way they are for us to be here.

Some scientists respond, “Well, there must be an enormous number of universes and each one is a little different. This one just happened to turn out right.” That’s a postulate, and it’s a pretty fantastic postulate — it assumes there really are an enormous number of universes and that the laws could be different for each of them. One would like to get a look at the universe-generating machine responsible for this abundance. The other possibility is that our universe was planned, and that’s why it has come out so specially.

Again, William Lane Craig has a fantastic video explaining this:

3. The Origin of Information in DNA and the Origin of Life

The laws of the universe are necessary for life to exist. But they aren’t sufficient to explain how life arose. The origin of life requires a massive infusion of information, which can only be explained by intelligent design. Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell puts it best:

Hume’s objections to the classical design argument fail to refute the argument of this book for several reasons. First, we now know that organisms come from organisms, because organisms possess information-rich macromolecules and a complex information-rich system for processing and replicating the information stored in those molecules. Thus, [Hume’s] argument that uniform experience suggests that organisms necessarily arise from an infinite regress of primeval organisms (or an eternally self-existent one) fails. Repeated experience about the origin of information-rich systems suggests two possibilities, not one. Either information-rich systems arise from preexisting systems of information via a mechanism of replication, or information-rich systems arise from minds. We have repeated experiences of both. Even so, our experience also affirms — based on cases in which we know the cause of such systems — that systems capable of copying and processing other information ultimately arise from intelligent design. After all, the computer hardware that can copy and process information in software originated in the mind of an engineer.

Beyond that, advances in our understanding of planetary and cosmic evolution have ruled out the possibility that biological life has always existed, either on earth or in the cosmos. At some point in the remote past, the conditions on earth and in the larger cosmos were simply incompatible with life. The big-bang theory alone implies that the cosmos itself is finite. Thus, scientifically informed people generally don’t argue that biological life always existed or even that it always existed on earth. The question is whether life originated from a purely undirected material process or whether a mind also played a role. Between these two options uniform experience affirms only the latter as an adequate cause for information-rich systems capable of processing and copying information. Since we know that organisms capable of reproduction constitute information-rich systems, a Humean appeal to uniform experience  actually suggests intelligent design, not undirected processes, as the explanation for the origin of the first life.

Second, the contemporary case for intelligent design (such as the one made in this book) is not an analogical argument, even though many interesting similarities do exist between living organisms and human information technology. If, as Bill Gates says, “DNA is like a computer program,” it makes sense, on analogical grounds, to consider inferring that DNA also had an intelligent source. Nevertheless, although the digitally encoded information in DNA is similar to the information in a computer program, the case for design made here does not depend upon mere similarity. Here’s why.

Classical design arguments in biology typically seek to draw analogies between whole organisms and machines based on similar features present in both systems, reasoning from similar effects back to similar causes. These arguments are a bit like those sixth-grade math problems in which students are given a ratio of known quantities on one side of the equation and a ratio of an unknown to a known quantity on the other and then asked to “solve for x,” the unknown quantity. In analogical design arguments, two similar effects are compared. In one case, the cause of the effect is known. In the other case the cause is unknown, but is presumed to be knowable because of the alleged similarity between the two effects. The analogical reasoner “solves for x,” in this case, the unknown cause.

The status of such design arguments inevitably turns on the degree of similarity between the systems in question. If the two effects are very similar, then inferring a similar cause will seem more warranted than if the two effects are less similar. Since, however, even advocates of these classical design arguments admit there are dissimilarities as well as similarities between living things and human artifacts, the status of the analogical design argument has always been uncertain. Advocates argued that similarities between organisms and machines outweighed dissimilarities. Critics claimed the opposite.

But the DNA-to-design argument does not have an analogical form. Instead, it constitutes an inference to the best explanation. Such argument do not compare degrees of similarity between different effects, but instead compare the explanatory power of competing causes with respect to a single kind of effect.

As noted, biological information, such as we find in DNA and proteins, comprises two features: complexity and functional specificity. Computer codes and linguistic texts also manifest this pair of properties (“complexity” and “specificity”), what I have referred to throughout this book as specified information. Although a computer program may be similar to DNA in many respects and dissimilar in others, it exhibits a precise identity to DNA insofar as both contain specified complexity or specified information.

Accordingly, the design argument developed here does not rely on a comparison of similar effects, but upon the presence of a single kind of effect — specified information — and an assessment of the ability of competing causes to produce that effect. The argument does not depend upon the similarity of DNA to a computer program or human language, but upon the presence of an identical feature in both DNA and intelligently designed codes, languages, and artifacts. Because we know intelligent agents can (and do) produce complex and functionally specified sequences of symbols and arrangements of matter, intelligent agency qualifies as an adequate causal explanation for the origin of this effect. Since, in addition, materialistic theories have proven universally inadequate for explaining the origin of such information, intelligent design now stands as the only entity with the causal power known to produce this feature of living systems. Therefore, the presence of this feature in living systems points to intelligent design as the best explanation of it, whether such systems resemble human artifacts in other ways or not.

(Signature in the Cell, pp. 384-386)

Here, Stephen Meyer summarizes his argument:

4. The Origin of Irreducibly Complex Molecular Machines

Molecular machines are another compelling line of evidence for intelligent design, as there is no known cause, other than intelligent design, that can produce machine-like structures with multiple interacting parts. In a well-known 1998 article in the journal Cell, former president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences Bruce Alberts explained the astounding nature of molecular machines:

[T]he entire cell can be viewed as a factory that contains an elaborate network of interlocking assembly lines, each of which is composed of a set of large protein machines.… Why do we call the large protein assemblies that underlie cell function protein machines? Precisely because, like machines invented by humans to deal efficiently with the macroscopic world, these protein assemblies contain highly coordinated moving parts.

There are numerous molecular machines known to biology (this article describes 40 of them). Here’s a description of two well-known molecular machines from Discovering Intelligent Design:

Ribosome: The ribosome is a multi-part machine responsible for translating the genetic instructions during the assembly of proteins. According to Craig Venter, a widely respected biologist, the ribosome is “an incredibly beautiful complex entity” which requires a minimum of 53 proteins. Bacterial cells may contain up to 100,000 ribosomes, and human cells may contain millions. Biologist Ada Yonath, who won the Nobel Prize for her work on ribosomes, observes that they are “ingeniously designed for their functions.”

ATP Synthase: ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is the primary energy-carrying molecule in all cells. In many organisms, it is generated by a protein-based molecular machine called ATP synthase. This machine is composed of two spinning rotary motors connected by an axle. As it rotates, bumps on the axle push open other protein subunits, providing the mechanical energy needed to generate ATP. In the words of cell biologist David Goodsell, “ATP synthase is one of the wonders of the molecular world.”

But could molecular machines evolve by Darwinian mechanisms? Discovering Intelligent Design explains why this is highly improbable due to the irreducibly complex nature of many molecular machines:

Many cellular features, such as molecular machines, require multiple interactive parts to function. Behe has further studied the ability of Darwinism to explain these multipart structures.

In his book Darwin’s Black Box, Behe coined the term irreducible complexity to describe a system that fails Darwin’s test of evolution:

“What type of biological system could not be formed by ‘numerous successive slight modifications’? Well, for starters, a system that is irreducibly complex. By irreducibly complex I mean a single system which is composed of several interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.”

As suggested earlier, Darwinism requires that structures remain functional along each small step of their evolution. However, irreducibly complex structures cannot evolve in a step-by-step fashion because they do not function until all of their parts are present and working. Multiple parts requiring numerous mutations would be necessary to get any function at all — an event that is extremely unlikely to occur by chance.

One famous example of an irreducibly complex molecular machine is the bacterial flagellum. The flagellum is a micro-molecular propeller assembly driven by a rotary engine that propels bacteria toward food or a hospitable living environment. There are various types of flagella, but all function like a rotary engine made by humans, as found in some car and boat motors.

Flagella contain many parts that are familiar to human engineers, including a rotor, a stator, a drive shaft, a u-joint, and a propeller. As one molecular biologist wrote in the journal Cell, “[m]ore so than other motors, the flagellum resembles a machine designed by a human.”

Genetic knockout experiments by microbiologist Scott Minnich show that the flagellum fails to assemble or function properly if any one of its approximately 35 genes is removed. In this all-or-nothing game, mutations cannot produce the complexity needed to evolve a functional flagellum one step at a time, and the odds are too daunting for it to assemble in one great leap.

What about the objection that molecular machines can evolve through co-option of pre-existing parts and components? Again, Discovering Intelligent Design explains why this proposition fails — and why molecular machines point to design:

Irreducibly complex structures point to design because they contain high levels of specified complexity — i.e., they have unlikely arrangements of parts, all of which are necessary to achieve a specific function.

ID critics counter that such structures can be built by co-opting parts from one job in the cell to another.

Co-option: To take and use for another purpose. In evolutionary biology, it is a highly speculative mechanism where blind and unguided processes cause biological parts to be borrowed and used for another purpose.

Of course we could find many more pieces of evidence supporting ID, but sometimes shorter is more readable, and five makes for a nice concise blog post that we hope you can pass around and share with friends.

But there are multiple problems co-option can’t solve.

First, not all parts are available elsewhere. Many are unique. In fact, most flagellar parts are found only in flagella.

Second, machine parts are not necessarily easy to interchange. Grocery carts and motorcycles both have wheels, but one could not be borrowed from the other without significant modification. At the molecular level, where small changes can prevent two proteins from interacting, this problem is severe.

Third, complex structures almost always require a specific order of assembly. When building a house, a foundation must be laid before walls can be added, windows can’t be installed until there are walls, and a roof can’t be added until the frame complete. As another example, one could shake a box of computer parts for thousands of years, but a functional computer would never form.

Thus, merely having the necessary parts available is not enough to build a complex system because specific assembly instructions must be followed. Cells use complex assembly instructions in DNA to direct how parts will interact and combine to form molecular machines. Proponents of co-option never explain how those instructions arise.

To attempt to explain irreducible complexity, ID critics often promote wildly speculative stories about co-option. But ID theorists William Dembski and Jonathan Witt observe that in our actual experience, there is only one known cause that can modify and co-opt machine parts into new systems:

“What is the one thing in our experience that co-opts irreducibly complex machines and uses their parts to build a new and more intricate machine? Intelligent agents.”

Two videos, produced by Discovery Institute, explain the complexity and design of some well-known molecular machines, with memorable animations. First, on ATP synthase:

Second, on kinesin:

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:

6. The Origin of Humans

There are many aspects of humanity that point to intelligent design. As discussed in the book Science and Human Origins, the human body plan appears abruptly in the fossil record, challenging an evolutionary explanation:

Hominin fossils generally fall into one of two groups: ape-like species and human-like species, with a large, unbridged gap between them. Despite the hype promoted by many evolutionary paleoanthropologists, the fragmented hominin fossil record does not document the evolution of humans from ape-like precursors.

(Science and Human Origins, p. 45)

The book further explains the many unique anatomical features of humans that point to intelligent design:

How many mutations would it take to evolve the anatomical changes necessary for walking and running? Dozens if not hundreds or thousands — if it could happen by random mutation at all. If the time span available for human evolution from a chimp-like ancestor is six million years, the effective population size is ten thousand, the mutation rate is 10-8 per nucleotide per generation and the generation time is five to ten years (for a chimp-like ancestor), only a single change to a particular DNA binding site could be expected to arise. It strains credibility to think that all sixteen anatomical features evolved fortuitously in that same time frame, especially if each required multiple mutations. Given these numbers, it is extremely improbable, if not absolutely impossible, for us to have evolved from hominin ancestors by a gradual, unguided process. (p. 26)

But it isn’t just our anatomy that points to design:

The above argument was based solely on the anatomical changes required for fully upright, bipedal posture and efficient long-distance travel. But I cannot leave this discussion without pointing out the many other things that distinguish us from apes. At the fine motor level, we have many abilities that require anatomical features that apes lack — we have many more finely controlled muscles in our hands, face, and tongues, for example. Without them our dexterity as artists or craftsmen, our ability to converse, and our ability to express fine distinctions in emotion by our facial expressions would be impossible.

But even more significant are our cognitive and communicative abilities. We are much more than upright apes with fine motor control. Our capacity for abstract thought, self-conscious reflection, and ability to communicate put us in another category entirely. These attributes are orders of magnitude more complex than anything animals can do. For example, language requires both anatomical features (the position of our larynx and language centers in our brains), and a mysterious innate knowledge of the rules of grammar that appears to be hard-wired into our brain. Three-year-olds know these rules instinctively. Apes don’t. True language requires the ability to think abstractly. Words are symbols that stand in for things and ideas. We communicate by arranging words into complex symbolic utterances. We think new thoughts and convey new ideas to others. We reflect on ourselves. We discuss our origins, write sonnets, and describe both imaginary worlds and the real one we inhabit. Language both reflects and enriches our capacity for abstract thinking and creativity.

Where did these massive increases in fine-motor dexterity, and the quantum leaps of language, art, and abstract thought come from? Our uniquely human attributes constitute a quantum leap, not just an innovation, a leap that cannot have arisen without guidance. We are not souped-up apes.

Explaining our origin requires a new way of approaching things. There is no strictly neo-Darwinian path from a chimp-like ancestor to us, no matter how similar we appear to be. (pp. 26-27)

Discovering Intelligent Design similarly explains that humans have unique moral and cognitive abilities:

It should be obvious that there are significant differences between humans and apes. For one, humans are the only primates that always walk upright, have relatively hairless bodies, and wear clothing. But the differences go far beyond physical traits and appearances.

Humans are the only species that uses fire and technology. Humans are the only species that composes music, writes poetry, and practices religion. When it comes to morality, bioethicist Wesley J. Smith observes that:

“[W]e are unquestionably a unique species — the only species capable of even contemplating ethical issues and assuming responsibilities — we uniquely are capable of apprehending the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, proper and improper conduct…”

Humans are also the only species that seeks to investigate the natural world through science. Additionally, humans are distinguished by their use of complex language. As MIT professor and linguist Noam Chomsky observes:

“Human language appears to be a unique phenomenon, without significant analogue in the animal world.… There is no reason to suppose that the ‘gaps’ are bridgeable.”

Other linguists have suggested that this finding would imply “a cognitive equivalent of the Big Bang.”

Because of this evidence, some scholars have argued that humans are exceptional.

Human Exceptionalism: A view holding that the human race has unique and unparalleled moral, intellectual, and creative abilities.

Materialists often oppose human exceptionalism because it challenges their belief that we are little more than just another animal. The next time someone tries to minimize the differences between humans and apes, remind him that it’s humans who write scientific papers studying apes, not the other way around.

(Discovering Intelligent Design, pp. 190-191)

Some of our moral abilities cannot be explained by natural selection. On the contrary, they suggest that human life is about higher purposes, not simply survival and reproduction:

While evolutionary accounts of human language face great obstacles, there is no doubt that complex language would provide a great survival advantage once it came to exist. But some of humanity’s most cherished activities don’t appear to offer any evolutionary benefit at all.

The requirements of Darwinian selection are simple: organisms must survive and spread their genes. Michael Ruse and E.O. Wilson thus explain that under Darwinism, “ethics… is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate.” In other words, in a strictly Darwinian world, there is no such thing as objective morality, true selflessness, or pure altruism.

Altruism: Unselfish regard for the welfare of others.

Altruistic behavior appears to run counter to natural selection and should have been eliminated long ago. But here we are, and humans exhibit astounding examples of altruism. The field of evolutionary psychology purports to solve this conundrum by claiming that seemingly unselfish behavior actually gives kickbacks to your selfish genes.

For example, if I share food with my neighbor, perhaps later he’ll return the favor. This is called reciprocal altruism. Similarly, if I neglect my own reproductive success to help my sister raise her kids, some of my genes might still be passed on. This is called kin selection.

In recent years, such theories have captured the minds of journalists. In 2006, the New York Times gave a glowing review to the book Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, promoting the hypothesis that “people are born with a moral grammar wired into their neural circuits by evolution.

Humans do appear hard-wired for morality, but were we programmed by unguided evolutionary processes?

Natural selection cannot explain extreme acts of human kindness. Regardless of background or beliefs, upon finding strangers trapped inside a burning vehicle, people will risk their own lives to help them escape — with no evolutionary benefit to themselves.

Evolutionary biologist Jeffrey Schloss explains that Holocaust rescuers took great risks that offered no personal biological benefits:

“The rescuer’s family, extended family and friends were all in jeopardy, and they were recognized to be in jeopardy by the rescuer. Moreover, even if the family escaped death, they often experienced deprivation of food, space and social commerce; extreme emotional distress; and forfeiture of the rescuer’s attention.”

Francis Collins elaborates on this theme, using the example of Oskar Schindler, who risked his life “to save more than a thousand Jews from the gas chambers. That’s the opposite of saving his genes.” Schloss adds other examples of “radically sacrificial” behavior that “reduces reproductive success” and offers no evolutionary benefit, such as voluntary poverty, celibacy, and martyrdom.

In spite of the claims of evolutionary psychologists, many of humanity’s most impressive charitable, artistic, and intellectual abilities outstrip the basic requirements of natural selection.

If life is simply about survival and reproduction, why do humans compose symphonies, investigate quantum mechanics, and build cathedrals?

Natural Academy of Sciences member Philip Skell explained why evolutionary psychology does not adequately predict human behavior:

“Darwinian explanations for such things are often too supple: Natural selection makes humans self-centered and aggressive — except when it makes them altruistic and peaceable. Or natural selection produces virile men who eagerly spread their seed — except when it prefers men who are faithful protectors and providers. When an explanation is so supple that it can explain any behavior, it is difficult to test it experimentally, much less use it as a catalyst for scientific discovery.”

Contrary to Darwinism, the evidence indicates that human life isn’t about mere survival and reproduction. (pp. 191-192)

Humanity’s unique physical, behavioral, and cognitive abilities collectively show the design of our species.

This documentary featuring Michael Denton explains some of humanity’s unique mental abilities:

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.