author: William A. Dembski
foreword: Michael J. Behe
publisher: InterVarsity Press
publication date: November 1999
number of pages: 312
list price: $19.99
From the publisher, InterVarsity Press , November 11, 1999
In the movie Contact, an astronomer played by Jodie Foster discovers a radio signal with a discernable pattern, a sequence representing prime numbers from 2 to 101. Because the pattern is too specifically arranged to be mere random space noise, the scientists infer from this data that an extraterrestrial intelligence has transmitted this signal on purpose.
William Dembski sees in this illustration an instance of identifying specified complexity, and he argues that this criteria can be empirically applied to biology and the natural sciences. Dembski, one of the leading design theorists working today, demonstrates the viability of design theory with his criteria of "specified complexity."
Just as the coherent organization of Scrabble tiles on a board indicates arrangement by an intelligent agent, complexity in genetic DNA language and other biological sources suggests design. In the same way that anthropologists, forensic scientists, cryptologists and the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project use design inferences to identify an intelligently caused event, so too can molecular biologists, geneticists and other scientists reliably infer design.
Dembskis position does not rely on belief in the Genesis account of creation. Rather, he demonstrates that intelligent design operates as a scientific theory of information even without any a priori commitment to Christian theism. The criteria of specified complexity is able to detect design in nature even if the researcher remains agnostic as to the identity of the designing agent.
This wide-ranging book argues that intelligent design has more epistemic support and provides greater explanatory power for the origins and development of life than Darwinist evolutionary theory. Dembski demonstrates the weaknesses of methodological naturalism and offers proposals for reinstating design within science. An appendix details Dembskis responses to common objections to design theory.
William Dembski holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He also has earned degrees in theology and psychology. He is the recipient of two fellowships from the National Science Foundation and currently is a senior fellow of the Discovery Institutes Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. He has done postdoctoral work at the University of Chicago, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University and Northwestern University. Dembski is the author of the critically acclaimed The Design Inference (Cambridge) and many scholarly articles as well as the editor of Mere Creation (IVP).
From Publisher's Weekly
Until recently, the argument for design--that nature (especially living organisms) shows the hand of an intelligent artificer--was generally viewed as an abandoned relic of the pre-Darwinian past. Dembski and his colleagues at the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture have worked over the past decade to rehabilitate the concept of "intelligent design" not only as a plank of natural theology but as a theoretical resource within science. This collection of essays represents Dembski's efforts to remedy the conceptual fuzziness and lack of empirical content that plagued older versions of the design argument. Dembski recasts design as a problem in information theory, of empirically detecting the "complex specified information" that we attribute to intelligent causes. Although design inferences in biology or cosmology are obviously controversial, Dembski aims to normalize them by comparison to similar inferences routinely made in cryptography, forensic science and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI)--the latter being an especially effective counterexample to the claim that detecting unknown intelligences is impermissible as a scientific project. The book also presents more theologically oriented essays, including an especially astute analysis of the demise of British natural theology and an evocative (if unsympathetic) description of what Dembski sees as the "religious" character of scientific naturalism. Other material interspersed throughout the collection is less clearly related to intelligent design but gives a sense of Dembski's overall theological perspective. Readers who are principally interested in intelligent design itself, or who do not share the authors' theological interests, may find this distracting. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Endorsements on back cover:
"William Dembski is perhaps the very brightest of a new generation of scholars willing to challenge the most sacred twentieth-century intellectual idol--the unproven notion that all of life can be explained in terms of natural selection and mutations."
Henry F. Schaefer III, Graham Perdue Professor and Director, Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry, University of Georgia
"William Dembski is the Isaac Newton of information theory, and since this is the Age of Information, that makes Dembski one of the most important thinkers of our time. His "law of conservation of information" represents a revolutionary breakthrough. In Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology, Dembski explains the meaning and significance of his discoveries with such clarity that the general public can readily grasp them. He convincingly diagnoses our present confusions about the relationship between science and theology and offers a promising alternative."
Rob Koons, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin
"Dr. William Dembski provides a clear and comprehensive description of what "intelligent design" means. To establish the subtitle, "The Bridge Between Science and Theology," Dembski explains that the "demise of design" in science was a consequence of philosophical preconceptions, not a deficiency in its validity. Rather, he shows that a scientific theory cannot be sound without acknowledging the Creator behind the phenomena it explains. Dembski's book is an important step in bringing the focus back to a level playing field of truth, not prejudice."
Robert Kaita, Principal Research Physicist, Plasma Physics Laboratory, Princeton University
"William Dembski is in the forefront of today's engagement of theology with science--and of science with theology. Many thought the engagement had been called off a long time ago, but as Intelligent Design makes luminously clear, that is not possible. It is not possible because all reality is the creation of the one God and therefore finally one. This book is an invitation to intellectual and spiritual adventure that should not be declined."
The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, Editor in Chief of First Things
"William Dembski is one of the main leaders of the intelligent design movement. He made it his first priority to state his thesis in the most rigorous possible form for a readership of academic philosophers and mathematicians. Having done that successfully, he now provides a popular treatment of the same issues. This is a must read for those who want to understand how we know that living organisms really are designed by a Creator."
Phillip E. Johnson, Jefferson Peyser Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley
"William Dembski's Intelligent Design is a centerpiece in the current renewal of intellectual responsibility among thoughtful Christians. Everyone with interest in and responsibility for how science and theology interrelate should study it carefully. This is especially true for leaders in education. Dembski is one of the finest minds now at work in our intellectual and academic culture generally. Walk with him through the mine fields of what is now called education. You will not find a better guide."
Dallas Willard, Professor of Philosophy, University of Southern California
Endorsements on inside pages:
"True science is never dogmatic. It follows the evidence of eyes and ears wherever it may lead. William Dembski argues, convincingly, that the evidence at hand, particularly in biology and biochemistry, leads inexorably to the conclusion that life could not exist without an intelligent designer. If Dembski is right--and I believe he is--then it is unscientific to deny the existence of God. By making this argument so carefully and so well,Dembski has performed a real service not only for science but also for theology, which has long been intimidated by the aggressive 'scientific' claim that reason is the enemy of faith. It is not, and Dembski shows us why it is not."
Thomas G. West, Professor of Politics at the
University of Dallas, Senior
Fellow with the Claremont Institute, Author of Vindicating the Founders:
Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America
"Intelligent design is moving quickly to replace Darwinian evolution as the central guiding principle of biological science. This book is a clear and thought-provoking analysis of the theological, philosophical and scientific aspects of intelligent design by one of its leading proponents. Everyone interested in the coming revolution should read it."
Jonathan Wells, Postdoctoral Biologist and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, Seattle.
"With graduate degrees in mathematics, philosophy and theology, William Dembski is uniquely qualified to address the question of whether divine design is detectable in the realm of nature. His ground-breaking work in design theory is philosophically significant in its own right, but in this book Dembski goes beyond theory to application, claiming that his method, when applied to the natural world of living things, shows in a rigorous way that biological organisms are products of intelligent design. Bold and provocative, Dembski's book challenges the conventional wisdom which says that while science may have input into theology, theology has not input into science. Sooner rather than later, the doyens of contemporary science and religion dialogue will no longer be able to ignore the position Dembski represents, for his work is simply too good for his challenge to stand unanswered."
William Lane Craig, Fellow of Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture
"There are many things I admire about this book: its thoughtfulness, its philosophical and theological acumen, its willingness to face all difficulties. But the most important contribution is the effort to return the notion of design to its proper standing in science--that is, to bring science back under the rubric of rationality. Naturalism under the guise of science makes a lot of assumptions that it will now be forced to defend instead of assert."
Jack Collins, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Old Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri
"The toppling of the Berlin Wall will seem small in comparison with the impending demolition of scientific naturalism. Most of us have heard but a rumor of this event with our ears; Dembski is one of those making it happen. Will this be a bad thing? No, a good one. The collapse of the idea that nature is blind, purposeless and 'all there is' will not destroy the scientific study of nature but allow it to come into its own. As a philosopher of the natural moral law, I have particular reason to extol Dembski's work. There would be little point in speaking of a 'law written on the heart' if conscience were merely a meaningless byproduct of selfish genes. Dembski strengthens the case for saying that our deepest moral inclinations not only look designed, they are."
J. Budziszewski, Departments of Government and
Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin,
Author of Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law (IVP)
"Intelligent Design is a critical resource for anyone who wants to understand the re-emergence of the design argument. Dr. Dembski has taken the key concepts from his seminal but highly technical work The Design Inference and made them accessible to the average reader. Furthermore, he has placed these arguments in their historical setting, allowing the reader to understand the early development of the design argument, the reasons for its demise for almost 150 years, and the critical new insights, which Dr. Dembski has helped to fashion, that are responsible for the return of the design argument as an intellectually compelling alternative to naturalism."
Walter L. Bradley, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Texas A&M University
"The past twenty years of laboratory research in the biological sciences have unveiled incredible mysteries of nature. Those scientists that have participated in these endeavors have been awestruck not only by the beauty of nature at the molecular level but also by the complexity of even the simplest of cells. In fact, scientists adhering to strict Darwinism must remind themselves that what they see is only 'apparent' design. In Bill Dembski's first book, The Design Inference, he laid out the logic for discriminating 'real' from 'apparent' design. In this new work Dr. Dembski unpacks the meaning of 'intelligent design' from the historical, philosophical and theological perspectives. I would even encourage those of my colleagues who disagree with its implications to read and consider the arguments presented in this volume. It promises to be provocative, controversial, but central to the ultimate question of science and religion.
Scott A. Minnich, Ph.D., Associate Professor,
Department of Microbiology,
Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, University of Idaho
"If philosophic naturalism is the disease, and I am confident it is, Dembski's Intelligent Design is surely the cure. Extending the argument of his design inference Dembski here traces, in lucid accessible language, the fate of the inference to intelligent cause in Western thought since Bacon. His intellectual history is meticulous, and the positive case he advances for reintroducing design has implications that are radical and far reaching. In his exposition, Dembski exemplifies the finest traditions of the American public intellectual--he assumes that ordinary people, given evidence and argument, are perfectly capable of making reasoned decisions on big questions that matter."
John Angus Campbell, Professor, Department of Communication, University of Memphis