This isn’t an ad for an upcoming book showing that Jesus caused the Cambrian explosion of animal life (the rapid origin of many phyla about 540 million years ago); rather, it’s an indictment of a once-reputable publisher, HarperCollins, who, under the imprint of HarperOne (its “religion” subsidiary), is going to publish this book in June:
There are of course many theories for why so many phyla originated within a short time (“short” being 10-30 million years!): explanations based on genes (new developmental plans became available), environmental changes (more oxygen), and biological interactions (predators drove evolution of prey and vice versa). In a nice article in the 2006 Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences (free pdf), my former colleague, paleontologist Charles Marshall, summarized many of them, concluding that we can’t yet lean strongly toward one explanation, or even toward one key factor.
That’s the way science works: when we don’t know the answer, we say so. A very common—indeed, even trite—sentence in the conclusion of scientific papers is this: “More work needs to be done.”
But creationist Stephen Meyer, from the Discovery Institute, has apparently wrapped up the story. He’s hit upon the real reason for the Cambrian explosion: it’s intelligent design! Yes, baby Jesus made the phyla! As the ID blog “Evolution News and Views” notes when touting the book:
Here is a sweeping account, stunningly illustrated with gorgeous color photos, of the frontiers of the scientific critique of Darwinism and the case for ID. Exacting and thorough, yet remarkably accessible to the thoughtful lay reader, Darwin’s Doubt introduces us to the challenges to Darwinism based on the study of combinatorial inflation, protein science, population genetics, developmental biology, epigenetic information, and more.
Meyer explains how post-Darwinian alternatives and adaptions of Darwin’s theory — including self-organizational models, evo-devo, neutral or nonadaptive evolution, natural genetic engineering, and others — fall short as well. He demonstrates that the weaknesses of orthodox evolutionary theory, when flipped over head-to-foot, are precisely the positive indications that point most persuasively to intelligent design.
Evolutionary biologists studying gene regulatory networks and fossil discontinuity, among other fields, have come tantalizingly close to reaching this conclusion themselves.
“Tantalizingly close” my yiddische tuchus! Tell that to the evolutionists working on this problem, some of whom I know. I doubt that a single one of them would entertain intelligent design for a second. That’s because it’s a non-explanation, something that creationists like Meyer invoke when science doesn’t yet have an answer. In other words, this promises to be yet another God-of-the-gaps book (as we know, the “designer” of IDers like Meyer is really the Christian God). The “case for ID” here, as it always is, consists of arguing that there are phenomena that supposedly can’t be explained by materialist science. It’s straight natural theology: Paley of the 21st century.
If Meyer can’t adduce positive evidence that a designer created the Cambrian explosion—and I can’t imagine how he could possibly do this—his argument would rest only on our current ignorance of why it happened. And that is just filling the lacuna in our knowledge with God.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who, unlike Meyer, was a smart theologian, presciently decried Meyer’s strategy in his Letters and Papers from Prison (1997, p. 311):
“If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed farther and farther back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat.”
I’ll put my money on science here, and bet that within 50 years we’ll know a lot more about the Cambrian explosion and why it happened. Or perhaps we won’t, for some scientific answers will forever elude us. But I’ll bet even more money on one thing: Meyer has no positive evidence that the explosion came from a designer.
Shame on him, but even more shame on HarperCollins for feeding and misleading the public with creationism masquerading as science. Have they no shame, at long last?