A piece of flint found in a soybean field has chipped edges. Archaeologists conclude that tool-making hominids once lived at the site.

The DNA in one cell is shown to encode enough information to fill a CD-ROM. Evolutionary biologists assure us that it's a descendant of the first cell, which they insist was nothing more than a combination of chemicals thrown together by chance.

What is wrong with these pictures? Much, and professors Dembski, Meyer and Behe are just the men to ferret out evolution's failings. Explaining how a 19th-century materialistic bias skews “scientific” theories about the origins of life, they propose an alternative: the theory of intelligent design. “Unlike neoDarwinists and other evolutionary theorists,” they write, “design theorists hold that intelligent causes rather than undirected natural causes best explain many features of life and the universe.”

The Wethersfield Institute invited the three Ph.D's to a scientific conference in New York City in September 1999 to present the case for intelligent design. This volume presents the papers that they read, along with three additional essays by the same authors. As a whole, the book makes a strong, interdisciplinary case for granting “scientific” status to the hypothesis of intelligent design.

Dembski, a mathematician-philosopher, describes criteria for distinguishing among events that happen by necessity ( e.g., by a chemical law), those that occur by chance and those which result from intelligent causes. We often tell the difference intuitively. (Did gravity make snow roll down the hill, forming three spheres, one on top of the other?) Dembski develops the rigorously objective criterion of “specified complexity,” which is routinely used in the fields of archaeology, crime detection and information science.

Meyer, a philosophy professor and historian of science, applies Dembski's method to examples from cosmology and biology. As he shows, there is converging evidence that the universe is “fine-tuned” to support life on Earth. If the charge of the proton or the force of gravity, for example, had been slightly different, galaxies or planets might never have coalesced. The probability that these scientific constants are a random combination is less than the chance of finding one particular atom among all the matter in the universe!

Meyer also argues that neither chance nor necessity can account for the vast amount of data packed into the genetic code. And he makes a compelling case for giving intelligent design a seat at the origins-science table.

“[W]here origins are concerned,” he writes, “only a limited number of basic research programs are logically possible. Either brute matter has the capability to arrange itself into higher levels of complexity, or it does not. If it does not, then either some external agency has assisted the arrangement of matter, or matter has always possessed its present arrangement. The exclusion of one of the logically possible programs of origins research by assumption … seriously diminishes the significance of any claim to theoretical superiority by advocates of a remaining program.”

The prose found in scientific papers is never a breeze, but here a little effort pays big dividends: Watching these three accomplished thinkers debunk materialism is both highly edifying and great fun. Better still is the awe that the intelligent-design hypothesis inspires as we see that it is perfectly reasonable, even in our scientifically “enlightened” age, to conclude what the Psalmist concluded thousands of years ago: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”

Michael Miller writes from Glenside, Pennsylvania.