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Education Reporter

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The Design of Life, William A. Dembski and Jonathan Wells, Foundation for Thought and Ethics, 2008, 339 pp., $35.00

Many scientists find the idea of Intelligent Design so threatening that they refuse to admit the weaknesses of pure materialism or neo-Darwinism. They prefer any explanation, however farfetched, to the possibility that some features of the natural world might have been designed.

This approach, among other effects, impoverishes the study of the natural sciences. Anyone who admires the incredible complexity of living things seems to imply that time and chance might not be enough to explain their origins — and that smacks of "creationism." The Design of Life explores that amazing complexity and the many mysteries that Darwinism leaves unsolved, inviting readers to a new appreciation of exactly how much any theory of the origins and development of life has to explain.

The authors, mathematician William Dembski and biologist Jonathan Wells, are senior fellows of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, and leaders of the Intelligent Design movement. Together they have written a textbook capable of introducing readers both with and without a background in science to the theory of Intelligent Design, its strengths and neo-Darwinism's weaknesses, and its bearing on several key areas of biology.

The chapter on the fossil record is especially interesting, because the fossil record continues to call Darwin's explanation of the origin of species into serious doubt. The persistent lack of intermediary forms between known organisms presents a problem for even the most committed Darwinists. "Even in the most favorable circumstances, paleontologists have consistently failed to discover the missing links that would connect organisms from higher levels of classification," the authors report. There should be hundreds of fossils linking major animal divisions, but instead, the record shows the major animal phyla as discrete categories that appeared during the Cambrian Explosion, within "a remarkably brief period of time, geologically speaking." Also fascinating is the discussion of similar features among animals with no common ancestor, a phenomenon difficult for evolutionists to explain.

Even for a reader who found Intelligent Design unacceptable, The Design of Life would still merit reading for its interesting introductions to such subjects as the microscopic world within an "ordinary" cell, the problem of the origin of life from nonliving things, and the limitations of modern evolutionary science.

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