Evolution 2.0 vs Intelligent Design: A Preliminary Response to Perry Marshall

A few days ago I was listening to an episode of Unbelieveable?, the fantastic radio debate show and podcast at Premier Christian Radio. The episode was a fairly recent one between Stephen Meyer and Perry Marshall. Marshall is the author of Evolution 2.0 and writes at his blog Cosmic Fingerprints. I’ve read some of his work and he makes some interesting points, though I find myself disagreeing on many issues. Essentially, his contention is that biological complexity is best explained not by conventional evolutionary theory or standard ID, but by the mechanisms proposed by those promoting the ‘Third Way‘ and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis. For him, the explanation for biological complexity lies within the cell itself because cells are essentially intelligent agents, capable of doing their own design work. I plan to examine Marshall’s work in more detail in the future but for now I want to briefly comment on one of his more recent blog posts where he reflects on his discussion with Stephen Meyer. The post in question featured a comment from another listener followed by Marshall’s own thoughts on the debate and Meyer’s approach. Here’s what he says:

The Discovery Institute people are NOT happy with my view of biology, where the intelligence resides in the cells. They consider that heresy.(1)

It’s not that ID theorists are unhappy with Marshall’s view. I wouldn’t say that Marshall’s view is necessarily incompatible with ID. I’ve noticed in most of his work that he takes a very narrow view of what ID is and tries to turn it into something that it’s not. The reason why Meyer and others don’t think much of ‘Evolution 2.0’ is that it doesn’t go far enough, and thus fails to explain biological complexity. It may well be the case that cells have some form of intelligence, and Meyer doesn’t outright reject this view, but that doesn’t explain the origin of information. This was pointed out by one commenter who wrote:

Nowhere did he reject the notion of cellular intelligence as an explanatory tool in biology. His point was that a) its scope and power is as yet unproven and b) at best it pushes back the design question one step. Cellular intelligence cannot explain the origin of cellular intelligence.(2)

As others have argued, it leaves us with an unsolved chicken and egg problem. Marshall responded by saying that Meyer rejected the ability of cellular intelligence to produce macro-evolution. Even if he did, his primary point was that it doesn’t explain the type of information in the cell. Marshall himself agrees with this and writes ‘So the larger question is: Where do codes come from in the first place?’.(3) This is the same question ID theorists have been asking for decades, and they answer that question with ‘intelligence’. Marshall worries that Meyer is arguing that ‘the emergence of life on earth is a series of miraculous events that cannot be observed or reproduced by scientists.'(4) The problem is, observability and repeatability aren’t the be-all and end-all of science. Any event that happened in the distant past cannot be observed, so we can only make inferences. What design proponents claim is that the complexity in the cell cannot be reproduced naturalistically or without reference to intelligent causation. But like observability, naturalism isn’t an essential part of science. Meyer may think that there are miraculous, ontic discontinuities in life’s history, but let’s not confuse Meyer’s personal views about the implementation of design with design simpliciter. More importantly, I don’t think is a fair representation of what he thinks.

A Gap in Marshall’s Reasoning

For Marshall, ID can only be a theological, ultimate explanation for the biological world. He’s unwilling to posit intelligence beyond the natural world itself because according to him that would mean using ‘God of the gaps’ reasoning. This is one of the points that he insists on despite continual correction. He writes in response to one commenter that ‘Meyer claimed to NOT be making a God-of-Gaps argument when in fact he was doing precisely that.'(5) In a more detailed comment on his commentary of the debate with Meyer he says:

“The Cambrian explosion wasn’t caused by naturalistic evolution, it was caused by Intelligent Design” or “Origin of life was an act of Intelligent Design” are by definition God-of-Gaps arguments…

The Discovery Institute can claim it’s not a God argument, and instead say it’s an information and intelligence argument, but at the end of the day, if it’s not from the innate capacity of the cell or some process we can model, observe and describe, then it’s supernatural. Just because intelligence is “inference to the best explanation” doesn’t make it not a God-of-Gaps argument. It’s still God-of-Gaps.

…despite Meyer’s insistence to the contrary, Intelligent Design is still God of the gaps.(6)

Marshall is completely off the mark here. It certainly isn’t, logically speaking, a stark choice between the options he lays out. A gaps argument is a negative one, yet an inference to the best explanation is by definition a positive argument. This is a basic logical point, yet he fails to grasp it. All ID appeals to is intelligence. It would be absurd for someone to object to an inference to design, after observing Mount Rushmore, by responding ‘that’s just an intelligence of the gaps, we must be able to account for it in terms of wind and erosion’. The ‘gaps’ objection is as much an illogical one to what ID theorists are arguing as it is in the Mount Rushmore example. ID doesn’t require God of the gaps thinking, because it doesn’t even posit God. Though most design theorists do think the designer is God, that is not a conclusion forced by ID itself. And the fact is that there are also some supporters who don’t identify the intelligence with a deity. Marshall merely continues to assert that ID is ‘God of the gaps’ argument, yet he provides no support for this claim. I’d like to see Marshall take a more open and charitable view to what design theorists actually think instead of forcing it into the tiny box he wants it to be in.

At bottom, I think Marshall’s error lies in his simplistic philosophy of science. He claims ‘A scientist must discover natural processes using the scientific method.’.(3) He might be surprised to learn that amongst scientists and philosophers, there is no agreement on what ‘the scientific method’ is. No one has yet solved the vexing demarcation problem. What we can say is that there are various reliable methods we use to elucidate the natural world and we often use terms such as ‘testibility’, ‘falsifiability’, ‘observation’, ‘experiment’, ‘repeatable’, ‘prediction’, and ’empirical’ to describe scientific conduct. The problem is that no one can agree on whether science must have all these attributes, or whether some are more necessary than others. As soon as we try to describe a black and white ‘scientific method’ we run into serious problems. Related to Marshall’s view of science is his insistence on methodological naturalism. This is an area that has been debated over and over in discussions about design. Again this is a disagreement about scientific methodology and many believe methodological naturalism to be highly dubious as a necessary requirement for science.

Old-Earth Creationism?

Marshall goes on to write that:

What this debate shows is that Intelligent Design a la Discovery Institute is actually Old Earth Creationism. Also, my debates with Stephen Meyer have also made it clear to me that a large number of Discovery Institute supporters are actually Young Earth Creationists.(7)

This is a serious misrepresentation of their position. If he has read much ID material, he can’t have understood it properly. The Discovery Institute define ID this way:

The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.(8)

Of course, one might claim that how one defines a view could be different to what it actually is in practice, but conceptually speaking, there is nothing in this definition that necessitates Old Earth Creationism. ID could only be a form of creationism if it refers to a deity in its definition. ID is an inclusive view that has a minimalistic commitment to design in nature. As a result, it can be supported by any view that allows design as a possibility. This could include Young and Old Earth Creationism but it could also include views that hold to an intrinsic teleology, which could be compatible with various non-theistic worldviews.

The commenter Marshall was responding to wrote ‘I always thought that, in principle, the concept of ID accepted any form of intelligent cause, not just the God answer.'(9) As far as I know, no design proponent has ever argued on scientific grounds that only God can be the intelligence in question. ID is compatible with any view of intelligent causation. If a design theorist does object to non-theistic interpretations of ID, that would be on theological and philosophical grounds.

Marshall’s misunderstandings about ID can be seen all too clearly in another post he wrote, comparing neo-Darwinism, ID, and his ‘Evolution 2.0’ (which he lumps in with ‘the third way’ and the extended synthesis). He puts these differing views in a chart to illustrate where the differences lie. Unfortunately it presents a very simplistic picture and again misrepresents ID’s stance on various areas. Below I have reproduced part of his chart, singling out his comments on design (10):

(Intelligent Design)

Origin of Life: Created by an Intelligent Designer

Speed: Instantaneous events of intervention

Sources of Novelty: Insertion of information by outside agent

Scientific Status: Supported by inference; not possible to experimentally demonstrate; rejects methodological naturalism

Implications for Humanity: Man is a special creation

Implications for Science & Technology: Scientists can study designs, but not the design process

Causality: Top-down

Implications for Spirituality: Most commonly associated with evangelical Christianity

As you can see, there are various problems with this chart. The first thing to point out is that the three views outlined in his original chart aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m sure Marshall will know this, but it’s important to realise that ID is broad enough to accommodate many of the insights made by neo-Darwinism and the extended evolutionary synthesis (if one could even make such a stark distinction). All the ID position is committed to is the view that though the various mechanisms proposed might explain much of the biological realm, they fail when it comes to explaining the features that design theorists have identified. As to some of the specific points shown above, Marshall seems to think that ID is committed to some sort of external intervention as opposed to gradualism and also that it must view humans as being specially created. This isn’t correct. ID isn’t committed to non-gradualism, interventionism, or special creation. William Dembski writes that:

Intelligent design does not require organisms to emerge suddenly or to be specially created from scratch by the intervention of a designing intelligence. To be sure, intelligent design is compatible with the creationist idea of organisms being created from scratch. But it is also perfectly compatible with the evolutionist idea of new organisms arising from old by a gradual accrual of change. What separates intelligent design from naturalistic evolution is not whether organisms evolved or the extent to which they evolved but what was responsible for their evolution.(11)

More recently I listened to another discussion Marshall had. This time it was with ID theorist Jonathan McLatchie on his Apologetics Academy. This was interesting because it made clearer some of Marshall’s thoughts. I was pleased to see Jonathan and a couple of others put many of the points I have addressed here to him. It is clear that when pushed, Marshall was prepared to acknowledge some of the subtleties of ID theory and he did at times make a distinction between interventionist ID and other versions. However, he must make these distinctions in his written work if he is to represent ID accurately, and I haven’t seen any retractions on his blog yet. Frustratingly, though the ‘God of the gaps’ objection and his dubious philosophy of science were robustly questioned by others in the discussion, he continued to fail to grasp these points. He admitted himself several times that he has a predisposed theological bias towards naturalistic explanations in science. And that’s that. There isn’t much you can do with such an unreasonably recalcitrant bias toward naturalism.

In summary then, a preliminary analysis of some of Marshall’s work shows that there are some serious problems with his take on intelligent design and his broader thesis of ‘Evolution 2.0’. As I said at the beginning of this article, I’d like to take a closer look at Marshall’s work, in particular his book and other writings. This isn’t intended as a comprehensive refutation of his work, for there is much in Marshall’s thinking that an ID proponent can agree with. However it is clear that his notion of ‘Evolution 2.0’ perhaps isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and he needs to seriously revise his understanding of intelligent design. Marshall writes, ‘I do not believe that I have misrepresented ID in any way, shape or form. I understand ID very very well.'(12) I beg to differ. As one can see from this cursory analysis, Marshall understands very little about ID.


  1. Perry Marshall, Is Intelligent Design really just Old Earth Creationism?, Available at: http://cosmicfingerprints.com/intelligent-design-creationism/
  2. ibid.
  3. Perry Marshall, Truth or Market Share? Intelligent Design vs. Evolution 2.0, Available at: http://cosmicfingerprints.com/id-vs-evolution/
  4. Perry Marshall, Is Intelligent Design really just Old Earth Creationism?.
  5. ibid.
  6. Perry Marshall, Stephen Meyer Debates Perry Marshall – Intelligent Design vs. Evolution 2.0, Available at: http://cosmicfingerprints.com/stephen-meyer-debate/
  7. Perry Marshall, Is Intelligent Design really just Old Earth Creationism?.
  8. Discovery Institute, Frequently Asked Questions, Available at: http://www.discovery.org/id/faqs/
  9. Perry Marshall, Is Intelligent Design really just Old Earth Creationism?.
  10. Perry Marshall, Darwinism vs. ID vs. Evolution 2.0, Available at: http://cosmicfingerprints.com/chart/
  11. William Dembski, The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design (InterVarsity Press, 2004), p.179
  12. Perry Marshall, Is Intelligent Design really just Old Earth Creationism?.

One thought on “Evolution 2.0 vs Intelligent Design: A Preliminary Response to Perry Marshall

  1. Yup, its an wall/gap in there, where the materialistic world crashes with something, to me bosons/quarks and so on, is just the same talk, in its fundamental manifestations, witch then morph into up and down quarks, but explains nothing else, than the so called physical aspects of it, what is lacking, what is the fundamental that lacks.
    What is information, well, hehe, there we are.

    Lets take fractals, and by fractals I think of an system with an inherent base of information, how this “program” is by definitions manifesting it self, is related to geometrics, like the flower of life, and so on, but what is still lacking, is what is the sole program that stacks the periodic system into manifesting OUR reality as it is perceived by us.
    Its still lacking.
    And then we have an more, lest say an esoteric notion of what is this information, hehe, aka God.
    And since, God is information, the word, that made everything possible, by that, the eater kicked into motion, by introducing trinity.
    By that I mean, 3 things, the God, the initiater, spirit(the base program that is what manifests eventually as the periodic system) and the field, how our field manifest it self depends on the two others, so eventually our initial program, given to us, for our to manifest, the separation in the initial program that eventually as an end result based upon the program, given by the intitater aka “god/word, and helped to be, by an fractal based field.
    An holographic reality.

    Duality works, but need the base program to work, and that alone comes in as an “fluctuation” into any dualistic system and then the program kicks in the effect and the formation of geometric systems occur.
    Fractionals takes this up to the next level, and every level dont nessesery replicate the previous one, that is what I think more depended upon the end result, aka the initial base program intention to the system as whole.
    You need in any system( I dont believe, hehe, in the 100 monkeys theory, as I call it, I dont believe in random miracles, thats utter nonsense, period, any separation of manifestation is already in the initial base program) an feed back loops, otherwise it will never “evolve” by fratalaizing to the next level, when materialism is emerging as we know it.
    I hope it was “clear” anuf, hehe, as far I could take it without coloring it more than nessery, as to be objective.

    I hope I made my self, “clear”, and we still have an long journey a head of us.
    I want walls to fall, and thats it.


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