Archaeologists recently discovered a stone with unknown markings in Mexico. While the meaning of the symbols is unknown, archaeologists did not hesitate to identify it as a written language—probably the oldest in the Americas. Stephen Houston of Brown University explained:


When I saw the block, as did the rest of us, we knew we were in the presence of something very special…. It had completely unknown signs, but they were arranged in these long sequences we felt just had to be a new form of writing…. It’s not just a set of symbols that might be placed together the way you might see on, let’s say, a medieval French or English painting. Rather, they are arranged in a sequence that is meant to reflect a language with grammatical elements and with a word order that makes sense.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>

Houston experienced what design theorists call a “design inference.” The specification and complexity of the markings made it clear that an intelligent agent, rather than chance processes, produced it. The fact that the identity of the designer is unknown (although it is believed to be from the Olmec civilization), and the design itself is currently unintelligible to us, does not mitigate our intuitive awareness that it was in fact designed. In the same way these archaeologists detected design on nature, we can detect design in nature: empirically. This is all the more so when you consider the multiplicity of the complexity and specification of the universe over these stone markings.


I previously mentioned that archaeologists believe the Olmec civilization is responsible for the stone markings. But how do the archaeologists know they were the creators of this stone writing? Did they see anyone from the Olmec civilization writing on this stone? No. Do they possess written records from a nearby tribe ascribing these sorts of markings to the Olmec civilization? No. Then why are they suggesting the Olmec civilization is responsible for creating the markings? I would imagine it’s because that was the only civilization of human beings living in that region at the time. But this presupposes that the markings were the product of intelligence, rather than chance natural processes. There is no evidence that this is true. No one has a date-stamped photograph of an Olmecian tribesman writing on the stone. The only basis for ascribing the stone markings to the Olmecs—or any other intelligent agent for that matter—is a design inference. The stone markings bear the marks of an intelligent designer, therefore—they reason—it must have been designed. And since the Olmecs were the only ones in that region at the time, they reason that they must be the designers. Again, design in the universe is just as easily inferred from what we know about the universe as it is inferred from what we know about this stone. Design is empirically detectable. Design inference is a scientific discipline.


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<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[1]<!–[endif]–>Christopher Joyce, “Earliest New World Writing Discovered”, NPR; available from; Internet; accessed 21 September 2006.