Skip to comments.Yes, Intelligent Design Is Detectable by Science
Posted on 04/26/2018 12:49:26 PM PDT by Heartlander
Editors note: The online journal Sapientia recently posed a good question to several participants in a forum: Is Intelligent Design Detectable by Science? This is one key issue on which proponents of ID and of theistic evolution differ. Stephen Meyer, philosopher of science and director of Discovery Institutes Center for Science & Culture, gave the following reply.
Biologists have long recognized that many organized structures in living organisms the elegant form and protective covering of the coiled nautilus; the interdependent parts of the vertebrate eye; the interlocking bones, muscles, and feathers of a bird wing give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.1
Before Darwin, biologists attributed the beauty, integrated complexity, and adaptation of organisms to their environments to a powerful designing intelligence. Consequently, they also thought the study of life rendered the activity of a designing intelligence detectable in the natural world.
Yet Darwin argued that this appearance of design could be more simply explained as the product of a purely undirected mechanism, namely, natural selection and random variation. Modern neo-Darwinists have similarly asserted that the undirected process of natural selection and random mutation produced the intricate designed-like structures in living systems. They affirm that natural selection can mimic the powers of a designing intelligence without itself being guided by an intelligent agent. Thus, living organisms may look designed, but on this view, that appearance is illusory and, consequently, the study of life does not render the activity of a designing intelligence detectable in the natural world. As Darwin himself insisted, There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course in which the wind blows.2 Or as the eminent evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala has argued, Darwin accounted for design without a designer and showed that the directive organization of living beings can be explained as the result of a natural process, natural selection, without any need to resort to a Creator or other external agent.3
But did Darwin explain away all evidence of apparent design in biology? Darwin attempted to explain the origin of new living forms starting from simpler pre-existing forms of life, but his theory of evolution by natural selection did not even attempt to explain the origin of life the simplest living cell in the first place. Yet there is now compelling evidence of intelligent design in the inner recesses of even the simplest living one-celled organisms. Moreover, there is a key feature of living cells one that makes the intelligent design of life detectable that Darwin didnt know about and that contemporary evolutionary theorists have not explained away.
In 1953 when Watson and Crick elucidated the structure of the DNA molecule, they made a startling discovery. The structure of DNA allows it to store information in the form of a four-character digital code. Strings of precisely sequenced chemicals called nucleotide bases store and transmit the assembly instructions the information for building the crucial protein molecules and machines the cell needs to survive.
Francis Crick later developed this idea with his famous sequence hypothesis according to which the chemical constituents in DNA function like letters in a written language or symbols in a computer code. Just as English letters may convey a particular message depending on their arrangement, so too do certain sequences of chemical bases along the spine of a DNA molecule convey precise instructions for building proteins. The arrangement of the chemical characters determines the function of the sequence as a whole. Thus, the DNA molecule has the same property of sequence specificity that characterizes codes and language.
Moreover, DNA sequences do not just possess information in the strictly mathematical sense described by pioneering information theorist Claude Shannon. Shannon related the amount of information in a sequence of symbols to the improbability of the sequence (and the reduction of uncertainty associated with it). But DNA base sequences do not just exhibit a mathematically measurable degree of improbability. Instead, DNA contains information in the richer and more ordinary dictionary sense of alternative sequences or arrangements of characters that produce a specific effect. DNA base sequences convey instructions. They perform functions and produce specific effects. Thus, they not only possess Shannon information, but also what has been called specified or functional information.
Like the precisely arranged zeros and ones in a computer program, the chemical bases in DNA convey instructions by virtue of their specific arrangement and in accord with an independent symbol convention known as the genetic code. Thus, biologist Richard Dawkins notes that the machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like.4 Similarly, Bill Gates observes that DNA is like a computer program, but far, far more advanced than any software weve ever created.5 Similarly, biotechnologist Leroy Hood describes the information in DNA as digital code.6
After the early 1960s, further discoveries revealed that the digital information in DNA and RNA is only part of a complex information processing system an advanced form of nanotechnology that both mirrors and exceeds our own in its complexity, design logic, and information storage density.
Where did the information in the cell come from? And how did the cells complex information processing system arise? These questions lie at the heart of contemporary origin-of-life research. Clearly, the informational features of the cell at least appear designed. And, as I show in extensive detail in my book Signature in the Cell, no theory of undirected chemical evolution explains the origin of the information needed to build the first living cell.7
Why? There is simply too much information in the cell to be explained by chance alone. And attempts to explain the origin of information as the consequence of pre-biotic natural selection acting on random changes inevitably presuppose precisely what needs explaining, namely, reams of pre-existing genetic information. The information in DNA also defies explanation by reference to the laws of chemistry. Saying otherwise is like saying a newspaper headline might arise from the chemical attraction between ink and paper. Clearly something more is at work.
Yet, the scientists who infer intelligent design do not do so merely because natural processes chance, laws, or their combination have failed to explain the origin of the information and information processing systems in cells. Instead, we think intelligent design is detectable in living systems because we know from experience that systems possessing large amounts of such information invariably arise from intelligent causes. The information on a computer screen can be traced back to a user or programmer. The information in a newspaper ultimately came from a writer from a mind. As the pioneering information theorist Henry Quastler observed, Information habitually arises from conscious activity.8
This connection between information and prior intelligence enables us to detect or infer intelligent activity even from unobservable sources in the distant past. Archeologists infer ancient scribes from hieroglyphic inscriptions. SETIs search for extraterrestrial intelligence presupposes that information imbedded in electromagnetic signals from space would indicate an intelligent source. Radio astronomers have not found any such signal from distant star systems; but closer to home, molecular biologists have discovered information in the cell, suggesting by the same logic that underwrites the SETI program and ordinary scientific reasoning about other informational artifacts an intelligent source.
DNA functions like a software program and contains specified information just as software does. We know from experience that software comes from programmers. We know generally that specified information whether inscribed in hieroglyphics, written in a book, or encoded in a radio signal always arises from an intelligent source. So the discovery of such information in the DNA molecule provides strong grounds for inferring (or detecting) that intelligence played a role in the origin of DNA, even if we werent there to observe the system coming into existence.
In The Design Inference, mathematician William Dembski explicates the logic of design detection. His work reinforces the conclusion that the specified information present in DNA points to a designing mind.
Dembski shows that rational agents often detect the prior activity of other designing minds by the character of the effects they leave behind. Archaeologists assume that rational agents produced the inscriptions on the Rosetta Stone. Insurance fraud investigators detect certain cheating patterns that suggest intentional manipulation of circumstances rather than a natural disaster. Cryptographers distinguish between random signals and those carrying encoded messages, the latter indicating an intelligent source. Recognizing the activity of intelligent agents constitutes a common and fully rational mode of inference.
More importantly, Dembski explicates criteria by which rational agents recognize or detect the effects of other rational agents, and distinguish them from the effects of natural causes. He demonstrates that systems or sequences with the joint properties of high complexity (or small probability) and specification invariably result from intelligent causes, not chance or physical-chemical laws.9 Dembski noted that complex sequences exhibit an irregular and improbable arrangement that defies expression by a simple rule or algorithm, whereas specification involves a match or correspondence between a physical system or sequence and an independently recognizable pattern or set of functional requirements.
By way of illustration, consider the following three sets of symbols:
TIME AND TIDE WAIT FOR NO MAN
The first two sequences are complex because both defy reduction to a simple rule. Each represents a highly irregular, aperiodic, improbable sequence. The third sequence is not complex, but is instead highly ordered and repetitive. Of the two complex sequences, only the second, however, exemplifies a set of independent functional requirements i.e., is specified.
English has many such functional requirements. For example, to convey meaning in English one must employ existing conventions of vocabulary (associations of symbol sequences with particular objects, concepts, or ideas) and existing conventions of syntax and grammar. When symbol arrangements match existing vocabulary and grammatical conventions (i.e., functional requirements), communication can occur. Such arrangements exhibit specification. The sequence Time and tide waits for no man clearly exhibits such a match, and thus performs a communication function.
Thus, of the three sequences only the second manifests both necessary indicators of a designed system. The third sequence lacks complexity, though it does exhibit a simple periodic pattern, a specification of sorts. The first sequence is complex, but not specified. Only the second sequence exhibits both complexity and specification. Thus, according to Dembskis theory of design detection, only the second sequence implicates an intelligent cause as our uniform experience affirms.
In my book Signature in the Cell, I show that Dembskis joint criteria of complexity and specification are equivalent to functional or specified information. I also show that the coding regions of DNA exemplify both high complexity and specification and, thus not surprisingly, also contain specified information. Consequently, Dembskis scientific method of design detection reinforces the conclusion that the digital information in DNA indicates prior intelligent activity.
So, contrary to media reports, the theory of intelligent design is not based upon ignorance or gaps in our knowledge, but on scientific discoveries about DNA and on established scientific methods of reasoning in which our uniform experience of cause and effect guides our inferences about the kinds of causes that produce (or best explain) different types of events or sequences.
The evidence of design in living cells is not the only such evidence in nature. Modern physics now reveals evidence of intelligent design in the very fabric of the universe. Since the 1960s physicists have recognized that the initial conditions and the laws and constants of physics are finely tuned, against all odds, to make life possible. Even extremely slight alterations in the values of many independent factors such as the expansion rate of the universe, the speed of light, and the precise strength of gravitational or electromagnetic attraction would render life impossible. Physicists refer to these factors as anthropic coincidences and to the fortunate convergence of all these coincidences as the fine-tuning of the universe.
Many have noted that this fine-tuning strongly suggests design by a pre-existent intelligence. Physicist Paul Davies has said that the impression of design is overwhelming.10 Fred Hoyle argued that, A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology.11 Many physicists now concur. They would argue that in effect the dials in the cosmic control room appear finely-tuned because someone carefully fine-tuned them.
To explain the vast improbabilities associated with these fine-tuning parameters, some physicists have postulated not a fine-tuner or intelligent designer, but the existence of a vast number of other parallel universes. This multiverse concept also necessarily posits various mechanisms for producing these universes. On this view, having some mechanism for generating new universes would increase the number of opportunities for a life-friendly universe such as our own to arise making ours something like a lucky winner of a cosmic lottery.
But advocates of these multiverse proposals have overlooked an obvious problem. The speculative cosmologies (such as inflationary cosmology and string theory) they propose for generating alternative universes invariably invoke mechanisms that themselves require fine-tuning, thus begging the question as to the origin of that prior fine-tuning. Indeed, all the various materialistic explanations for the origin of the fine-tuning i.e., the explanations that attempt to explain the fine-tuning without invoking intelligent design invariably invoke prior unexplained fine-tuning.
Moreover, as Jay Richards has shown,12 the fine-tuning of the universe exhibits precisely those features extreme improbability and functional specification that invariably trigger an awareness of, and justify an inference to, intelligent design. Since the multiverse theory cannot explain fine-tuning without invoking prior fine-tuning, and since the fine-tuning of a physical system to accomplish a propitious end is exactly the kind of thing we know intelligent agents do, it follows that intelligent design stands as the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe.
And that makes intelligent design detectable in both the physical parameters of the universe and the information-bearing properties of life.
1. Functional Information
3. Error Correction
DNA contains multi-layered information and metadata (information about how to use the information in the context of the related data) and is a more efficient storage medium than anything weve created. So here you have instructional data that must be translated to perform specific functions at specific times (a system that describes itself and interprets its description). This is a language that codes precise plans in a very specific order necessary to manifest this amazing thing we call life.
Consider the following posted by Eric Anderson at UncommonDescent:
In the euphoria of the tremendous success of the Apollo missions in the 1970s, NASA commissioned several studies about what might be next: some relating to immediate projects, some more long term, some on the visionary edges of science fiction.
One such study, presented at a conference held in the summer of 1980 belongs in the latter category. It was entitled Advanced Automation for Space Missions, and spans nearly 400 pages.
A somewhat more digestible web version was made available by Robert Freitas, one of the authors, here.
The central idea was to lay out what would be required for an automated robotic fleet to explore the galaxy. This is, it must be confessed, an impressive effort to put this much thought and effort into the actual details.
Yet even after the tremendous work and thought put into how to make a truly autonomous self-replicating robotic exploration system, there are hints that it still might not work without occasional intelligent guidance and intervention along the way.
In addition to possible intelligent guidance and intervention at certain stages, Freitas recognized the difficulty of closing the loop on the self-replication cycle itself. He calls this the closure problem.
This closure problem includes the difficulty of getting all of the materials processing machines, chemical elements, process chemicals, alloys, etc. in place. In particular, he noted that difficult items to close include some hard-to-manufacture but lightweight items such as microelectronics . . . precision instruments and others which may not be cost-effective to produce via automation off-Earth in the near term. Even after significant bootstrapping, Freitas notes that something on the order of 90-96% closure might be attainable.
90-96% is of course impressive. But in the context of what would actually be required for a truly autonomous self-replicator sent to a new planet to reproduce and explore, it isnt quite there. 96% wont get you 96% of the next generation. It wont get you past the first generation.
As someone who has also spent some time analyzing what would be required for true self-replication in a real-world environment, I am impressed with Freitas efforts, nearly 50 years ago. And the other striking impression that comes to mind is just how difficult a proposition self-replication is.
The ability to send nano-scale self-replicators to Earth with the ability to faithfully and successfully populate the Earth is an engineering feat almost beyond comprehension. Anyone with a rational understanding of what we are witness to in biology would be inclined to a profound sense of awe and wonder at the genius behind it.
Self-replication lies at the end of an incredibly detailed, inter-related, integrated, precision process, driven at every step by deep levels of information.
The naive and evidence-free evolutionary narrative, on the other hand, has everything completely upside down. It isnt just that the materialist creation story hasnt yet discovered the naturalistic origin of biology. It isnt just that important details have yet to be filled in. It isnt even (as most critics of abiogenesis realize) that it wont work.
No. The problem is deeper than that. Evolutions claim that self-replication is the first attribute of a living organism, that self-replication is the beginning of the creative process is not just mistaken it is utterly, completely backwards from the engineering realities. I discussed this fundamental issue previously, here - Thinking Upside Down The Abiogenesis Paradigm
Or consider this from Michael Dentons Evolution: A Theory in Crisis with a brief commentary from Matt Chait:
To grasp the reality of life as it has been revealed by molecular biology, we must magnify a cell a thousand million times until it is twenty kilometres in diameter and resembles a giant airship large enough to cover a great city like London or New York. What we would then see would be an object of unparalleled complexity and adaptive design. On the surface of the cell we would see millions of openings, like the portholes of a vast space ship, opening and closing to allow a continual stream of materials to flow in and out. If we were to enter one of these openings with find ourselves in a world of supreme technology and bewildering complexity. We would see endless highly organized corridors and conduits branching in every direction away from the perimeter of the cell, some leading to the central memory bank in the nucleus and others to assembly plants and processing units. The nucleus of itself would be a vast spherical chamber more than a kilometer in diameter, resembling a geodesic dome inside of which we would see, all neatly stacked together in ordered arrays, the miles of coiled chains of the DNA molecules. A huge range of products and raw materials would shuttle along all the manifold conduits in a highly ordered fashion to and from all the various assembly plants in the outer regions of the cell.
We would wonder at the level of control implicit in the movement of so many objects down so many seemingly endless conduits, all in perfect unison. We would see all around us, in every direction we looked, all sorts of robot-like machines. We would notice that the simplest of the functional components of the cell, the protein molecules, were astonishingly, complex pieces of molecular machinery, each one consisting of about three thousand atoms arranged in highly organized 3-D spatial conformation. We would wonder even more as we watched the strangely purposeful activities of these weird molecular machines, particularly when we realized that, despite all our accumulated knowledge of physics and chemistry, the task of designing one such molecular machine that is one single functional protein molecule would be completely beyond our capacity at present and will probably not be achieved until at least the beginning of the next century. Yet the life of the cell depends on the integrated activities of thousands, certainly tens, and probably hundreds of thousands of different protein molecules.
We would see that nearly every feature of our own advanced machines had its analogue in the cell: artificial languages and their decoding systems, memory banks for information storage and retrieval, elegant control systems regulating the automated assembly of parts and components, error fail-safe and proof-reading devices utilized for quality control, assembly processes involving the principle of prefabrication and modular construction. In fact, so deep would be the feeling of deja-vu, so persuasive the analogy, that much of the terminology we would use to describe this fascinating molecular reality would be borrowed from the world of late twentieth-century technology.
What we would be witnessing would be an object resembling an immense automated factory, a factory larger than a city and carrying out almost as many unique functions as all the manufacturing activities of man on earth. However, it would be a factory which would have one capacity not equalled in any of our own most advanced machines, for it would be capable of replicating its entire structure within a matter of a few hours. To witness such an act at a magnification of one thousand million times would be an awe-inspiring spectacle.
To gain a more objective grasp of the level of complexity the cell represents, consider the problem of constructing an atomic model. Altogether a typical cell contains about ten million million atoms. Suppose we choose to build an exact replica to a scale one thousand million times that of the cell so that each atom of the model would be the size of a tennis ball. Constructing such a model at the rate of one atom per minute, it would take fifty million years to finish, and the object we would end up with would be the giant factory, described above, some twenty kilometres in diameter, with a volume thousands of times that of the Great Pyramid.
Copying nature, we could speed up the construction of the model by using small molecules such as amino acids and nucleotides rather than individual atoms. Since individual amino acids and nucleotides are made up of between ten and twenty atoms each, this would enable us to finish the project in less than five million years. We could also speed up the project by mass producing those components in the cell which are present in many copies. Perhaps three-quarters of the cells mass can be accounted for by such components. But even if we could produce these very quickly we would still be faced with manufacturing a quarter of the cells mass which consists largely of components which only occur once or twice and which would have to be constructed, therefore, on an individual basis. The complexity of the cell, like that of any complex machine, cannot be reduced to any sort of simple pattern, nor can its manufacture be reduced to a simple set of algorithms or programmes. Working continually day and night it would still be difficult to finish the model in the space of one million years.
- Michael Dentons Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Adler and Adler, 1985)
And let me add my two cents to this astounding picture. The model that you would complete a million years later would be just that, a lifeless static model. For the cell to do its work this entire twenty kilometer structure and each of its trillions of components must be charged in specific ways, and at the level of the protein molecule, it must have an entire series of positive and negative charges and hydrophobic and hydrophilic parts all precisely shaped (at a level of precision far, far beyond our highest technical abilities) and charged in a whole series of ways: charged in a way to find other molecular components and combine with them; charged in a way to fold into a shape and maintain that most important shape, and charged in a way to be guided by other systems of charges to the precise spot in the cell where that particle must go. The pattern of charges and the movement of energy through the cell is easily as complex as the pattern of the physical particles themselves.
Also, Denton, in his discussion, uses a tennis ball to stand in for an atom. But an atom is not a ball. It is not even a tiny solar system of neutrons, protons and electrons as we once thought. Rather, it has now been revealed to be an enormously complex lattice of forces connected by a bewildering array of utterly miniscule subatomic particles including hadrons, leptons, bosons, fermions, mesons, baryons, quarks and anti-quarks, up and down quarks, top and bottom quarks, charm quarks, strange quarks, virtual quarks, valence quarks, gluons and sea quarks
And let me remind you again, that what we are talking about, a living cell, is a microscopic dot and thousands of these entire factories including all the complexity that we discussed above could fit on the head of a pin. Or, going another way, lets add to this model of twenty square kilometers of breath taking complexity another one hundred trillion equally complex factories all working in perfect synchronous coordination with each other; which would be a model of the one hundred trillion celled human body, your body, that thing that we lug around every day and complain about; that would, spread laterally at the height of one cell at this magnification, blanket the entire surface of the earth four thousand times over, every part of which would contain pumps and coils and conduits and memory banks and processing centers; all working in perfect harmony with each other, all engineered to an unimaginable level of precision and all there to deliver to us our ability to be conscious, to see, to hear, to smell, to taste, and to experience the world as we are so used to experiencing it, that we have taken it and the fantastic mechanisms that make it possible for granted.
My question is, Why dont we know this? What Michael Denton has written and I have added to is a perfectly accurate, easily intelligible, non-hyperbolic view of the cell. Why is this not taught in every introductory biology class in our schools?
- Matt Chait
DNA, how it is passed on, and what is being learned about what affects it, is beyond human comprehension. One interesting aspect is that extreme events do change ones DNA. Does that mean that people really can remember past lives, through their DNA? Does that mean that it just might be that you might meet someone who you're immediately attracted to because of a past-life experience? Do tribal cultures truly have shared cultural memories through shared DNA?
What is being learned is mind-boggling. I wish I had the capacity to better understand it all.
Let’s take this to the next level. I can demonstrate and explain scientifically that the soul is the life energy that instills life in physical matter.
It is consciousness itself that provides the intelligent design. Yes, even for animals and plants, it’s just a lower frequency of consciousness.
It’s a bit complicated to explain in this forum, but not difficult to understand.
Thanks for posting.
Wow, What he said!
I am always amazed at how really smart folks seem to often demonstrate such stupidness in regard to the author of life. Well, I suppose when one’s world view is a mishmash of accident and chance and time shaken up in some ridiculous manner to produce magnificent life!
Praise the creator God Almighty for His brilliance- surpassing our understanding age by age!
A Red Heeler pup is born with an ability to identify a sick or abnormal sheep or steer. They can calculate exact time and distance results long before executing the variables. There are things in their DNA which are in no way learned or taught. They just got handed down and constructed in the brain or soul from prior generations during development in utero.
Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world Gods invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse.
Romans 1:21-22 For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and darkened in their foolish hearts. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools,
Only very blind people cannot see God’s absolutely amazing design everywhere. An educated person knows that it is preposterous to think that all the fathomless complexity and near perfection (Was there, but lost in the fall, to be regained again.) goes infinitely (infinitely times infinity) beyond any possibility of chance. Where there is ever so obviously amazing, amazing design, it is no doubt that it is evidence of the designer.
Thank you so much for posting this!
(It is so information-dense that it has taken me a few days to get back to reading all of it!)
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