Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Is intelligent design creationism? Dr. Stephen C. Meyer explains

Dr. Meyer explains the truth in the UK Telegraph.

Excerpt:

In 2004, the distinguished philosopher Antony Flew of the University of Reading made worldwide news when he repudiated a lifelong commitment to atheism and affirmed the reality of some kind of a creator. Flew cited evidence of intelligent design in DNA and the arguments of “American [intelligent] design theorists” as important reasons for this shift.

[...]Contrary to media reports, ID is not a religious-based idea, but an evidence-based scientific theory about life’s origins. According to Darwinian biologists such as Oxford University’s Richard Dawkins, living systems “give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose”.

But, for modern Darwinists, that appearance of design is illusory, because the purely undirected process of natural selection acting on random mutations is entirely sufficient to produce the intricate designed-like structures found in living organisms.

By contrast, ID holds that there are tell-tale features of living systems and the universe that are best explained by a designing intelligence. The theory does not challenge the idea of evolution defined as change over time, or even common ancestry, but it disputes Darwin’s idea that the cause of biological change is wholly blind and undirected.

[...]Consider an even more fundamental argument for design. In 1953, when Watson and Crick elucidated the structure of the DNA molecule, they made a startling discovery. Strings of precisely sequenced chemicals called nucleotides in DNA store and transmit the assembly instructions – the information – in a four-character digital code for building the protein molecules the cell needs to survive. Crick then developed his “sequence hypothesis”, in which the chemical bases in DNA function like letters in a written language or symbols in a computer code. As Dawkins has noted, “the machine code of the genes is uncannily computer-like”.

The informational features of the cell at least appear designed. Yet, to date, no theory of undirected chemical evolution has explained the origin of the digital information needed to build the first living cell. Why? There is simply too much information in the cell to be explained by chance alone.

The information in DNA (and RNA) has also been shown to defy explanation by forces of chemical necessity. Saying otherwise would be like saying a headline arose as the result of chemical attraction between ink and paper. Clearly, something else is at work.

DNA functions like a software program. We know from experience that software comes from programmers. We know that information – whether, say, in hieroglyphics or radio signals – always arises from an intelligent source. As the pioneering information theorist Henry Quastler observed: “Information habitually arises from conscious activity.” So the discovery of digital information in DNA provides strong grounds for inferring that intelligence played a causal role in its origin.

Thus, ID is not based on religion, but on scientific discoveries and our experience of cause and effect, the basis of all scientific reasoning about the past. Unlike creationism, ID is an inference from biological data.

It might be a good idea now to echo Meyer’s claim with something from the secular magazine Scientific American.

Excerpt:

As recently as the middle of the 20th century, many scientists thought that the first organisms were made of self-replicating proteins. After Francis Crick and James Watson showed that DNA is the basis for genetic transmission in the 1950s, many researchers began to favor nucleic acids over proteins as the ur-molecules. But there was a major hitch in this scenario. DNA can make neither proteins nor copies of itself without the help of catalytic proteins called enzymes. This fact turned the origin of life into a classic chicken-or-egg puzzle: Which came first, proteins or DNA?

RNA, DNA’s helpmate, remains the most popular answer to this conundrum, just as it was when I wrote “In the Beginning…” Certain forms of RNA can act as their own enzymes, snipping themselves in two and splicing themselves back together again. If RNA could act as an enzyme, then it might be able to replicate itself without help from proteins. RNA could serve as gene and catalyst, egg and chicken.

But the “RNA-world” hypothesis remains problematic. RNA and its components are difficult to synthesize under the best of circumstances, in a laboratory, let alone under plausible prebiotic conditions. Once RNA is synthesized, it can make new copies of itself only with a great deal of chemical coaxing from the scientist. Overbye notes that “even if RNA did appear naturally, the odds that it would happen in the right sequence to drive Darwinian evolution seem small.”

The RNA world is so dissatisfying that some frustrated scientists are resorting to much more far out—literally—speculation. The most startling revelation in Overbye’s article is that scientists have resuscitated a proposal once floated by Crick. Dissatisfied with conventional theories of life’s beginning, Crick conjectured that aliens came to Earth in a spaceship and planted the seeds of life here billions of years ago. This notion is called directed panspermia. In less dramatic versions of panspermia, microbes arrived on our planet via asteroids, comets or meteorites, or drifted down like confetti.

Naturalists who resort to aliens are still implicating intelligent causes to explain life, ironically enough.

Please share and re-tweet this post, because not understanding intelligent design is a mistake that virtually everyone in the mainstream media makes when discussing this topic. I would bet $100 that there is not a single journalist in the mainstream media who can define intelligent design by citing a peer-reviewed article or academic textbook, and then give an example of where proponents of ID think that intelligent design is evident in nature.

Related posts

Documentaries on intelligent design

Here are the 2 playlists:

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What is the case for intelligent design?

Everyone knows that blog posts and Java programs are the result of an intelligent agent, who arranges symbols into long, improbable sequences that have function. I write blog posts and I write Java programs, and both are the result of my intelligence sequencing letters by typing into my keyboard. Now what should we infer if we look at the universe and we see similar sequences that have functions?

This article from Evolution News explains how a person can look at the universe, find functional sequences of symbols, and infer a designer. (H/T J Warner Wallace of Please Convince Me)

Excerpt:

Intelligent design is a scientific theory that holds some aspects of life and the universe are best explained by reference to an intelligent cause. Why? Because they contain the type of complexity and information that in our experience comes only from intelligence.

As a result, intelligent-design theorists begin by studying how intelligent agents act when they design things. Intelligence is a process, or a mechanism, which we can observe at work in the world around us. Human designers make a great dataset for studying how intelligent agency works.

When we study the actions of humans, we learn that intelligent agents produce high levels of complex and specified information (CSI). Something is complex if it’s unlikely, and specified if it matches some independent pattern. William Dembski and Stephen Meyer explain that in our experience, only intelligent agents produce this type of information:

  • “[T]he defining feature of intelligent causes is their ability to create novel information and, in particular, specified complexity.” (William A. Dembski, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence, p. xiv (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 2002).)
  • “Agents can arrange matter with distant goals in mind. In their use of language, they routinely ‘find’ highly isolated and improbable functional sequences amid vast spaces of combinatorial possibilities.” (Stephen C. Meyer, “The Cambrian Information Explosion,” inDebating Design (edited by Michael Ruse and William Dembski; Cambridge University Press 2004).)

Meyer further explains that in our experience, only intelligence produces high levels of CSI:

[W]e have repeated experience of rational and conscious agents — in particular ourselves — generating or causing increases in complex specified information, both in the form of sequence-specific lines of code and in the form of hierarchically arranged systems of parts. … Our experience-based knowledge of information-flow confirms that systems with large amounts of specified complexity (especially codes and languages) invariably originate from an intelligent source, from a mind or personal agent.” (Stephen C. Meyer, “The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories,” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, Vol. 117(2):213-239 (2004).)Thus, in our experience, high levels of complex and specified information — such as in codes and languages — arise only from intelligence. By assessing whether natural structures contain the type of complexity — high CSI — that in our experience comes only from intelligence, we can construct a positive, testable case for design.

And what happens when we study nature? Well, the past 60 years of biology research have uncovered that life is fundamentally based upon:

  • A vast amount of complex and specified information encoded in a biochemical language;
  • A computer-like system of commands and codes that processes the information.
  • Molecular machines and multi-machine systems.

But where in our experience do things like language, complex and specified information, programming code, or machines come from? They have one and only one known source: intelligence.

One of the strangest things about intelligent design is how many people use the phrase without even being able to define it or point to an academic book or paper where the concept is defined.  There are several places where information is found in nature: the origin of life (“biological information”) and Cambrian explosion (“higher taxonomic categories”) are two of them. There is no known naturalistic method of producing large amounts of functional information in these two areas. But we know that human intelligence are capable of creating the sequences – we’ve seen it done. Intelligent design is the view that functional information sequences in nature are the result of intelligence. That’s all we know that can produce it.

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Does intelligent design theory require that the designs be perfect?

Structure of DNA

Structure of DNA

From Evolution News.

Excerpt:

By the word “intelligent,” ID proponents simply mean to indicate that a structure has features requiring a mind capable of forethought to design the blueprint. Thus, ID proponents test ID by looking for complex and specified information, which is an indicator that some goal-directed process, capable of acting with will, forethought, and intentionality, was involved in designing an object.

We do not test ID by looking for “perfect design” or “undesirable design,” because minds don’t always make things that are “perfect,” and sometimes they make things that are “undesirable” (to other minds, at least). Holding biological systems to some vague standard of “perfect design” where they are refuted by “undesirable design” is the wrong way to test ID. Examples like broken machinery, computer failures, and decaying buildings all show that a structure might be designed by an intelligent agent even if it subsequently breaks or shows flaws. Intelligent design does not necessarily mean “perfect design.” It doesn’t even require optimal design. Rather, “intelligent design” means exactly what it sounds like: design by an intelligent agent.

“Undesirable design” arguments share three general problems, some or all of which can be found in each of Gilmour’s 130 examples. Here are the three main problems:

  1. An object can have imperfections and be undesirable, but still be designed.
  2. Critics’ standards of perfection are often arbitrary.
  3. “Bad design” arguments don’t hold up under their own terms, as the objects often turn out to be well designed when we inspect them more closely.

Problem (1) applies to every single example Gilmour gives. Problems (2) and (3) apply to many, though not all, of his examples. In fact, some of them are legitimate examples of undesirable design. I mean, who likes “easily worn out knees” or hernias — both examples of how our bodies break down? Objectively speaking, those are flaws or imperfections. But as much as you might not like “undesirable design,” they don’t refute ID because ID is a scientific argument that isn’t concerned with the moral value, perfection, or desirable/undesirable quality of a structure. Computers break down but were still intelligently designed. In the same way, the fact that our bodies break down doesn’t mean they weren’t intelligently designed.

If you would like  quick introduction to intelligent design, click here. The best introductory book on the subject is “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design” by Dr. Jonathan Wells, and the best complex book is “Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design” by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer.

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