Intelligent Design Is Not Creationism

thMy last few posts have asked the question, what inference should we draw from the existence of information-rich DNA? I used a few examples, such as the marvel of the human hand, to make the point that things that are designed for a purpose require a designer.

Some have argued in response that the hand is really not that marvelous after all. It’s just a bit more advanced version of other hands that lower life forms possess. Darwinism, they argue, is adequate to the task of explaining this: small changes over time conferred an advantage that natural selection passed on to succeeding generations. Other animals not only have versions of hands, but also use tools, just as humans do. So, pointing to highly complex systems – like the hand specifically or the human body generally – does not, in their view, prove anything.

Part of the problem with discussions of this type stems from the ambiguous use of the word “evolution.” There is no question that evolution in the “micro” sense operates. A living organism can adapt to meet environmental challenges, and cross breeding can result in new forms within a species. It may be, furthermore, that whole new species emerge from previous ones. The problem arises when the term evolution is used not in its limited “micro” sense, but also to say that, using the same processes, DNA just happened to assemble itself. Sure, it took vast amounts of time, they’ll admit, but the process is the same.

Extrapolating in this manner from micro to macro evolution reflects faulty thinking. How something that is already in existence operates – such as a computer running software – is a much different inquiry than how the computer, and the software, was built in the first place.  Proponents of intelligent design simply acknowledge that obvious fact: intelligence was required to produce something as complex as DNA. Such as view is consistent with the scientific enterprise.  Moreover, Intelligent Design does not require one to adopt a religious or “young earth” creationist view. Indeed, ID arguments retain their validity regardless of whether Christianity is true or false. The point of the argument is that DNA is a form of information, much like the language of a computer program or the set of blueprints that every designed thing has.  Who programmed it, and for what purpose,are entirely different questions. Recognizing that it makes sense to look for this “programmer” is the ultimate point – even if there is doubt as to who, or what, that source is; looking for the source makes more sense than continuing to insist that information arose from nothing because the information was found in a living thing and whole lot of time passed.

Returning to the human body, it is humbling to think that contained in microscopic bits of matter are the instructions for building in three dimensions a living being that is ultimately capable of self awareness and thought. Reducing that much information into something so small, and packing it with so much power for adaptation, makes human engineering efforts seem like child’s play by comparison.  Take another example: the human brain. Starting from a handful of cells, continual creation of brain cells has to occur to allow for growth and each cell must be connected to other cells, and groups of cells, to create a functional whole. Eventually, it must know when to stop growing. When the process is complete, this assembly of cells will operate as a computer does: capable of performing calculations, of solving problems, and of deciphering sense data from the eyes, ears, nose and skin to provide reliable information about one’s surroundings, all the while laying down memories that can be stored and accessed. A period of sleep is utilized to organize and sort these memories, and certain meaningless memories must be eliminated from conscious thought so as to not overwhelm the thinker. While it is doing all these things, it must also monitor and control multiple functions within the body essential for life, such as breathing and controlling the cardiovascular system. Like the hand, this system bears the unmistakable mark of planning, design and purpose.  One can argue that the human brain is simply a better version of a primate’s brain, but that does not answer the question at play: how did any brain arise, when it bears such unmistakable markers of design?

Many similar examples can be made. When skeptics continue to argue that these later versions emerged from earlier versions, they are not yet addressing the question: how did it begin? It is no answer to point at an earlier form and conclude that it “evolved.” It is the earlier form that must first be explained.

The critic will contend that the presence of similar features in various types of life “proves” that evolution occurred. Perhaps in some particular cases such a conclusion is warranted. But saying that examples of evolving features in one form of life proves that all life is the result of evolution is, again, an unwarranted extrapolation. Indeed, it should be no surprise that similar features appear in a variety of life forms.  Human designers do the same thing, making repeated use of functional things in a variety of way. A gas engine, for example, can power a lawnmower or a airplane.

Recognizing the possibility that what appears to be designed actually was designed does not make someone ignorant or anti-science. Quite the contrary – science depends on the willingness to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Posted by Al Serrato

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  1. BGA says:

    DNA is not terribly complex, it is four amino acids two of which bind only to one other. The way DNA now operates is very complex, but it has had 3 billion or so years to get that way.

    Again your issue is with the theory of abiogenesis, which you seem to say is impossible. But your alternative is, I suppose, that a god did it. This has no more explanatory power than “aliens did it”.

    No scientist claims that abiogenesis is proven. And there is no requirement for atheists or secularists to take a position on this one way or another.

    • Al says:

      Brian, when you say “explanatory power,” I take it you mean to have the power to explain why there is this complex life-sustaining thing called DNA. As opposed to there being no DNA and no life (at least as we know it). My explanation is that there is an intelligence at work, and for other reasons (i.e. unrelated to DNA itself), I believe that intelligence is God. To maintain naturalism, the atheist must conclude that vast amounts of time did it, all the while ignoring the other pressing questions, eg. why is there anything at all. So, in terms of explanatory power, theism is rational whereas atheism has no viable explanation for life. This then is the starting point, which allows for consideration of the next issue – eg. is the “aliens did it” alternative a viable explanation? Are there other possible intelligence sources that could account for it? Rejecting these other possibilities can lead (and has lead) many people into relationship with God. That’s why this inquiry is important. One thing we all know for certain is that no one lives forever. What comes next is not something about which science – which only deals in the physical – can provide any information.

      • TM says:

        I dont believe hardly anyone including the most ardent supporters of neo Darwinism claim that DNA is not complex. Even militant atheist and neo Darwinist Jerry Coyne admits that the genome is indeed vey complex, and that ‘in spite of the pop media, we still do not understand it very well’

        We haven’t even been able to account for the homochiral properties of these same (and what Brian refers to as “not terribly complex”) “amino acids” which make up these very complex proteins. And in fact, protein folding itself, is so complex that even with the collect resources of billions of dollars digital processing power at our disposal, we still know very little about the process.

        And it is no surprise to me that MIT at Park center are now actually using “design theory” And again, the same design theory developed for complex intelligently designed engineered system. And doing so in the field of Systems Biology to better help us understand the cell. And they are doing so with great results.

        “Systems Biology using Axiomatic Design and Complexity Theory
        One of the goals of systems biology is to understand the functions of a biological system in terms of the behavior and interactions of its molecular constituents. The task is difficult because both the physiological functions and the physical and chemical structures of biological systems consist of many levels of aggregation and hierarchy. In this work, we are trying to present a roadmap for establishing the relationship between the high-level functions and molecular-level interactions is presented. It is based on the application of Axiomatic Design theory and complexity theory that have been developed for engineered systems”

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