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Intelligent Design is Alive and Well

Intelligent Design is Alive and Well


Sean McDowell


 


Last year defenders of Darwinian evolution came out in full force to celebrate the 150th anniversary since the release of "The Origin of Species" and the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. New books were released, lectures were sponsored, and "new" missing-link fossils were discovered (Ardi and Ida). The goal was simple: to convince the public that Darwin's theory is overwhelmingly true and competitors such as ID and creationism are false. Were they successful?


 


Last Friday night Biola University sponsored an event with Stephen Meyer, leading ID proponent and author of "Signature in the Cell," that shows ID is alive and well. About 1,500 people attended, and many more watched the event live by simulcast (some were even watching in Kenya!).


 


Before taking questions from two of his critics as well as the audience, Meyer gave a lecture on the DNA evidence for design. He discussed how Darwin's main contribution was to "show" how design could arise without a designer. The world may appear designed, but according to Darwin, such design is illusory. Darwin is believed to have demonstrated how life could adapt without the need of any guiding intelligence (hence, "natural" selection rather than "intelligent" selection).


 


While Meyer has problems with Darwin's explanation for the diversity of biological life, he is focused on a more fundamental issue: the origin of life and the nature of DNA. According to Meyer, the question is not where information is stored in DNA. And the question is not what DNA does. The enigma involves the origin of DNA-its source. Where does the information in DNA come from? (For an in-depth development of the argument for design from DNA, see Meyer's new book, "Signature in the Cell." It's 500 pages long, but, in my opinion, provides one of the most compelling arguments for design).


 


There are three competing explanations for the origin of DNA. The first option is chance. But as Meyer points out, this explanation went out of vogue in the late 1960s because there are simply not enough resources (time and matter) in the universe for it to occur by itself. Specifically, the odds of getting one short protein of 150 amino acids are 1 in 10195 (to give this perspective, there are only 1017 seconds since the big bang and 1080 elementary particles in the entire universe). The chance that life could emerge by chance in the universe is effectively zero.


 


The second option is necessity. The idea is that just as there is an attraction in salt crystals, there would be an attraction in the origin of life. The problem, however, is that while crystals are specified (ordered), they are not complex. DNA is both specified and complex and cannot be explained in the same way as salt crystals. Bonding forces no more generate the information in DNA than magnetic forces in refrigerator letters are responsible for the message, "Take out the trash, mom."


 


The final explanation is a combination of chance and necessity (a.k.a., pre-biotic natural selection). The problem is that this particular explanation begs the question. Natural selection only works if there is first an organism to select. Natural selection is only a factor once DNA and protein exist. Thus, it cannot be used as an explanation for the origin of the first DNA.


 


So, what is the best explanation for the origin of DNA? Scientists often use what is called "the inference to the best explanation." In fact, this is the very reasoning Darwin himself used in the Origin of Species. Simply put, the best explanation posits a cause that is known to produce the effect in question. So, what is the best explanation for the origin of information? Natural forces are at a loss. But we know from our uniform experience that a mind can produce information. In fact, whenever we find information and trace it back to its source we always find a mind (e.g., books, computer programs, messages written in the sand). Henry Quastler famously said, "The creation of new information is habitually associated with conscious activity"


 


Meyer was quick to point out that this is not an argument from ignorance, as critics often claim, but a positive argument from what we know about the source of information. There is not only the lack of a natural explanation, but positive reason to point toward intelligence. One of the most powerful things about this conclusion is that it is completely immune to a Darwinian attack. Even if Darwinian evolution were true, it would do nothing to undermine the case for design in DNA (Darwin's theory allegedly shows how one species morphs into another, but it has nothing to say as to the origin of the first life).


 


After the lecture, his critics raised good questions, but Meyer was ready. They quibbled at some of the secondary issues, but in no way undermined his key claim that DNA is best explained as the result of a mind. One critic even said that he had no explanation for the information content of DNA but was confident there would eventually be a naturalistic explanation. Meyer was quick to point out that naturalists have failed to explain any of the most interesting questions of life such as the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the laws of physics, the origin of life, the origin of consciousness, and so on.


 


Meyer emphasized that an increasing number of scientists are opening up to ID. Even though it may take another generation (or so), there is a renewed openness and skepticism about Darwin's grand claims. We live in an information age where materialist explanations may be in jeopardy. This is true in the United States as well as in Europe, although maybe not quite as widespread.


 


That 1,500 people of all ages (from junior high all the way up) would come out on a Friday night for a lecture and discussion about DNA and the evidence for design shows that the ID movement is not dead in the water. In fact, it may be just getting started.